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This time last year, we were all in anticipation of Nokia’s hottest flagship – the Nokia N97. A year later, N97 is a dirty word, encapsulating Nokia’s failure to understand the high end.
Unfortunately, many N97 users got burned. Myself included. Although there was some initial love, eventually, it easily provoked frustration like a troll. Many firmware updates eased certain annoyances, but even this was not enough. It was so bad, even Nokia acknowledged this disaster.
Whilst N97 sold quite well and indeed it’s baby sibling, N97 mini, the N97 damaged Nokia’s reputation (especially amongst tech enthusiasts, even Nokia and Symbian lovers alike) pushing them to other platforms. Thank God for the N900 showing me at least that there are some at Nokia who know what they’re doing. Unfortunately for Nokia, the N97 was the last straw and many left Nokia’s greeny-blue pastures completely (and some strengthening their disdain for Nokia). [And even worse for those trapped in a contract with N97]
Now with the imminent release of the Nokia N8, many are (and rightfully so) apprehensive whether they’ll be getting a touch of déjà vu. In all fairness, the N97 isn’t completely all that bad. There are some users who still enjoy it. Nonetheless, this battered reputation for the N97 will never be rescued. It is best put aside and forgotten. And what better way to forget than setting things right with the Nokia N8?
Here’s some reasons why you can rest some of those fears. With Nokia aknowledging mistakes in the N97, they also learned NEVER to repeat them.
1. N8 has the best overall hardware of all the Nseries.
N97 was basically the N96 in a different form factor.
- 5mp cam, no xenon, nHD mono audio video recording.
- N97 had resistive TFT screen
- Meak, single CPU, no dedicated GPU.
- Anorexic RAM
- Microscopic C drive for apps.
- Plastic body, plastic screen. Scratch ahoy!
- Relatively chunky due to the so so QWERTY keyboard that had different tactile feedback between different N97s. Some OK, some appalling.
- Self destructing lens cover
- Paint peeling
- Never ending need for a hard reset.
- Was priced as the flagship. 550 EUR Unsubsidised, minus tax.
- 12MP, largest sensor on a mobile device, 28mm wide angle, xenon flash, 720p HD stereo audio recording!
We finally see a successor of both N82 and N86. N8 wields a mighty camera and video recorder. You can be snap happy and be confident that photos and videos you take will look great. Since using the N97 (and to an extend the N900) I’ve been taking photos less. Often resorting back to a digital camera or the trusty Nokia N82.
Had the N97 simply had xenon flash, I’d still find uses for it. Now every time I try to come back to it, I’m just left with a bitter taste in my mouth and a longing to jump back to Maemo 5 where everything just works.
- N8 has capacitive AMOLED display with multitouch
Whilst S60 5th was already difficult to interact with as a touch interface, the claggy resistive screen made it even more of a pain. It’s not necessarily resistive vs capacitive, it’s just that capacitive would have been the easiest answer to providing that feather light touch.
Note that the N900 has resistive screen but it’s extremely sensitive. If you compare N97 with Capacitive S^1 counterparts like X6 or i8910, even though it’s still S^1, the capacitive phones feel much better, simply because with flicks and swipes, you want that delicate touch, not a shove.
AMOLED display should also give N8 users brighter, more vivid colours (and some N8 users have said readability outdoors is not an issue – though need to see for myself)
- Arm 11 680MHz CPU with dedicated (Broadcom?) GPU.
I won’t (more can’t) go into CPU numbers other than noting that S^3 is more GPU based. The OS is more reliant on the GPU. (There are many factors involved too. Pricing maybe.) But what is important to know is that processor number is not the end all and be all.
- 256MB RAM –
well, this should have been the minimum in 2009 and it would have been great to see 512 or 1GB RAM, but Symbian enthusiasts will poke you and say Symbian does not need that much. (Symbian maybe, but what about 3rd party apps used to guzzling RAM.) N8 videos of Proto/preproduction firmware shows N8 multitasking 15 apps simultaneously with ease – though whether it can do the same with third party, RAM hungry apps will be another matter.
- Anodized aluminium build, slim, keyboardless, with glass screen. Lighter too.
N8 has somewhat more of a premium build and should stand up to more knocks than the virtually all plastic ensemble N97. With glass screen, there maybe an increased risk of shattering, but none more so than other glass capacitive screens on other devices.
The N8 is also much slimmer. 12.9mm and fits the hand and more important, pocket better than previous Nokia touch devices.
- No lens cover –
hardened glass to prevent scratching (though I am concerned with smudging destroying photos – though iPhone/5800 etc users have managed well without).
This issue has fixed in later N97 builds and you could drop your N97 off at Nokia care for repair. But this should never have been an issue in the first place.
- HDMI out with Dolby Digital Surround sound
N97 had great VGA tv out. The N8 has that too. But on top of this, the N8 has HDMI out to display your photos, HD clips and movies in glorious high definition.
- N8 has pentaband 3G so it should work on all 3G networks globally (bar CDMA)
- Other great stuff like Bluetooth 3.0, 802.11N wifi and dual charging options via standard Nokia Pin and MicroUSB as well as USB on the go
A feature seemingly welcomed by the masses. With USB OTG, you can plug USB sticks, pen drive, external hard drives and other phones to the N8 and access their stored files. Combine this with HDMI out and you’ve got a portable movie player. Though the N8 already has MicroSD storage and 16GB on board memory to fill up.
