I remember one of the first mobile phones I ever used being a Nokia 5110i. It was among Nokia’s earliest of devices that packed an easy to use and straightforward interface in a supremely well-built package. Since we didn’t have as many phone launches each month back then as there are stars in the sky, the 5110i served me very well for more than 3 years without showing any signs of aging. That was in the mid to late 90’s.

Fast forward to the end of this decade and we see Nokia’s current flagship, the N8-00, continuing to hold on to the Nokia tradition of building what are arguably some of the best constructed mobile devices on the market. In fact in many ways, with the Nokia N8-00 (referred to as the N8 from here on) it seems as though Nokia has let its hardware and industrial design teams have a field day; this phone feels almost over engineered when held in your hands. While the current flagship demonstrates Nokia’s engineering prowess quite well, previous models seemed to epitomize what I felt was the company’s philosophy; build the software around the hardware. This worked just perfectly for as long as mobile phones were just that, devices used to make and receive calls and/or texts.

Sometime in the last decade, Apple, Google, Palm and Microsoft redefined mobile experiences, and as a result old flaws have slowly become gaping holes in the Finnish device manufacturer’s proverbial armor. 

The devil is in the details…

The N8’s symmetric design is attractive in a very understated manner. It won’t immediately grab your attention in any way if you look at it. The 3.5” 640 x 360 AMOLED screen commands the majority of the real estate on the front with tapering edges on all 4 corners. The menu/home button at the bottom left corner is the only detail on the face of the phone which narrowly saves the N8 design from being branded bland. 

While the button did seem a bit oddly placed when I first saw it, the overall profile and weight distribution of the phone didn’t lead to any issues in actual use (although left-handed users may disagree). 

Upon closer inspection, you will find the front facing VGA camera, the ambient light sensor and the proximity sensor sitting behind the (Gorilla) glass on the top right corner. The left side houses a well-constructed but tad finicky and plastic “suicide” door of sorts to cover the microSD and SIM card slots. There’s also a multifunction micro-USB port (more on this later) and a charging light indicator. The right side seems a bit busy with the volume controls, a spring loaded screen lock button and a 2-stage camera shutter button. This is the only part of the phone that I have issues with, when it comes to design. The volume controls have a lot of play and don’t give good feedback when pressed. The spring loaded screen lock button, while a good idea in itself, is not well placed. On multiple occasions, I kept hitting the volume button while attempting to lock the phone. 

The left and right sides of the Nokia N8. Notice how it cannot lay flat on its back.

The top of the phone plays host to a 3.5mm jack (that can also serve as an AV-output if used with the appropriate connector), and a mini-HDMI port hidden behind a plastic flap and the power/profile selection button. At the bottom you will find a lone connector for your charger, although it could easily pass off as a microphone because of its placement and size, along with a lanyard or strap port. 

The top and bottom of the N8

The rear of the phone prominently shows the N-series branding and houses the crowning jewel of the N8; its 12MP Xenon-flash assisted autofocus camera. Because of the complexity of the camera module and the associated optics used in the N8, the camera itself (along with the loudspeaker) is housed in a bulge, and as a result the phone cannot lay flat on any surface. While that in and of itself isn’t an issue, what concerns me is the possibility of excessive visible wear appearing on the lower part of this bulge as it is the only part of the phone that comes in contact with any surface when the phone is made to rest on its back. 

The back of the Nokia N8 (left); What makes up the “bulge” (right)

Also, something I did notice was the fact that just within a week of use, dust started accumulating in the crevice between the top of the bulge and the back of the phone.

While the design may get mixed feedback, what will garner unanimous praise is the build quality and overall construction of the device. The unibody N8 is constructed of anodized aluminum and has a smooth, matte-like finish to it. It is available in Orange, Green, Blue, White and Gray – which as you can tell was the color of our review unit. While not as grippy as the soft touch rubber finish that some devices come with, it is light years ahead of the cheap, glossy black plastic that clads a lot of phones these days. Also, by design, the aluminum back of the N8 acts as a heat dissipation surface. So with prolonged use, it does get a bit warm…but nothing toasty. Another reason why the phone feels so well put together is because Nokia has taken a leaf out of Apple’s design book and gone ahead with a non-user replaceable battery, and hence eliminated the need for a battery opening in the N8 chassis. But reports seem to suggest that the battery isn’t all that hard to get to and replace, should the need arise. So those exposed torx screws aren’t just for show…

The N8's Camera - 12 MP of Awesome
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  • jaydip - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    There is a much bigger issue surrounding the N8 apart from the obvious.My friend bought this in the month of November and so far he had to visit nokia care for 3 times to make it working.The phone just shut down and did not power on at all.The nokia care guys were clueless and unable to help much apart from updating the firmware.So far the phone has spent more time in nokia's own "care".I know that a review unit will seldom be faulty but it is worth pointing it out.
  • akse - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    There was a manufacturing issue concerning some of the phones at the early production phase. I guess it is fixed now.

    http://conversations.nokia.com/2010/11/18/evp-nikl... There is an interview about the issue.
  • Voldenuit - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Yes, the problem was real, nokia admitted it, and it has been fixed.

    People with affected phones can get a replacement at a nokia service center.
  • guidoq - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    I don't think so. More iphone coverage please.
  • Bhairava - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Buy a 90$ Nokia e5230 and a 100$ entry level camera and you have the same risult. Really, nothing less.

  • Bhairava - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Well i was wrong, Nokia 5230 is 160$.
  • Voldenuit - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Then you have to carry 2 devices with you. What are the odds you'll have your point and shoot with you when you're out and about and a photo op presents itself?

    Can you edit, geotag and upload your images from your $100 point and shoot?

    Plus, the sensor on the N8 is bigger than most entry level compacts, and the lens is really great (speaking as a DSLR user with several Leica lenses here).

    N8 isn't the answer for everyone, but it's definitely a compelling option for a photo enthusiast.
  • zodiacfml - Thursday, January 13, 2011 - link

    same thoughts. :p
  • cheezyuser - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Whats wrong with this phone? I dont see any major problems. For those guys in the States, it might suck but For Guys here in India, Nokia rocks, 24k rupees for an unlocked nokia n8 is better than a 42k locked iPhone considering the average work income is around 20k rupees
  • N8fanMAN - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    "I´d like to take pictures anytime I want and look them over big flatscreen but sh**, I cant buy 500$ N8 caus my friends have 1000$ IPHONE. Oh, they _cant do_ really nothing with it but still they would laugh their ass off if I bought Nokia"

    This kind of unmatured flood and feelings all over the globe. If you value your hard earned bucks, and want a modern phone in reasonable price with good camera there should be no logical doubt that N8 is the choice of the day. If other companies flagships weren´t so expensive, situation would be different but its not, just like nokias half-empty promises.

    And what about the bullshit about batterylife omg... ANY smartphone will dry your battery if you keep wlan and widgets always running and online. I spend easily a weekend taking pictures, listening music, playing games with my friends and of course speaking (in 3G) and that was no problemo for N8.

    If you dont need good call quality, camera, navigation, hdmi and other goodies then just buy 120-150$ blade / san fransisco android 2.1/2.2 phone. There is still wlan, bluetooth, 3g, gps and 3.5" multi-touch

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