If a Clash of the Titans movie was to be made for the smartphone industry, it would certainly feature the Nokia N8 and the Samsung Galaxy S. These are the current cream-of-the-crop handsets of the world's largest and second-largest cell phone manufacturers. The Nokia N8 and Samsung Galaxy S might be the high road for both companies, but the purposes behind them are different.
The Nokia N8 is a flagship phone with premium feel, and still, with Symbian^3, it feels like the pinnacle of Nokia that were, a peak hardware effort, before the Finnish company morphs into something yet unknown. Nokia wanted to make the highest end device to run a tried and true mobile OS that millions of users are accustomed to for years. In that respect, it is an evolutionary phone, despite some best-in-class features.
The Samsung Galaxy S, on the other hand, represents the top effort of a novel path that Samsung undertook with Android, having the fastest graphics chipset in a phone, and an enormous 4” Super AMOLED screen. Nokia N8 is like the brilliant film of a beloved movie star at the zenith of their hectic carrier, while the Galaxy S is the straight-As grad student, ready to change the world.
The Nokia N8 and the Samsung Galaxy S are both touchscreen-only devices, and that is where the design similarities end. Nokia N8 is beautifully crafted from a single sheet of anodized aluminum, and exudes that premium feel, aided by the solid heft of the metal body. It is enough to run your nail along the back, or rub your thumb against the etched logo, in order to conclude that this is a high-end craftsmanship.
The Samsung Galaxy S also wows you, but from a different perspective. It is extremely thin at just 0.39 inches (9.9 mm), compared to the Nokia N8's 0.51 inches (12.9 mm). It is also very light in the hand, and thus doesn't feel like the big phone it actually is. Being made entirely of plastic has its positives - plastic is lighter and less rigid thаn metal, and this might actually help the precious Super AMOLED screen survive drops and other rough handling.
The Galaxy S experience centers around that 4” 480x800 pixels Super AMOLED display, and the 3.5” regular AMOLED with 360x640 pixels can't hold water against the Super AMOLED Goliath. Thanks to the Super AMOLED tech, the Galaxy S delivers incredibly high-contrast ratio and great viewing angles. For the most part, the ordinary AMOLED screen on the Nokia N8 manages to replicate this experience, but things get quite different when taken outside, under direct sunlight. The regular AMOLED has a relatively high reflectance ratio, while the Super AMOLED's is only 4%, one of the lowest in a smartphone. Still, Nokia has done a great job coating the N8, and the display is decent outside, but the Galaxy S fares even better, on par with the best LCD screens out there.
Both handsets have physical home buttons under their screens. The Samsung Galaxy S, though, also adds capacitive back and menu Android buttons on its sides. Android’s hardware back and menu keys are frankly a better idea, since the virtual Options and Back in Symbian just take screen real estate.
Looking around the handsets, we find not less than ten openings and buttons on the sides of the Nokia N8, compared to the four in the Samsung Galaxy S, indicative of the difference in the design approach.
One notable difference is that the Nokia N8 has a non-removable battery. The card slots (SIM and microSD), are taken out of the battery compartment, and placed on the left side, while Galaxy S has them inside. On the right side the Nokia N8 has the camera button, while the Galaxy S uses the touchscreen to focus and shoot.
The buttons on both handsets are very responsive, with enough travel. The important ports are protected either by sliding lids or by plastic caps, and, all in all, despite the difference in materials, both the Nokia N8 and the Samsung Galaxy S are manufactured with precision, and feel like they can go for years of faithful service.
Interface, Software and Connectivity:
We won't be delving into deep comparisons of Android vs Symbian^3. Suffice it to say that both support true multitasking, and can do all you ask them to, at least until RAM memory runs out. With TouchWiz 3.0 over Android 2.1, the Samsung Galaxy S has the more slick looking interface. Symbian^3 is a slight improvement over its predecessor (one tap is now enough in most places), but still more perplexing and cumbersome to use out of the box than Android, which has been conceived for touchscreen devices from the ground up. Even without Android 2.2 yet, Galaxy S feels faster and more responsive, due to the 1GHz Hummingbird chipset, but Symbian is a low footprint OS, so the slight differences in performance are not going to convert any of the Symbian or Android aficionados.
The phonebooks and calendars of both devices allow for excellent organization and search of contacts and events, including smart dial, and syncing with various popular services. Social networking integration of your contacts has come to Symbian in the Nokia N8, but it is still better executed in TouchWiz 3.0, with one touch access to what's happening with your friends and contacts right from the phonebook screen. Nokia N8 feels as a phone first, and then a social networking tool, while on the Galaxy S both functions are at par.
Messaging has similar functionality in both handsets, and there are only small differences here and there – the email client of the Nokia can download up to 999 messages for offline viewing, while the one on the Galaxy S allows you to carry years worth of emails up to 9999 messages, which are also searchеable. We would like to see improvement in the text input department of Nokia's handset. The virtual keyboard, especially is landscape mode, is decent to type on, but trying to input anything anywhere raises a text box that covers the whole screen, even for simple tasks like filling in a website in the browser's address bar. Moreover, there is no portrait QWERTY keyboard.
Speaking of the browser on the Nokia N8, while it has pinch-to-zoom, it is not nearly as snappy or intuitive as the one in Android. Filling in the mentioned web address takes a couple of steps, and the browsing is experience is choppier and not as smooth as on the Galaxy S.. You'd be better off downloading Opera Mobile from Ovi Store for general browsing.
On the other hand, Nokia N8 offers the free lifetime navigation with the excellent Ovi Maps, which has turn-by-turn directions coverage in much more countries than Google Maps for now. It is an offline navigational software with all bells and whistles, of the type that you have to pay for in Android Market, and only if you are in a country that supports paid applications download for your Android handset.
