Brief review of the Nokia N82 and comparison with the iPhone

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About three weeks ago, I received the Nokia N82 in the mail, as a replacement for the Nokia 6300 I had been using. These are the main reasons I went for the N82:

  • Symbian OS combined with plenty of RAM (128 MB) – the amount of RAM was one of the main problems with the previous Symbian phone I used (the E50)
  • Decent 5 megapixlel camera with autofocus and flash
  • Great video camera, 640×480
  • Wifi, 3G and HSDPA
  • Acceptable size for its functionality

To most readers with some knowledge of the iPhone’s specs, it’s probably easy to see why I went with the N82 instead of the iPhone. As I see it, these are the main differentiators between the N82 and the iPhone:

Camera: The N82, with its 5 megapixels, VGA video recording and flash can act as a compact camera when my SLR is out of reach. You can’t do that with 2 megapixels, no autofocus and no flash or camera light.

Wireless connection options: The N82 supports 3G and HSDPA, meaning you can get a theoretical 3 megabits of bandwidth to the phone. The iPhone maxes out at 230 kbits. Also, the iPhone doesn’t support wireless stereo headsets over Bluetooth A2DP.

Openness: On the N82, you can install any Symbian or Java ME application you want to. Personally, I am a big fan of Opera Mini and Google’s mail application.

Media playback: The iPhone synchs easily with your computer (iTunes, that is), and has a huge screen, great for video playback. Getting video onto your N82 is cumbersome in my experience. It is always nice to be able to connect the phone as a USB mass storage device and drag and drop content on it, but that doesn’t take care of video conversion for you. The tools Nokia provide for that purpose are not really a match for iTunes at this point.

User experience: You can do pretty much anything with the N82, but the interface isn’t very impressive. For instance, some screens can be rotated and seen in landscape mode, some cannot (i.e. the Video Centre and the main screen). Also, the traditional phone keypad is no match for the touch screen of the iPhone. In my opinion, the combination of OS X software and the touch screen makes for an unbeatable user experience (or it would, if Apple added a few more real buttons for things like taking a photograph).

Radio: The N82’s got one. I can see no reason why my phone shouldn’t be able to play FM radio, and I enjoy having the option to tap into fresh, unbuffered content whenever I like.

GPS: Having GPS on your phone is just plain neat. Over the last three weeks, I have used it for finding parties twice – not bad, and it is also OK for in-car navigation. I believe the route finder/navigation is only free for the first 90 days, though – not so good. Still – you will be able to use the GPS with third-party apps such as Google Maps.

N82 weaknesses and conclusion
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The N82 is a computer, a camera, a radio, a MP3 player, a GPS, an internet device – stuffed with functionality. On the other hand, the iPhone is very slick phone + media player. It is also good as an internet device, but to me, Mobile Safari is useless outside of WiFi zones – it is too slow and too expensive, whereas using Opera Mini on a N82 results in the web nicely formatted for a small screen and compressed to size that’s healthy for my phonebill.

The N82 does have a few weaknesses.

Transferring media to the phone is slow if you use the Nokia micro-USB cable. It feels more like USB 1.1 than USB 2.0 – I’d estimate that moving over 60 megabytes takes about a minute. Still, as long as I am not transferring huge amounts, I don’t bother with a SD card reader. (I sometimes use Bluetooth to move an album or two of MP3s across – it is perfectly doable if you have the time to spare.)

While we are on media transfers – I would like it to sync with iTunes as well as any iPod can. It seems Nokia is working on this, at least on the Mac platform. I haven’t taken the time to check out their offering yet, but something good is cooking.

The battery life is barely acceptable. If you use it like I do – music and the web en route to work, calling and music while at work interspersed with radio, the occasional photograph on some days and a barrage of video and photography at parties, some wifi while I am at home, you will need to charge it every night.

I expected the phone to work with 8 GB microSDHC cards, but I can’t find confirmation that it works with anything bigger than 4 GB, which is a shame. Update April 2009: My N82 works fine with a Sandisk 8gb MicroSDHC.

