Nokia N80

One of the things that surprised me at both the Cocoon GetTogether and ApacheCon US was the level of interest in my new phone, the Nokia N80. So I figure it’s probably a good idea for me to share my experiences, to help others make an informed purchasing decision.

What drew me to the phone in the first place? I needed to replace my trusty 6600 which after 2 years of abuse was struggling to keep a charge for much longer than a day, and was looking decidedly battered. The 6600 was new in 2004, but looking quite dated and feeling quite limited.

The N80 seemed like a good choice: 3G, WiFi, 3MP camera, quadband, and up to 8 days’ battery. Combined with a great screen and a cool sliding keypad, it had everything for the geek-about-town.

Unfortunately, the experience hasn’t been all that great. Okay, so I’m a little jaded anyway thanks to the problems I’ve been having with Orange, but the phone itself is pretty appalling too.

First, the good things:

  • 3G data connections are dramatically better than GPRS

    The camera in it is great, ideal for times when I’m not lugging about my SLR. I was pleasantly surprised at how good some of the Newcastle pictures turned out, for example.
  • Multiple calls simultaneously seems to work, it was always unpredictable on the 6600
  • Hands-free loudspeaker works much better than the 6600: the internal speaker is excellent.
  • There’s a cool accessibility feature that makes the phone speak the name of the person calling. This is great, as you know who’s ringing while you’re fumbling to get the phone out of your pocket.

Now the bad things:

  • Nokia changed the size of the charging socket. Suddenly the three previous Nokia chargers I own have been rendered useless, and I can no longer plug in when visiting friends and family. This shouldn’t be a problem with the advertised 8 days’ battery life, but:
  • Battery life is awful. I mean, worse than my two year old 6600. I don’t have fancy screensavers turned on, I habitually keep bluetooth turned off, and yet I’m finding the phone runs out of juice after just one day of medium usage (like, 5 or 6 ten minute phone calls and 10 minutes of 3G data transfer).
  • Blinking blue light. When the phone is on standby, a small blue LED flashes to let you know it is still alive. This is extremely distracting (particularly at night), and there’s no way to turn it off.
  • WiFi support is a hack. It takes quite a few minutes to configure a hotspot. You can also have the phone search for hotspots when trying to open a URL, but if you’ve typed the URL in and it doesn’t find a hotspot – well, it just deletes the URL for you. That’s buggy, but:
  • The whole OS is fragile and unstable. I’ve had it hang maybe a dozen times since I’ve had it, and often had to restart it. Startup is slooooooow, so this is a real nightmare.
  • Coupled with the instability, I’ve been having connection problems, frequently seeing “SIM card registration failed” and “Connection error” messages, meaning my phone is offline for several hours at a time unless I check it and try a test call to make sure it’s still working. Orange just shipped me a new phone, so it’ll be interesting to see if this works any better.
  • The keylock gets cancelled too easily. The sliding keyboard slides a little too easily, and when the phone is in your pocket all too often you find it coming to life.
  • Obnoxious product positioning. On the fancy new main screen, the first icon is “Photography”, which takes you to Orange’s Photography app, Pixota. This lovely little bundle of fun will upload your pictures somewhere, so couple that with the dodgy keylock and you can see that very quickly you could run up huge data charges. This is a fault of Orange as much as Nokia, but still…
  • It’s unsupported. Not just Apple iSync unsupported, I mean almost every mobile phone software package on the planet unsupported. The N80 runs a more recent version of Symbian (OS 9) than most of the other new Nokia phones, which means that no-one seems to be testing / writing for it yet.

More on the iSync problem. You have to hack the iSync supported phones list to add the N80. iSync will then bravely try it’s best to sync with the phone, but sadly it regularly fails:

Friday, 27 October 2006 11:55

[SavsN80] There was an error pushing some changes to the phone. The synchronization may have been cancelled on the phone.

Device “SavsN80″ synchronization failed

Not consistently, mind you. It seems that if the phone’s screensaver kicks in during a sync, then the sync will abort.

The URL and resulting web page for the Nokia N80 says an awful lot about the phone as a whole: http://www.nokia.com/nseries/index.html?loc=inside,main_n80

Remember how it used to be really simple to find the right web page, because their urls were in the format http://www.nokia.com/phones/modelnumber e.g. for the 6600? Nowadays Nokia have clearly lost it, and the flash-heavy visually overwhelming web site is almost as awful and unusable as the phone itself. Style over substance, clearly.

Apparently there’s a new version of the N80 due to be released – so if you really must get this phone, I’d wait for that.

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