One user’s challenging N8 experience

The Nokia N8 is a brilliant piece of engineering. The camera experience is — of course — second to none.

The actual user experience is tailored to Nokia/Symbian fans. Which is a preposterous situation.

If you’re a friend to Nokia, then the inconsistencies in the experience are perfectly fine. Indeed, if you’re a Nokia/Symbian fan, the N8 can sleep with your wife and sit in your favourite chair, watching your HD TV whilst you’re hard at work. That’s the level of indulgence needed to avoid wondering precisely what the Nokia team were smoking when they let this one out the door.

If you’d like to follow some examples of the glaringly stupid, stupid issues that should have been nuked in QA, check out the N8 Fail Tumblr Blog.

Here’s a good example of the inconsistencies baked into Nokia’s platform. I had to smile when I saw it…

Screen shot 2010-10-13 at 09.08.31.png

I smiled because — oh dear — yes, a text-area-input does typically require the full screen. That’s just how the user interface functions. Which means, yes, you *do* have to memorise the captcha text. It’s most certainly not ideal. Again, if you’re an indulgent Nokia fan, you’ll totally let this slide.

Here’s another one. It’s got me cringing.

Screen shot 2010-10-13 at 09.11.04.png

You’d think that ‘cls.’ should probably be ‘calls’. Indeed you’d think that whoever managed this particular section of the operating system-cum-interface should probably have put their hand up and said, ‘You know what, we could definitely re-word this’.

Perhaps make the prompt box bigger? Maybe display a screen full of text explaining what’s going to happen, rthr thn mkng the user hv to wrk it out?

I don’t think the Nokia N8 sucks… you just need to be a Symbian/Nokia fan — and be familiar with the platforms idiosyncrasies — for it not to annoy you. Am I right?

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

13 replies on “One user’s challenging N8 experience”

Have they not learnt from the failure that was the N97… having worked for companies that develop core Symbian functionality for device manufacturers it is a big task, but these sort of things should have been picked up and rectified…

You are right, if you a hardcore Nokia / Symbian fan you will overlook this and make excuses for it, when in fact it’s in-excusable for a company that has been developing Symbian code for well over 10 years

With some effort one can create similar pages for Android and even iOS (possibly WP7 too once it is out)…..
I think that many reviewers seem to claim that their opinion on user interface/experience is going to be universally valid to all handset users. Which is not really the case as we are not all the same – De gustibus non est disputandum – there’s no arguing about taste.
So even for some new users may find Symbian more appealing than other proposals…

Nokia have steadfastly refused to take the advice of power users for years on stupid, irrelevant, annoying system messages, warnings and prompts.

Part of what makes iOS (and to a slightly lesser extend, Android) devices nice to use are the messages they *don’t* present you. The options you *don’t* have.

Thus Symbian geeks continue to defend the indefensible while the rest of the world shifts to iOS and Android.

Nokia needs to get 100 power users in a comfy lecture theatre for 1 day, with a screen capture hookup. Then step through each part of the S40 / S3 menu, listen to the collective “Loose that prompt” or “Shift that box” or “WTF is that text entry field doing?” feedback.

Then go away and come back 3 months later having implemented all the suggestions.

Repeat. But this time, make half the audience normal folks.

Repeat, but with 100% normal folks.

4th iteration, the UI should be utterly devoid of irrelevant, nonsensical, downright dumb prompts, warnings, pop-ups and text fields.

Or, carry on paddling up sh*t creek as per current UX.


Well, we had those pop-ups 5 years ago, which is an eternity in mobile OS terms. They have been diligently ported to many, many new variants of Symbian software. What’s to stop them appearing in MeeGo? the only reason a UX designer puts them in is because he thinks a consumer *wants* or *needs* to see them. They could be turned off easily – just as easily as some alerts are a user pref to disable. So no, unless there’s a corresponding change in thinking and recognition of customers as thinking adults able to decide when/how they want to use their devices, I don’t think MeeGo will change things.

Agreed, these stupidities need fixing, and should have been fixed already, and they are widely acknowledged across Symbian blogs etc.

But it’s interesting that what are actually really minor problems are being made a big deal of here. So where are the similar articles pointing out all the minor and major failures of iPhone and Android? Only seconds ago I was reading an article stating that from a study of 20,000 users, iPhone 4 glass breaks 82% more than that on the 3GS (and God knows how much more than your average Nokia which is actually made properly).
And need I mention the iPhone 4 antenna debacle? Or that I hear time after time after time that Android store makes developers no money? (that’s gotta suck after all the time and effort devs put in).

