Nokia N8 Camera Phone Mini-Review

Hard Right

Hard Right
Key: R20110314-130746

I started to use camera phones when I first got my iphone 3G. This was something like 3 years ago now. However, even with that phone I felt like I had to “process” the pictures through some app to give it a toy camera feel, because the images just weren’t up to the quality I expected when using them “straight”. Time marches on, along with technology, and I have been shopping new phones for a few months now as the 3 year old phone begins to feel a bit sluggish and dated. Since I am a passionate photographer I thought that I’d look for a phone that had a good camera on it.  I saw that the Nokia N8 phone that was introduced late at the end of last year had a 12 megapixel camera with a 1/1.8″ sensor and a Carl Zeiss (28mm equiv) f2.8 lens. Small pixels, mind you, but that is a pretty decent sensor/lens combo even for a digicam these days. I saw a decent price for an unlocked one on Amazon and made an impulse purchase. I’ve been using it daily since January and thought it might be time for a small review here.

Olympus Pen EP-1 hooked up to a Nokia N8

Key: R20110226-111634

I have to say straight off that as a former/current iphone user, the Nokia Symbian user interface feels very dated and clunky, and occasionally borders on irritating. However, the hardware on this thing is first rate, and if you can come to grips with the interface it’s a pretty cool piece of kit.

  • First off, the camera: it’s really good for a phone cam. This is a better cam than most of the digicams I’ve ever owned. The lens is pretty fast (f2.8) for being so small, and it is sharp. Check out the foliage in the cow picture below. The photos show a typical amount of small sensor noise, but it is not bad at all. The camera has a real xenon flash, which comes in handy for indoor shooting in low light. AF is pretty quick, and there is a pretty decent default camera software app for changing settings. About the only real negative is that there is no manual exposure control of shutter speed (it is a constant aperture lens). Fortunately there is a straightforward exposure compensation control, which works fine. To top it off, it has a real dedicated button just for picture taking–no messing about poking at the screen!
  • Secondly, the video. This thing shoots HD 720P video, and it is very nice video. I’m not a huge video fanatic, but I take lots of short videos of my kids and such and it’s just a joy to whip this thing out and grab some decent high-def video from such a small device. Not only that, but there is a mini-HDMI port on one end of the camera that you can plug straight into a high def monitor or tv and watch your videos and photos on the big screen straight from the camera. Very slick.  My Flip Mino got retired the day I saw my first video from this thing.
  • The camera comes with 16GB of built in memory, but if that is not enough you can plug up to a 32GB mini-SD card into the side to expand it.  Speaking of ports, there is also a mini-USB port on the side.  I’ve successfully used this for downloading photos  from my cameras in the field (as shown below) and then uploading them to the internet through the 3G interface.  I’ve also plugged in a mouse, which works well.  I suppose you could use a keyboard, or many other USB type devices, including hard drives.
  • There is an upside to Symbian–battery life.  This phone only has a 600+ Mhz Arm processor, but Symbian is so efficient that the phone feels pretty snappy nonetheless, and I get several days (yes, days) of battery life out of it before I have to recharge.
  • The phone includes an FM radio receiver and transmitter. You can use the transmitter to play music stored on the phone or streaming internet stations on to a car radio or your living room receiver.  Very cool.  Of course there is also a built in gyroscope, touch gesture screen (gorilla glass!), compass, penta-band GSM transiever (it’s truly a world phone) with 3G.
  • Finally, as a phone, it is pretty good. Nokia has a long history with phones and generally knows how to do decent voice quality.  I find the call quality to be superior to my iphone 3G, although the speaker is a little more directional and needs a little practice to get it positioned on the ear properly. What is especially great though, is that Nokia doesn’t try to shut you out of VOIP, like most telecoms want to.  Instead, VOIP functions are deeply integrated with the regular calling software screens on the phone–you don’t have to run any special software program to make or receive VOIP calls.  This is key because most of the day I’m around a Wifi signal.  The VOIP calls are better than cell quality, do not use cell-plan minutes, and are easier on the battery.  I can remember when Apple wouldn’t even allow VOIP programs in their “app store” (small caps emphasis–sorry Apple, you really cannot make a trademark claim to that generic term).

Cow and Chickens in a Field of Green

Key: R20110320-160218

Ok, so enough gushing, onto the bad.  Apple has spoiled us for a good phone user interface.  Their hardware may not be the best, their walled garden just a little uncomfortable now and then, but at the end of the day it’s just pleasant to use an iphone.  And Android is on the other side pretty much closing the gap, or trying to.  Nokia’s Symbian feels like a snappy little OS, but the user interface, … sorry, very dated.  [Aside: And now their new president has thrown his lot in with Windows mobile, which has been trying hard for years to be relevant but still isn’t.  And they threw away a good chance to buy WebOS (linux based–and let HP buy it) and threw away their partnership with Intel on MeeGo (another decent linux-based platform).  Windows on a phone! What are they thinking!]

Let me just wrap up with the following observation.  In my time with the iphone I’ve downloaded a bunch of apps from Apple’s app store. At first I was dazzled by most of them, and what I could do with that device.  But after three years I find that I’ve only been using about 6 of them regularly: phone, maps, camera, book reader, music player, voice recorder.  Occasional internet use, to look something up, or run skype.  I just prefer to get on something with a bigger screen and a keyboard to read the web for any serious length of time, or do any kind of writing of more than a few characters.  So when I really looked hard at what I was actually using the phone for, those things, along with battery life, became the most important selling points.  On that score the N8 does pretty well.  Nevertheless, I’ll be keeping my eye out for an iphone or android phone that has a good camera in the future.  They are coming!

8 thoughts on “Nokia N8 Camera Phone Mini-Review

  1. Eric, I forgot one thing to ask. Are camera & WIFI connection, thus Interent (& file transfer to another computer via USB as I suppose) usable without the SIM card and/or cell phone connection/wireless plan? Yes, I am thinking of N80 more as a tiny personal computer rather than a cell phone.

  2. Hi Parv,
    Yes, the “phone” is fully usable without a sim card. In fact, that’s how I used it for about 6 weeks, making calls on wifi and using the camera. As a tiny personal computer (PDA) I’d recommend an iphone or android however, due to the greater quantity and quality of apps.

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