Symbian^3 has been the subject of much speculation over the past months, so is it a break-away from what made Symbian S60 V5 feel dated? Can it springboard Nokia’s touchscreen phones into the current generation of user interfaces? Does it offer something unique that no other mobile OS does? All these questions can be delved into now that we’ve got Symbian^3 on a premium handset in front of us, the Nokia N8.

Our Nokia N8 review unit is currently in standby mode. There is a large, semi-illuminated analogue clock displayed on the screen, which immediately adds a nice element of thoughtfulness to the OS. Unlock the phone and it’s bye bye, clock; hello, bright screen and... Symbian S60 V5? The multiple home-screens alone convey very little change between Symbian^3 and its predecessor, with 3 screens, each with a grid of 8 spaces for optional widgets that can be added or removed by a long press. The bottom part of the homescreen contains three keys: options (relating to homescreen options only), homescreen switcher (indicated by three dots) and call (bringing up the dialer). The menu is accessed using the physical button to the bottom left of the Nokia N8’s screen, though a shortcut to the menu can be added to the homescreen, if you prefer.

There are a host of live widgets to choose from pre-loaded on the Nokia N8, such as RSS newsfeeds and mail, as well as static shortcuts. Notice anything different yet? No, neither did we.

Nevertheless, unlike a lot of “old” Nokia touchscreen phones, the Nokia N8 doesn’t have a habit of lagging. With numerous apps plodding along in the background, including Opera browser, music player, camera and gallery, transitions between the homescreens remained smooth, and we could comfortably add and remove widgets with no slow down. The range of widgets on our unit wasn't as extensive as we hoped it would be (RSS feeds, favourite contacts, radio, email, notifications, phone setup, search, social networks, time/profile, WLAN). There are more available through the Ovi Store, though this doesn’t really cut it when a lot of people will want a fun and functional range of things to put on their homescreens out of the box. Widgets are a fixed size, so information heavy widgets can’t take up two cells for example. This means the Facebook widget is very squashed, while the shortcut widget isn’t. A disappointing aesthetic contrast which conflicts with the harmonious physical design of the Nokia N8. Another gripe we have with the widgets is the shortcut widget. You can only insert shortcuts in groups of four, even when you only want one, further cluttering your homescreen.

Homescreens can be added up to a maximum of three and a minimum of one, with the option to have a different wallpaper on each homescreen which we like a lot. Slide between homescreens to activate the smooth fading transition between wallpapers, working well against the sliding widgets.

Activate the menu, and once again, we’re very hard pressed to see the marked evolution from Symbian S60 V5. It’s smoother and slicker with consistent kinetic scrolling and single tapping throughout, but this is more what we might expect from a firmware update coupled with much speedier hardware than a newly-revised OS. Symbian Foundation has clearly gone with the “if it ain’t broke” approach. The question is, is it broke?

The Nokia N8 has a comprehensive organizer. The calendar is finger-friendly, classically in line with Nokia’s styling and easy to get around, with standard viewing options (week, day, month)and easy appointment entry. We wish it was easier to sync with our Google Calendar (in the same way Gmail now is) but this needs to be done through Mail for Exchange.

Contacts are easy to navigate through with kinetic scrolling implemented throughout. Selecting a contact will give you a range of options such as voice call, message, email, video call, find on map and social network. Upon pressing social network, you can manually link your contact with their online profile, pulling their contact picture and giving you quick access to their profile. The integration of this feature could have extended deeper however. There is no option to automate a sync between social networks and phone contacts, and no live information about the contacts is updated automatically. The Nokia N8’s contacts are also like the calendar, not syncing with our Google Contacts, only with Ovi Contacts. Once again however, this can be remedied by the slightly unintuitive Mail for Exchange support.

Messaging on the Nokia N8 is improved. With texts viewable as conversations as well as isolated messages, the whole experience feels more unified than before. The on-screen keyboard is numeric in portrait and QWERTY in landscape. There is the nice addition of left and right arrow to the numeric pad, and more room dedicated to the text with a slightly smaller font size and less superfluous buttons than S60 V5. In landscape, the QWERTY keyboard also takes up less screen room, leaving more to what matters - the message. Keys may be smaller, but it is very usable and we found ourselves making very few mistakes, even when we first started using it. There is also optional haptic feedback that can be manually set to one of three strengths.

Offering a huge range of functionality, the clear answer to the earlier question is no, Symbian^3 isn’t broke, however, it hasn’t had the amount of change we feel it needed either. Symbian^3 is much better than older Symbian iterations, with numerous under the hood tweaks implemented seamlessly to make the whole experience better. The problem is, the tweaks are often too un-obvious. For a consumer that wants clear tangible benefits to choosing a specific OS, the Symbian^3 interface doesn’t step up its game enough.



