Clash of the N-series Titans: N900 versus N8

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It isn’t everyday that one gets the opportunity to carry about two of the most capable devices on the planet. The Nokia N8 is the latest device in Nokia’s N-series range. It is a pure touchscreen Symbian-powered device. The N900, on the other hand, has been around for over a year, but this QWERTY slider device running Maemo 5 is still very much a capable device in the smartphone market.

n900 n8

When I recently announced that the N900 is my smartphone of the year 2010, there were cries of “foul” from Nokia N8 fans – and that is testament to how much the N8 has come to be loved and regarded in the mobile space. Nokia certainly has hit a home run with the N8. It is indeed a lovable, capable device that meets the needs of lots of people.

Same Father; Different Strengths

Children of the same parents often have different strengths. Having used both devices extensively, I am qualified to present to you in what areas one outshines the other. This will help people in understanding how to choose devices that cater to their specific needs.

Note that this is not a detailed comparison, but a quick list of areas where the differences of the two excellent devices stand out.

Browser: While we are still waiting for the new Symbian browser that Nokia promised us (and I am hoping that Nokia will copy the N900’s browser to the dot), the N900’s Mozilla-based MicroB browser clinched the spot as the best mobile browser at its release and holds that spot till date. The Symbian browser on the N8 pales in comparison so badly that it is an uneven match.

Camera: The tide is turned immediately here. The N8’s stunning 12 -megapixel camera simply leaves the N900’s 5 megapixel camera in the dust for both still shots and video capture. The N8 does HD/720p video capture. No contest here too.

I took my wife out on a Friday night date yesterday and we took some shots. The N900 generally was left in the dust. Glad I took the N8 along with me.

Display: The N8 has a brighter, more colourful display, while the N900 has the greater resolution. Both of them work well in sunlight. Most people will opt for the N8’s display for video playback, but for web browsing and reading documents, the N900’s greater resolution makes it the preferred display.

Also, the N900’s resistive display is almost as responsive as any capacitive, but you will notice the difference.

Video Playback: Both devices handle playback well. The N8’s AMOLED display produces brighter colours, but the N900 has the better WVGA resolution of 800 × 480 pixels against the N8’s 360 x 640 pixels. Also, the N900 handles more video codecs than the N8 does, especially with DviX and Xvid files. There were video files that I could not watch on the N8 but the N900 handles them fine.

Customisation: Symbian has much more applications available than Maemo. Yet Maemo is much more highly tweakable via plugins, scripts and apps than Symbian. For example, the N900 is easily overclocked just by installing an app, and can have Linux desktop apps installed on it. Other mobile OSes e.g. Android, have also been installed and run on the N900.

UI and Multi-tasking: The N8 handles this like a champ, but my impressions are that the N900 does it better with more resources and a better UI. The N8 sports 256MB RAM, but the N900 takes it a step further with 256MB RAM and an extra 768 MB of virtual memory. This means that the N900 has a total of 1GHz application memory at its disposal.

The N900’s PC-like approach to tasks makes it the better user interface in every way. The N8’s UI is not bad; the N900’s is simply better. Having used iOS, Android and Symbian devices, the Maemo 5 UI is the closest thing to iOS’s sleekness, simplicity and ease of use. In my opinion, the Maemo UI actually matches iOS in user experience.

Mass Storage: N900 has 32GB and N8 has 16GB. No contest.

Maps: Simply put, the Ovi maps application on the N8 is miles better than that on the N900. No contest.

Social Networking Integration: Out of the box, the N900 has Skype and GoogleTalk integrated into the contacts and conversations applications. Install a few more plugins and you add Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook, and lots more. These are not separate apps, but plugins running right in your Contacts and Conversations apps.

Your chats show up in your Conversations as threaded messages. Your Contacts can be arranged according to online availability, so your available contacts show up at the top when you open the app.

It is simply incredible.

Text Entry: The N900 offers you the best of both worlds – an onscreen keyboard and a slide-out hardware QWERTY keyboard.

