Monday, September 24, 2007

Nokia N80 Internet Edition Phone Review

Ok, time to get off my soap box (although I am watching Ahmadinejad on CNN right now), and to write something technical:

I bought a Nokia N80 Internet Edition phone a couple of weeks ago, and spun this up on my T-Mobile service. A short overview of the features:

  • Quad-band GSM phone
  • WCDMA 2100 (G3) compatibility
  • GPRS and EDGE support
  • Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g)
  • Bluetooth
  • 3 megapixel back digital camera, kind-of-dvd-like video recording
  • Front-face cam for video conferencing over G3 or VoIP
  • Full web browser
  • S60 Symbian OS
    • MP3/WMA player
    • Office application to read .doc, xls files (free), and get ppt files
    • PDF files
    • VoIP (SIP) support, including video conferencing
    • IM support, with no docs as to what protocol that is
  • Mini-SD card expansion slot
Initial Impressions

The black N80 Internet Edition I received was a sleek, black slide open phone with a solid-enough feel. The package included a data cable, a nifty stereo headset/microphone thing (the older models work too) with a volume control, and the CD with the software to make it all work.

Moving the needed data from my old 6610 to the new phone was easy enough - what did not get moved with the SIM card was restored well enough by the Nokia PC suite.

It takes the new thinner-pin charger connection, so my collection of old Nokia chargers is useless. The data cable for the older Nokia phones (CA-42 is the part number, I think) does not work with the new phone.

Connecting to the PC without the suite installed works as well, as the unit has a "mass storage" mode, but this knocks the phone offline.

Connectivity

GSM obviously worked, and the T-Mobile site supports sending a config parameter for both MMS and GPRS connectivity. That worked. Nice, but expected.

Wi-fi set-up for anything other than open networks was a pain - the menu options are unintuitive at best, and the messages to guide you as to what to do obtuse at best. Add anything more secure than WEP to the mix, and the thing just sits there burning off battery power at a record rate.

I did not try bluetooth, although other reviews state that does not support the stereo device profile (making it useless as something to play music in stereo from the device on your BT-enabled radio may not work in stereo).

Applications

There is a email messaging application that works well, even IMAP over SSL, and POP3 over SSL. It's a bit slow, and there is no way get it to check email as soon as there is a Wi-Fi connection.

I also played with Yahoo Go! 2.0, and I hate to tell you, this application totally sucks. It takes 2 minutes to start on the device, it pauses on page changes, and burns off battery like nothing else I have seen. The screen resolution of the maps is pretty awesome, but last week in Boston it could not geocode an address properly, and Google Maps for mobile over GPRS (!) outperformed Go! over Wi-Fi by a factor of 10 to one.

The web browser, though, is pretty awesome. Pressing the back button gives you a zoomed-out thumbnail of the previous page. Some java script works, you can zoom in and out, and scrolling works. Text input works. What does not work is copy and paste, which is pretty stupid considering the manual touts the ability to copy and paste effectively. This is a totally infuriating omission.

The office reader applications are pretty cool, but you need to pay extra to open power point docs.

The PDF reader works, even opening web mail documents is great.

I will play with the VoIP app as soon as I can find someone with a camera that works with VoIP.

Music and Photos

Let me start by saying that compared to the iPhone, this phone does not manage your digital rights (hey, if you have rights managed by others, you have none. Really.). So you can copy MP3 files to the phone which is nice. It does not support DivX/Xvid video, an odd omission considering how many movies you could fit on a 2 GB Mini or Micro-SD card.

Sound quality is fine, both for the radio and the media player. The playlist feature is functional enough, and it supports WinAmp playlists, which is a bonus. However, connect to the internet via GPRS, and the player stops. Argh.

The camera takes great photos for a phone cam, and kicks the stuffing out of the iPhone. It also includes some editing capabilities, and browsing the photos is smooth. Trying to edit a 3 megapixel photo (with no other applications running) the phone runs out of memory quickly, killing the application.

The Really Bad Stuff

The S60 OS is supposed to be multitasking. So why would Nokia not equip the phone with enough memory?

Running the web browser, switching to another app, boom, both apps close. Editing a photo, boom, the app closes, work is lost. Starting Yahoo! Go! kills everything else on the phone. And this is with all data and apps on a 2 GB micro-SD (with an adapter).

