Last Thursday night I picked up a Nokia N82 as a replacement for the N95 I lost a few months ago. I had been waiting for the N95 8GB, but the N95’s “big brother” still has limited availability in mainland China. Since the N82 is more or less the N95’s guts stuffed into the N73’s body, it seemed a suitable alternative to waiting for the 8GB.
Though it received a big launch internationally, the N82, curiously, has been a bit of a stealth contender in the Chinese market. Nokia’s big launch in Q4 was the music and gaming-oriented N81, and the N82 hasn’t been thrust into spotlight like the N81 or the N95 before it.
After using the N82 for a week, I can say that I’m happy I purchased the phone. In many ways, it excels over the original N95, and I’m left wondering why Nokia would potentially cannibalize purchases of the N95 8GB by offering such a good phone in the same season. What follows in this post is a review of the high points and low points of my experience with the N82.
To begin with, the N82 doesn’t represent a tremendous advance over Nokia’s previous phones, but instead reflects the steady progression of Nokia’s phone technology. After I lost my N95 I went back to using a Nokia 7610, itself a premiere Nokia smartphone from 2004, and moving directly from 7610 to the N82, I can say that the newer phone is a high-level refinement of the design Nokia put forward in the older one, namely, state-of-the-art imaging coupled with casually accessible smartphone features.
Since the N82 has been dubbed the “Imaging King,” it stands to reason that the camera is the main draw of the phone. Compared to the models that came before, I can say that the N82’s camera is among the finest offered by Nokia. It is wicked fast, with a startup time of around two seconds unless the flash needs to charge. The autofocus still lags behind a fixed-lens camera, however, and night shots without flash leave a lot to be desired. But with the flash, the N82 quite literally shines, offering results comparable to a partycam. In addition, daytime quality seems slightly higher than the N95*, and the shutter cover is a nice touch as compared to the dubiously shutterless N95 8GB.
Here are some photo samples:
As noted by most reviewers, the N82’s build is solid, and seems to suggest what the N73 could have been. The keypad, alas, is not as good as the N95 (which, in turn, was not as good as the N70). The thin buttons, though stylish, are uncomfortable for people with larger hands, and it took a couple days to learn how to text without hurting my fingers. What’s more, the overly-smooth d-pad is slightly hard to control — it’s very easy to mis-press the center button. The screen is roughly the same as the N73 and not as big, nor, frankly, as vibrant as the N95. Users who want a phone with an extra-large screen for web browsing or video-watching might want to stick to the N95 or the iPhone. Headphone jack placement is superb, other connectivity ports less so. And like most, I remain puzzled why Nokia doesn’t make a mixed USB charging/data port a reality. The large shiny finish recalls fashion phones and is the one thing which makes the N82 stand out; otherwise, it could easily be mistaken for an older phone, which might be a good thing considering how I lost my N95.
The phone’s operating system is fast and smooth and I’ve yet to run out of memory or have a program crash. But it’s unmistakably a Symbian OS, so anyone who’s used a Nokia smartphone in the last 5 years should be able to pick up the N82 and use it right out of the box. That said, Nokia didn’t decide to offer much in the way of special software with the Chinese N82 I bought. The main highlight may be the new talking Chinese-English dictionary, which I find useful as a student of Chinese, but suffers from a drawback — the inability, unlike the old Chinese-English dictionary, to cut and paste words into the program. (As a workaround I installed the old dictionary software and found it used the new expanded word database!) The N95’s accelerometer apps work well on the N82, as do most other Symbian 60 3rd edition programs**, and the A-GPS performance is almost identical with the added bonus (for me at least) of improved China city maps.
As a test of the GPS, I used Nokia Sports Tracker to record and export my 24-kilometer(!) morning commute as a Google Earth tour. Have a look:
A couple caveats about the OS here. First, the OS seems to spaz out in minor ways. While there haven’t been any crashes to speak of, I have noticed that the accelerometer tends to go to “sleep” now and then, and will only start working again (and thus properly rotating the screen) if I restart the phone or manually call up the accelerometer through a program. Similarly, the autolock will mysteriously turn off from time to time. I’m sure I’ll uncover a few more quirks over time. Second, Nokia needs to get its multimedia applications up to speed. The N82’s music player and quality of music playback still lags behind dedicated MP3 players, with little advancement over the N73 or N95. The same goes for the video player, which is outclassed by the video features of the iPhone as well as the Sony PSP, not to mention cheap Chinese MP4 players.
In terms of connectivity, calls are clear and crisp and handset volume should prove loud enough for most users. Likewise, the N82’s Bluetooth is fast and stable and worthy of praise. (My recent stint with the 7610 reminded me of the bad old days of Bluetooth. Ah!) But for reasons that are never quite explained, the N82’s connectivity is crippled in the Chinese market by stripping out the WiFi, which means I couldn’t reasonably test podcasting or other bandwidth-intensive applications on the N82. Before N95 users go “A-Ha!” it’s worth noting that the N95 and all other Nokia phones with WiFi have seen that feature disabled thanks to obscure Chinese restrictions. And one wonders if the iPhone will meet similar restrictions upon entry into the market.
Moving on, the battery rates a mention. Without question, the N82’s BP-6MT battery is better than the original N95 battery, and can last more than a day even with heavy Bluetooth and GPS use. Casual users will get at least two days out of the phone before charging up. I’d compare it to the N73’s battery, which is to say, it’s a moderate-to-strong performer for a smartphone battery. However, since my version of the N82 has had its WiFi disabled, I couldn’t really test it against my time with the N95, a phone which quite literally bled power when WiFi was turned on.
Finally, since everyone loves goodies, I want to say a word or two about the in-box accessories. Nokia kindly included their new iPod-esque USB/AC charger with the phone, which means users can charge the N82 from any available USB port if an outlet is unavailable (note that this is not quite as good as letting us charge the phone through the phone’s USB port). A headset is included, but it’s not nearly as nice as the N95’s remote, which from my testing seems incompatible with the N82. Beyond these features, Nokia chose to include a very feminine cream-colored bag and strap with the phone when unisex accessories would’ve been more appropriate.
In conclusion, the Nokia N82 is like every Nokia smartphone that came before, only better. It’s an excellent replacement phone for people still using an N70 or N73 and looking to upgrade, and for people making their first jump to smartphones, I’d recommend the N82 over the N95. If you’re using an N95 or N95 8GB, though, I’d wait on the next big phone from the folks in Finland before upgrading.
* Based on the firmware I used this summer. See my Moblog Flickr collection for some N95 samples.
** A hint: if you want to find N82 programs, just Google around for programs for the N95 and have a try.