1. Donnie unregistered

"The on-board GPS works well finding the Nokia N8’s position even when indoors. Coupling this with Ovi Maps Nokia maps makes for a very versatile phone that could double up as a GPS replacement provided you had a good data plan." Ehm did you just happen to completely miss the most compelling feature of Ovi Maps ? You can preload entire countries to your phone after which you can navigate (including searching and voice-directions) completely off-line, not a single byte of data transfer required. Perfect in Europe where you'd otherwise end up roaming after a few 100 kms, and one of the major selling points over any other solution (remember it includes voice directions and search, not just map display, - offline)

4. Stoli89

Posts: 333; Member since: Jun 28, 2010

Fully Agree, OVI maps is a great value and a wonderful and cost effective tool that does not require a network to operate. That said, if you happen to have an unlimited data plan...the N8 can also use Google Maps. I disagree with the reviewers opinion about Symbian^3 and more specifically that last portion of the OS stack called the User Interface. The changes under the hood are immense (over 250 in total vs S^1). The fact that S^3 is fully compatible with Qt means all current AND future apps developed for both Meego and Symbian^4 (^5..) will remain compatible. The fonts, themes, icons are familiar to Symbian users...which I find convenient. For those of us who want a change...the nice thing about Symbian is you can easily do this with 1000's of choices available...many of them for free. With its hi-end graphics chip, multi-touch/single-tap selection, and smooth capacitance interface...I find this phone's UI to be quite good and certainly up to date. A more detailed list of these changes is located here: Lastly, the reviewer is comparing this phone to flagships at higher price points, even though this N8 is not marketed nor priced as Nokia's flagship model (we'll have to wait for the N9). Considering the quality and performance of this's a steal IMO.

2. Nokia 4ever unregistered

Yay, Nokia is never a let down like RIM, I so love this phone!!! I don't care if the built-in browser is not smooth enough, it still has opera mini or if its UI is "dated", is still functional, Nokia doesn't care about making a mobile OS that is graphically beautiful but resource-hungry, this is an example that even with little specs the new OS runs smoothly compared to different OS's who needs more specs and do almost the same things (OS6). Os's user and Nokia haters, even though your beloved android and IOS phones are "better than any other mobile OS", Nokia's still a great company and may not be perfect (no one is), but they keep improving their product. Long life NOKIA !!!

22. B unregistered

Hey, thanks for the feedback. Having reviewed the N8, we really, really liked it. In fact, we loved it and genuinely want Nokia's handsets to do well, they're a fantastic company that make fantastic hardware. The changes to Symbian are evident with everything running smoothly, but that's just not enough as the interface is visually underwhelming. The hardware of the N8 is perhaps the best we've seen on a smartphone but as smooth as Symbian^3 is, it's not as inviting as other OSs. For example, despite having a shiny new N8, subjects given the choice preferred to play with a much lower specced android phone, simply because it offers more versatility in a more visually stimulating package. As mentioned, we can whole-heartedly recommend the N8, it's very good and well worthy of that 8.5, and on multimedia alone is a 10. Nevertheless, as with iPhone and Android, it has its issues. It just so happens that the N8s issues cropped up a lot more often. Regards, B_Phone Arena Reviewer.

3. yann_ unregistered

Phonearena did it again - proof their loyalty to boss Steve. No words for unique functions that are completely missing on iOS or Android phones. Example - USB on the go, HDMI out with Dolby digital... Losers. What to expect from lamers that gave to iPhone 4 rating of 9.5 - the phone with call/antena problems?

6. jpropin

Posts: 152; Member since: May 20, 2010

8.5 isn't bad from a U.S Website that like all the other U.S Based Websites sucks the teet of Apple & Google. I was expecting no higher than 6.5. So I'm quite surprised. Just wait and see what the tools at CNET give it.....LOL

7. DontHateOnS60

Posts: 872; Member since: Apr 20, 2009

They'll give it a 3/5.

5. rafael.roque

Posts: 78; Member since: Jul 03, 2010

I can't wait to get mine; regardless of any review... Simply put; I don't like Google's intrusive OS, RIM's mundane OS, Apple's my way OS. If you want control of your smartphone; then Symbian gives you that. Point and case, if I want the Sense experience found on HTC's Android smartphones on my Symbian phone, then I simply install SPB Mobile Shell and now I have 1-10 home screens with customizable widgets and shortcuts... If you can't handle Symbian, then you might as well stick to feature phones.

52. Mash unregistered

Palm's webOS is good too.

8. cristianer

Posts: 42; Member since: Aug 20, 2010

Nice. But it is expensive for me.