The design is inferior to that of the iPhone, although it is not bad. The same goes for the user interface, which is actually quite responsive for a smartphone. I would have liked it to have dedicated buttons for play/pause, next/previous, in addition to buttons for volume up/down, gallery and shutter.

Finally, I have found it to be less stable than it should be. I estimate that I have experienced 2-3 total freezes or soft reboots per week while I have been using this phone. Now, I am probably a pretty extreme user – freezes are most common when I use the GPS as well as the music player while running Opera or the NetFront browser and more in the background, but still – the phone should handle those usage scenarios. (Caveat – I don’t think I have the latest firmware for the phone – haven’t been able to upgrade yet.) Update April 2009: With the latest firmware, my phone is quite stable – on average it crashes once a month, and keep in mind that I’m a heavy user.

If you need (or want ;) ) all the functionality the N82 can offer – it is definitely worth getting. If what you need is a phone and a media player, the iPhone will probably make you a happier person. But I can tell you – when surfing the web, reading the mail, checking out the great, flash-enabled party photos, navigating with GPS and listening to music, all at the same time, using the N82 elevates me to geek nirvana and makes me feel like this is at least May 2008. And that is awesome.

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20 Responses to “Brief review of the Nokia N82 and comparison with the iPhone”

  1. Constable Odo Says:

    I suppose when it comes right down to counting features, the iPhone will always come up short. No 3G, no GPS, no video recording, no stereo Bluetooth, etc. Still I wonder why so many people are going out of their way to pay more money for an iPhone. I guess there are things that can’t be quantified by simple numbers.

    People pick up an N82 and say, yeh, it’s a nice enough handset. People pick up an iPhone and it makes jaws drop (well, not many geek’s jaws). Nokia is a fine handset manufacturer, yet they really haven’t designed a jaw dropper yet. Your article is spot on, and the N82 is probably the near perfect handset for you.

    Still it makes you wonder why Nokia can’t sell close to five million N82s in seven months time, if it’s that good. I’m not being sarcastic, it’s just a thought to ponder.

  2. Are Wold Says:

    Thanks for your comment!

    I think it is pretty easy to figure out why Nokia won’t sell as many N82s as Apple does iPhones (an assumption on my part – I don’t know what kind of sales Nokia expects from the N82).

    How many cellphone users do you know who need a phone that’s a photo+video camera and GPS device rolled into one, with a chipset that supports high-speed mobile internet? My friends are pretty tech-savvy and definitely of the “connected” type – still, most of them get by with a phone that is a good phone and perhaps a good MP3 player. Most prefer a dedicated compact digicam, and many still prefer using their iPods to having MP3s on their phone.

    Which explains why the iPhone is such a great proposition – it gives people what they need from a phone and adds a brilliant, full-featured iPod. (I don’t have many complaints with the N82’s music player – but an equal to a iPod it is not.) The features the iPhone is lacking doesn’t matter very much to most cell phone buyers at this stage – but great design matters to almost everyone.

    Another comment to N82 sales – the N82 has to compete with Nokia’s other offerings as well as the best of what SE, Moto, Samsung etc has to offer. Unless you really need every feature the N82 has, you are probably just as happy (and more wealthy off – and with a pocket that’s bulging less) with a cheaper Sony Ericsson handset, for instance.

  3. jim8151 Says:

    The iPhone is a computer that happens to include a very nice telephony application. Today we had a small party at home with six or seven guests. I made speaker phone calls to several relatives so all could listen in and participate. Later, during a conversation, someone mentioned a funny YouTube video they had seen. I did a quick search on the iPhone, found and launched the video, and in about a minute, the whole group was laughing and enjoying the video. Several times during the day, during conversation, a question came up, I googled it and had an answer in seconds. I browse the web all the time on the iPhone, and it has not cost anything, so not sure what the author is referring to. Sure, it might be nice to have a higher-res camera with video capture, and a GPS capability, but for that I would expect to pay a couple hundred more for the device. And I’m not sure they’d have been able to maintain the elegant form factor. Meanwhile, I’m loving my iPhone.

