An N8 Charm

Anyone ever watch the 1990 movie Crazy People?  An advertisement executive (played with nutty magnificence by the late great Dudley Moore) cracks up under the stress of lying to people for a living and ends up in a mental institution.  At some point he enlists the aid of residents to help him create marketing campaigns after the bluntly-honest-but-hilarious ads that landed him there become popular.  You can read the wiki article to get an idea of the results, but watch the movie if you can to get the full effect.  Other than some bad acting by Darryl Hannah, it’s cute.

Why am I recommending films to you?

original source: nokia.comBecause when I think of Nokia’s flagship N8 smartphone, I think of how well it would fit into one of these crazy campaigns.  I can picture a sharp photo of this beautiful handset on a blank background, accompanied by pithy captions like “The Nokia N8: Quirky But Cool” or “Cover the Logo and Everyone Will Love It”.  

I write that last one only half in jest, because I truly suspect that Nokia’s now-uncool brand is doing more harm to this product than any aspect of the product itself.

There are plenty of reviewers eager to climb onto the “Symbian Sucks” bandwagon and trumpet the UI failings.  And they exist.  I used an N8 for a week courtesy of WOM World Nokia and certainly had my share of WTF moments.  Thing is, none were major.  Every one was a very minor inconvenience, and some have been since corrected by quick updates.

My own history with cell phones puts me at odds with the big league reviewers.  I had never really used one prior to 2005, when Nokia hired me to ensure their quality (I was told my ignorance would aid in objectivity).  My first phone was a Nokia 3000-something, and the next one was an N80i, so to me the Nokia Way was the only way.  I found S40 and S60 both incredibly easy to navigate for a novice.  They fit the crazy way I think, maybe.  So when my mom handed me her Motorola Razor (remember them?) one day, I was stumped.  I couldn’t even make a call without instructions.

The point is that ANY device user experience is going to have its idiosyncracies.  If you favor one strongly or have limited experience, every other UX is going to feel like failure.  That doesn’t excuse the perplexing approach that Nokia took with Symbian touchscreen devices– some N8 functionality feels buried, and finding certain features should see the user rewarded somehow.  And there are parts so counterintutive that if you don’t access them often enough you will quickly forget they’re even there, much less how to engage them.  That said, my oldest son has an N8 and Just Uses It.  Easily.  Contentedly.

Call performance was great.  Audio was great.  The feel and weight were perfect for me (I like a solid phone).  I did encounter two serious issues: the first N8 I received from the Nokia Developer Champions program would not work at all, and the second has a flaky battery that has twiced refused to take a charge (solution: place phone in ziploc bag, place package in freezer for ~4 hours, remove and thaw.  Funny, but fixed).

But bottom line: it really isn’t bad.

Not the hyperbolic End-of-the-Earth bad that some detractors would have you believe.  Nowhere near the “unusable” epithets ladled on so gleefully by biased reviewers encamped in competitors’ fields.  Quirky, yes.  Maddening, occasionally.  But cool, always.

And why not?  The cool starts even before the unboxing.  Nokia has been working hard at minimizing packaging.  The N8 comes in just about the most efficient box possible.  It takes up about one-fourth of its predecessors’ volume.  So chalk one up to environmental responsibility.

Then there’s the N8′s camera.  I shouldn’t even need to mention this legendary appliance.  12 megapixels of Xenon-flashing goodness.  There is no competition.

And despite the odd interface aspects, they lie underneath a beautiful touchscreen where black is truly black, even under our white-hot Texas sun.  It is a pleasure to stroke.

As I noted in comments on yesterday’s article about Nokia’s balancing act on the make-or-break margin, it’s become cool to bash Nokia these days, kicking a downed dog for offenses that are forgiven of other competitors.  It started off warranted, because Nokia had indeed grown fat and complacent on steamrollered victory, but has now reached a point of pointlessness.

If the N8 had been an Apple product, there would have been some grousing over the omissions and silly stuff, and it would have stopped once the charismatic Steve Jobs convinced everyone that the emperor still had clothes.  There would have been updates promised, and delivered.  But that success at public relations magic is to Apple’s credit, even as I disagree with the common and disingenuous “you’re holding it wrong” aspects.  It’s hard to argue against the results so aptly demonstrated in Apple’s rising profits.

But Nokia doesn’t have Steve Jobs.  They have Stephen Elop, who’s still struggling to master the gift of persuasive gab.  When I drill down on Nokia’s troubles, I can’t help come away thinking that they really come down to a need for clear, strong leadership combined with a clear, compelling message.  The UI and branding parts are starting to materialize… now if only the leadership can instill confidence in customers and stakeholders.  The difference would have made the N8 a must-have device for 2011 rather than a phone we love in secret.

