Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Nokia N8: This is the Phone to Wait for

The unthinkable has happened. The phone that I have long praised as having the best camera/flash combination and internal GPS has broke on me. I will have to find a replacement for my Nokia N82. But what exactly is for me? Perhaps you still hold a Nokia N82 and you're thinking the same as me. Well come along the ride as I step through what kind of mobile phone is designed for us.




Hardware
Nokia has create a neatly packed device that will make your E71 jealous. The N8 is less than 13mm thick (almost as thing as the iPhone 3GS), almost as narrow as the iPhone 4 but shorter. Although small in dimensions it still packs a fistful of powerful features such as HDMI output and an impressive 12MP camera on the back. Nokia's hardware team is pulling out all their tricks with this phone.



Adorned with an aluminium body and sporting 5 different colors, the N8 conjures up images of the iPod Nano.



Display
Sporting a 3.5 inch 640 x 360 resolution AMOLED display, the N8 is a much higher resolution than the iPhone 3GS but lower than Nokia's own N900 (800x480) and Apple's new iPhone 4. It's still an impressive display and I'm sure most people won't see much of a difference in real world use.

With an AMOLED screen, blacks will look really black and colors will look very rich. Nokia claims it is almost 60% brighter than their past OLED displays and they have also applied an anti-reflection film to address concerns about usability under direct sunlight. If Nokia didn't go OLED, people would have complained.

Camera
The main selling point of the N8. You wouldn't be thinking of buying a N8 otherwise. With a Carl Zeiss 12 megapixel (MP) camera capable of producing images of 4000 x 3000 resolution, the N8 will be one of the top camera phones in the market for 2010.

Camera details:
Sensor: 12.0 Megapixel (4000 x 3000 pixels), 1/1.183" sensor with 1.75 micron pixels
Zoom: 2x digital zoom
Focal Length: 28mm
Focus range: 10cm - infinity
Manual ISO settings: 100, 400, 800 (I personally use 200 on my digital camera a lot)
Shutter Lag: ~150ms
Autofocus time: ~350ms
Shot to shot: ~2 seconds
Shutter: Mechanical
Stabilization: No
Maximum aperture: f/2.8

Sample:

Original resolution: sample

More Sample photos: Nokia N8 Sample Images Untouched

A problem I had with the camera software when I switched from a Sony Ericsson W810i to a Nokia N82 was the stupidly large focus box that had a hard time focussing properly on the right subject since the box was so large. I'm very happy to report that Nokia will use a smaller center spot for focussing! I really hope they don't change this.

Amazingly, exposure will be lock at the moment of focus lock so it will not change even if you move the camera (just like the behavior of conventional cameras). Previous Nokia devices will keep changing the exposure even after focus lock. This will help with taking photos in bright and dark spots.

Video Details:
Resolution: 1280×720 HD @ 25fps using H.264 codec with up to 12mpbs bit rate
Audio: AAC audio format at 128kbps @ 48KHz
Zoom: 3x digital zoom
Shutter: Rolling
Stabilization: Yes
Continuous Focus: No

Sadly the camera doesn't include a mechanical lens cover. The arguments against lens cover are users will have to slide it open before apps can use it and it adds a few millimeters of bulk. The arguments for a lens cover is to protect the lens and have a quick hardware switch to turn on the camera (without the mechanical lens cover you'll need to unlock the phone then click the camera application). Sadly the designers went with the first argument which is VERY odd if this device was supposed to be camera oriented.

It's funny how many people were looking forward to optical zoom as the next big thing for cameras on phones when the N95. But we still haven't seen any mass produced phones with optical zoom.

Flash
Contary to AAS, the N8 flash will be around the same performance as the Xenon flash found on the 3 year old N82 (source) which is at most 5m. But it's 30% smaller according to Nokia. My question to Nokia is, how long does it take to charge?

A red LED will be present in the middle of the flash cluster as in past Nokia camera phones.

Connectivity
Nokias have always enabled a wealth of connectivity options and the N8 is no different. You get the usual quadband GSM support and you get the first of its kind 3.5G connection over WCDMA 850/900/1700/1900/2100. That means both optimized performance over T-Mobile USA, AT&T, and carriers in Europe. The N8 also include Bluetooth 3.0 which will speed up file transfers between the devices. MicroUSB will be present which allows data transfer and charging. An internal GPS will be present as well.

The much hyped HDMI will upscale the native resolution of 640 x 360 as output. Photos and videos, however, will be displayed in 1280 x 720 resolution.

Software
Hardware doesn't change while you have the phone in your hand. Software is the only thing left to keep users excited about their phone and keep them continuously buying your future products.

Symbian^3
According to numerous sources, the look and feel of Symbian^3 isn't much different than S60 5th edition on the N97. So if you hated it then don't look at the N8. I personally didn't find the software bad but it's probably because I've been a long time S60 user so it all felt familiar but slightly different. S60 5th wasn't flashy, there were some organizational issues (some settings are hard to find and some are really deep), and there were some inconsistent user interface designs but it worked for me and you do learn where everything is after a few days. Simply, Symbian^3 will just work and keep out of your way.

A more seriously negative news being reported is the N8 will be the last NSeries device running Symbian^3. So the apps you buy now may not work with your next Nseries device running Symbian^4. Symbian^3 also breaks compatibility with S60 5th so some applications from your old N97 may not work on the N8 either.

Unlike the iPhone, the N8, like most Nokia smartphones, supports over the air updates so you don't need a computer to keep your N8 in good health.

Applications and Games
The top 10 S60 5th edition games do not come close to matching the quality of the iPhone's top 10. Maybe not even matching iPhone's top 50. There just isn't enough hype about Nokia products in the USA media to garner the attention of software developers.

Nokia broke software compatibility with S60 3rd (not to mention not all FP2 applications worked on FP1 devices), broke it again 2 years after with S60 5th edition, and they're doing it again with Symbian^3. It's costly to software developers to maintain a different version of software for the various Symbian OSes so Nokia hasn't been helpful in that regard. Hopefully their Qt framework alleviates some of that headache but I wouldn't bet my company on it. So don't expect much from 3rd party developers than what you can currently find on OVI.

Nokia needs to build out a better software developer shop to build compelling software much like Apple created iWork, iMovie, iTunes, and a wealth of other software to compensate for lack of software. Nintendo did the same for their Gamecube and N64. OVI Maps is a good step in the right direction. Please wake up Nokia. Don't focus so much on services because you don't have a strong online presence compared your competitors.

Conclusion
Nokia has a potential winner here for all camera enthusiasts who may not always have their SLRs with them. It's a beautiful phone that's small and thin. All the checkboxes on the technology list are checked. Wide support for the various 3G spectrums should make this a very attractive phone for T-Mobile USA users and any user for that matter. As for me, I'm putting my money where my mouth is. I'm buying this bad boy when it's available.

Sources:
http://www.forum.nokia.com/Devices/Device_specifications/N8
http://www.apple.com/iphone/specs.html
http://www.apple.com/iphone/iphone-3gs
http://conversations.nokia.com/2010/07/12/nokia-n8-photography-all-the-faqs

1 comment:

NIC1138 said...

Nice review.

Myself, I think zoomming in is a gimmick. Be it digital or optical zoom, you don't really need it unless for a few specific activities like bird watching, spying/stalking, and sports/war journalism. If you are into these you really should get a nice camera with huge lenses.

In you mundane lives it's much more useful to be able to zoom out, use wide angle lenses. That is what Nokia did in the N86 I think, introducing a 28mm lenses instead of the usual 36mm (equivalent focal distance on 35mm film). The iPhone 4 then did the same this year, and now the N8 is following this trend.