Photos looked sharp and detailed, with the automatic exposure and white balance controls doing a commendable job of delivering natural-looking images with well-saturated, but natural looking, colours. The two-stage shutter button is a much, much better actuation trigger than a touchscreen control. We also loved the powerful Xenon flash, which did a great job of lighting up low light and night shots, even if it does drain the battery rather quickly.
Video is on par with other HD-capable mobile phones, but isn’t going to blow you away. The 25fps framerate limit means fast-moving objects have a juddery look to them, but the 720p resolution does capture plenty of detail, and image quality is subject to the same compliments as stills. Plus, the N8 has the added advantage of being able to output its video recordings directly to a TV via its HDMI port, which is rather useful.
We’re really not sure why sharing options are limited to email or Bluetooth, as pictures this good really do warrant being uploaded to Facebook or Flickr, so we would hope that becomes an option in a future update. There are a few post-processing options, including red eye removal, resizing and cropping of images, and a bunch of gimmicky effects (adding text, drawing, and adding ‘frames’ to name a few), but we’d leave editing for a computer where you’ll get much more professional-looking results – the on-phone software really isn’t that fun or easy to use.
The disheartening combination of great hardware and sub-par, if not outright terrible, software plagues the Nokia N8. Considering the same money, on the same tariff, can net you an HTC Wildfire (which offers a superior operating system to Symbian^3 in hardware that, while nothing like as polished as the Nokia N8, is still very nice), we really can’t see many customers opting for the Finnish option. It's an even worse story SIM-free, where the N8 will run you about £400, dangerously close to the iPhone 3GS; and you know it's a bad sign when last-generation hardware is a compelling alternative to your current offering.
If the Nokia N8 had launched a year ago, when Android was suffering much more from its lack of polish, the iPhone 4 was still to come, and Windows Phone 7 was months away from launching, we’d probably have found the failings of Symbian^3 much easier to tolerate, in exchange for the N8’s truly impeccable hardware. Sadly, the competition has moved on from the baseline which the N8 meets, but doesn’t exceed. We’re sorry Nokia, but if this is your only effort at sticking around in the smartphone market, you might as well start packing your bags.
Disappointing is the word that springs to our minds the most when using, and describing the Nokia N8. It’s disappointing that Symbian^3 lacks so much in so many areas, disappointing that it has taken the N8 so long to arrive, disappointing that such beautifully constructed hardware, with such well-considered specs, should be lumbered with an operating system that would have felt second-rate a year ago.
If you’ve never used an iPhone, Windows Phone 7, or Android handset, don’t think you will and won’t be stuck watching users constantly, by all means go into a shop and try out a Nokia N8 – the hardware may well win you over, it’s that well made. But if you’re likely to be in a position to compare it to another smartphone platform, you’d have to be crazy to consider Symbian^3, and therefore the Nokia N8, as an alternative.