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Today, Nokia showcased the new Symbian^3 operating system on the new N8 smartphone. The combination of the new device and the new UI appear to have created the potential for a best in class user experience. I will withhold final judgment until I have held one in my hands, but the Nokia N8 promises to deliver a hard to beat smartphone experience.

At first glance the UI reminds me of what Nokia was doing with their N900 device. Nokia would often refer to the N900 as a ‘mobile computer’ or ‘mobile internet device’. It is good to see that Nokia realizes that a smartphone is a ‘mobile computer’ and that user expectations have increased greatly over the past year. In the smartphone market at large, UI design has shifted towards the use of aggregation widgets that combine multiple user accounts into one accessible location on the home screen. Nokia did not miss this trend and offers aggregated calendars, social networking and email in a customizable home screen. This will be an important feature that will allow today’s hyper connected user to easily manage multiple communication streams and keep them satisfied with the Symbian OS. The UI also supports ‘flicking’ and ‘pinching’ gestures for list navigation and zooming.

In regards to the entertainment experience at large, the N8 boasts high definition video (720p) and Dolby digital sound. Backing up its HD chops is a HDMI input on the device and Broadcom video acceleration technology. Furthermore the N8 has a 12MP camera; with face recognition and motion blur reduction software. In terms of media input and output, this device has positioned itself at the bleeding front edge of the spectrum. That being said, I still feel there are some things that Nokia could have done better here, in particular a method for wireless streaming of HD video to the television and geo-tagging for the camera application. With the inclusion of Wi-Fi Direct (the N8 offers 802.11n) or the DLNA standard, Nokia could have made a stand to promote how future smartphones will interact with the home.

In terms of service access, Nokia has paid careful attention to keep the Ovi store well within reach no matter what the user is engaged in. The most notable example is the free global streaming television channels that are offered with the device, with local TV options available at the Ovi store. Nokia is also offering free navigation for life with the N8 which keeps the device competitive with the slew of Android devices being released.

The one key concern for me is the 680 MHz processor that Nokia has chosen for the device. With competing handsets touting 1 GHz snapdragon processors, Nokia could be taking a risk in going with the lower powered processor. In Nokia’s defense, the N8 is said to carry twice the RAM to better support multi-tasking without slowing down, and the UI is said to operate at a snappy 60 fps which would make the device appear as responsive as a 1 GHz based device. The interesting point to me is the battery life of this device appears to be highly competitive and may end up being a key differentiating factor between the N8 and the family of power hungry 1GHz devices coming to market.

Although this device does not support 4G, it still offers a full checklist of technologies and applications mixed with the right UI approach. In the end Nokia has shown me that Nokia understands what a smartphone has to do, to be relevant in today’s market.

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