We’re all unique customers and all have our unique requirements. I categorise myself as th ‘boy scout’ type. I am not a fan of highly converged devices (the N900 was not something for me) but I do like being prepared with a good, mobile set of kit. I have a tendancy to want to cover as many scenarios as possible with my mobile devices but I balance that with the realisation that you can’t have one device for each task. Some convergence is needed. But how much?
One device I’m testing at the moment is the Nokia N8 which I think (although I’km not 100% sure yet) will slot in as my personal high-end featurephone with the Samsung Galaxy Tab and a netbook/notebook. I have a long-term love of what I call mobile online photography. Sharing and moving images wirelessly is important and having a camera in the pocket at all times is critical to catching memories. It’s the reason I used an N82 for so long.
Note that I didn’t call the N8 a smartphone. Technically, it probably is but when lined up with the best smartphones out there, it falls short. It has a specific target audience and my Sister summed it up when she bought an N8 recently. She told me she wanted a phone, a camera and an MP3 player. She does a bit of Facebook and Web access but not enough that the N8, with it’s relatively low-end web performance, was going to be a problem.
Those three requirements are the primary ones I’m thinking of too as I look at the limits of the Samsung Galaxy Tab. It’s too big to be an MP3 player or phone and as a camera, the size also has disadvantages. Samsung didn’t exactly go OTT with the camera specifications too!
The N8 also brings in some other important features.
- Notifications in the pocket.
- Clock / Alarm clock
- FM Radio / transmitter
- One handed messaging / reading
- Offline maps
As a bonus, you get HDMI and analogue A/V out, AMOLED screen, USB On-the-Go (with USB HDD, keyboard and mouse support) a relatively open filesystem and, in my opinion, quite an original, smart design. I have the Orange version and it’s on loan from Nokia in the UK. Thanks to them for letting me test it out.
At a push, the N8 can do everything a smartphone can but having had great experiences with Android and iOS, it’s a real step back to be using Symbian for some of the things I used those operating systems for. Image, URL and selection sharing becomes a chore. ‘Share’ in Symbian-speak means OVI services (Twitter or Facebook) and ‘Send-to’ allows other services to link-in. Some apps such as the popular Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook application Gravity, don’t link into these share services at all. In fact, applications like Opera don’t even offer an integrated share option. Notifications seem to appear in random places too and setting up internet connectivity between WiFi and 3G is a bit of a juggle to start with.
I’m pleased to say that the battery life is OK, voice quality is good, it feels strong and the audio player and camera application are fast. HDMI and USB converter cables are included and there’s a dual-charger option. Both the mini Nokia connector and the micro-USB ports charge the device. I like that! In fact, I like the N8!
The CES Plan
Last year I did CES with a tripod, camera, phone, mid and netbook,battery pack and of course, mains connectors. This year I want to do at least one day with a lightweight mobile setup. I will use a Sprint 3G Mifi while i’m in Vegas so unfortuinately, while it gives me a mobile hotspot, it does mean strapping a battery pack onto it to make it last all day. The idea is to do photo blogging during the day and the videos I take will be uploaded during the evening. The N8 will take 720p videos at up to about 8Mbps and even has on-device editing which could help.
Here’s the set-up I plan to use:
In the image you can see a ‘device’ strapped to a battery pack. I used a battery charger to simulate the MiFi unit that would actually be there. Today, my MiFi unit is being used elsewhere.
The total weight:
What advantage will I have?
CES is a brutal show and there’s lots of walking. I’ll be extremely happy if I can reduce the weight from around 5KG to 1KG. Importantly I should get some speed advantage too as the photo blogging process is simple and fast.
What disadvantage will I have?
- No detailed video editing during the day. (In fact, Video on the N8 doesn’t really lend itself to close-up product videos so I may have a bigger problem here. See testing notes below.)
- Higher bitrate (unedited) videos will take longer to upload.
- Video camera will be higher resolution but without stabiliser, good optics, zoom, continuous auto-focus, the end result will look lower worse than my previous set-up with a VGA-capable camera.
- I won’t have a keyboard during the day.
- No tripod (always bad when handling a product and trying to film at the same time)
- No ability to upload multiple images into my gallery. All will have to be posted direct to WordPress in a compressed format.
This afternoon I took an hour to simulate some CES work. I used my studio to simulate the low-lighting product bays and moved around my house, inside and out, while I wrote the blogs. I pushed out 4 posts in an hour which isn’t bad. You can see the test posts here. I’m happy with the keyboard input on the Tab. Happy with the battery life of the kit. Happy with the camera (pushing photos to the Tab is simple and quick over BT) and I’m happy that I’ll have enough connectivity. As a photo-blogging set-up, this is awesome. In fact, if I wasn’t having to use a MiFi, this setup would be well under 1KG, including the bag, my Wallet and a few other bits and pieces.
I’m not happy with the video though and this could be a showstopper for me. Videos are extremely important for my work. During 2010 the number of video views I got per day on YouTube grew by at least 4x to around 12000 per day. Views on articles are not growing that quickly. I currently use VGA for file-size and usability but I am definitely wanting to upgrade to 720p in 2010.
I took a video with the N8 during the test and it was very poor indeed. The problem is that the N8 has a fixed-focus video configuration which means it doesn’t work well for close-up work and that’s exactly the scenario I need to cover. Despite recordings being high-bitrate and high-resolution files, the quality isn’t good enough for this close-up work. I’ve used the video function in typical smartphone scenarios and it’s great but my special requirement is a real problem. Does this mean I’ll have to take my old Canon S2IS for videos? If I do, why bother with the N8 at all? Sure, the Canon adds 500 grams but even at 2KG, I’m saving a lot of weight and I get that critical video capability back.
Maybe there’s even a better, lighter camera option?
I’m now taking a look at a new standalone camera that includes WiFi, Bluetooth, 720p recording and weighs just 168gm. Remembering that professional photo and video blogging is not the same as professional photography and that mobility is absolutely key to my work, the Samsung ST5500 might work out well.
It really looks like the N8 won’t quite fit in as my mobile video device. I’m sad! I really thought I’d found an amazingly light and flexible mobile reporting kit for trade shows but now I know that if the N8 can’t do the video part, no smartphone can offer the photo/video performance I’m looking for.
Tomorrow i’ll be heading out to at least try a Samsung ST5500. At 200 Euro it’s not that expensive and there’s a possibility it will lift my mobile reporting kit to the next level. Happy to hear your suggestions for a sub 200gm compact for low-light and close-up moblogging though!
As for the N8 it still could fit in well. Despite the problem above It still seems to fit my setup better than any other phone. I love the quality of the build and the small features like the fm transmitter, usb on-the-go, metal body and even silly little things like timed profiles and the lock/unlock slider. For general family/friend videos it’s going to be fine too. I’m also reading that software updates are coming soon. Browser improvements, sharing improvements and continuous focus video recording will really help. As for the market and third party apps, I’m actually very happy to be doing that on my Galaxy Tab. The dovetailing really does seem good. There’s no doubt I will take the N8 to Las Vegas in a few weeks so standby for more reports on it.