Video: The Nokia N8 was a flawed savior

Nokia N8
Nokia N8 with Symbian Belle

I had huge hopes on the Nokia N8. In 2010, Nokia finally decided to take the threat of the iPhone and Android seriously. After subpar efforts in trying to reimagine the Symbian user experience with devices like the Nokia 5800 and Nokia N97 running on Symbian S60 version 5 (Both sold well especially the former but ultimately didn’t help improve the dinosaur OS stigma Symbian started carrying). The answer was supposed to be the Nokia N8. You can watch my video on the N8 below.

Not the hardware in particular, but the software, Symbian^3 was supposed to be the first flagship Symbian experience built from the ground up for a capacitive touchscreen and with multitouch support. And in classic Nokia fashion, they absolutely nailed the hardware. It had an anodized aluminum body, that came in 5 vibrant colors, with 2 additional colors being added later on. It felt like a tank because it was built like a tank. Arguably one of the most durable touchscreen phone of all time. Unlike other phones that were obsessed with being thin and light, this was a classic Nokia approach to design. It needed to survive the apocalypse, and it probably would have.

It was around 13mm thick, which for Nokia standards was pretty thin, and had a show stopper massive 12-megapixel camera sensor on its back with Zeiss optics, xenon flash, and 720p video recording. That camera was the very best a phone could offer back then and many steps ahead of its competitors

It also ticked every spec under the sun, with its 3.5″ AMOLED display, USB on the go, mini HDMI port, 16 gigs of internal storage, and an excellent speaker. Its internals weren’t the very best cutting edge at the time, but Symbian was always great when it comes to efficiency.

And Symbian^3…. It was supposed to be the chosen one. As fans, we were all super hyped and expecting a lot out of it, and on paper, everything looked good. It was by far the most powerful, feature-rich operating system at the time. It had real multitasking, and more options to play around with than you would know what to do with. It had a built-in powerful photo editor and video editor. You could connect it to a TV and view your files there. Or you could connect a USB to it using a dongle, and it will show all the files. It played almost every video and audio format you could think of. And it had some nice features way ahead of its time, such as an always-on display.

So what went wrong?

Where do I start? Using the Nokia N8 was… Not a great experience.

The phone was laggy, and scrolling was never smooth. Pinch to zoom felt choppy, and even though the phone supported multi-touch and had a capacitive touchscreen, a first for a Nokia, typing on the keyboard was terrible. The keyboard at launch had no QWERTY mode unless you are in landscape mode, and didn’t support multitouch. The web browser… oh the web browser. While safari on iOS was buttery smooth, using the built-in Symbian browser was like taking multiple steps into the past. Yes, it had flash support and had much more advanced settings, but it was just terrible to use. Then there was the maze of settings and features. It wasn’t easy trying to find anything. Want to remove vibration for touch input? You need to go to profiles, personalize, and then disable it from there. There are many other examples of this.

My Nokia N8 has Symbian belle on it, which is the third major update to Symbian^3 after Symbian Anna, and it fixed so many of these issues, but still fell short compared to iOS. It was also too little too late, as you can never get back the first impression. Sadly, this is the story of the Nokia N8. Brilliant hardware, coupled with very powerful software that wasn’t great to use. This was at the beginning of the era of user experience above all else. It came out at a time when Nokia needed something revolutionary, and it ended up being a subpar effort into modernizing Symbian. Symbian, the operating system that absolutely ruled keypad devices, and was once the biggest strong suite for the brand.

Nokia N8 Side profile
Nokia N8 Side profile

Unfortunately, Symbian^3 felt too close to Symbian S60, perhaps because Nokia didn’t want its users to feel alienated, but that was a huge mistake. Nokia needed to be brave. The ironic thing is, they had the solution all along. They had Maemo, which was later reinvented as Meego, one of the most brilliant operating systems in terms of user experience, maybe of all time. They should have focused on that, but instead bet on Symbian, maybe due to nostalgia, or maybe due to fear. Either way, they bet on the wrong horse. The N8 is perfect proof that even if the phone could do anything you could ever think of if it wasn’t pleasant to use, it won’t be reviewed favorably.

For us fans of the brand, our perception of the N8 was slightly different. We appreciated the hardware, and we appreciated all the features Symbian had. We fell in love with the camera and were so happy to receive multiple updates that did improve the experience. Unfortunately, the rest of the world wasn’t as forgiving or as patient.

So have you guys owned the Nokia N8? Have you used it? What was your N8 experience like? Let’s discuss in the comments!

P.S Most of the shots of the Nokia N8 were filmed with the Nokia 8.3 5G… can you tell? 🙂