Apart from that, both handsets also offer a complete set of connectivity options, and are supporting the newest Bluetooth 3.0 standard. The Nokia N8 is pentaband, i.e. 3G speeds can be accessed on any GSM carrier worldwide, inlcuding AT&T and T-Mobile in the US. Symbian^3 supports USB-on-the-go, for connecting a memory stick or other USB device with a short cable directly to the Nokia N8 without the need for a computer. The Finnish handset also has an FM transmitter, which can beam music from your phone to your home or car stereo through the radio, which is a nice option to have.
Camera and Multimedia:
The camera interface of the Samsung Galaxy S is more touch-friendly and easy to use than the one on the Nokia N8, where icons and sliders are tiny and not easy to pinpoint correctly at times. Older Symbian habits rear their ugly head here, such as two taps to select some settings.
Both handsets offer photographic choices aplenty, including white balance, exposure, ISO, focus modes, and various scenes and effects. The Galaxy S actually offers a few more scene modes than the Nokia N8 for its 5MP camera without a flash, including specialized modes like Fall Color, or Text.
Nokia N8's 12MP camera with powerful Xenon flash is aimed more to shutterbugs, who know what they are doing, so it adds abilities to tinker with settings like sharpness and contrast, or shoot in a vivid mode, which produces the bright, saturated photos and videos that look all the more impressive than true colors.
The photos from the Samsung Galaxy S come slightly unfocused, otherwise boasting good color representation. Indoors the noise suppression algorithm kicks in, and takes away from the details, which are otherwise decent outdoors. Using a dedicated scene mode actually works for producing better results than auto, as you can see in the Fall Color mode example below. The auto settings produced a picture that was off in terms of focus, but turning on the Fall Color mode took away the blur and saturated the colors, producing a nice sample of fall leaves.
The photography-oriented Nokia N8, in contrast, took sharp, detailed snaps in a variety of situations, especially excelling in low-light, as you can see from the samples below. The indoor shot examples are greatly aided by the Xenon flash up to a ten feet distance. In macro mode both handsets performed well from 0.5 foot distance, but Nokia N8 still had the advantage, focusing exactly on the object at hand.
When recording 720p HD video, which both handsets are capable of, the Nokia N8 has the upper hand with its stereo recording capabilities. It also offers very usable 2x digital zoom while shooting video. The Samsung Galaxy S, on the other hand, records at 30fps, compared to the Nokia N8's 25, which theoretically should make videos smoother, but in practice the difference isn't so great. The Galaxy S videos are a bit underexposed compared to those of the Nokia N8, resulting in a slightly darker looking environment, but color representation is good on both handsets.
The photos and videos gallery looks better on the Samsung Galaxy S, with nice animations and 3D effects, whereas on the Nokia N8 it is the plain ol' grid of thumbnails. Where Nokia N8 excels, is the editing functionality, offered for pictures and videos in the gallery. These abilities on the Galaxy S are basic, while on the Nokia N8 the editing possibilities offered are comparable to a paid program that you have to buy off from Android Market.
The music playback on the Samsung Galaxy S is excellent, with a pretty and functional player interface, and 5.1 channel SRS surround sound in headset mode. Nokia N8's music player, on the other hand, now also supports Cover Flow-like eye candy, but its true audio virtue is the work of Dolby Mobile technologies in both headset mode, and through the speaker. It can play sound encoded with Dolby Digital Plus, which adds to the immersive experience, especially if viewing a properly encoded HD movie on a big screen with 5.1 channel surround sound via Nokia N8's HDMI-out socket.
Speaking of video playback, both handsets support a large number of formats, including DivX/Xvid, and the chipsets are powerful enough to play HD resolutions without notable issues. The big, vivid screen of the Samsung Galaxy S definitely has the upper hand for watching videos on the go.
The in-call performance on the Nokia N8 is very good, with loud and clear sounding voices in the earpiece, while the noise-cancelling microphones do their thing for better output at the hearing end.
On the Samsung Galaxy S the voice quality is decent – fine clarity in the earpiece on our side, albeit a bit quiet sound, but there is static noise at the receiving end, plus some echo.
The speaker of the Nokia N8 also has the upper hand here, producing loud sounds with minimum distortion, while the one on the Galaxy S is clear, but weaker, as can be expected in such a thin handset. Both phones produce excellent sounds in headset mode, due to the surround sound technologies present, but Nokia N8 has truly taken it to another level with Dolby Mobile.
We didn't notice any reception problems on both handsets. Nokia N8, despite its metal casing, has placed the antennas near the plastic at both ends of the phone, so receptionwise it doesn't disappoint. Battery life in 3G talk time mode is rated at 6.5 hours time for the Samsung Galaxy S, and 5.5 hours for the Nokia N8.
As usual, in the end it all comes to personal preferences. Both handsets are outstanding representatives of the first and second cell phone producers in the world, but there are many differences that will make picking one or the other an easy choice, depending on the usage scenarios.
If you watch a lot of movies on your commute, read e-books and documents, play games, or just prefer the slick TouchWiz 3.0 and the versatility of Android plus Android Market on a giant 4” Super AMOLED screen, powered by the most powerful mobile graphics chipset so far, you may want to go with the Samsung Galaxy S.
For a well-rounded smartphone package, that will appeal a lot to the casual and more experienced photographers alike, one would most likely pick the Nokia N8, with its 12MP camera and Xenon flash. The Finnish handset also adds other notable virtues, namely the ability to watch its contents on a big screen via HDMI-out with 5.1 channel surround sound, USB-on-the-go, and free lifetime navigation that works offline in most countries.
So now that we've compared the two companies' flagship smartphones, it seems like both offerings are worth your while. Again, it is up to you to decide which features you need the most, but either way you'll end up owning one helluva smarphone.
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