posted by Thom Holwerda on Thu 14th Oct 2010 22:30 UTC
IconNokia. The smartphone business is booming, and yet, the Finnish company - the quintessential phone maker - is getting pretty much none of the glitz and glamour. Their latest the device, the Nokia N8, is supposed to turn the tide, and Engadget has a thorough review of the device. Conclusion? It's getting repetitive, but hardware - awesome, software - not so much.

Even from looking at the pretty pictures it becomes clear just what a looker the N8 really is. A unique design, beautiful all-aluminium case, gorilla glass - not even Apple can produce something quite as exquisite as this. It's got a 680Mhz ARM11 processor, which may seem a little sparse, but remember that it has a separate Broadcom GPU to go with that. Add the truly idiotic 12 megapixel (!) camera and you've got some serious hardware here.

But then again, hardware has never been a problem for Nokia. They can build phones that will outlast the apocalypse - it's just that the software these phones run probably will not. Symbian is long in the tooth, and simply can't compare favourably with more modern operating systems like iOS and Android (for most people). Nokia is hard at work transitioning its developers from Avkon to Qt, and Symbian^3 is somewhat of an intermediate release, with Symbian^4 (and MeeGo) being Qt-focussed. The N8 is the first Symbian^3 phone.

Symbian's age is showing, even on this flagship Nokia device. Engadget mentions the main sore spots, chief among which is the pretty barren application landscape. The Ovi Store is not included in the default ROM, and needs to be downloaded from a website. Once that archaic approach to application retrieval is over with, you'll encounter a store that is lacking in many large names - heck, the Facebook 'application' is a glorified web page (and I can attest to its horribleness), the few Google applications it does have are archaic, and the only decent Twitter client will set you back 10 USD, to name a few.

The browser is still problematic, too. "It repeatedly crashed loading engadget.com for us (though the mobile version worked fine, thank goodness), regularly ground to a halt while scrolling, and didn't look as good, largely because text isn't anti-aliased regardless of size or style," Engadget notes. These are unacceptable flaws in today's mobile world.

The keyboard is also a major sore spot, according to Engadget. In landscape mode, you only get a numeric keypad (so letters have to be entered using T9 or triple-tapping), and in landscape mode, the QWERTY keyboard covers the entire screen. Again - in today's smartphone world, these are unacceptable flaws.

It's not all bad, though. Symbian's multitasking is still pretty much the king - even on my ageing E71 which I was forced to use while my iPhone was in repairs, multitasking on Symbian is a joy to use. iOS' glorified recently used applications list doesn't even hold a candle to that.

The N8 also comes with a really good photo editing application, and the transition to a fully finger-friendly user interface is complete, so there's absolutely no need for a stylus (it doesn't have one either as it's a capacitive touch screen).

So, where does that leave the N8, according to Engadget? Well, while it is easily the best Smybian device out there, it can't compete with the likes of iOS and Android.

"By evolving at a glacial (and largely superficial) pace, Symbian itself continues to cater specifically to a market of individuals who were early smartphone adopters five or more years ago," Engadget concludes, "That's a market whose continued loyalty only stands to shrink, not grow. And at a time when 720p video recording is no longer novel and 3.5" screens are starting to look a bit on the small side, even DSLR-like image quality isn't enough to justify a phone without a fantastic and thoroughly modern user experience to match. Symbian^3, sadly, regrettably, heartrendingly, isn't there yet."

It's time for MeeGo, Nokia. Be bold, be brave, look at Palm, RIM, Microsoft. They all took the plunge to a new operating system.

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