Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Nokia N82: Two Years Review

Looking and functioning like new after two years of use and taking over 5000 photos and 70 videos.

After my year with the N82 review posted back in 2008, I'm here to review the N82 again for its second year.

The Nokia N82 has been out for a little over two years and cell phone trends have left this phone looking dated. It has a small screen, no touch screen, and no slide out QWERTY keyboard. I don't think there's any respectable cell phone reviewer/blogger that still uses this phone. But for me, the N82 still doesn't have a direct competitor.

Full review after the jump.

Two years ago, Nokia was faced with heavy competition from Sony Ericsson (SE) with their photo-centric Cybershot line of phones. To counter this, Nokia's flagship phone, the N95, was retooled into the body of a candy bar to compete directly with SE's 5MP camera phone, K790i. The N82 shared many of the same features of the N95 like integrated GPS, WiFi (802.11b/g), and 5MP camera with Carl Zeiss optics but it swapped out the LED flash with a Xenon flash to match the K790i's Xenon and Nokia had spent extra effort tuning the camera software for speed and quality. This instantly made the N82 Nokia's best camera phone and one of the best for night photos.

Xenon flash make photos taken in the dark look good.
Xenon flash is the main thing that keeps me using the N82. Most phones these days are using dual LED flash which is a lot better than the single LEDs used back during the Nokia 6682 1MP days. But they don't come close to amount of lumens you get from Xenon. There are a few papers out on the Internet that show LED technology can potentially match Xenon for brightness but the amount of time needed to light up something to match Xenon would be a few seconds, which is too slow for action photos.

But Xenon is not the only camera strength for the N82. The photo algorithm used on the N82 for photo capture and JPEG compression goes neck and neck with the best current N-series camera phone, the N86. Images are sharp, noise is kept to a minimum, and blurring isn't used much. There's good reason why Nokia enthusiasts keep coming back for comparisons against the N82 when Nokia puts out a new camera phone.

Build Quality

After many dents, the N82 still keeps working.
It has really held up well. I've dropped my N82 all over the place and on hard concrete and asphalt and the only thing that shows is the scratches and dents. It never shattered with battery or memory card popping out on any occasion I dropped it.

The N82 has not developed any new creaking since the first year and the D-pad still feels like new. The spring loaded camera lens cover feels a little less springy than last year but it could be dust getting in the way.


Dust goes into the front facing camera through the ear piece.
The front facing camera has gotten about 1/4 covered with dust coming in from the ear piece. If you strongly tap your phone on one of its sides, the dust should drop to one side. The battery cover still leaks in some dust and so does the memory card cover but it hasn't gotten worst. Dust has not gotten under the display yet unlike my E71. I also haven't gotten too much dust into the 5MP camera yet so the lens cover is actually doing a great job

Software Remarks
I've only updated the firmware 3 times on my N82. My N82 is on the latest firmware V 31.0.016 as of this writing. I recall one time it crashed with Garmin running so crashes are very rare on the N82.

With the popularity of touch-based phones, the N82 operating system, S60 3rd edition, has taken a back seat to both S60 5th edition and Maemo. This means less developer focus and little software released on this platform. The multitude of phone operating systems in the market like Android, Windows Mobile, and iPhone hasn't helped S60 3rd edition either. Thankfully the software I need is already available to S60 3rd edition like:
  • Office productivity - QuickOffice
  • Navigation - Garmin XT/Nokia Maps
  • Multimedia - Mobitubia/RealPlayer/Nokia Music
  • Games - NGage (it's been discontinued but still some good games like Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil)/vBag (GameBoy Advanced emulator)/MobiPad (allows you to use your Wii controller with your N82) - I don't see why everyone is so excited by Maemo being able to play SNES games when older N95/N82 phones handled GBA games that are usually ports of SNES games.
  • Browser - Nokia browser (I may need to switch to Opera as the built-in browser doesn't support all web sites or standards)
For me, the N82 has what I need for a smart phone even though it may not be the funnest phone (iPod/iPhone pun intended). But speaking of iPhone, I've been let down numerous times when I've tried to share photos with other people through Bluetooth only to find out their iPhone or Blackberry doesn't support Bluetooth OBEX (file transfer). Bluetooth OBEX has been implemented on phones since the SE T68i from 2002. iPhone 3.0 adds support to connecting to other iPhones however. Nokia definitely embraces industry standards and sharing a lot more than its competitors.

The Nokia N82 playing GameBoy Advanced games through vBag. Nseries Freescale phones could not run vBag at an acceptable framerate. It's even more fun hooking up the N82 to a TV and pairing a Wii controller to the N82 for some big screen gaming.

Unfortunately Nokia hasn't released a new firmware for the N82 since 2008 so I think Nokia has ended support for the N82.

Hardware Remarks
When the N82 was released, it was on the bleeding edge with many technologies that were just emerging. Even though the N82 is a two year old phone, it supports much of the features found on the latest smart phones like:
  • 5MP camera with autofocus and macro
  • integrated GPS
  • WiFi (802.11b/g)
  • WCDMA 3G (unfortunately only at 2100MHz for Europe/Japan and capped at 4MB/s)
  • 3D graphics acceleration
  • TV output
  • Bluetooth
  • 32GB microSDHC support
  • 3D accelerometer (Motion sensor)
  • MicroUSB

The only things I can think it misses are digital compass, touch screen, full QWERTY keyboard, and microUSB charging. There's no reason to look pass the N82 as a dated phone because it keeps up with the best in the market.

The N82's built-in GPS is also a lot faster at locking onto satellites than any of the Freescale powered Nokia phones that have been released. I don't have the patience to wait for GPS to warm up. And in difficult situations like New York City, the N82 could obtain a lock but Freescale powered phones like the E71 or N97 never got a lock.

One stand out feature that has kept the N82 without direct competitor is its Xenon flash.

Without Xenon, the N82 would not be the best Nokia camera phone. A bit of dust has got pass the lens cover and onto the lens.

Two main problems come from equipping a phone with Xenon flash is that the charge capacitor is large so the phone won't be thin and charging up the capacitor requires a lot of power so it kills battery life. These two drawbacks have swayed manufacturers to choose small low powered LEDs which don't produce nearly enough light in the short time it takes to capture a photos. Therefore LED flash usually produces photos with ghosting or blurring.

Photos in the dark (N97 to N82):

Dimly lit night mode with flash (N85 / N82)

Dual LED isn't even close to matching Xenon.

I little interesting fact, tummypoints.com, a restaurant review site, exclusively uses the N82 to capture their food and restaurant photos.

Battery Life
In my second year with the phone, it has been lasting me about 1.5 days with little use. With heavy camera usage, it barely lasts 3/4 of a day so I always need my car charger on road trips. If battery life gets worst I can buy a new battery unlike some other phones.

To Conclude
While a long term review of a phone might not be the most attention grabbing blog entry since everyone is excited for any N900, iPhone, or Android news, but a long term review tells you a lot about the quality of the manufacturer. Nokia spents considerable effort to ensure their phones are built to last and it shows with the N82. Nokia equips their Nseries phones with powerful features that keep their phones relevant for years. The combination of Xenon flash and great camera software make the Nokia N82 the premier camera phone with no direct competitors.

I'm looking forward to another year with my trusty N82 as my primary phone!

A little snipplet of the places I've taken my N82 in the second year: