We're less inclined to be outright critical of the protruding section on the rear that houses the N8's camera. Some may find the aesthetics and feel of this not to their tastes, but it does have the advantage of providing enough space inside the N8 for its 12-megapixel camera, while also raising the lens away from any surface the N8 is placed upon. A front-facing camera is a surprising inclusion, as we were under the impression that one had to own an iPhone 4 to want to be able to make a video call.
The weakest aspect of the design is the display. At 3.5in diagonally it's big enough to be useable, but its 640 x 360 pixel resolution means that it's far from impressive to look at. Most of the N8's own text is large enough to be perfectly readable, but small fonts on websites, or in applications, look jagged and often verge into being unreadable.
For all that the resolution disappoints, in every other respect the screen is excellent. We never noticed an instance where the capacitive display failed to register a press (even if the software occasionally lagged behind the hardware) and as an AMOLED unit, its colour reproduction is characteristically vivid and saturated. Initially the auto-adjusting backlight occasionally erred too far on the side of battery life for our tastes, but after diving into the settings menu we tweaked this to work flawlessly, too.
Despite its 680MHz CPU having a clock speed that sounds somewhat meagre compared to the 1GHz processors turning up in most contemporary smartphones (even considering the separate Broadcom graphics processor), the Nokia N8 operates swiftly. The key to this is Symbian^3, the latest Nokia operating system, which is (allegedly) much more efficient that the likes of iOS, Windows Phone 7, or Android.
We certainly noticed no problems with speed or responsiveness, and never noticed any problems with the comparatively low 256MB of RAM present inside the N8 even when playing HD videos over its HDMI output. Backing this up with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, an accelerometer and magnetometer (or orientation sensor and compass, in layman's terms), and 16GB of internal memory as well as 3G connectivity, the N8 could hardly be called under-featured.
Even the speaker in the N8 impresses. We're not suggesting justice will be done to a rendition of Beethoven's 9th, but for watching the occasional YouTube clip, or even the odd downloaded iPlayer programme, while lying in bed we can't see anyone complaining. The bundled headset is praise-worthy, too, offering much less incentive to upgrade than with those you'll find accompanying most other mobile phones.
We heard no complaints about the quality of our speech from any recipients of our phone calls, and have none to make the other way. Considering the Nokia N8 is one of only a few handsets compatible with Orange's HD Voice service, that it offers great call quality is hardly surprising. Having been burned by the iPhone 4's reception issues once too often ourselves, though, it's encouraging to see a smartphone that hasn't forgotten the importance of the latter half of that descriptor.