UPDATE 20/11/2011: After having owned (and gushed about) the N8 for 10 months, mine completely died on me. It froze up one afternoon, then shut itself down and refused to turn back on, the battery wouldn't charge and my PC didn't recognise it when plugged in. Hard resets failed to have any affect at all. A quick web search showed that this was not an uncommon occurrence and was in all likelihood a failure of the phone's motherboard, a fault that apparently plagued early N8's. I returned it to the local dealer and they sent it off to Nokia for repair - cue a 2-week wait while Nokia gave my phone the once over. Then, a month later, the phone broke once again, was sent to Nokia once again and was returned to me once again. That repair lasted all of half a day before the exact same thing happened. My provider's rather annoying policy is not to replace a phone until it had been repaired three times, so we'll see just how well this third (and final) repair lasts.
I stand by my original assessment that the N8 is a fantastically well-featured phone, and if I have to give up on it then I honestly can't think of another mobile that comes close in terms of functionality. Unfortunately mine seems to have been one of the worse examples, not helped by Nokia's inability to fix it properly. I haven't amended my review score as I still think that it's a fantastic phone (if you get a working one), but my apologies to anyone who read my review and bought an N8, only to find out that it wasn't quite as bullet-proof as they may have thought. If you're still interested in buying one, then this is my original review...
I was extremely hesitant about buying an N8 before actually picking one up. I'd read the (not exactly gushing) reviews from certain gadget websites and those very nearly put me off. The professional reviews pretty much all said the same thing - great hardware weighed down by an out-of-date Operating System - and having been a Windows Mobile 6.1 user for 2 years, the last thing I wanted was another unwieldy OS. Well, the reviewers were part right, as (and not to put too fine a point on it), the hardware is simply superb; until you actually try one you cannot comprehend just what this machine is capable of. I'm not easily impressed, in fact it takes something quite special for me to rave about any tech, but the N8 really is quite special.
Without going too deeply into its more obvious capabilities, the N8 has less well-publicised inclusions like an FM transmitter for sending your music wirelessly to a radio, the ability to read your text and email messages to you out aloud, and a way to lock the phone from unauthorised use just by sending a pre-set text message to it. These things might be fairly standard on phones these days, but they were news to me. I'm also yet to experience any slowdown while using the phone, although I admittedly haven't pushed it too much.
What isn't so common is the HDMI-out port, which lets you send not only videos, but anything displayed on the N8's screen, to a compatible TV. For example, you can connect to the internet using the N8 and show the web browser full-size on your TV; connecting a keyboard either to the N8's host USB slot or via Bluetooth makes the browsing experience even more enjoyable. You can also use your TV as a glorified jukebox by using the N8's music player when connected via HDMI.
On the subject of the OS, it really isn't as bad as many professional reviewers have made out, in fact this version of Symbian is the most polished yet and has loads of little tweaks that elevate it above its predecessors. Granted, it could do with a bit of a make-over in places and a small number of areas aren't quite as finger-friendly as others, but unless you're a serious OS-snob, you should get on with it fine. The only caveat I would add here is that I had to factory reset the phone twice before I could get the music player widget to work properly. Not a problem but worth noting as it's an issue others seem to have had.
The N8 has three user-definable home screens, each being customisable with up to 6 widgets, although one gives you direct access to up to 20 of your contacts while another gives you quick links to 4 of your most used applications. I'd put the widgets somewhere between the virtually stagnant apps screens on the iPhone and the live tiles on Windows Phone 7 and prove to be a very good compromise.
As respects the screen, it may not have the resolution of that on the iPhone 4, but the difference isn't as noticeable as you might think; photographs are sharp, internet browsing is perfectly respectable, and the bundled Tron video looks superb. And being AMOLED, black really is black while other colours are gorgeously vivid. It isn't, however, one of the bigger screens available on a next-gen smartphone, but on the bright side this does serve to lessen its girth and make it less pocket-bulging.
The N8 comes with Adobe Reader and Quickoffice for viewing Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents; an editing version is also available but you have to buy that from the Ovi Store. Inputting text is straightforward and fairly painless, although the on-screen keyboard does take getting used to at first, but after a few days I found myself rarely making any mistakes with it.
As I said, I was hesitant about buying an N8 due to the almost universally average professional reviews, but most of the concerns they raised are either easily fixable or simply a case of personal preference. The N8 couples top-notch hardware with an OS that is user-friendly and easy to navigate, and with Nokia promising an update to Symbian 4, should only get better. My advice would be not to be put off by the negative press and give the N8 a try; it might surprise you.
UPDATE: I've had my phone in use for a few weeks now and in contrast to the negative reviews posted by some users (which, I fully admit, are probably accurate for them) it remains, for me at least, a little gem. Granted, the calendar is nowhere near as versatile as the one on WM6.1 (there's no option to set events for `every third Thursday in a month' for example) and the lack of a QWERTY keyboard in portrait mode is still an annoyance. Also, for some reason I can't get the Ovi Store to work properly on my PC but from the phone it seems to work fine - okay, so there aren't as many apps as there are for Android or iOS but there are some useful ones if you look and hopefully the situation will improve. Plus, unlike a certain other newbie smartphone, Angry Birds is available to buy ;-)
The bundled Ovi Suite application is also somewhat `agricultural' in its functionality; it's not that it's a terrible piece of software, nor is it that it doesn't work as billed, it's just that there are better management programs for other phones. I've found Windows media Player to be a better way of syncing music and photos to the N8 (once you've sussed out WMP's slightly awkward syncing options), leaving Ovi only useful for backing up contact and messaging items.
I haven't had any problems with the phone crashing, nor have I had issues with overheating - quite the contrary in fact as the metal exterior always feel cool to the touch. Maybe I've just had a good example, or maybe I've been lucky, but I'm really pleased with mine.