Battery Life: Of the two, the N8 has the better battery life. Linux-powered devices tend to consume more resources than Symbian. In this case, the N900’s battery life is prey to this as well. The N8 simply keeps going after the N900 has given up.

Conclusions

Slider QWERTY devices have never been top sellers in the market. They have always been niche devices. Naturally, the majority of people will opt for the N8. Form factor aside, the N8 is the device that you need to buy if you are looking for media content creation. You simply cannot go wrong with buying a Nokia N8 if that is what you are after.

The N900 is a mixed bag and has a much smaller targeted audience – people who are looking for a more PC-like experience on a small device, a better social networking and web experience, as well as office content viewing, creation and editing. That’s where I fall. That’s why the N900 is my smartphone of the year 2010.

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19 comments

  1. You know, the N8 is really a stunning device, in terms of hardware. But when it comes to software, it still runs Symbian, be it Symbian^3 or 500. The first thing that one realizes as a Symbian user is that it’s very underwhelming. Very much.

    For me, the I would have chosen the N8 as my preferred device over the N900 if Nokia had actually shipped it with Meego. But as long as it’s Symbian, with all it’s hardware, it’s still a Meh…

    Like my friend who’s actually a Nokia publicists writes http://openattitude.com/2010/12/06/symbian-must-die/

  2. I agree that the Symbian UI needs further optimisation, but I disagree with your friend’s line of argument. No-one in their right senses gives up on a product that has over 30% of any market.

    Look where it got Microsoft who gave up Windows Mobile (17% marketshare) of the smartphone market to get Windowsphone 7 (2%) without an upgrade path. Windows Mobile is as good as dead now, and Microsoft has 2% share. Bad business sense.

    Look where it got Palm who simply dropped the old Palm OS and replaced it with WebOS without an upgrade path. Palm OS is dead and WebOS is still nowhere. bad business sense.

    Compare that to Symbian’s incremental upgrade that has seen its marketshare drop from 39% to a figure still over 30% in the same period, and anyone must see that Nokia is doing something right with the way they are handling Symbian.

    Nokia has an upgrade path for Symbian. That is good business sense. Current Symbian users are seeing improvements. That’s good business sense, even if it appeals only to loyalists. Keeping loyalists happy is always good business sense. Yes; Symbian is losing marketshare in bits and pieces, but this will stabilise eventually even if at a lower figure. But the story of Symbian does not look like it will end up the disasters that Windows Mobile/Windowsphone 7 and PalmOS/WebOS have been. An upgrade path, no matter how slow, is good business sense.

    Again, I agree that Symbian needs further improvements in its UI – and thankfully Nokia knows that and have promised us lots of those this year. Let’s wait and see how good they will be.

    Your friend, Andrew, said that Symbian “stands pretty much a zero percent chance of gaining new users”. He’s wrong. Industry statistics shows that Symbian keeps gaining new users month after month. Its not always just about the UI. A good business plan to execute any needed improvements matter.

    Symbian will certainly die if Nokia implements Andrew’s recommendations, just like PalmOS is dead, and Windows mobile is dead – and the companies behind them are no better off. Symbian does not need to die. It simply needs to be improved on for now till it becomes (or is replaced by) what is in effect a totally different OS. That is exactly what Nokia is doing. Cheers.

  3. Excellent analysis and comparism, Yomi. But the N8 will always remain my choice.

    Small observation: “The n8 handles more video codecs than the n8.” Pls correct this.

  4. Since they both support USB OTG, what happens when one is plugged into the other? How do you decide the Male and the Female?

  5. I took my friend’s n900 4 a spin today and i totally impressed the touchscreen response was totally on point. As for the UI should have just reaped the one on n900 added more eye candy and strapped it on top of symbian 3. the sms conversation stuff can easily be sorted out on all symbian phones all you got to do is download free isms from the internet.

  6. ‘How do you decide the Male and the Female?’

    Looks like, In this case, embracing homosexuality is a fait accompli…lol

  7. The N900 does not have USB-on-the-go out of the box, and the app that enables it is still in development. As such, for now, the feature is available only on the N8.

    I have a video of how I transferred several gigabytes of videos from the N8 to the N900 using USB-on-the-go. It should be published today.