So I put it to users, what would you rather have (honest answers please):
A.) Your phone spells ‘calls’ as ‘cls.’ on a very rarely seen popup and makes you remember a captcha on a very rarely seen request. And of course a small variety of other very minor irritations. Remembering that all platforms have these minor issues
B.) You drop your phone from waist height. There is a really high chance it’s going to break. You constantly worry you will break your extremely expensive shiny toy that you rely on totally.
C.) Your app store makes no money for software developers.

So, yes, these are stupid little annoyances. Yes, they should have been fixed. But why exactly are they being blown out of proportion by this blog? That’s the real issue here…

> Thus Symbian geeks continue to defend the indefensible

Not the ones I’ve seen. Most of them have a go at Nokia and point out that iOS/Android don’t have these stupid little annoyances and tell Nokia to bloody well get on and sort it out. BUT the Nokia user then goes on to revel how much cheaper and better and more robust their device is, and how much more flexible and powerful their OS is (esp. with S^3). So….

As for your other suggestion, totally agree, Nokia should do more usability studies with real users, both power users and ordinary folk. My girlfriend often gets frustrated with the UI on her Nokia X6 (S^1) and I feel some minor guilt that I recommended it to her!

Ewan I doubt MeeGo will change things radically. It will be NSeries which currently represents about 12% of Nokia’s smartphone sales (or did last year). Symbian is growing, and growing, and growing.

Mike: >while the rest of the world shifts to iOS and Android.
In your head 🙂 Sorry to spoil the party for you, but… “each week there are 200,000 more Symbian phones out there than iPhones, and almost 500,000 more than Android. Symbian is not being caught and left behind, in terms of raw numbers they are pulling away by a significant percentage every single day.”

Touche. *Some* Symbian geeks, not all. Shades of grey everywhere. I have an X6, i3GS and 2.2HTC. All have shortcomings and bouquets. OK, the X6 doesn’t have the latter.From the AAS article: “…Symbian is powering a new class of “bad smartphone” that the industry is trying to ignore in favour of “good smartphones” that people don’t mind talking about.”Got it in one.Try as a 5xxx-series user might to convince themselves/their friends/colleagues that it’s a ‘smartphone’, they just don’t cut it. Mums know what a smartphone is. So do kids. And teens.The N73 was and still is an amazingly-capable device. It can do (touch aside) probably 99% of daily mobile tasks.But does that make it ‘smart’?IMHO ‘smart’ is powerful (CPU/RAM), capable (OS) and usable (touch & *UI*). Screw up any of those and I don’t care, it’s just not smart.It’s about what you leave out as much as put in, and Nokia just_don’t_get_it.You can always trot out Nokia’s massive numbers, and juxtapose against the latest increment from others Q-on-Q. But step out to a 5-year view. What’s the trend now? Not good from a Nokia POV.

5 years ago S60 was it. The Schizzle. Of course there were some Chino Warriors with Palm/Windows/BB’s, but they were maybe 5% of the market. Nokia owned the not-a-featurephone space (as well as the featurephone space, and still does). Ericsson tried a few things (the W950i was amazing, but oh dear god a stylus. The horror, the horror) but ultimately it was Nokia by a country mile.

Fast-forward to 2010. The word ‘smartphone’ now means a multiplicity of things, and is arguably irrelevant given you can get AGPS 3.5″ capacitive touch 600MHz GB of RAM 3+MP camera 100k+ app store for under ÂŁ100 prepay.

We are rapidly approaching the time when it will be damn near impossible *not* to buy a phone of this spec in the developed world. Just like it is now pretty much impossible to buy a laptop that doesn’t play/burn DVD’s, or a digital camera that only takes stills. What demanded a massive premium is now hygiene factor.

The Korean and Chinese OEM’s have proved themselves amazingly adept at very quickly churning out devices that work, don’t look cheap and come in at a good price. Side-by-side with a Nokia I’d say most punters will be hard-pressed to tell the difference in build quality between a Samsung Wave and an N8.

And Apple. Very shortly to be the biggest company *in the world* by market capitalization – bigger than Exxon Mobil. They could probably afford to virtually give away a low-spec iPhone to the Bn or so yet-to-be-connected folks on the planet.

Nokia built their name on building phones that were the best at phonecalls. Everything since has been a ‘could do better’, with the possible rare exception of a few imaging-centric devices like the N95 and now N8. And the attempts at other enabling technologies/UI have made the once-famous calling UX rubbish (step forward X6).

I just don’t see any good news, apart from that they haven’t lost their hardware edge.

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