Ever since Nokia officially announced its new consumer touchscreen smartphone, the 5800 XpressMusic (aka the “Tube”), I’ve been dying to get my hands on the device. Not because I was expecting an iPhone killer — it isn’t and probably wasn’t really intended to be — but because I was curious to see how well Nokia could adapt its S60 user interface for a touchscreen phone. After a few days playing with the 5800, albeit a ‘prototype’, here are my initial impressions.
What I like
- Physical buttons. Although the 5800 is a touchscreen device, Nokia have made smart choices when it comes to physical buttons. There’s the usual call start and end, dedicated home button, as well as volume up and down, camera shutter, and best of all, a spring loaded rocker switch for locking and unlocking the screen.
- Responsive. Unlike other touchscreen phones I’ve tested recently, the 5800′s UI feels pretty responsive. There’s no or very little delay upon key presses (virtual or physical), and generally the processor seems more than up to the job of running the new touchscreen version of S60.
- Finger friendly and fairly intuitive UI. Despite Nokia’s choice to employ a resistive touchscreen (see below), Nokia have done a pretty good job at adapting S60 for finger operation. The use of large fonts and on-screen buttons is very welcome. The UI is also fairly intuitive, although I’m admittedly very accustomed to S60 (my daily phone is a Nokia e71). However, like with previous efforts, getting to certain functions seems to require one click more than necessary.
- The ‘Media Bar’. The 5800 includes a dedicated soft button just above the screen that brings up what Nokia is calling the ‘Media Bar’. Essentially it’s a vertical dock with shortcuts to all of the phone’s media playback features, along with web browsing and online sharing.
- The ‘Contacts Bar’. A neat feature that Nokia should certainly expand on whereby you can highlight four favorite contacts on the home-screen and, “through a single touch, track a digital history of recent text messages, emails, phone logs, photos and blog updates.”
- Virtual keyboards. From T9, mini QWERTY to fullscreen QWERTY, lots of choices. There’s even handwriting recognition, which works better than I expected.
- Loud speakers. This will annoy the hell out of people traveling on public transport but is really handy when watching video on the 5800.
What I don’t like
- Resistive touchscreen. While the 5800′s UI is finger friendly, the device’s touchscreen isn’t entirely. Like HTC’s Touch Diamond, the 5800 employs a resistive rather than capacitive touchscreen designed primarily for stylus not finger input. The result is that finger presses needs to be more defined than feels natural (it’s works best when using a finger tip or finger nail). Instead, I’d much prefer a capacitive touchscreen as used by the iPhone.
- It’s chunky. The 5800 won’t win any prizes in the looks department, least not post-iPhone. In particular, the device is chunky, which is disappointing as Nokia can do sleek and slim — just look at the e71.
- Web browsing is under par. This one surprised me a lot as Nokia’s S60 browser is usually very good, the closest to the iPhone’s yet. However, unlike previous versions, columns of text don’t re-flow intelligently to fit on the device’s screen, meaning endless and fiddly zooming and scrolling. I’m hoping this is something Nokia will address when the 5800 hits full production.
- At times it’s not obvious how to invoke the virtual keyboard. This one is hard to explain, but when I first played with the phone I was stumped on how to bring up the on-screen keyboard. An input field was displayed on-screen — asking for my WiFi network’s password for example– along with a flashing cursor, but still no keyboard popped up. It then takes a further tap in the field itself to actually bring up the keyboard. Not at all obvious, especially for somebody coming from an iPhone.
- White text on light gray. Again it’s a gripe with the virtual keyboard. When typing, text is previewed in white on a light gray background. Not the most user friendly choice of colors!
That’s it for now — I hope to keep the 5800 for a few more weeks — if you have any questions on the device, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer them.