Battery life is fine if you use the basic voice functions, SMS, offering 3 days on standby with WCDMA off (since the USA does not have service in G3 anyways). Using the camera cuts down the life a bit, but things like Yahoo! Go! or WPA Wi-Fi connections completely nuke the battery, taking the device down to a sub-2 hour battery life.

Documentation is pitiful for a techie-toy. No DivX support in the media player, the IM application does not say which protocol it speaks, and copy and paste does not work. Some aspects of operation are downright infuriating, like using the old "clear" button on older models to mean "cancel" on this one, causing lost text messages, input email, and so on. Stupid, stupid.

The lock keys function constantly comes undone in both pocket wear and in the stupid belt pouch thing, since as soon as the question "lock keypad" comes on, it defaults to "no", and the key combo to unlock is way too easy to accidentally get pressed. No auto-lock function makes a bad thing worse.

Conclusion

In short, for all its promise, the phone needs to be fixed, and is a disappointment for Nokia. You'd figure they could make a good thing better, not worse.

Will I buy the N95? I doubt it, unless I got to try one for a week and it sucks a lot less.

Nokia needs to address the issues with battery life (c'mon, it can't be that hard), Yahoo needs to fix their S60 app and remove some of their developer's object-oriented fetishes (the only way I can see this app running so darn slow). UI improvements would be great too, like being able to move any app to the top menu. But most of all, get your memory usage under control - you put 47 MB into the device, and your footprint is already 21 MB. You should be able to live within the rest.

I give this device a 4 out of 10. Nice try, great ideas, but get your devs under control - make them try writing in C.

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5 Comments:

Blogger dp2 said...

Sounds like you really liked this cell phone. :)

I wonder what would happen if they were to take you up on that 'do it in C. . . .'

Have you had a chance to test the GSM features of this unit outside of the US?

Also, is the situation with GSM better in Canada?

4:31 AM  
Blogger jaydub said...

In C.... now, and that works, as expected. I am not about to try the data connection here while roaming through ;)

The real test will be when I end up in Japan or Korea next time, and then I get to see if a) WCDMA works, and b) if the T-Mobile USA SIM cards actually support that. b) is doubtful, since these people still can't get MMS right.

As far as "better", it's cheaper. AT&T aka Rogers here is the same BS - long contracts guaranteeing crappy service (welcome to telecom - we don't have to compete and can suck all we want when we have you on a 2 year contract). The other one named Microcell (acquired by Rogers, but run as a separate business unit) bills by the second, does not rip you off on long distance (also by the second), rolls over minutes, and you can add unlimited local inbound and/or outbound as you wish. They require contracts now, but used to be "if we suck for you, feel free to go".

The coverage for GSM is just the bigger cities and major highways though, but heck, it's nice to not be reachable. Getting called at 4 am on your vacation in Turkey ain't fun.

9:20 PM  
Blogger jaydub said...

Sorry, I construed you saying "C..." as meaning Canuckistan, and did not catch the reference to what I wrote about using C, the programming language.

What would happen is that the learning curve would be high enough that VB turds and object fairies could not write code, and people with some real skills could get it done. No more memory crap-outs, and the thing would fast enough to be usable.

9:24 PM  
Blogger the_noodler said...

Great review, thanks!

I've been playing with the N95 over the weekend. Your N80 assessment pretty much holds with this one, too.

Try google maps (google.com/gmm), much faster than yahoo maps.

Also, here is the autolock app to help you with the locking issues - you can set a timeout after which the keys will auto-lock.

Still haven't played with built-in GPS enough to see how it works and how it drains power. So far I've noticed it takes about 30-60 seconds to catch up to all satellites and get a location fix. The latest firmware (12) promises Assisted GPS, but I don't want to upgrade since it has a major bug which skips keypresses it you type quickly and it's a major pain to down-flash.

2:27 PM  
Blogger jaydub said...

Noodler, thanks for the link.

30-60 seconds for a fix is pretty fast - that beats the snot out of all my Garmin gear.

Now for some reason I thought there was a navigation app available for the S60 OS. The N95 needs nothing else, whereas the N80 needs the bluetooth GPS puck to work with that. I am sure that'll work great for all of 8 minutes before the battery is drained though.

3:00 PM  

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