I have been wanting to test and use this phone ever since it came out, in 2005. So when Hi-Mobile.net provided us with the opportunity to review the Nokia 8801, I did not think twice about accepting the review. Usually, Eugenia does our phone reviews, since she knows a lot more about phones than the rest of the staff does; however, this phone is not a phone which you can dissect feature-for-feature, assessing its potential based on what it can do. No, this phone focusses on style, exclusivity, and stunning looks. Read on for the complete review.
Hi-Mobile.net sent me the Nokia 8801 (USD 334.98), which is almost a carbon copy of the Nokia 8800 (USD 559.98), with the only difference that where the 8800 supports GSM 900/1800/1900, the 8801 is more focused on the North-American market, and supports GSM 850/1800/1900. Another small difference is that the 8801 has a small battery lock (see photo), which the 8800 lacks. Both phones are sold by Hi-Mobile.net, so if you spend lots of time in Europe, the 8800 is a better choice. However, in The Netherlands, where I live, you can use the 8801 just fine.
Let’s first start by describing the packaging of the Nokia 8801. The phone comes in an all-black box, with a metal clamp, engraved with ‘Nokia 8801’, holding the lid of the box shut. Inside the box, everything is in black, including the plastic lid in which the phone and a marketing-speak booklet (Some highlights from that booklet: “Beauty is born.” “Not just a phone. A lifestyle.” That sort of stuff) is laid; this plastic thing is covered in a velvet-like fabric. Yes, this whole package screams exclusivity and style, whether you like that style or not. I, in any case, really appreciated this, as it makes it clear you have bought something special. I like that. There I was, thinking Apple made the cleanest and slickest packaging.
In any case, inside the box you will find the phone (obviously), two batteries, a desktop charger (which can charge both the phone and the extra battery at the same time), a manual (which I do not use, I’m a guy), the marketing-speak booklet (another gem: “The vivacity of life. Passionate. Dramatic. Compelling.”), a hands-free set (not wireless), a CD-ROM with Nokia software (Windows-only), a black travel pouch, and a few quickstart guides (in different languages).
Enough with the paperwork, let’s get to the phone. The slickest feature of this phone is not its camera, not its memory card slots, not its reception, not its ease-of-use, not its whatever-feature-they’ve-come-up-with-now, no; this phone’s best feature is its all-steel casing. Except for a patch at the top, which is made out of plastic (probably because of the antenna), the entire phone is made out of steel (from the marketing-speak booklet: “The touch of steel. Sleek. Intense. Instinctive.”). The flat surfaces are brushed, while the curved surfaces are smooth, non-brushed, steel. This makes the phone remarkably heavy (134 grams), but also gives the phone an extremely solid appeal, as if you are holding something that will not fall apart. The phone also does not squeal or bend when pressed, which cannot be said of many other phones in the marketplace today. The whole phone just screams ‘build quality’, and that’s a very welcome change from many other phones.
Even though this phone is a slide phone, its mechanism is very different from other sliders out there; it’s kind of difficult to describe, so please check this video I made of how the sliding mechanism works (in case you’re wondering, the music is from The Cardigans, their 1999 “Gran Turismo” album). The sliding mechanism works very smooth, as if the process is powered by a small electric motor of some sort. Contrary to many other slide phones, the mechanism feels very solid. Either opening or closing the phone produces a metal-on-metal sound.
The steel theme is carried on through the phone’s accessories as well; the headset is finished in steel as well. The same goes for the extremely classy and very functional desktop charger, which, as said, can charge both the phone as well as the extra battery at the same time; you’ll never lack power anymore, in any case. The charger is surrounded by blue light, which came out very good-looking on my glass desk.
The fact that the phone is made out of steel also has its downsides. First of all, the phone is extremely prone to fingerprinting, and so it is very convenient that the travel pouch doubles as a cleaning cloth (intentionally or not, it serves that purpose just fine). The second downside is that even though I have not tried it, I suggest not dropping this phone. Steel bends, you see.
The keypad. What to say about the keypad. Many other reviews criticise the small keys, but in all honesty, I do not see the problem. Many reviewers complain about small keys on various phones, so I really wonder if these smart people (I assume) have figured out that when pressing the ‘5’, it is no crime to also slightly press the surrounding keys. I ‘discovered’ this obvious thing ages ago, and have never had any problems with small keys on phone keypads. The Nokia 8801 is no exception to this rule, but apparently, your mileage may vary.
