Review of the Nokia N80


The N80 is one of a series of slider phones from Nokia that incorporates the Symbian operating system and provides a host of PDA-style functions in a device with a phone-like form factor. The N80 is not presently offered by any of the Canada providers, but it can, like any GSM phone that supports the frequencies using in North America (850 and 1900 MHz), be bought through a retailer and used on any of the GSM providers in North America.

The Nokia N80 is not available through any Canadian carriers at this time.

Last Updated: 04-Oct-2006

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

RF Performance

RF Sensitivity: The N80 was extensively tested against numerous GSM phones, and as expected it came through with flying colors. RF sensitivity is just one of those aspects of phone design that Nokia got right ages and ago, and now sticks with in virtually all of their designs.

Over-the-road Performance: Sadly, Nokia never quite got handoff handling down pat and the N80 continues to sound, well, like a Nokia when handoffs occur. While the N80 does seem to make those handoffs sound somewhat tamer than certain other Nokia models, the bottom line is that it could do so much better. So in this regard, the N80 is only about average.

Click on this link for a full description of RF Performance, and how to interpret it.

Audio Performance

Tonal Balance: The overall tonal quality of the N80 is very good, though it lacks a little of the rich low-end oomph that many of the other Nokia models have exhibited. The lack of deep low-end notwithstanding, the overall smoothness and consistency of the audio on the N80 is second-to-none. Throughout countless calls I found the sound to be crisp and clear with no detectable harshness or peakiness.

Sound Reproduction: Like most Nokia phones these days, the N80 provides excellent reproduction of all nuances of speech (within the limits of the GSM CODEC). I never had a problem with muddy or indistinct-sounding voices and everything I listened to was clean and unadorned. There was a bit of hiss at higher volume settings, but overall the hiss wasnít objectionable and it was only audible when the phone was used in a very quiet environment.

Outgoing Audio: The sound quality of the outgoing audio is very good, and the phone copes exceptionally well with background noise. I recorded samples in noisy places, such as out on a busy roadway overlooking Highway 403, in busy shopping malls, and in cars with their windows down on the highway. In all of these situations my voice remained clear and distinct and the background noise never seemed overly objectionable. This is probably the best outgoing audio performance Iíve seen in any Nokia phone to date.

Earpiece Volume: When the phone is used in a quiet environment it sounds like it wouldnít have enough horsepower to be heard in a noisy environment. However, the N80 includes Nokiaís terrific volume booth feature that ups the earpiece volume when background noise is detected. When I tested the N80 outdoors on a busy street I had no trouble hearing the audio and it was only slightly lower than volume of my Motorola i580, which has very good overall earpiece output.

Speakerphone: The N80 uses one of the little sounders that can generate a surprising amount of audio with surprisingly good tonal balance and quality. While the speakerphone was a bit too quiet to use out on a busy street, it works exceptionally well indoors and can be used in the presence of moderate levels of background noise. The sound reproduction isnít super-great, but the overall quality is more than acceptable and free of sympathetic vibrations.

Click on this link for a full description of Audio Performance, and how to interpret it.

Support Features

Ringer Volume: Like all Nokia phones that use the really loud sounded for their speakerphones, the N80 processes very loud ringtones. By selecting the right ringtone you can generate enough audio to make the phone audible over all by the most severe background noises.

Keypad Design: Iím not a huge fan of the slider design, as it tends to result in rather cramped numeric keypads. The N80 is no exception, though I never found the numeric pad really annoying. As usual, my biggest complaint is the 4-way cursor key, which is far too small for those of us with big thumbs (and there are plenty of people with much bigger thumbs than mine). It is difficult to press the center of the 4-way key to select an option without accidentally actuating the left, right, up, or down functions.

Display: The display is physically large and provides an incredible 416 x 352 pixel resolution. While the backlight is a little dim for comfortable use in bright sunlight, the screen quality is otherwise excellent.

