What’s Not Good: Cheap-Feeling and Plasticky; Small Keys; Music File Sort Issues; S60 OS Too Complex for Average User; Device is Bulky; Very Expensive
Bottom Line: Nokia’s N82 may be the best camera phone on the market right now, but it’s a bulky, complicated, expensive device for geeks and not the average consumer. You want features? N82’s got ‘em and then some. You want a stylish phone that’s fun to use? Look elsewhere.
Make/Model: Nokia N82
Network: GSM (Quad-Band)
Data: EDGE, WiFi (802.11 b/g); 3G (WCDMA 2100 - not for U.S. market)
Carrier: Unlocked GSM
Size: 112 x 50 x 17.3 mm
Weight: 114 g
Form Factor: Candybar
Display: 2.4” Color LCD, 320 x 240 (QVGA) resolution, 16.7 Million Colors
Memory: 100 MB built-in, microSD card slot
Notable Features: 5MP Camera with Auto-Focus and Xenon Flash; VGA video capture @ 30fps; Integrated GPS with location based services; 3.5mm headphone jack w/TV-Out; Auto-Rotating Display; Front-facing secondary camera
IntroductionNokia’s N82 has received multiple awards for being the best camera phone available today on the global market. While the LG Viewty might have something to say about that, the N82 is certainly amongst the top two or three, anyway. Packing a 5MP Carl Zeiss lens backed by a true Xenon flash, sliding lens cover, and VGA (640 x 480) video capture at a full 30 fps with stereo audio, this latest N-Series handset is a true imaging powerhouse. The N82 even bests Nokia’s flagship N95 by packing a more powerful Xenon flash instead of the latter’s LED photo light.
When I bought my N82 I did so for its camera. I’d gotten tired of iPhone’s lackluster 2MP shooter that’s basically useless in the dark and decided to look for a great camera first, and other features second, in a replacement. My search quickly narrowed down to the N82, Sony Ericsson K850i, and LG Viewty. The N82 won out thanks to its integrated WiFi and 3.5mm headphone jack; Viewty’s a decidedly non-US model and lacks even EDGE data (it works on 3G overseas), and while I was put off a bit by some bad press the K850 had received, I was soon delighted by my SE rep getting me a review loaner. So look for a separate review the K850i soon.
I picked up an N82, popped my T-Mobile SIM card into it, and spent some time customizing the theme and wallpaper, loading up a microSD card with some music to use on the phone, and tweaking my Mac to sync contacts and calendar information with it. For about three weeks I left the iPhone behind and carried the N82 daily. During that time I also got half a dozen or so new handsets to test in the post-CTIA deluge. Point being that even though I’d set out to find the best camera phone around, it became impossible to ignore the other aspects of the N82: namely, style, usability, and fun.
The N82 lists for over $550, so my expectations for it ran quite high. How’d it fare? In a nutshell, the phone’s imaging capabilities were everything I could have hoped for, if not more, and the S60 platform makes this Nokia a true smartphone. But actually carrying and using the N82 left me a little cold.
Design & FeaturesMy N82 is finished in a shiny silver front with a patterned beige back panel. Nokia calls it “Warm Titanium,” and also offers the device in white and black (sadly, I got mine before the black was widely available - for my money the black’s nicer). The first thing I noticed about the phone is that it’s quite big but has rather small, crowded buttons. The second thing I noticed is that it felt kind of cheap. I don’t think the device is actually cheaply made, but it’s all plastic and a couple of the buttons stick or creak when I press them. There’s none of that “luxury heft” you get with the glass and metal of an iPhone, or even with some other Nokia’s like the N73 or N95.
Instead, the N82 is bulky and a little heavy, but feels like it might break if you squeeze it a too hard during a particularly emotional phone call. It’s also, quite frankly, an ugly phone. At first blush the design looks clean and modern in a “function over form” sort of way. But after spending a few weeks with it and comparing it to the various new models that came into the office (and my old iPhone), I grew less and less fond of the N82’s looks. 17.3mm is thick for a modern handset, and while that’s actually a significant thinner profile than the 21+ mm N95, it’s chunky for a handset that doesn’t have a hardware QWERTY board.
The display is covered in a scratch-resistant resistant plastic that actually held up quite well during testing. I kept the handset in my pocket a lot and didn’t employ any sort of screen protector, and it’s still scratch-free. Unfortunately, the lower portion of the front panel suffered a noticeable nick almost immediately and a few other smaller scratches have shown up since. Also, there’s what looks to be a piece of dust trapped inside of the front camera lens assembly just below the plastic panel. Not particularly impressive for such a spendy device.
