Then again, the N8 does ‘smart’ pretty well, too. Take that HDMI-out, for example. You may wonder why on earth you’d ever want to connect a mobile phone to a television, but when you learn that the Nokia N8 can play 720p MKV-wrapped video natively it makes a lot more sense – especially considering you can store a fair few videos on the N8 if you carry a few 32GB SD cards with you to augment the 16GB of internal storage. None of our test videos failed to play, including a Blu-ray rip of Serenity and a couple of episodes of Firefly (again, pulled from a Blu-ray – all paid for, for the record)
On the downside, there’s no DivX support out of the box. As such you’ll have to re-encode any DivX files you have into a different format, or ‘acquire’ such videos in another format. Somewhat making up for that is Symbian^3’s support for Flash video, and we especially like being able to download videos directly from the iPlayer website to the N8 and play them back on a TV – even if HD videos aren’t available in this way. Just make sure you have the mini-HDMI to HDMI converter with you.
Another converter that you might want to keep to hand is the mini-USB to USB cable supplied with the Nokia N8. However, contrary to expectation, this doesn’t connect the N8 to a computer (although this is possible), but instead lets you connect a USB storage device to the N8, as long as it doesn’t need a lot of power or you have a separate supply handy to provide it.
Audio support also lacks formats such as FLAC and OGG, but for a mobile phone we think WMA, AAC and MP3 (up to 320kbps for all) should prove sufficient. Playback quality with a good paid of earphones is good, as long as you listen to decent quality files, with a slightly more open feel than, say, an iPhone 4 – the difference is definitely one of personal preference rather than objective better or worse, though.
Where the N8, and Symbian^3, does lack is the music player application itself, which isn’t exactly a delight to use. It works, but it’s clunky and a world away from the iPod built into the iPhone 4 or Zune for Windows Phone 7, both of which are much slicker in use. We were slightly amused by the inclusion of an FM-transmitter in the N8, which lets you broadcast your music to any nearby radio; we really can’t see many users using this, though it works perfectly well.
It turns out that, “just not as good as the competition” is a theme for Symbian^3 as a whole. There’s a huge deal of functionality built into Nokia’s mobile OS, but it’s never as usable as we now expect of a high-end smartphone. Take the home screen widgets, for example. It’s great that Symbian^3 lets you place information or shortcuts directly on up to three screens, but the widgets are restricted to set sizes, taking up either the entire width of the screen in portrait mode, or two next to each other in landscape. Despite the annoyances of the limited formats these widgets can take, we’d much rather see them or not. Quick access to RSS feeds, weather information, notifications and media controls makes performing common tasks much simpler, and is something we find decidedly lacking from iOS.