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Review of GSM/UMTS-handset Nokia N80
Our constant readers have most likely read our prior review of Nokia N80 long before its release on the market, but updated version of this article has not appeared on our web-site due to prosaic reasons. It became sort of evil tendency for Nokia to sell commercial devices based on S60 that work even worse than prototypes for first couple of months. Nokia N80 became no exception. It was hard to name this smartphone a “viable” device until firmware v17 has been released. It was not stable at all. Release of v17 made the way device operates closer to stable, relieved from many of its initial problems, and as it usually happens, added some new ones.
I wonder what Nokia’s representatives including S60 team are going to say now, as they were saying that reviews should be made only based on commercial devices, that are a lot more stable, have more features and changes in software, as well as hardware parts. Part of discussion can be found here.
We shall not speak about device’s size, its display in other words we shall not retype our first material, you better go and read it. Traditionally, all functionality of S60 3rd edition smartphones in described in a standalone material, so in order you’re not familiar with that – go ahead and read it too. Finally, last reference will guide you to web-browser which is built-in in this device.
Meanwhile in this article we shall concentrate on impressions of daily usage of this device for couple of months, with eyes shut on shortcomings of previous firmware, concentrating only on what has not been fixed even today, or still raises some doubts. Our constant forum may have seen my posts regarding fact that Nokia N80 is working unstable, applications crash arbitrarily, often aborting them. This was all related to life before v17 was released, it was just impossible to use handset comfortably (like listening to music and browsing web), which was eliminating all of its advantages.
Interesting to see that simultaneously with me few of my colleagues started using this model too. In one case errors were appearing all the time, but this person continued to dig in his smartphone, by installing more and more applications, he was using smartphone’s possibilities to the max. Admitting all shortcomings, drawbacks he was actually into exploring possibilities of S60, active interaction with new applications and so on. Verdict was quite interesting – potentially this is a very functionally rich model, which in reality is very unstable. At same time other colleague of mine who is positioning himself as “power user” proclaimed that there are no major problems with this handset on the whole, especially during heavy loads. He said that there’s email, messages, voice dialing, browser concluding it all into all possibilities used to the max. First examination shown that it’s only subjective perception that’s different, smartphone itself was rebooting during heavy loads. The situation was partly saved by the fact that since this person was keeping in mind overall instability of this device, he was not giving it hard times and preferred launching only one application at a time. Confession twist that allows giving positive feedback to a likeable toy.
Part of first owners of Nokia N80 who bought this product can also be added to the list in order to make this experiment more objective. These users were attracted by high price of this unit, brand, and they had almost no need in anything besides phone calls. Such users most likely cannot complain either, they just don’t notice anything due to lack of need in all phone’s features. I’d like to give you short list of changes between 14 and 17th firmware, so that it would become clear how many bugs were fixed:
Changes/improvements made MCU SW v 3.0614.0.3 to v 3.0617.0.6:
Main problem for commercial samples of Nokia N80 (it was not present in prototypes) is the way file cache works. During more or less noticeable load (like music and browser) browser was simply removing application that was minimized from memory. Basically all instability was caused by this factor. It also lead to reboots, which was making most of users annoyed. V17 addressed this issue the most.
Browser. We shall not speak about basic functionality of web-browser, one thing should be noted though: you could store bookmarks with maximal text field length. And in case you will try that on v17 you will end up with application closed and data lost. Remove at least one symbol from link title and you will be able to make all changes without any consequences.
Another nuisance is download manager which is integrated into browser. It was taught to recognize SWF files, but once the file has been downloaded, download manager tries to launch installation manager who is not able to install such file which is logical (installation is not required for flash applications or animations). You cannot select path where file will be stored manually, this will force you to use PC in order to copy files in desired destination.
In extended browser settings you can change connection type (GPRS, WAP, WiFi) when you are viewing web pages. In case you were connected to WiFi, then it will be impossible to change anything, there is no alternative to besides WiFi network to which you are connected already. I’d like to make a reservation that it’s not a browser’s problem, it’s a shortcoming of WiFi organization in handset on the whole, software part is terrible and it raises not only dozens of errors that are funny but even more ones that are sad.
