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Nokia's XpressMusic 5800 Touch Phone No iPhone Killer

A glance at the spec sheet for the newly announced XpressMusic 5800 touch phone from Nokia would leave you believing it is an iPhone killer for sure. Sadly, after using it for just a few moments, it's clear that is not the case.
A glance at the spec sheet for the newly announced XpressMusic 5800 touch phone from Nokia would leave you believing it is an iPhone killer for sure. Sadly, after using it for just a few moments, it's clear that is not the case.Today Nokia announced its first touch screen-based phone, the XpressMusic 5800. The 5800 hits the market a full 15 months after the iPhone touched off the touch screen craze. To be honest, I expected a lot more from Nokia.

Nokia is far and away the world market leader. It knows how to make phones, from the cheap-o entry level to the most advanced "multimedia computers" on the planet. The 5800 falls somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.

First some of the specs. It has a 3.2-inch touch resistance screen. It packs in a massive number of pixels (640 x 360), giving it HD resolution. It is bright, and looks fantastic. Movies looked crystal clear, as did video shot with the 5800 itself. Speaking of video, it can record at 30 frames per second. The camera itself rates 3.2 megapixels and includes a Carl Zeiss lens, autofocus, and dual-LED flash. The on-screen user interface for the camera is actually quite nice, and makes some improvements that all touch-based phones should add to their camera software, such as quick access to most of the camera's settings.

The phone has tons of radios. It will come in two basic flavors, with one supporting European and Asian 3G networks, and another supporting North American 3G networks. Both versions also include Bluetooth 2.0 with stereo support, Wi-Fi, and a GPS. These specs are pretty much standard on most of Nokia's media-based phones these days.

You want media playback? The 5800 can handle it. Music, video, you name it, the 5800 will do it, and it even has a TV out jack for sending video signals to a TV or monitor. At the top, you'll find a full 3.5-mm headset jack so it can be used with most stereo headphones, and it also has high-quality stereo speakers that can play quite loud.

The 5800 is running S60 5th Edition. Yes, 5th Edition. (Nokia somehow managed to forget about S60 4th Edition, which hasn't even been announced.) This new version of S60 is, of course, optimized for touch input. There are some things here that Nokia has definitely done right. The menu system has been simplified so it doesn't take as long to drill down to certain applications. There is a media shortcut key that you can use to jump quickly into the music player, the camera, or your gallery.

Nokia gives everyone four configurable "main contacts" that are placed on the phone's home screen. Tapping one of those contacts will show you all the recent communication you've had with that person, be it a phone call, text message, e-mail, or even RSS. You can tap to instantly reach out to that person in a multitude of different ways.

The browser also is impressive. Incorporating touch into the S60 browser makes in much more usable and faster to navigate with.

So, why isn't it an iPhone killer? A few reasons.

The 5800 is being marketed to younger users. Younger users typically have less disposable cash to throw at mobile phones, so that means Nokia has cut corners to make the device more affordable. It shows.

The 5800 feels cheap all around. Cheap plastics and cheap build quality. It lacks the refined nature of Nokia's N Series phones. For some reason, Nokia chose to use touch resistance technology for the screen rather than touch capacitance technology. Touch capacitance is used in the Apple iPhone and HTC G1, and uses the electricity in your finger to interact with the screen. This technology is very responsive to user input. Touch resistance isn't. That means using the 5800 was a mixed bag. Typing a simple sentence, for example, was nearly impossible to do without making a multitude of mistakes with the software QWERTY keyboard.

There also are some interesting quirks with the software. Nokia said that it modeled the menu system after the PC experience. That means touch something once to highlight it, or double tap it to open it. On many other touch phones, tapping anything once will open it up. All the double-tapping on the 5800 quickly became cumbersome. What's worse, the 5800 mixes double-tapping for some actions, and single-tapping for others. This leaves the user feeling a bit confused.

Bottom line is this. The 5800 is not nearly as refined as the iPhone in terms of the hardware itself or overall usability. It is definitely a solid effort, but Nokia has some work to do if it really wants to steal sales back from Apple. The touch version of S60 demonstrates that S60 definitely still has some life left in it, and I know that Nokia can make it even stronger than it already is.

In the end, the 5800 leaves me wanting to see Nokia really knock one out of the park, perhaps with a touch-based N Series phone that is more polished.

Will the XpressMusic 5800 reap in huge sales figures? Probably. I'll give Nokia an "A" for effort, but a "B-" in execution.