  4. Are Wold Says:

    Hi there Jim,

    you are spot on. I use my N82 exactly like you describe – bringing up videos, showing photos and fact-checking in social situations. However, I also use the GPS to find the party and take pictures and shoot some video while I am there. And you cannot get all that stuff in a package as good looking as the iPhone.

    As for cost – in Germany, they are selling unlocked iPhones for 1400$, while I bought my unlocked N82 for 900$. If you remove subsidies, the N82 is the cheaper phone.

    That ties into the data traffic costs – in the US, you get free data traffic on your subscription. I don’t have that on my phone plan, so I pay by the MB, about 1,5$ per megabyte. Meaning that surfing outside of WiFi zones would be very expensive on the iPhone. With the N82, I use Opera Mini, which compresses the web pages and formats them for the phone – cheap and user friendly.

    To be clear – I have no quarrels with the iPhone. If I could get it with all the features the N82 has, I would buy it in a heartbeat.

  5. jbella Says:

    Hmm..

    Having a browser “compress” a web site will not save you any money because in order to compress something, a program has to have access to the uncompressed source. If you want to save money on transfer, it would have to be the server that compresses the data, not the client. It may be that instead of compressing things, it just leaves stuff out (like images, etc). That is a definite possibility, or perhaps it makes the request through a proxy server that does the compression? Not sure how it works, only that a client itself can’t compress data to save you money on your phone bill.

    Yes, the iPhone does come up short if you compare it with the features on a lot of phones, but no product is going to be able to satisfy everyone. It’s all a question of design tradeoffs. For example, Apple could have certainly put in a 5MP sensor for their camera, but that would have resulted in poorer image quality due to the size of the iphone and it’s lens. At some point, the design decision was made to make a slimmer phone instead of a better camera with a bigger lens. Its hard to argue that this was a bad tradeoff to make because it’s probably easier to sell a sleeker phone than a better camera. For it’s first product, Apple definitely was aiming at the general buying public, and not the uber geeks.

  6. Are Wold Says:

    Opera Mini uses a proxy server to compress the web pages and sends them in a proprietary format to the Opera Mini app on the phone. I find that the best part is that it creates a page layout that works really well on small screens.

    Putting a 5MP sensor and all the other stuff of the N82 in the iPhone would definitely have resulted in a bigger or way more expensive phone – just not reasonable at this point in time.

  7. epgomez Says:

    The iphone’s touch screen is good but that’s all there is to it. The n82 is decent looking but packed with a lot of features. the video capture is so far amazing. If you have this phone you don’t need to bring a camera, mp3 player, camcorder, computer etc. with iphone…. it’s only a phone with wifi browser yeah mp3 player and a lousy not so good camera pretty standard on most phones.

  8. quattr0 Says:

    I’m glad someone thinks intelligently about N82 over the iPhone :)

    Kidding aside…it all depends what you need for your daily usage. For my wife and I (I’m a consultant and have a N95 8GB. Getting N82 for my wife soon) Nokia is way too much better. We need to be able to geotag our pictures and record videos (good quality) with our kids. 5MP camera and DVD quality video is no joke. Support Exchange with Blackberry style e-mail (instant notification, etc.) and clear voice are priceless. Did you even know that the Exchange support on Nokia is, for me, much better than directpush (DirectPush on Win Mobile sucks battery big time).

    As Constable Odo mentioned..why on earth people spent all that money for a close/not too open iPhone (until recently they release the SDK). I have an answer: because they think look is more important than functionality and they don’t mind being limited to what they could use/have. It’s the “woa, cool” factor is what Steve got people money for.

    You could say well I could receive email, surf the web, watch video with the Iphone for $400. So do we. We could do even more with the N :)

  9. cloadsun Says:

    Just got myself N82 for 500$ in US.
    Things I love there:
    —————————–
    5M Camera with Xenon flash, integrated A-GPS (even faster then GPS), stereo speakers, overall look is sleek, nice screen, battery is not bad can withstand one day of very heavy use
    Things I don’t like:
    —————————–
    Small buttons, hard to press, sometimes freezes, doesn’t play video-s like avi, divx, need to convert them before putting into the phone, still don’t know how.