WiFi. One of major advantages of Nokia N80 is WiFi. First disappointment for me was the fact that battery went flat after WiFi was used for 2 hours and 30 minutes. In future it was possible to make it 3 hours instead. However expecting that this model will work more with such weak battery was rather naive, that’s why those who are looking for wireless WiFi connection from their handset better have charger with them.
The way phone operates with WiFi-networks seems simple at first, you create a connection, specifiy required settings and later on work without any problems. Perhaps on paper it does look simple, but in reality it’s not that way.
First of all, usage of WiFi-connection in browser is approvable especially in range of your home network. But sometimes after disconnecting or minimizing browser you will see WiFi icon disappearing and handset still heating up, meanwhile your PC shows that the unit is still connected. Only full restart of handset helps, then it will finally drop this “parasitical” connection. In case you will miss that fact that browser has crashed in some way, then after a few hours drained battery will prove that to you. I got into such situations couple of times in airports and it was a real disappointment.
Second, besides browser WiFi can be used by email client and other applications. That’s where more comfort and danger are. Applications work normally, quickly downloading required information. But periodically you will face situation that was described above, when few programs are used at once, probability of such scenario is maximal.
Short conclusion is not positive at all – WiFi technology works nominally in Nokia N80 though it can help you out most of times, it still requires additional attention and careful use. You will not be able to use WiFi constantly due to battery limitations.
UPnP. With help of WiFi connections you can stream files to PC or any other compatible device multimedia files from smartphone. Basically you can send a music file to PC so that it will be played there. In order to do that you have to install Home Media Server, it can be downloaded for free. I was unable to make this feature work with other programs at all. I got a suspicion that this universal standard is in fact with a far from being one realization.
After spending about three full days in order to make UPnP work on Nokia N80 I found out some interesting aspects which were “accidentally” forgot to be mentioned by manufacturers. Connection to Peer to Peer network without router is possible, but in that case time before smartphone will recognize Home Media Server increases and by the time file is ready to be send this connection will be closed forcefully on PC. In order to make the thing work after all you should use Intel’s utility and setup maximal settings for all parameters. This of course depends on your WiFi adapter brand. However this will help only in case you don’t have service pack 2 installed in your Windows XP. The Irony is that OS with latest updates cannot recognize Nokia N80, time-out was all what we’ve seen.
Installing router completely changes situation, phone will be recognized faster, files will be played on PC. Problems are that sometimes connection can be lost, and it can be restored only manually. With enabled firewall you may encounter problems of server running on PC, this should be noted too.
Shortly, conclusion about UPnP is simple. This technology is potentially interesting, but today its usage in Nokia N80 is in such an early rudimentary stage that it’s hard to consider it being used by casual user. I highly doubt that normal people will try different combinations of devices, install different programs and so on. A simple rule “turn one and everything works” is not used for Nokia N80 and we will not see anything like it at least for now.
Music. This model is a part of Xpressmusic family, but work with music files is terribly organized. I’d like to make a note that we’re speaking about identifying ID tags and languages that are different from English, take Russian as example. Phone recognizes Unicode, meanwhile 90-95 percent of tags are stored in other codings and users are not in the mood to rewrite them. It’s nearly impossible to fix every tag of my 600gb music collection.
You are lucky in case you listen to songs that only have English tags, otherwise you will encnouter loads of hieroglyphs in Music Library. And it is impossible to orientate in such a mess. Attempt to play files via custom folder through file manager will cause phone to understand step by step playback of files from selected folder. This means that you will only listen to one file, later on playback will stop. More on that, it is impossible to select a folder that will be played via player, all operations are made only via Music Library. This forces you to perform a lot of unnecessary actions, and ruins overall impression. For a smartphone branded by Xpressmusic organization of music segment is not impressing at all, to say the least.
Two months spent with this device force you to listen to music. Cheap headphones that are part of the package can be thrown out at once, since their music playback quality cannot be described at all, they should be used for phone calls only despite support of stereo sound. What can of music can we be talking about in case you can hear noises at maximal volume (steady noise). We were using remote control from Nokia 3250, which headphones are rather mediocre as well.