Now let’s move on to the Eugenia-stuff, so to speak. The phone has a 0.5 megapixel camera, and runs Nokia’s Series 40 v2 platform (ROM version 4.10). Its display has a 208×208 pixel resolution (262000 colours, 3.1×3.1cm), and it’s very bright, usable under any light condition (even in bright light, the screen is 100% usable). The screen is made out of some special sapphire stuff, also used in high-end watches, and very scratch resistant, according to people who tested this. It even has an integrated 3D engine powering its graphics.
The phone comes with a set of themes, and its tones and sounds are composed by award winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto; ringtones can be in .mp3 or ACC. It obviously supports Bluetooth (I easily transferred my contacts from my PDA to the phone this way, and sending photos taken with the 8801 to a PDA or computer worked fine as well), but lacks IrDA; it does have EDGE and GPRS. It has an integrated handsfree speaker (very common on phones today). Like all modern phones, it has an .mp3 player, but since you are limited to its internal storage (64MB), the actual usefulness of this feature on this particular phone is dubious. The 8801 also has a radio; however, and this goes for the .mp3 player as well, Nokia still uses a proprietary audio jack, meaning you can’t just plug in any set of headphones. Also, this phone is mono-only, so no stereo sound.
The phone also has an xhtml-capable browser, but unfortunately, for some inexplicable reason, the phone does not allow you to manually enter configuration settings for GPRS, and hence I was unable to use and test this function (my carrier does not provide automatic settings for the 8800/8801). This also means I am unable to test the instant messaging feature of this phone. Unnervingly, the same configuration problem exists for MMS. Update: Eugenia pointed me to this page at Nokia’s website, which will send you the configuration details per carrier, per country, free of charge. It worked fine, too late for this review though. Still, it is a negative point that you cannot edit the configurations manually, and that you have to rely on this webpage.
Call quality of the phone is excellent, although the highest volume setting might be a bit too low still in for example a busy train or metro. Speaking of volume, the phone has no side buttons to adjust the volume; instead, you use the left/right keys on the keypad to adjust volume. Some may find this a problem, but I can assure you that you can easily adjust the volume this way without removing it from your ear (contrary to what some other reviewers have said).
The camera is, as the amount of megapixels indicate, very, very mediocre. No matter what I tried, I was unable to get good shots from various things in my home. You can change the size of photos (maximum size 800×600), activate night mode, switch to recording videos, and activate the timer so you can make photos with a delay.
There are two ways of judging this phone. One way, the Eugenia-way (the common sense way) which says this is a mediocre phone, with severe limitations; the camera is mediocre, the .mp3 player/radio are too limited, no stereo sound, no memory card slot, proprietary audio jack, no manual GPRS/internet/MMS configuration, fingerprint-prone casing, and so forth.
Then there’s the Thom-way. This way says that this is the best phone money can buy, with stunning looks, very high build quality; a head turner, that’s for sure. After some real world testing, I can say that this phone is a definitive head turner in public spaces. I guess for most people that’s all irrelevant; they look for functionality, not form. Well, for those people, this phone is simply a bad choice. If you however are like me, and care a lot about image, style, and how you come across other people, this phone is a perfect match.
A sidenote should be made, though. You see, at some point in time, whether it be after two days, three hours, or 6 months; at some point, this phone’s drawbacks will annoy the crap out of you. It will make you bite your nails off, it will make you want to throw the phone out the window.
But, you won’t. You’ll forgive the phone its shortcomings, much like Alfisti forgive Alfa Romeos for their lack of build quality and their constant breakdowns. Sure, you’ll hate your Alfa when it’s dead on the side of the road yet again; but at least you’ll know that when she is not in that state, you have a driving experience like none other; you’ll turn heads, you’ll feel all warm inside for driving an Alfa.
You may wonder why I specifically said that the music in the video was “Gran Turismo” from The Cardigans. Well, I did not say it by coincidence. You see, that album has the same problems as the Nokia 8800/8801 (weird as it may seem): it’s a great album, very melodic, floating in the air like Nina Persson‘s dreamy voice, overladen with style. But after the last song, you always have that same, itchy feeling: this album is too short. It
could’ve should’ve been so much more.
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