  10. Are Wold Says:

    Cloadsun, you can play DivX on the N82 with the DivX Player for Mobile. Take a look: http://www.divx.com/mobile/. Works pretty well considering the software is still pretty immature.

  11. rc211v Says:

    How do you think it would compare against the new 3G iPhone w/ GPS? I know it wont be out till July 11, but what do you think?

  12. Are Wold Says:

    I think Apple will do great things in terms of location-sensitive software, using the new GPS, and it’s nice to get proper 3G. However, there are some reasons why the 3G iPhone is out of the question for me:

    – Poor camera (2mpx, no auto-focus or flash)
    – No video camera (versus 640×480 30fps video camera on the N82)
    – No user control over apps installation unless you hack it

    I have so many great video recordings and photos thanks to my N82 – there is no way I can live with having a phone without the equivalent photo/video features. For instance, I recently attended an outdoors concert, and shot this footage: http://folk.uio.no/arew/timbuktu.mp4
    With the iPhone, all I would’ve gotten was a semi-blurry photo.

    PS: Carrying a separate camera of course solves my primary concerns – but that’s the whole point, there is no reason we should be carrying around two devices when they can be combined. I’ll stick with my N82 until its feature equivalent widescreen touchphone arrives.

  13. rc211v Says:

    Thank you very much! Im getting the N82 then. :)

  14. Laurie Says:

    Hello there, thanks for your review! I have a new N82 and am extremely pleased with everything about it so far. However, I am having trouble getting ITunes loaded on it. Have you had any luck with this yet? Is it possible? would appreciate your advice if you have any. Thanks!

  15. Are Wold Says:

    Thanks for commenting!
    Sounds like you are trying to sync your music library onto the device? I don’t know if you are on a Mac or on Windows. If you are on a Mac, Nokia Multimedia Transfer might do it for you: http://europe.nokia.com/A4423134

    There’s a commercial app called DoubleTwist that might do the job on Windows: http://www.doubletwist.com/dt/Home/Help.dt

    S60Tips also has a guide on this subject: http://www.s60tips.com/2006/07/22/synchronizing-music-files-and-podcasts-from-itunes-to-s60-phones/

    Personally, I wish Nokia would release Multimedia Transfer for Windows as well as Mac. I haven’t used any programs to do the mp3 copying for me – I usually just pop out the memory card and drag files over in explorer. Primitive, but I don’t change the contents of the memory card that often – and doing it via a USB cable to the phone is painfully slow anyways.

    Hope that helps!

  16. Gav Says:

    Get yourself salling clicker and salling media sync this allows you to use your N82 as remote for itunes and media sync allows you to sync itunes playlist and podcasts – Quality application! The iphone is a cracking piece of kit, value for money I’m not sure but with all things apple you are limited to apple and at time that can be frustrating. Nokia on the other hand not a slick but way more versatile in terms of applications.

  17. 6funswede Says:

    Thank you so much for your blog and helping comments about the Apple iPhone and the Nokia N82 :-)

  18. Bilal Baber Says:

    I am Using N82 for past 1 year. Before N82 i had been using N95 but the slider of N95 sucked and Nokia has failed in Making a decent Sliding Phone.

    But Since the launch of Iphone everyone seemed to have iphone and they r crazy abt it. I Loved iphone’s sleek shape with 16m colors but when i inserted my SIM card in iphone i couldnt get the SIM contacts on the CONTACTS of iphone. Later there was no Back option and i had to press O button to go in the ROOT folder which was really annoying. Then i cancelled ma plans of buying iphone and decided to use ma N82 Wht would u suggest me. I still Love iphone sleek shape but the camera result and the non-User Friendly Interface is wht killing my intentions of buying it.

  19. Richy Says:

    The OVI Maps now are free to browse and for navigation, completely offline, wich even right now android or windows phone 7 don’t have it. The N82 is rock solid, has a really good operating system for its size, is smaller than touch devices, and is one of the best devices Nokia always made, . I won’t sell mine (I have the black version that is beautiful).

    NOTE: Installing on it HelloOX2 gives you complete access to the device.

  20. richard chen Says:

    thanks ;) taught me a lot about n82 and yes it does run out of battery eveytime!!! :D

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