So we were forced to plug in Sennheiser’s model 250 – the sound quality proved to be average, though typical for all S60-powered smartphones. It has a lot in common with Nokia 3250 and other handsets sounding-wise, but is definitely inferior to Nokia N91.
Another thing of note is a strange effect I stumbled upon a number of times –the phone Paused playback at one and the same point and refused to continue. After checking the same tracks on other devices, I was at a loss, since they didn’t reveal the same shortcoming. At high bit rates (256 and higher) the sound in earphones is more likely to crackle a bit, as the handset cannot handle “heavy” files.
In the 17th firmware version one can encounter a hilarious bug, when on media player start up, while still in radio mode, the radio itself doesn’t shut down, instead the player simply pauses playback and turns the radio on again. Someone has missed several lines of program code and thus we have the “pleasure” to try out such uncommon feature.
Generally speaking, the very radio function appears a bit unfinished. When cutting off a headset, you will see radio station’s title on the screen – it may seem right, unless you plug in the headset again and hear the music playing of course. Pay attention – the radio can work in this way for a very long time (I won’t make assumptions on battery’s life time when the radio is playing in background), but the fact is, it doesn’t turn off automatically and this feels wrong. Ideally, radio app should be terminated in 2-3 minutes after disconnecting a headset – many have gotten used to put handset on table and know that the radio will shut down by itself.
One more distinguishing feature of S60 system is slow media player, which needs too much time to load. Regrettably, Nokia N80 follows the same route with 4-5 seconds and a number of extra actions required for starting playback from standby. That’s why Xpressmusic label is just a thing to show off and has nothing to do with the player’s contents.
Mail client. Nothing to shout about here. Files more than 10 Mb in size are not received – connection breaks down automatically, we tried that out in both UMTS and standard EDGE ones. So everyone who deals with much mail will have nothing to do but to turn their sights to ProfiMail, which is a lot better than the bundled application.
Life time. 820 mAh capable battery (BL-5B), applied in the smartphone, will last 8 days in standby mode, as the manufacturer claims. Yet the real numbers are far distant from that enormous theoretical life time – on medium load (30-40 minutes of calls, 15-20 minutes of other functions use), the phone worked for nearly one day. And should you be heavy on browsing web-pages via standard connection protocols (GPRS/EDGE), it would be good if the N80 will stay operational for 6-7 hours. But since it’s a common way of active communication with sending and receiving mail, surfing the web etc., it makes me recall those times, when a smartphone’s limit was a couple of hours and I was forced change handsets pretty often. Basically one might have overlooked all the shortcomings I’ve mentioned above, but the life time – this is what strikes the handset’s functionality, because the battery here yields to all other models on the market capacity-wise. On top of that there will be no replacements for it, I mean at all, though a lot of people would really want to have one.
Nonetheless, those, who are going to use the N80 at work and have chargers everywhere they go, mediocre life time won’t be a big issue – all this handset needs is frequent recharging.
Personally, I find it somewhat important for a smartphone’s battery to last a flight, by that I mean: approximately one hour in an airport, while waiting for a flight and handling mail, making calls etc.; 3-3,5 hours on board, nearly 2 of which can be devoted to playing games, reading books and mail. As for managing male, I didn’t even make an attempt to do this on Nokia N80, even with ProfiMail installed - in light of absence of a touch screen it’s the same as putting yourself on the rack. Moreover, default impossibility of custom list marking adds to that nuisance. But let’s get back to Nokia N80, which managed to last about one hour on board, during which I was playing a simple non-dynamic game. Not so much, is it? I would even say quite little.
Now some good things about the phone. I want by no means to humble the phone’s advantages, which are many. At the time being the model boasts one of the best screens with big resolution and sharpest picture, which is almost doesn’t fad in the sun – all this makes the experience really great and owing to these pluses one could overlook many drawbacks. Another obvious attraction here is the keypad – a very soft and touch sensitive plate which feels just fine. The built-in camera allows snapping shots, looking fine on the smartphone, but in case you are going to show them somewhere else, be sure they won’t appear so good. Image samples and comparison with other devices can be found in this article.