I won’t delve into all of the features of a Symbian Series 60 (Feature Pack 1) device here, as my N95 review covers them in great detail. Suffice it to say that the N82 does just about everything you could ask of a modern smartphone, has a very capable Web browser, and can be extended by way of thousands downloadable applications. In fact, the N82 is in many ways akin to a candybar version of the N95, with integrated GPS and Nokia Maps pre-installed, WiFi, A/V out, and so on. The 2.4” display found here is smaller than those on the N95 and N95 8GB models, but the N82 as a whole is also smaller than those phones, as well. This device is basically a candybar alternative to the N95 range, but with a slightly better camera (it’s not only the flash - overall image quality was better here) and no U.S.-band 3G option available.
Usability & PerformanceI tested the N82 on T-Mobile in the San Francisco Bay Area. Signal strength and call quality were generally excellent, on par with or better than any recent T-Mobile handset I’ve tried (save their latest UMA-equipped BlackBerrys). The Quad-Band GSM radio picked up signals easily, and I had no trouble hopping onto T-Mo’s EDGE data network, either. Calls came through loud and clear with minimal background hiss, and people I talked to generally said I sounded good on their end, as well.
The handset worked well with the included wired stereo headset, and sounded great when I plugged in my own earphones to listen to music. One minor disappointment is that my “iPhone friendly” Etymotic hf2 headset didn’t work with the N82. I’ve successfully used it with recent BlackBerry Curve and Pearl models, but when I plugged it into the Nokia a loud buzz took hold and wouldn’t give. Other microphone-less stereo earphones were fine, though, and I had no trouble using the included A/V cable to route the N82 through my home stereo system and TV set for playback of videos, still images, and even Web content.
I was also able to easily pair the N82 with a variety of mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets. Wireless range was good, as was audio quality. The phone’s internal speaker is pretty loud and worked well as an on-the-go speakerphone, though music distorted when I pushed the speaker to full volume.
One thing that hampered usability on the N82 was its keypad layout. For whatever reason, Nokia went with big softkeys and very small alphanumeric buttons on this handset. In general I found the dialing keys a bit small and the overall button arrangement a bit cramped. I’m guessing Nokia wanted to maximize the available display space given that the N82 is a candybar, while still leaving ample room for the D-Pad. But they should have gone with a different dialing layout that afforded larger buttons. Also, the D-Pad and right softkey also both creaked, were a little sticky, and leaked light (from the backlight), which added to my overall impression of, “Cheap build quality for a $550 phone.”
The thing about Symbian S60 devices is that they’re super powerful but not really novice-friendly. S60 is an amazingly rich platform but it’s got a learning curve to it and also demands pretty robust hardware lest you wind up bogged down by serious lags when you press keys and switch applications. Folks used to Windows Mobile devices will find using a phone like the N82 “similar but different,” kind of like the difference between a PC and a Mac. Folks used to a carrier-branded feature phone will likely feel a bit lost when first trying out an S60 smartphone. There’s a lot under the hood here, and if you’re not interested in customizing and tweaking beyond setting your wallpaper, S60 is not for you.
Again, you can refer to my N95 review or any number of Symbian-centric Websites for much more on S60. For now I’ll just say that the N82 is amongst the more responsive S60 devices I’ve tried, but still exhibits minor lag when skipping tracks in the music player, loading up a video clip, or switching applications.
Speaking of music playback, while the actual music sounded great via wired ‘phones or over stereo Bluetooth, I had some issues with the integrated music player. For some reason it sorted all of my tracks alphabetically, so instead of playing an album in the correct order (Track 1, Track 2, etc), it played them all alphabetically by song title. I couldn’t figure out how to correct this, no matter how many “solutions” I found online and tried. At least I wasn’t the only one to ever experience this on an N82, I guess.
ConclusionI left my iPhone behind in search of a top-notch camera phone. I found one in the Nokia N82. Problem is the camera didn’t make up for all of the other things I liked about iPhone - and also like about a number of other newer handsets — that the N82 doesn’t offer. Market emphasis right now is about marrying features to usability and providing consumers with devices that do it all, are reasonably easy and fun to use, and look good when you take them out of your pocket or purse. The N82 trumps just about any other phone out there when it comes to feature set, and considering how complex and powerful a device it is, the S60 user interface is pretty clean and manageable.
Thing is, the average consumer doesn’t “consider how complex and powerful a device is” when he shops for a phone or media player. And he doesn’t read User’s Manuals, either. So while the enthusiast interested in exploring the power of the Symbian OS will derive weeks of enjoyment from tinkering with a phone like the N82, John Q. Public just wants a device that works and works well. Even if his expectations of a cell phone have risen from “makes calls” to “makes calls, takes pictures, does Web and Email, and plays music,” he still wants that ease of use. Pick it up, hit the Menu key or Music icon, and go. So while the N82 trumps iPhone and other high-end devices like LG’s Voyager (Verizon) and Sony Ericsson’s Walkman and Cyber-Shot phones when it comes to spec sheets and feature sets, those other devices are more appealing to many users