Hands On Review: Nokia 5800 "Tube"

Posted by Minnaar Pieters 08 Jun 2009
First off, I am going to come out and say it. The 5800 is not comparable to the iPhone. If you think it is Nokia’s answer to the iPhone, you could not be further from the truth. I also made the same mistake when I first got it, and only once I stopped having a iPhone comparitive look did I start seeing the phone for what it is. It is currently around R5100 cash from most cellphone dealers.

I stopped using my other phone for about two weeks, except for once when I was in Mtunzini and I had sync issues with the 5800. I really wanted to see what Nokia has been up to since that other phone came on the scene. I have always been a fan of Nokia, especially the E-Series, so I had high hopes for Nokia's first consumer touch screen phone.

Look and Feel:
The phone is light and easy to hold in your hand, with a perhaps slightly plasticky feel. This phone is not meant to be compared to higher end devices which normally have metal cases, even though the pricetag might tell you otherwise. It is much smaller than the iPhone and N95, but it is also quite a thick phone which feels fat in your hand. The device has a nice coloured ring around it’s edges which does lend itself some uniqueness compared to other phones.
The screen is currently a 3.2 inch, 360x640 display which is amazingly sharp. It is also true 16:9, if you are someone who is bothered by aspect ratios. The big downside to the screen however is that it not capacitative – it is resistive which requires you to press down on the screen for it to react. This results in the screen not always reacting to your touches, unless you use the stylus. However, it should be pointed out that the sensitivity is much, much better than the old PDA’s of a few years back.

There is three buttons on the front, and the slider and power switches on the side of the device. After using the device for a few days you typically never use the green and red buttons to answer and dial calls – that functionality is available on screen as well. Many will appreciate the hard buttons though, especially once you have to use the device without looking. There is also a hard dedicated button for the camera at the side, which is handy is you want to quickly snap something.
There is also a standard headphone port at the top which works well enough. But here is another problem I found with the device. When listening with headphones, and you suddenly pull the plug, the music starts blaring out of its own very loud speakers. This is one area where I would have appreciated it to automatically pause like many other phones or music players… Little things…

The Technical stuff.

The phone is running Symbian S60 5th edition, which has been altered to cater for the touch screen. It is well thought out, and there is almost no learning curve coming from a keypad based Symbian phone.

Operating the phone is easy enough until you have to enter text. Here you have a choice of entry methods, but not all of them are useful. There is a fullscreen qwerty, mini qwerty, handwriting and standard T9 keypad interfaces. And here the small screen plays a role – the only keyboard I found functional with my fingers was the keypad version. I personally do not want to take out a stylus to send a SMS.

Scrolling is easy enough, but the screen does not allow flicking as with other touch screened phones, instead a user drags their fingers up and down the screen, and eventually it will scroll along, at a increasing pace. Once you get used to it is quite intuitive.

Perhaps the thing I like most about the 5800 is its haptic feedback. What this basically does is cause the device to make a tiny vibration when you press on screen elements, and the feedback only occurs when it reacts to your press. While not everybody likes this (like @dchetty) at least the user can switch it off. When going back to other touch screen devices I suddenly wish to have that little functionality back.

The interface is connected to a accelarometer which automatically changes to portrait or landscape, just like most new Nokia phones. It is however a tad slow in changing, which causes many people to just switch it off…

The music player is pretty standard, but the one advantage is has is the simultaneous launch of the Nokia Music Store which enables the user to download tracks over the air, similar to the iTunes store. There is also a nice big 8GB card included, so you can stuff the phone quite full of music. You are however bound to the Nokia Music store, but you can use iTunes (provided you install the iSync plugin), but then you have to stick to non DRM tracks. While in no way as elegant to sync as the iPhone or Palm Pre, it works.

The camera is pretty great for a phone – although it is only 3.2 MP, it does feature a Carl Zeiss lens, auto focus and a flash, which all dramatically improve the image quality. The user also has a tremendous amount of control over the camera in terms of lighting and colour balancing etc. Video recording is also at a 640x480 resolution and 30fps which is pretty decent, even compared to modern point and click digicams. I was very impressed with the camera all in all.
The Maps application is also brilliant – I have always used Garmin Mobile XT on my Symbian devices, and Nokia has improved the Maps application a lot in the last year. The interface is well designed and the routing worked accurately every time I used it. It did take quite a while to lock on the GPS signal though, many times more than 2 minutes even in perfectly clear skies.

The browser is not that great. I honestly though Nokia would have improved the browser in all this time, but it was a headache to use. Even though it is technically a WebKit browser such as the iPhone, it is simply not easy to use. The other major concern with the browser is that it almost necessitates the stylus to get anything done. Clicking links with your finger is just not easy. Hopefully Opera will make a Mini browser for it soon enough (I could not seem to find one). What should be pointed out however is that comparing it to anything other than iPhone and Android, the browser is actually quite capable.

In terms of work-related functionality, I had almost not complaints. Syncing it to my Mac was as easy as installing the plugin for iSync and all my contacts and calendars were available. There is also a “switch “ app for users who have another Symbian Nokia before it, and in my testing it works surprisingly well. Pretty awesome for people who do not backup their contacts to their PC’s (which they should…). Calendar functionality is great, and the high res screen is especially useful on things like week and month view. Messaging also worked well, and SMS’s and multiple email accounts worked well. Connecting to popular mail servers such as Gmail and Yahoo was especially easy seeing as the phone auto configured most settings for you.

The battery is a 1300mAh version which lasts surprisingly long. It lasted in many cases more than two days, which is reassuring once you have worked with other large screened devices. This is one area where Nokia always seems to do well – battery life.


Overall I am quite impressed by the device – not compared to all other phones however. Once you start using very high end phones it is easy to compare other phones to them, and this is the first phone that really makes me do that. Seeing as it has a reasonably well designed touch screen, it makes me automatically try to compare it with iPhone or Android, which currently has all the industry focus.

The device is however cheaper, and focuses on a younger demographic. While not much cheaper when buying cash, it is much cheaper once contract subsidization kicks in. Nokia phones are available on all networks, thus there is no exclusitivity involved for a network to provide it, therefore competition kicks in. It is for this very reason why iPhones and current Android phones are so expensive – its all about exclusitivity.

The reason why there is suddenly so much focus on touch is that it is the ideal method to enable ground breaking software, which is where the real focus currently lies. In the case of the 5800, you feel as though the device is not fully realized – it needs services to make it truly great. Something tells me the upcoming N97 might be that device.

The 5800 is ideally suited for someone who needs a lower priced alternative to the iPhone but mainly wants to focus on multimedia, and not so much on internet productivity. Its music and movie abilities are great, but these are just about its only drawcards.

Overall: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Pictures courtesy of allaboutsymbian, I was too lazy to take my own.

Next review: The Android G2 / HTC Magic...
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I am a R&D Analyst in Stellenbosch South Africa who has a immense passion for all things tech related. I embrace technology, open source and web standards, and I participate and contribute to the social web.