  8. USB-on-the-go is a functionality whose limitation I would really love to know.

    What determines what usb devices you can (/not) connect? Short of simply buying the N8, are there rule-of-thumbs to follow in. determinig what USB-on-the-go devices the Nate supports?

    We already know a usb mouse / keyboard / flash drives work with it. Digital cameras too

    While hunting, I came across:

    http://www.ferdzdecena.com/2010/10/22/nokia-n8-usb-on-the-go-a-handy-image-backup-tool/?wpmp_tp=1

    @bosun99uk, see the answer to your ‘hermaphroditic’ question:

    ‘What happens when you plug two USB OTG dual-role devices together?A7:When two dual role devices get connected together via a cable, the cable sets a default host and default peripheral. If the application is such that the roles need to be reversed, then the Host Negotiation Protocol (HNP) will provide a handshake that performs that function.This reversal will be completely invisible to the user.’

    See http://www.usb.org/about/faq/ans6 for more…

  9. Yomi did a hearty, delicate as well as laudable comparison here. But I shall still not allow him to rest unless he compares the N8 with Nokia 5800. I mean user interface wise.

    I can’t also fault the analysis of Microsoft, palm and Symbian. It appears Symbian is going the right way. Incremental updates. And by ditching Symbian^4 for ^3, methinks Symbian wishes to continue this incremental stuff. Just sad that my 5230 will be left behind. But really delighted that the Nokia N8, when I finally get it will continue to be upgrade-able until the hardware becomes fagged out and I need to upgrade the chasis in the form of a new phone. Just like is obtainable in the iOS echosystem.

    The article was correct in regards of QWERTY as a niche product. It has never been my cup of tea. If not, the N900 would have been compelling. Nevertheless, with the N8 winning in USB-TO-GO, Camera, maps, battery life, and third party application, I believe honestly that it is an easy win over the N900 for me. But again, I salivate at the UI prowess of the N900 as depicted by Yomi. However I believe the N8 will get there someday with firmware updates!

    If Nokia can provide maemo/meego that is touch-screen only with the capabilities (Camera) and screen (but higher resolution) of the n8, then it would be a compelling mUST-HAVE!

  10. But I shall still not allow him to rest unless he compares the N8 with Nokia 5800. I mean user interface wise.

    Afewgoodmen, please ship me a Nokia 5800 and you’ll get your detailed comparison 🙂

  11. Mr Yomi you know that n900 is not java enabled. How do you handle java applications like opera mini and other java stuff on it. Also where can I download some of those plugins that you said could enable some applications to work on it? You mention in one of your post that you have updated your n900 firmware, please did you do that through PC connection or just directly with the phone connected to internet. Thanks

  12. Surajudeen,

    Like I have mentioned earlier, the N900 is for those looking for PC-like functionality and rich web browsing. That means, its not targeted at those needing Opera Mini. I haven’t bothered exploring how to handle java on the device.

    However, Opera Mobile is available for the N900.

    You can download and install more applications (including Opera Mobile) for the N900 from the App Manager in your main menu. The App Manager lets you download and install, uninstall and update apps on your Nokia N900.

    The N900 firmware updates are OTA (over the air) i.e. on the device itself with an active internet connection. No need for a PC. Cheers.

  13. Hello Yomi
    Could pls give me a little comparism btw N8 and BB Bold 9780. which do you think is better – can they be compared at all. thanks

  14. D;

    We cannot be talking of which is better between the N8 and the 9780 – they are targeted at two different sets of user profiles.

    if what you are looking for is multimedia, the N8 is tops there. Larger and better display, better audio and video quality playback, and best camera on a mobile.

    The BlackBerry 9780, on the other hand, has better social networking integration – Twitter, Facebook, BB Messenger and Yahoo Messenger, and a good hardware keyboard.

    Both have good battery performance too. The question is, Which of the two meets your specific needs better?

  15. Yomi Thanks for your comment.

    Am a media person but also need my internet service on the go.
    So which will you advice btw N8 and BB 9780.
    Thanks again.

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