10. jpropin

Posts: 152; Member since: May 20, 2010

It is expensive, but for an unlocked phone with as many features and capabilities that it has, it's pretty much on par with other unlocked devices. What really pushes the N8 over the top IMO is that it's compatable with both AT&T & T-Mo's U.S 3G Signal. If your a T-Mo subscriber like me the money you save from not having to have the mandatory data plan with a subsidized smart phone basically pays for this phone and more in the two years you'd be under contract. I can get unlimited Web for $10 a month or just use WiFi and pay nothing. The C6-01 & C7 which both have alot of the same features as the N8 will hopefully be coming out not long from now and hopefully will offer a less expensive alternative to the N8

48. cristianer

Posts: 42; Member since: Aug 20, 2010

Yeah. Anyway I'm waiting the milestone 2, I hope it will be cheaper.

9. Emix unregistered

Thank you phonearena for fair and detailed review! I expected 9 or 9.5 but 8.5 is good! This is my next phone!

11. yeah unregistered

wow it is right. they gave 9.5 rating for iphone that does not perform like a phone let alone a smartphone. jeez such a bias website. shame on phonearena

12. why I bought an N8 unregistered

I just bought an unlicked N8. I decided to go for the N8 after using an HTC Magic (rooted) for 1.5 years. Android is a nice platform, but hey, it gets slower and slower after a few months. Unacceptable. IPhone is not for me - do not like Apple's manias. So, back to old Nokia and yes, I am happy. It is a phone, has to allow me to call, freely, without forcing me to depend on a charger. I have a fast internet connection. GPS. I only would like to see a better Mail for Exchange, with the compelling Google sync. Other than that, bye bye, Android/HTC/Samsung and company...

13. thatdude1 unregistered

Great handset! I do not agree with everything the reviewer said, but 8.5 is much better than I anticipated from phone arena. Definitely my next Nokia handset as that is all I use lately. Should have given it at least a 9.0.

14. GIO

Posts: 2; Member since: Oct 07, 2010

This phone shouldn't get higher than 8/10 in business staff, but it should get 10/10 in in multimedia, so they should have given it 9/10 at least...

15. RVM unregistered

Nice review, thx phonearena. Im Nokia fan, but i have to admit Symbian^3 still need some more eye candy, hopefuly S^4 will fix it. I am definitively gonna buy N8, that phone is just amazing (for my needs) !

16. Wreckone unregistered

Yeah I cannot wait for my N8, I'm currently using a 580O! The N8 is like a dream come true for Nokia lovers! I live in the US and the reviews are mostly skewed here favoring IOS phone and Droid OS. I like being different and have enjoyed both my E71 and 580,0 but I really am exited about getting my N8. The hardware alone cannot be matched (as a package!) and a upcoming firmware updates will replace browser and Symbian 4 is just around the corner too...

17. 530gemini

Posts: 2198; Member since: Sep 09, 2010

Well, at least the N8 seems to have dramatically improved. Although still not good enough to compete with the likes of the iphone4 and galaxy s. I see the N8 as a great mid range smartphone.

18. DJ unregistered

Never owned an iPhone so I can't comment, but I did own a Samsung Galaxy..... The Vibrant. VERY, VERY , VERY overrated. I had boffo issues with features that did not work as advertised. And I knew alot of others who did as well. The Samsungs look great on paper, but aren't so great in reality.

19. Hazel unregistered

It all now depends on the personal taste of the user. This is the kind of phone I'd recommend for people who want a touchscreen smartphone with simple interface and navigation plus a great multimedia experience at the expense of an originally beautiful screen that does not need any shells of any sort, a good speaker, and many available apps. Like, say, my father. But for me, I still prefer the upcoming HTC Desire HD with Android 2.2 Froyo. There is something to be said about the not-so-perfect home screen customization of the N8 (and its minimum of 3) and the not-so-good speaker phone IMO. I am particularly fond of the Desire HD because it is not only visually stimulating with its HTC Sense + Android interface but the whole personalization + customization of the home screens, the skins, and the modern look... They are all very attractive to me. I want something that would be a definite eye-catcher but is still more than it looks. I need the speaker to be loud and proud like with Desire HD's Dolby Mobile with SRS because I use my phone as an alarm clock and if it has crappy speaker, then how is it supposed to wake me up? Basically, I want an all-in-one phone: Something that plays music as well as videos well that will make me forget about getting an iPod, something that takes pictures well that would make me forget about buying a digital camera, something that would make me not want an iPad because it can read e-books, surf the Web, etc. easily. I want something that has Navigations and GPS, a capacitive touchscreen and a multitude of apps available while yet still being durable compared to others. This is not to say that the N8 isn't an eye-catcher but the Philippine mobile market being Nokia largely dominated by Nokia... I imagine this will be fairly common in some people's hands soon. That's why I'm going with the Desire HD as well. I want to be the only person using an awesome, expensive, high-end phone within a large sight radius--- and I want them to know I love my phone. That it's not just for show. That, basically, it really is awesome. =)