To tell the truth I’ve been looking for a definitely awesome detail of the phone, which could overcome all its flaws – and I’ve found it in the last place I would ever look. It’s on the front panel – a title, telling everyone around you that it’s a Nokia. Honestly, if it was a handset bearing a brand other than Nokia, it wouldn’t be so popular and well-treated on the market, and users’ criticism on infinite amount of forums would be way more intensive. All in all, it’s another example of overwhelming importance of trade marks.
Samples of Nokia N80 camera work:
Who actually needs this
The product is aimed at enthusiasts in the first place, who don’t mind re-installing system over and over, battling with drivers, in order to make a quite useless application work. The device appeals to me firstly due to the newness of the software shell, possibility for installing new applications for 3rd edition and approving them. By the way, these programs are fading in numbers with every passing day, and they don’t put obstacles to comfortable usage of the device. Corporate users won’t find this smartphone perfect due to its mediocre life time and instability of many interesting applications, which make this solution inferior in comparison with other competitors.
Where the N80 is really riding high, is the fashion segment - mostly the group of people who wants a phone for making calls only. Truly, no one will see whether you use eMail or not, but with such a powerhouse in your hands, you are more likely to leave an impression of an advanced user, which has the knack of choosing gadgets. Those, who are seeking for a top solution, carrying every last technology the market can offer, will find it in the form of Nokia N80. But with only one reservation – they will have to use the charge carefully, otherwise they are running risks to have no working phone by evening.
A curious fact – usually I don’t even bother with choosing between “to make a call or not to make”. However with Nokia N80 the amount of outgoing calls fell down dramatically, as I had to save as much energy as possible and thus declined calls which I considered to be of secondary importance. A hilarious situation, when a handset, intended for extending communication functions, cuts them on the contrary.
In spite of other S60-powered handsets, Nokia N80 makes use only of a 220 Mhz CPU – higher frequency would have resulted in a miserable life time. Of course that caused several negative effects regarding interface, namely drawing speed, which is not so fast as on UIQ-devices, and obviously slower than that of other Nokia-branded smartphones running the same OS version and display theme.
I should emphasize this one more time – the very concept of mobile powerhouses has the right to exist, in fact it’s one of the ways S60 is developing in. But the attempt to interbreed an elephant with a butterfly leads to nowhere but disappointing result for an ordinary user. And it’s a quite sad, since will evidently prevent someone from trying out a smartphone in the future and form a wrong image of handsets residing in this class (especially for whom the N80 will become the first experience). Purchase of this smartphone should be a justified step and more importantly you should realize that it’s not perfect and has its own flaws. Otherwise, you are to get frustrated.
In my opinion Nokia Multimedia has to put up a monument and set up monthly salary to those very first users, who will check out the handsets’ functions and reveal lots of bug in course of use. I more than just sure that the next firmware patch for Nokia N80 will feature a changes list even longer than that you could find at the beginning of this review. This disappoints, yes. The market’s best company cannot afford releasing such unfinished products; it’s just something many won’t accept.
P.S. Over two months Nokia N80 was bearing the burden of my main handset (I always use two phones at a time, one of which is always a smartphone). And after such a lengthy period of closer examination, I can declare that the N80 didn’t manage to match the requirements of an active user, like me. As a matter of fact, now the phone will acquire a special SIM-card for testing, so that all necessary tests will be carried out as required. I can’t say that I had primarily negative experience with the handset – on the contrary, I perceived it as I would any fine-made handset. The N80 can be made use of, although not quite comfortable due to crude software, but if you can do with certain limitations, it is OK.
So, if you can’t agree with me regarding the abovementioned shortcomings, or simply don’t use those functions, this model could be what you’ve been looking for. Nevertheless if you’re coming from the latter category, wouldn’t it be better to by Nokia N70 instead? The answer can be either positive or negative, depending on your attitude to image – the N80 tops in this field, at least owing to its price. Thus, I would advice you not to run to the nearest shop and buy it, better consider all pros and cons and take a weighted decision; anyway, it’s all up to you in the end. And after arming yourself with new knowledge, it shouldn’t be hard.
Published 21 June 2006
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