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10 responses to “An N8 Charm

  1. I have coincidentally just purchased an N8 myself!… I was planning it already for a long time, but the defining moment was when I went to a Meego meet-up, finally met the N9, but then realized there that the applications I want to build don’t _really_ need that full desktopy Linux-based OS. I might do well using just the standard Qt Mobility stuff. So why not an N8? And Nokia seems to be emphasizing that to N9(50) developer too: “don’t mess around, go build useful stuff with the standard resources” seems to be the subliminal message (from what I hear in second and third hand).

    Some few small things can make me angry, like not being able to rotate the map. WTF, I can’t believe this is still something so difficult. The whole map applications is just oriented towards car navigation, they seem completely unable to get a little inspiration from Google maps…

    Another one, just tried out Google + on the browser(s) too, and you can’t “check in” because of… who knows?? The HTML5 page does look nice though. It is slow in general, but that is one compromise I am completely ready to accept for the price.

    Now, I can’t forget that there were some small things making me angry in the Android device I was using. Nokia seems to be the only company that cares about letting the users easily move from input in one language to another. I missed that very badly. And I was very happy when I saw how you change the language in the N9, BTW, you just swipe the keyboard! awesome!!…

    Now regarding applications in general, and how it is placed in the market landscape, etc… I have no idea. What I think is we are in the middle of lots of big changes, involving HTML5 for example, and we have to start thinking not how well one product looks when compared to some other in a certain point of time, but how it looks in the face of the quickly changing software world.

    I am only going to write some deeper review of the N8 after Anna is released (if that ever does indeed become a reality! :P ). When that happens, if we do see indeed some nice enhancements, it will mean exactly that: the device is able to survive for a long time because it has a great hardware, and good enough software adaptability skills.

    One last thought: lately I have been hearing some opinions from the most diverse users and also developers that always strike me as ignorant. I only mean that is my _impression_. What is really happening is that the multitude of us really have very different views of how everything should operate. Nobody really know what they want. Or worse, they really know that they want some very different things. And nobody really know what is easy to do, and what makes sense. We are in the middle of a collective experience of learning and discovering… That’s why it’s all so crazy. And what I like about Nokia is how they are always talking about empowering people, and follow them in this process, it’s not about the amazement with the seemingly magical technology. That’s where the “outdated UI” crap come from. People caring a lot about how something looks, looking at the surface. It’s not that the UI doesn’t matter, but it’s the first thing you see.

    People are judge cell phone OSes acting like a bunch of stupid university boys tagging the girls as “hot or not” from their profile pages, instead of trying to build significant, deep relationships with them. And it’s so superficial that in this metaphor I would say these “major league” reviewers as you called are not even having sex!!! People talk a lot, but nobody seems to be really doing it. And who does it doesn’t talk, because they realize how the subject is so intricate that conversations are generally very unfruitful.

  2. Pingback: N8 - for Crazy People? | WOMWorld/Nokia

  3. I’ve been using the N8 since october and I agree to some point with Arnold and Nicolau.
    When I use frinds or colleage’s phones being iphone or andriod devices I find that what really is the reason people “hate” Nokia is because of two things.
    1) the startscreens not being smooth and the apps starts slowly – that could have been avoided with a 1ghz cpu like fx iphone 4. Using an Cortex instead of an ARM would have made Symbian^3 1.2 so much better. The technology was there – no need for Anna – which with the 60mhz ARM isn’t that iphone4-smooth, but more htc-desire-smooth. Belle may reach iphone level but thats like 1½-2 years too late…
    2) the browser is bad! But I have the Opera browser installed and everything is different.

    Then there’s the Elop thing. Well, some instructions and tips from a professional spindoctor or alike would have made Nokias current and future sale alot better. Why saying that your current OS, symbian, is bad (everyone knows it) and that it will be terminatet and then afterwards releases more phones with the same OS? That’s just stupid. Admittedly, I have a master degree in Business communication, but I recon that a high school looser could have given Elop the same advise!
    What were he/Nokia’s management thinking? Well, shit happens, know they have to focus on the good things: N9 and WP devices are soon to be launched.

    (sorry for any misspelling, i’m writing without my contacts)

  4. I agree that Nokia was absolutely terrible at marketing their phones. They seemed to believe that the brand name was good enough to sustain their sales. I look at all the hype around Android, and how it has become a brand, and shake my head. No non-techie person knows that Symbian is Nokia’s smartphone OS.
    There was so much for Nokia to pound into the public consciousness, but they chose not to: offline navigation and maps! Best camera EVER! Real multi-tasking.
    Instead Elop comes out and says, we’re crap, and our competitors are years ahead of us….AND IT SIMPLY ISN’T TRUE.
    I have NEVER seen a CEO damage his company like that. It’s like Bill Gates coming out and saying, after bad reviews, that Vista is crap, and is years behind Apple’s Leopard. But just hold on for a year or so, and we’ll have a competitive OS…a Linux OS.
    Utterly amazing what has happened to Nokia this year.
    As a soon to be ex-fan, I’m still absolutely disgusted.

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