Icing on the Cake

Camera: The N80 includes a 3 megapixel camera with a physical adjustment for close-up or far-away focus. The camera is far from perfect, but itís by far the best camera Iíve yet tested on a cellular phone. The results canít hold a candle to a 3 megapixel image taken with a digital camera, but compared to any other phone Iíve tested to date, the overall image quality is so good that unless you look closely at it (or compare it side-by-side with a similar shot taken with a digital camera) youíd be hard pressed to guess it had been taken with a phone.

Sadly the N80ís camera suffers from the same problem as every other Nokia camera phone, which is to say it produces high levels of digital noise when the lighting isnít bright. This means that the only way to get noise-free photographs is to take them outdoors in FULL DAYLIGHT. Indoor photographs, unless exceptionally well lit, are grainy and lack detail.

Iíve include a few samples at the bottom of this review that should give you some idea of what Iím talking about.

Expansion Memory: The N80 includes a MiniSD card slot, which unlike other Nokia models is actually accessible WITHOUT having to remove the battery door. Currently MiniSD cards are available in sizes up to 2 GB, which gives you plenty of storage space for the relatively large photographs the camera takes (up to 1 MB per image) and for lots of MP3 files.

WiFi: The N80 also includes 802.11g WiFi, which allows you to hook up to standard WiFi networks and hotspots to avoid using GSM-based data connections. For some reason however, the N80 seems incapable of authenticating on a the WPA/WPA2 encrypted connection (with or without TKIP), which covers most of the standard security setting for home wireless routers. Both Howard Chu & I went through the various settings in a vain attempt to get it to work, but each time we tried we were told that the phone had been unable to authenticate. It does however work well with an open (unencrypted) WiFi network.

The Symbian Operating System: Iíve never had a problem with Symbian operating system, but its implementation in the N80 is very slow. Youíd be surprised how long it takes to do just about anything, and to make matter worse there appears to be no key buffering. If you press a key too quickly, youíll have to press it again once the operation you started with the previous key has completed.

There were all sorts of annoyances that one wouldnít expect to find on a cell phone. For example, when a new voicemail message, MMS message, or text message arrives, you canít actually make a call until you get rid of the warnings from the screen.

Perhaps the biggest annoyance isnít the fault of the Symbian operating system, but the physical lack of separate volume keys. As on a number of other Nokia models, volume is adjusted using the left and right cursor keys, which is fine under most circumstances. However, if you press any numeric keys during your call (such as when access your voicemail) you cannot adjust the volume until you have cleared all of they keystrokes from the display. If youíve already pressed left or right before realizing you need to clear the display first, you must ALSO move the cursor back to the beginning of the line before it is even possible to clear ALL of the characters. What idiot thought up this idea? Why doesnít the phone have separate volume keys?

Conclusions

I really ended up with mixed feelings about this phone. It has excellent RF performance and audio, as well as some exceptional features, including a terrific camera. However, it is a slug when it comes to normal phone operation and it has annoyances galore that make the day-to-day use of the phone a royal pain-in-the-ass. I also found the earpiece to be uncomfortable after prolonged use, and getting the best volume from it requires finding a rather small sweet spot.

Camera Samples

Below are two photographs I took using the N80 and my Nikon Coolpix 990 digital camera. Iíve cropped, rotated, and adjusted the photos so that they are virtually identical, thus making it much easier to see whatís good and whatís bad about them. Iíve reduced the shots down to 800 x 600 to fit on this web page, but if you click on each of the images you can download the full 3 megapixel files for each picture.

Coolpix 990:

Nokia N80:


Below are two blown-up areas of a tree in the upper-left corner of the photograph. These clearly show whatís not so great about the pictures taken with the N80. Note that in the Coolpix photograph the pixels in the tree are various shades of green (as they should be). However, in the N80 photograph there are many randomly-colored pixels that take away from the quality of the image. This indicates that each pixel in the sensor array doesnít properly register the color it sees. This may be the result of noise or the type of processing used to gather the information from the sensor.

Coolpix 990:

Nokia N80:

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