With the formidable iPhone 4 spearheading iOS, the imposing Desire HD in Android’s corner, and the capable Samsung Omnia 7 backing the play of Windows Phone 7, you could hardly deny that Nokia has a fight on its hands with the N8. Running Symbian ^3, the latest and supposedly greatest Nokia operating system, running on hardware that’s clearly been well considered and even better put together hardware it has a fighting chance on paper; but then so did Bonaparte at Waterloo and we all know how that battle turned out.
The excellent hardware means that the Nokia N8 leaves a great first impression. The aluminium casing gives the N8 a great feel in the hand and inspires confidence in the N8's likelihood of lasting as long as the contract you'll inevitably be taking along with the handset. The N8's 113.5mm x 59m x 12.9mm dimensions and 135g weight make it light and small enough to be comfortable to carry around day-in, day-out, but also offer enough heft that this phone doesn't feel like a toy - a hard balance to strike.
We particularly like the way the curved edges and angled lower corners mean the phone doesn't dig into the palm of hour hand when being held, a lesson the iPhone 5's designers could do with learning. The N8's buttons have a good feel to them, with a solid feedback, and the presence of a shutter button for the N8's camera is to be lauded. Even the flaps covering the micro-SD and SIM card slots - often a weak spot in mobile phone construction - feel secure.
As these external card slots betray, there's to way to get at the phone's internals. As does the iPhone 4, the Nokia N8 has no removable battery, so you'll be stuck finding professional help should the 1200mAh unit built into your device ever need replacement. However, although we'd prefer the power cell to be user-accessible, we don't think this aspect of the N8 a deal-breaker; especially as it's likely to be a factor in the phone feeling so solidly constructed. Battery life proved excellent in our use of the N8, easily managing a full day of use with power to spare - even when playing music and watching videos.
Although we don’t have any gripes with the build quality of the N8, we do still have some complains about the Nokia's design. First of all, we're not particularly keen on the slider used to toggle the screen in and out of standby. Every now and then when pulling the N8 from a pocket, we found ourselves actuating this toggle unintentionally. More importantly, though, we found ourselves frequently frustrated by the placement of the Home button on the lower left of the N8's front. When using the phone one-handed this was often enough of a stretch for out thumb that we almost lost our grip of the N8 and this would be even more the case for a left-handed user; placing this button in the centre would have been a much better decision, to our minds at least.