I posted here a couple weeks ago about my phone breaking...well, I finally got a new phone! After spending entirely too much researching what get and reading more phone reviews than I care to count, I settled on something which surprised myself: a Nokia 808. What's so surprising about that? It's a Symbian phone! In fact, it's the last Symbian phone (Nokia announced they wouldn't be making any more after it). I've never even owned a Symbian phone before so what possessed me to jump on a dead platform all of the sudden...
I don't feel like I set out trying to be difficult. I was already thinking about a new phone before my old one broke (it was pretty old) and I was completely convinced I was going to get an Android phone. It wasn't until I started seriously looking at specific Android phones that I just felt unsatisfied with any of the Android options out there. The phone industry is a weird thing. You have these extremely expensive high-end devices (most top-of-the-line Android phones are in the $700-800 range if you get them unlocked) which fail miserably in the most basic categories. They make shitty phone calls (seriously, call quality seems to be the last thing on the minds of most phone manufacturers these days...), are often oversized and awkward to hold, have abysmal battery life, and don't even have decent cameras on them (sure they have lots of mexapixels, but if you don't have the optics to back that up--which they don't--then all that means is that your file size is larger...). Instead you get crap like 1080p screens...who the heck needs a 1080p screen on a phone?! These are like 5" screens, tops. Can the human even even resolve pixels that small?
I started thinking about what I really wanted out of a phone and came up with the following:
Basic phone features - Call quality, comfort and ease of use, battery life. For Christ sake if I have to recharge the phone more than once in a single day then it's nothing more than a toy. That is completely unacceptable.
Media player - My phone has long been my primary music player. Carrying around another device to do that seems downright silly to me. This does, however, make storage important. I'm not always going to have an internet connection, I don't want to have to stream things. I want to be able to carry around my music collect just like I would with a dedicated player. Also, it had better not kill the battery life too much, see above...
Mail, calendar, web browser, etc. - This is important but it's not really a deciding factor since it's something pretty much every smartphone on the market does. Still, it needs to be there.
Navigation - This is one application I find genuinely useful on smartphones. I want maps, I want GPS, I want route finding, I want public transportation information. And preferably I would like it to be usable offline.
Camera - Like a lot of people I've pretty much stopped carrying around a dedicated camera. Phone cameras are just too convenient. I really would prefer, however, that the phone camera not suck. Which, unfortunately, is too high a bar for a lot of phones. Why can't a phone camera be both convenient and good?
So how does the 808 fare?
In terms of basic phone features it pretty much destroys most of its Android competitors. Nokia has always been more of a phone maker than a gadget maker, and it shows. Call quality is excellent, the build of the phone is perfect, and it's efficient enough through a couple days of normal use (and much longer on standby). Plus the battery is removable (remember those?) in case it ever starts having problems.
As a media player it's fine. Doesn't really stand out but it certainly does the job. It only has 16gb on board but that's expandable with a microSD card and that seems to be pretty much standard these days.
It does lose a few points for the default web browser, which isn't very good. Still you can get Opera for it so that's hardly the end of the world. Opera is pretty much the same, regardless of platform. Still, the screen resolution of the 808 is kind of low which can make some pages hard to read (though the screen is otherwise quite nice, very bright and clear AMOLED), so it's usable but not the best for browsing.
Navigation is great on the 808. I think a lot of people aren't even aware that Nokia has their own map program, but they do. This isn't something new or thrown together for a bullet point, it's actually been around for a long time and it's very refined. It has everything you could want from a map program and a lot of people actually seem to rate it above Google Maps. As a bonus it's designed to be 100% usable offline, just like a standalone GPS. Yeah there are ways to try to do that in limited areas with other smartphone map programs, but not the way Nokia Maps does it. You can download entire countries at a time if you want (and if you have the storage for it).
And then there's the camera. Oh god, that camera. I deliberately left this for last because a lot of people dismiss the 808 as a "camera with a phone attached", that kind of thing. I honestly believe the phone part is great in its own right, but it's not hard to see why somebody might say that. The camera is sufficiently awesome that it kind of makes everything else seem trivial. To say that it's the best camera ever put on a phone almost seems like you're putting it down, because it's an order of magnitude better than the second best camera ever put on a phone (which would probably be the one on the Nokia N8, actually, which was the 808's predecessor...).
The 808's camera starts with a physically huge sensor divided into a mind-boggling 41 megapixels. But wait, wasn't I being dismissive of high megapixel counts earlier? Actually, the point of the 808's sensor isn't to take 41 megapixel images (which would be unwieldy, to say the least...), but rather to it uses some fancy signal processing software to oversamples the pixels and construct a final image where each pixel in the image is actually coming from multiple pixels on the sensor. Having more pixels than you need also lets it do a digital zoom that isn't completely worthless. All of this wouldn't mean much without good optics but with the physically large sensor, Carl Zeiss lens, and xenon (not LED!) flash there isn't much room for complaint. In fact there wasn't really room for all this camera goodness in a standard thin phone shell, so the camera portion of the phone actually bulges outwards. I know some people won't like that, but you get used to it pretty quick. The end result is that while it's probably still no match for a good DSLR, there's finally a phone camera that can compete with even high-end dedicated point-and-shoot cameras.
So in conclusion, if you want a smartphone mainly for web browsing and games then don't get a Nokia 808. But then, I still have a tablet for that kind of stuff. I don't feel like a phone form factor was ever really suited for it. If you want a smartphone for the points I talked about above...well, I seriously don't think you can do much better than the 808. That's why I decided to jump on board, dead platform or not (and actually the UI on Symbian Belle is pretty slick, I think I might actually like it more than Android).
Wow, I wrote an essay...didn't really plan on it, it just happend...