Tuesday, September 28, 2010

First encounter with the Nokia N8

I managed to have a little hands-on with the upcoming Nokia N8 which we expect here in Finland around mid-October. The organisation I work for (home electronics store) has already began pre-order sales clocking the phone at an impressive 499€ price. I think this price will come down pretty soon, though as everyone gets the phone physically in stock.

Here are some of my initial impressions on the N8.

Comes with Unlimited

Ah, those familiar icons.

I got to play around with the yellow-green (?) coloured N8. I was later informed, that this colour would be the Comes With Music version of the N8's. The CWM service has renamed to Nokia Music Unlimited. Maybe it is a good idea to have only some models in the Unlimited service, so that people that don't see any use for the service won't have to dish out the extra cash, but just get another coloured device. Suits me, I don't really even like this colour.


A lot is riding on the N8 and so a lot is riding inevitably on Symbian^3. I decided to dedicate my hands-on time to finding out, whether the revamped version was any good, and so I took pictures of all the places where I think S^3 could improve, as these are the things Symbian has been suffering from for the past couple of years, ever since S60 5th.

For all fairness, a pic of the firmware version, because what I handled was a prototype.
Symbian^3 is very familiar in the good and the bad. The Good: people will have no learning curve on this device if they've used any other Nokia device in the past 10 years. So this is a great advantage Nokia has. They have to do really changes to the somewhat complex and illogical menu structure of Symbian, and still people will probably already know how to use it.

Below are some highlights of things I really hoped would be changed. These aren't the only things I see wrong in S^3, but things that highlight the undrlying logic in Symbian, which I feel should be changed for a more enjoyable experience.

Managing connections

Forming a WLAN connection is easy-peasy on my N900, so why is it so complex in this mass-market device? I know that in the past connecting to WLAN was a big and rare occasion, but that was 10yrs ago. Instead of having a simple option to connect to WiFi quickly, you still must go to Settings -> Connections -> WLAN searching and then you will be shown the available networks.

Finding the WLAN connection ability is still behind this monster menu.

Here we go, list of available networks.

Is this dialogue too much?
You select your wanted Wifi network and you still get this prompt (sorry for the bad picture). Why am I being asked what to do now? Of course I want to connect. Also, I understand why there's a "Start web-browsing" option here. It's because you've come all this way in the menus just to connect to the internet, so a quick way to get to the browser makes sense.

Improvement suggestion: Make it possible to easily connect to WiFi from the start screen, so that we will never need to find this dialogue again. If you're interested in browsing the web, you'll have the browser on one of your desktops. Streamline the UI by having these two functions next to each other. This still leaves the option of just connecting to let your e-mail come in, for example. Also, I think it gives the user more control: I know when I'm connected and what I'm connected to.

One more tidbit:
Changing connections is simply not possible.
According to Symbian logic, you can't change from one connection to the other, but must do a "Disconnect" procedure to jump from one network to the other. Tsk-tsk, yet again we face dialogues that with a little tweak would never appear, thus making everything a smoother experience.

Typing blind

The sole reason I wanted to get a device with a physical keyboard after the 5800XM was the reason that a lot of the time you find yourself "typing blind".

Entering the web-address I want to surf to.
Here's me, using the OK keyboard to type in the address I want to navigate to. Otherwise this is very nice, I like the amount of space it gives me so that I can keep track of my type-o's even in longer URLs. But there's actually no way of double-checking where it is that I'm typing to. Whenever you enter a text field, everything else is clouded and you get this very clunky view where to enter the text. Now if you mistapped, you might be typing in your password in a username field etc.

Improvement suggestion: Why not just paste the keyboard on top of what you're seeing on the screen? This is the one reason I can never get a touch-only Symbian device.

Unintuitive boxes stuffed with options

The familiar browser "tool box".
Here's the browser's tools menu open. Now this is very functional in the way that it lists every single thing the browser can do at this given point, but it's also where it fails. These kind of collections of functions being thrown inside a box are maybe about the most boring and unintuitive solutions for managing a lot of functions the user might need.

Improvement suggestion: See into how Opera Mini or Opera 10 handles refresh, change of web-address etc. Do those browsers have a bix box into which everything's been stuffed?

General feel of Symbian^3

I was left with a somewhat stale impression of S^3, with it being in essence S605th edition with graphical revamps. Well, this is giving it too much credit, as Nokia simply decided to include more visible boxes for buttons and lines where there were multiple options. I call this "drawing with a ruler". You draw a line to highlight which two items are on the same line, and then to make buttons stand out you must place them within distinct lines as well. The end-result is a UI designed with the intuitiveness of a primary schooler with a ruler.

The assuring factor about Symbian^3 is, however how everything works a little snappier, thus making it just a tad nicer to use. It simply has no "Wow" to it, but it works. And now it works better than it ever did, and so I think the businessmen looking for the next Communicator in the E7 will be pleasantly surprised. Everything just works and its familiar. For your average Joe it will probably also be OK, and at least something they can use. But if they ever hear or see iOS, Sense UI or Timescape, they're gonna think their freshly bought (Q4 2010, 2011?) Nokia will already feel outdated and boring. I see no immediate mass-market rush to get these high-end S^3 devices.

What do you think?

(c) Chris 2010


  1. In my opinion, this professional review was fair both to Nokia and it's Customers, existing and potential. Nokia appears not to understand frequently changing customer requirements. Or has Nokia decided on a two tier marketing system: Simple Symbian in low cost phones and Linux for all their smart phones? If so, can Nokia in the near future make a decent profit from selling low cost phones while simultaneously catching and surpassing the current Smart Phone leaders?
    Nokia clearly has not made much profit from selling their cheap phones so far. Yet smart phone development requires copious quantities of cash. Hopefully Nokia already has in it's Labs an 'Apple Eater' based on Linux. Or at least deep pockets.

  2. It has certainly been Nokia's deep pockets keeping it afloat through the recent rough times.

    Nokia's strategy is indeed to make MeeGo based handsets the high-end devices, and use Symbian for lower cost models. However, rumour has it that in about 3 yrs time Nokia might strip down MeeGo to make a low-end version of it to eventually replace Symbian. But until then, Nokia will try to manage with Symbian^3 and the yet unreleased Symbian^4.

    Personally I can't wait to see the end of Symbian and believe that Nokia will still need to resort to those deep pockets to survive until then.

    Thank you for your comment!

  3. You could just add the wifi widget to a homescreen.