- N8 is more adequately priced. 370 EUR Unsubsidized, minus tax, and is NOT the main Nokia flagship.
Whilst the features suggest flagship, being better in almost every way compared to the N97, the N8’s price suggests otherwise, starting at 180 EUR lower (minus tax and subsidies).
It’s a debate whether the N8 is THE Nokia flagship. At that price, lack of proper launch event and being titled a “symbian flagship”, this suggests more to come at the high end for Nokia.
What this is about, as J. Fourgeaud would say, is managing expectations. Like the 5800, the N8 gives you a lot of bang for the buck.
2. N97 was on S60 5th Edition. N8 is on Symbian^3.
It’s not an OS issue. Symbian is a mature OS with features the others could only dream of. But clunky UIs prohibit the seamless use of those features.
Superficially S^1 and S^3 are extremely similar. But at the core there are many subtle changes and tweaks to the UI that makes S^3 more suited to a touch interface than S^1 which was basically S60 with a touch screen slapped on.
Whilst it’s not perfect and not the big change everyone’s been expecting (that comes with S^4 and of course, the all mighty MeeGo) Symbian^3 fixes many of the critical issues from S^1 making it much more of a pleasure to use. Single tap consistency whilst minor change is a huge improvement.
Users on proto/preproduction firmware have voiced praise with S^3. More importantly, these are the users who were failed by N97.
The combination of S^3 with a faster processor, dedicated GPU and more RAM should make N8 and S^3 a completely different experience to S^1 on the N97.
My N97’s favourite past time was to freeze, crash and eventually require hard reset. I did give it the benefit of the doubt of being faulty, but so many other users have been experiencing the same frustrations.
S^3 may also offer up other new features. e.g. N8 and S^3 also apparently plays .avi/.DivX movies fine, something which we needed alternative apps for.
3. N8 will have better apps.
N8 is the first Nokia device to bring Qt out of the Box. Qt is Nokia’s solution for cross platform apps, making app development easier too.
Apps made for one platform, e.g. Symbian can easily be shared onto say, Maemo or MeeGo, reducing fragmentation and increasing audience sizes.
We’ve already seen some fantastic gaming titles from EA, such as Sims 3, NFS Shift and Monopoy as well as Asphalt 5 from Gameloft coming soon on the N8. This demonstrates the N8 as a capable platform unlike with the N97 which could barely manage versions of the same games from 1980.
Where it might N8 stumble?
- Battery life. Non easily removable battery
1200mAh? Hmm. Reports from users and claims from Nokia say it would equal or better the N97 (which has 1500mAh). I’ve got my Proporta Portable Charger if I ever do need to use the N8 heavily for a full day.
- The web browser.
This is my biggest fear with Symbian^3. How will the browser fare? I’m not too convinced by early demo videos. Plus, N900 and MicroB has set my expectations extremely high with Maemo5’s Mozilla based desktop like performance. Then again, they are non-final firmware.
Alternative browsers include Opera Mobile of course, which will provide a closer desktop like experience (moins flash).
- Mono Speakers
Though much better than both N97’s speakers combined as these speakers are loud and clear not tinny like N97.
- Symbian^3 quirks
S^3 UI may still be confusing and may lag. Certain videos and quick personal demos show otherwise, but it’s worth being cautious.
- 3.5″ nHD screen may not be enough for some
For mass market, 3.5″ might be most ideal, though technology leaders may want larger 4-4.3″ screens with at least WVGA resolution.
- Lack of physical QWERTY keyboard
Physical buttons may have drawn early N97 users and those same people might not be willing to give up an interface without real hard buttons.
Larger 4″ with QWERTY may appear at Nokia World 2010 with the rumoured Nokia E7.
Conclusion: N8 has what it takes to be successful, both for Nokia and for end user.
All in all, it seems the N8 is not destined to follow the same tumbling path of the N97.
The N8 has a much wider target audience than the N97. With the stupendous camera alone, it carves itself within the market of those interested in mobile photography, video and over all just fantastic imaging any time anywhere. This couldn’t be said for the N97.
The N8 makes for a fantastic gaming device. As titles trickle in, you’ll enjoy the N8 for its gaming capabilities too. N97 wasn’t really blessed on the games side. There were some uber simple games. There was also a brief stint with N-Gage but the execution was flawed and of course that died.
The N8 is a great video and music player out of the box, with wider codec support for video needing less conversion. Unless you had SmartMovie by Lonely Cat Games, you were pretty much limited in the videos your N97 could play.
At it’s core, Symbian delivers all of your expected smartphone and telephony functionalities. This is shared between N8 and N97, except that N8 has a touch more polish to it.
The price of course, might make it easier to stomach too than the N97.
Overall, the N8 user experience is really more than just the sum of its parts. Combined, it does seem to equate to a high end multimedia and smartphone experience that can both effortlessly consume media as well as create it.
If all that still isn’t enough to tempt you, as mentioned, for those looking at the big UI changes, this comes with S^4 and revolution arriving via MeeGo. When these OSes mature, we’ll have some unequivocally irresistible offerings from Nokia.