Our road test of the 5800 XpressMusic over the past few weeks has provided some useful pointers as to Nokia's relative strengths and weaknesses as it enters the touch-screen arena. Nevertheless, the whole package needs some tweaks to put it on an even footing with the genre-defining iPhone and devices based on Google's Android.
First off, and more important, the 5800's S60 5th Edition platform (the first handset in the market running the software) is very stable, with not a single crash or hang yet experienced. This is unusual for high-tech handsets generally and especially when a vendor introduces a major technology update.
Nokia deserves more than a few brownie points for this achievement, which is excellent news for its wider touch-screen ambitions as the technology goes mainstream in its portfolio.
Even so, the experience of using the 5800 is one of dÃ©jÃ vu. The overall feel is reminiscent of the similarly Symbian-powered, but UIQ-interfaced, P800/900/910 devices once produced by Sony Ericsson (the UI became more cluttered after this) - so much so that we'd be prepared to bet that there are some UIQ components in the S60 5th Edition platform. Either that or Nokia's engineers have been reading the P800 user manual.
This relative simplicity is no bad thing in our view, but time has moved on and consumer expectations in the post-iPhone, post-Android era are changing fast. A touch-screen UI by itself is no longer sufficient and there are a few areas begging for improvement. (We'll sidestep the benefits of 5800's ties to the unlimited download Comes With Music service here, as this may for many consumers be the true appeal of the phone.)
Better use of home-screen real estate would be a starting point. The iPhone has demonstrated the usefulness of having immediate access to most of the device's functions from the home screen. The 5800's offering, by comparison, offers only four shortcuts for user customisation.
In addition, the drill-down into the device's deeper recesses remains somewhat laborious, especially with the need to double-click many shortcuts to reach the functionality required.
Surfacing of alerts from connected applications would also be useful. While the Nokia Download! application provides trial versions of a few top S60 applications, such as JoikuSpot and WorldMate, there's little to entice the user, unlike those with access to the Android Market or Apple App Store.
The lack of web-enabled applications that take advantage of the device's built-in Web Runtime widget platform is particularly disappointing, especially given Nokia's early entry into this space. At least at present, Nokia is seemingly failing to (re)ignite the interest of developers in the way Google and Apple have.
A missed opportunity
Nokia is a bright company and will address these criticisms in time. The forthcoming N97 will be a major step forward, especially with regard to use of screen real estate and web service integration. And a full-blown application store will no doubt make an appearance in time too, presumably as part of Ovi.
Nonetheless, the 5800 feels like a bit of a missed opportunity to bring a more integrated connected experience to a broader market than its over-hyped rivals. At least its owners will have a reliable experience.