N8 – great hardware, shame about the software

The arrival of the first batch of Nokia N8s last week was an almost immediate anti-climax, as reviewers universally criticized the Symbian ^3 operating system.
Nokia has a lot riding on the N8 – arguably its entire smartphone future.
The unit is the first commercial device running the new Symbian ^3 operating system, and is meant to spearhead Nokia’s fightback against Apple’s iPhone and an increasing spread of Android-powered smartphones.
Nokia’s smartphone market share fell from 51% in 2Q09 to 41% in 2Q10, according to Gartner.
The N8 ticks the box of feeling better built than the iPhone, according to Financial Times columnist Chris Nuttall, who praised the unit for feeling solid and light.
However, he said the ^3 software is “still lacking,” despite the addition of multi-touch and a boost in multi-tasking speeds.
Perhaps crucially, Nuttall said moving between home screens “is not intuitive,” a serious black mark compared to the uber-smooth iPhone.
Reviews in the US, where the firm has never had a hit device, have been particularly cutting. Bloomberg’s Rich Jaroslovsky called the N8 “an awfully sweet little camera.”
While Jaroslovsky rated the N8’s hardware, he said it doesn’t touch the iPhone 4 or leading Android devices from Motorola and HTC in terms of software.
“[U]pdated” isn’t the same as “up to date,” and while it has some nice touches it’s still behind the times,” he wrote.
The disappointment for Forbes’ Parmy Olson started when she couldn’t sync the N8 with her Mac, and continued when the phone garnered a lukewarm reaction from friends.
Things got so bad Olson reverted to using the alpha-numeric keypad to input text, shunning the qwerty keyboard and eventually deciding she had a “love-hate relationship” with the device.
Should Nokia be worried by these reviews?
Well, with one UK news site reporting that the criticism of ^3 has already hit sales in the country, maybe.
It also launched the software the same week Microsoft produced a shock by impressing reviewers with its Windows Phone 7 software.
Symbian will lose its crown as leading smartphone platform by 2014, according to Informa and Gartner.
But let’s not forget that Nokia actually grew smartphone sales during 2Q10 – by 42% to 24 million units.
Perhaps the real question is whether the N8 lives up to the promise of ousted CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo by delivering a “user experience superior to that of any smartphone Nokia has created” –and what new boss Stephen Elop can do if it doesn’t.