Powering Nokia’s ‘Great Grey Hope’ is a smartly leveraged 680MHz processor. Our knee-jerk reaction was to groan at this sub-1GHz powerplant, but the N8 savvily pairs it with a load-bearing Broadcomm GPU. This division of labor bore a great deal of fruit; finger-whisking through the spanking new Symbian^3 OS home screens was mostly smooth, and recording and off-loading 720p video at 25fps hardly felt like heavy lifting. Even the N8’s (comparatively lacking) 256MB of RAM didn’t hold performance back as much as we were expecting. Switching apps on the fly was painless, and exposing the device to multitasking torture didn’t produce a complete meltdown—at least not right away. Despite these admirable workhorse qualities, we feel like the N8 could’ve pushed the envelope a bit further. Just like the Droid and iPhone before it, the N8 experienced occasional lag while updating background processes like news and weather widgets. We suspect these hiccups could’ve been avoided with a little more horsepower, and quite frankly, we expect more from a ‘throne-reclaiming’ flagship device. As much as this irks us, we can’t deny the N8’s pragmatic appeal–between its decent call quality, responsive accelerometers, and light heft it’s a great plain-vanilla phone.
Of course, crossing the finish line doesn’t necessarily mean one made good time. It’s clear Nokia engineered the N8 as a punchy, tightly-constructed competitor, but it easily falls shy of market leadership. In its current state, Symbian^3 OS resembles Android OS in some of its roughest stages, and though Nokia’s navigation app is ahead of the curve with its locally-stored maps, the OVI App store as a whole leaves a lot to be desired. To be fair, these gripes could be resolved by a groundswell in Nokia’s development community and a few OS updates. But between its non-subsidized pricing in the U.S. market and the passable-but-not-exemplary performance, we feel like this is more of a Hail Mary than a touchdown.