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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Lab: Nokia 5800 XpressMusic - phone + music

At the media event for the launch of Nokia's Comes With Music program last Friday at Velvet Underground, I had the opportunity to try out the company's new music phone, 5800 XpressMusic. This is the first phone that incorporates Comes With Music, where the owner is entitled to unlimited downloads from the Nokia Music Store for one year after phone purchase.

The first obvious feature of the phone is its touchscreen. Like Apple's iPhone, there is no physical keyboard at all. Almost all interaction is done through the touchscreen. (There are physical buttons for the volume, camera and lock/unlock.) Also like the iPhone, most of the times, you'll only need your finger to interact with your phone.

A stylus is provided, and I needed it for pressing on small UI elements. One of these was the on-screen keyboard. The 5800 XpressMusic comes with three kinds of typed entry: a full QWERTY keypad, a mini QWERTY keypad, and the familiar numeric keypad. The full keypad always appears in landscape mode, and the numeric keypad always appears in portrait mode, while the mini keypad can be used with either modes. I found that I needed the stylus to properly type with the mini keypad. On the other hand, after using it for a while, I found it so limited that I preferred the full keypad or numeric one.

The full-sized QWERTY keypad was a delight to use. I found that I could type almost as fast as my finger found the key. That means I didn't have to wait for the phone to realise that I'd pressed a button before responding. In other words, typing was almost as easy as on a physical keyboard. It was the same experience with the numeric keypad.

Nokia 5800 XpressMusic -  Web browsing
Since I'm more interested in the Internet functions, I launched the web browser and found myself in a similar environment as found in other Nokia phones. That meant its interface wasn't really designed for fingers and I had to resort to tapping with the stylus. But typing, as usual, was done through the previously mentioned keypads.

As mentioned, the phone can function is landscape or portrait mode. Either mode can be activated by turning the phone, just like its done with the iPhone. I suppose it won't be long before there are third party apps to take advantage of this function, just like with the iPhone.

Camera-wise, I think there had been some improvement in the picture quality from previous models. Compared to my trusty Sony Ericsson K800i, the 5800 XpressMusic produced pictures that looked sufficiently sharp and rich, even in low light conditions.

Nokia 5800 XpressMusic
Nokia 5800 XpressMusic camera photo

Sony Ericsson K800i
Sony Ericsson K800i camera photo

At the end, this is, after all, a music phone. So how did it fare in this department? The music player is the same one a found in other Nokia phones, so most Nokia owners should be familiar with it. Nokia also encourages noise pollution by providing stereo speakers with the phone. The sound quality isn't tinny, as you'd expect from small speakers, but something that could reasonably rival a normal consumer music player. So please make sure you're playing something pleasant if you insist on blasting your music through the speakers.

One issue I had was with scrolling. I guess Apple has patented the flicking gesture, because that's not available here. Instead, scrolling is done by keeping the finger on the screen and moving it up/down. I even found that I had to press slightly harder on the screen as I moved my finger, otherwise the interface would refuse to scroll. I don't know if this was because I was using a test version of the phone.

Overall, the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic seemed like a well built phone that should have a lot of fans.

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