20. jpropin

Posts: 152; Member since: May 20, 2010

You are right It is a matter of personal taste. I want a device that gets it done. A device that will do as it says and doesn't make promises it can't keep. But most of all, I want something solid that I can hold in my hand and squeeze and not worry about it busting into 1000 molded plastic pieces. Something that is built to last and I can rely on when I need it

30. Hazel unregistered

Yeah, and truthfully I'm happy to see that Nokia has finally caught up on the whole smartphone trend with a device that doesn't lag up once you get any data inside it. I almost bought myself an N97 mini a month ago and thank goodness I did my research! Otherwise, I'd end up frustrated real bad. I'm also glad because a new Nokia phone model released means prices for the earlier released phones will drop sooner or later and I would like to have either a RIM Blackberry Curve 8900 or Nokia E72 (will mostly like go for the E72) for instances when I have to rough out and I don't want to risk my Desire HD getting scratched, broken, wet, snatched, or even mugged away from me. And as I mentioned, the Philippine market is largely dominated by Nokia, I expect prices are going to drop soon in spirit of the many business competitions battling it out for consumers (and bottomline: profits). Another thing is I've always respected Nokia's easy to navigate interfaces during those pre-smartphone times. Hopefully they'll pull through. When it comes to mobile phones, competition is good. Otherwise, there would be little evolution and very little numbers of high-class phones as compared to if there were competition. So yeah. I'll stick with Desire HD. The thing isn't likely to break in pieces anyway since it has a unibody aluminum frame. =) And much rarer over here. Very much rarer.

21. jpropin

Posts: 152; Member since: May 20, 2010

Very nice comments about the N8 on The Street.Com 37528001 Pretty rare that Nokia gets a positive endorsement on a U.S Financial Website.....LOL

23. Himm34 unregistered

What I can't understand? You are buying a phone not the apps. Although the Iphone and others have some nice ones,but once you brake it down the software in the nokia want be dumb down like it is in the Iphone.Take the camera and look at the lack of features missing from the Iphone. And the nokia is built better as well. Do a drop test and see which one comes out on top. For my money it's the n8

24. orielwindow

Posts: 109; Member since: Sep 23, 2010

Nice balanced review. I like that you gave credit where it was due while remaining critical about the "new" OS.

25. pathmarkpolice

Posts: 102; Member since: Feb 05, 2009

Watch the video review of the phone on youtube (I think it's a 3 part review by mobileburn, it's really in depth). Don't go by words alone. See the phone in action. In terms of multimedia, the phone is an absolute beast. The 680 mhz processor does work pretty well and the phone can multitask, but the WAY it runs its tasks are annoying. For example, Symbian still refreshes your music list and displays that annoying message when refreshing the tracks. There were only 5 songs on the reviewers phone and refreshing the tracks took a little while. Also, there is some slight lag when switching between the home screens. The worst part of the phone is the texting. There is no auto correct option. I repeat, NO AUTO CORRECT. And forget about a portrait qwerty keypad, you're stuck with Alpha Numeric. Sending a text message or email or twitter response seems extremely laborious. If you're a texter, I wouldn't recommend this phone as there are extra steps and a lack of auto correct with the landscape qwerty that makes composing messages a nightmare. If you've used an iPhone or an Android phone, I think using the N8 would feel like a big step backwards. However, if you've been a die hard Nokia fan and have used their previous crappy, touch symbian models, this phone looks like it'll be a Godsend. Also, the full 3g band functionality is something I'd like to see ALL phones carry.

27. 6kle unregistered

I disagree with the hard words about texting. It does have auto correct in the portrait and if you can't turn on it for the landscape then it should be fixed soon with an update or a mod. Already several days ago there was a simple free app released that allowed also portrait mode qwerty. Also, when it comes to "not enough eye-candy UI" this OS is fully open and as such you can change and tweak the UI a lot. There are already plenty of good looking UI skins, including Nokia's own midnight themes that it released several days ago in an update (but isn't really noticed by any of the reviewers from what I've seen). The things that can be changed by apps/new firmware/mods are things like UI visuals and minor gripes like those with texting etc. What can NOT ever be changed by such things is the hardware. As said, Nokia hardware is fantastic. The software is great when you take some time to tweak it with mods to what you personally like best and wait a bit for firmware updates that are constantly being worked to iron out these MINOR gripes. This is a new OS and as such it still has updates on the way to make it better. No future update or mod will ever change bad hardware though so it's good to keep this in mind if you want to use your phone for a long time.

29. akk28 unregistered

Just to make one correction (don't have time to correct everything). N8 DOES HAVE auto correction, you turn it on while in landscape qwerty from the options tap (turn auto correct on). Reviewers mistake for not noticing so obvious option available.
  • Display 3.5" 360 x 640 pixels
  • Camera 12.1 MP / 0.3 MP VGA front
  • Storage 16 GB + microSDHC
  • Battery 1200 mAh(5.83h 3G talk time)

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