Are Nokia phones really that bad?

The last week the news around Nokia has been rather negative. Particularly around the Q4 results, but also because of rumours of a new delay of the Nokia E7, a related delay of PR2.0 for Symbian^3 devices, and possible delay of MeeGo devices to, perhaps even, the second half of 2011. Though I personally feel that all these are (or could be) negative news pieces for Nokia from an industry perspective, I am also a very happy user of the Nokia N8 – despite previous complaints that the N8 was “only” mid-market smartphone. It is this, me as a happy N8 user, that I want to dedicate a few paragraphs to.

Before I start highlighting things I like about the N8, please let me assure you I am not blind to the flaws in the current iteration of the N8’s software – most notably text input and web browser. Nokia’s admission of these problems and its expressed commitment to solving them with PR2.0 convinced me to go ahead and buy an N8 after having returned the first one.

From an industrial design point of view, I find the Nokia N8 a great device. It is slim, is made of really nice materials, feels nice in the hand and has an overall quality to it. I know some people don’t like how the camera module protrudes or how the top and bottom look like they are sawn off, but I like it. Though I normally use it with the perfectly fitting CC-1005 silicon case, because it is a little too slippery for my liking and I am worried about dropping it, I often enough take it out to admire the industrial design.

The thing I absolutely love about the N8 is its camera. Lots has been written about the N8 in that respect, so I won’t go into specs. I do, however, want to say I had never had a camera phone that allowed me to make decent photos in the evenings in my living room. Now I always have a decent camera at arm’s length and I can now record memories whenever and wherever. For me this was a really important factor in buying the N8 – Check out Steve Litchfield’s editorial on All About Symbian, where he also emphasises how important this can be. Many will say, simply buy a decent compact camera, but there are two issues with that. First of all, I have my phone at arm’s length at all times, not necessarily a stand-alone camera. Secondly, the Nokia N8 allows you to share those photos with the world instantly – important when you live abroad as I do.

Lastly, I want to discuss performance of the phone. It is nice for a phone to theoretically be able to do something, but that in practice does not work well. These are two obvious examples of how the N8 offers great performance:

  • In the case of GPS plenty of devices have suboptimal performance. In turn, my N8 locks on to my position while driving in a car between mountains and on a very cloudy day in less than 2 seconds. Combine that with the Ovi Maps application (locally stored apps with free Voice Navigation), and you really have a pain-free navigation solution on your phone. On top of that, I should say that its GPS chip is very frugal with battery consumption. All together a great job on Nokia’s part.
  • Another issue I have had with other phones is Wifi uploading. Most phones have no problem uploading a picture from the phone to a Web service, but uploading a 120Mb HD video to YouTube is a different story. On my N8 it is generally speaking a very simple task (once you have PixelPipe installed), whereas on Android phones this was such a frustrating experience (as it almost always dropped the connection half way through the upload) that I prefer to forget it.

Lastly, Nokia build-in a Power Saving mode that can be switched on with two clicks from wherever you are in the phone. This really helps you get the most out of the phone. From personal experience I have noticed that I only need the Power Saving mode off when I do active browsing (3G speeds) and chatting (keyboard feedback). For all other instances, I am fine with this mode switched on. I can easily get a day and a half on the phone while always having Gravity and Whatsapp connected.

So yes, I read much of the negative press around Nokia and I do sometimes feel it is a little undeserved. Nokia still makes great phones that are a joy to use. In this post I have hopefully made clear some of the aspects that I enjoy a lot.

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2 thoughts on “Are Nokia phones really that bad?”

  1. I don’t disagree with your assessment of the camera. The N8 has the best camera, period, on any phone. However, the other issues, text input and the wonky browser, are inexcusable. Installing Swype doesn’t help since the best use of that keyboard is in portrait mode. In landscape, you only have to use it for a few words before fatigue sets in. Having the keyboard hide everything on screen takes you out of context. Prediction should work more intuitively. Text prediction should know I’m in a field or not.

    Setting up “access points” is weird. You should only have to set up two settings for your provider; the mobile internet and MMS. WiFI should take care of itself.

    It’s not the phone, though, it’s the eco-system. I can get around the technical hurdles on the device, it’s what the software offers (or fails to offer) that is important. In my opinion, the reason the phone is packed with convenience apps is because the Ovi Store is a joke. Mostly games and shortcuts to services like Facebook. The apps that work, like Gravity and SPB Mobile Shell are, frankly, out of sight price wise, but they have to charge that much as they are the best apps available on the platform.

    I appreciate that Ovi Maps with Navigation is free, but it should work at least as well in the USA as it does everywhere else. Also, you may have a better GPS than me, because my N8 typically takes between 30 seconds to two minutes to fix and lock. Also, the first and last time I used it, the phone went to sleep mode and the screen blanked.

    I could go on, but you get the idea. An OS isn’t just a collection of disparate parts cobbled together for the purpose of managing parts of a device, it has to manage the entire the device. Symbian itself had become too fragmented and Meego, while better, was stalled. The decision to go with Windows Phone 7 may have been surprising, but not entirely. Nokia is at a crossroads. If it can’t do software, then concentrate on hardware and let MS handle the interface.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Steve.

    I think you make very valid points, which I can’t really argue. The fact of the matter is that Symbian is not up to the task anymore. In my opinion as well, it can’t compete with the likes of Android, iOS or even WebOS. The latter three are mature and modern Operating Systems, whereas Symbian is simply mature, edging towards old.

    Text input, browser, and lack of ecosystem have made me change to my wife’s Samsung Galaxy S again. I still believe that the N8 performs very nicely in some areas, but the Galaxy S – after flashing a newer version of the OS – just flies and has all the apps one could wish for.

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