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Hands on with Nokia's flagship N8

The high-end fight back begins

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Build quality

The N8 sacrifices a removable battery and for the first time I can think of in a Nokia product, it's sealed into the phone. But in a nice concession to us tinkerers, you can undo two screws (the only two on the case, as far as I can tell), pop off the end, and replace the battery yourself. Or at least you can on these pre-production models. I hope this design survives the transition to production, because it's the ideal compromise - you don't need to queue for an hour in the basement of Carphone Warehouse just to resolve a battery problem, just find someone with a small screwdriver set. Which we've all got already, right?

Overall the build quality of the N8 terrific. I thought Sony Ericsson, until it lost the plot, was the master of making cheap phones look expensive. This isn't a cheap phone and doesn't feel like any compromises have been made - like the first generation iPhone, it's glass and metal. Unlike other Nokias, the quality of the buttons matches the quality of the chassis. It's a fairly substantial device, but at 135g a shade lighter than the competition.

There's only one button on the face of the phone, Nokia having dispensed with the send and receive call buttons.

What about the rest of the user experience, particularly the notorious S60 UI?

A smooth experience

There's no great leap forward in this, the first Symbian^3, phone - that's still on the drawing board. But then there's no great compatibility headache for developers either - most S60 5th Edition software should work here. S^3 is touted as "a direct manipulation UI", in the manner of the iPhone. But what this really means in practice, I discovered, is that a lot of niggles and inconsistencies have been ironed out.

At its worst, with 5th Edition, you could start an application without ever seeing the launch icon - which I think is unprecedented in computer history, even going back to command-line mainframes. For example, if you double-tapped an icon that turned out to be a folder (and the distinction isn't clear thanks to Nokia's new Esperanto icons), then that action also launched whatever app happened to be in default position in that folder. Only you'd never see what it was. Scary.

The most immediate improvement is performance. Menus open smoothly and without delay. Nokia has dispensed with the too-slow transitions; transitions are there, but are actually so subtle you don't notice them. And the N8 doesn't break sweat when the phone is flipped through 90 degrees, even when this entails some reordering of the screen elements from portrait to landscape.

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Next page: The verdict

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