She's arrived at last, the 5800 XpressMusic, Nokia's tardy entry into the (modern) touchscreen phone space, and we've gotten some quality face time with the device. Appropriately nicknamed the Tube, the device has a number of Nokia peculiarities that could appeal to certain sensibilities, but probably won't be taking a big bite out of existing touchphone market share -- at least in the S60-phobic United States. Let's dig in, shall we?

Nokia 5800 XpressMusic hands-on

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Hardware

Resistive touchscreen, huh Nokia? We're intrigued, but certainly wouldn't say impressed. Nokia claims the decision was made to appeal to the world market, particularly asian countries that prefer handwriting recognition to keyboards. Hence the stylus input option. It doesn't ruin everything for those of us that would rather tap with our thumbs, but means pushing that much harder on the screen, and using the tips of your fingers when you type instead of the flat -- knocking off a good 5 wpm or so in the process -- we'll talk more about software keyboards in the next section. There's also a plectrum (guitar pick) included that can hang from a wrist strap if you don't want to smudge the screen and don't feel like sliding out the stylus.

The LCD itself is certainly impressive, at 640 x 360, but colors and brightness aren't complete knockouts. Purists will enjoy the dull screen surface, which certainly cuts down on glare, but casual users often prefer glossy screens for watching movies, something this aspect ratio is very well suited to.

There's a very, very loud speaker in the back. It's not the clearest thing in the world, but if you want to share a song or something with a friend, they'll certainly hear it. There's also a 3.5mm jack up top, right where it should be.


The 3.2 megapixel camera focuses well and takes great pictures in daylight -- indoors is likely a different story, as with most cameraphones, but there's a rather powerful dual LED flash to help out with that.


All of this -- in addition to things like GPS, WiFi and a side-loading microSD slot (there's a free 8GB card included) -- are wrapped up into an elongated, chubby package, hence the Tube moniker. We'd hate to have something of its shape and thickness in a tight jeans front pocket on a regular basis, but we must admit that it's very comfortable to hold and use with a single hand, something that can't be said for all touchscreen phones.

Software

It's S60, so if you were hoping for something else you'll be sorely disappointed. Nokia's done "just enough" to turn the traditional interface into a touchable one with version 5.0, sizing up icons, adding finger-friendly buttons in lieu of traditional menu items and so forth. What Nokia hasn't quite figured out is consistency, requiring double taps in some places, single taps in others. Scrolling through most lists requires dragging a scroll bar, pulling down as the list flies up, but the browser has touch and drag scrolling. Nothing's too frustrating or unreasonable, but this is no seamless experience.


What's new is a touch-sensitive button above the screen that drops down the Media Bar for access to music, movies, photos, the browser and sharing. Not life changing, but quite convenient. There's also a new home screen with a "Fav Four" of sorts across the top and little else. Tap that friend, and you can get a quick look at recent calls, messages and even related RSS feeds. Pretty neat if you're a loner, but there's no way to add more than four friends, or view similar info for your regular contacts that don't make the cut. Luckily, the traditional S60 home screen is also available.


For text input you have four options: handwriting, mini QWERTY keyboard, full screen QWERTY and alphanumeric keypad. The first two are stylus-based (that mini QWERTY is truly mini), while the other two are only available in landscape and portrait modes, respectively. Like we said in the hardware end of things, the resistive touch means using the tips of your fingers instead of the pads, which we find a tad frustrating, but the keyboard in landscape mode is truly gargantuan, and after an hour or two of learning we're guessing you could rattle off some pretty lengthly emails or Great American Novels. Luckily, if you're a T9 fan there's nothing stopping you from keeping the phone in portrait mode and rattling off text messages with the touchable alphanumeric keypad, and the phone is frankly too narrow to work well with QWERTY in portrait. The handwriting recognition looks good enough, but we revert to a 2nd grade writing level whenever we pick up a pen, so that stylus is staying firmly in its holster.

We're not convinced the touchable browser is a step up over existing WebKit implementations on Nokia's other handsets, since the tap to zoom function is slow and unreliable -- and no, you can't select text from web pages to copy and paste. Panning around the page is also jittery, perhaps a tad worse than the G1 -- nobody has managed to pull off iPhone smooth yet in this department. We were using a slightly early software build, so some of these problems might be fixed in the final version, but it wasn't encouraging. Still, there's no denying the advantages of viewing the web on a 640 x 360 LCD.


We tested out an accelerometer-based driving game, but it was overly sensitive and no-fun-at-all -- though we're guessing that wouldn't be a hard fix. The graphics looked pretty good, though. Movies are potentially this phone's killer app, but you'll have to do the conversion just right to get smooth playback at full resolution. We did see some video shot with the phone (that Sea World shot in the gallery) and it looked pretty good.

Conclusion

If you haven't picked it up by now, Nokia isn't going after the power users here. The phone will be marketed under Nokia's "Live" banner, and really concentrates on the most basic communications -- calling and texting -- with a whole bunch of multimedia piled on top. Nokia's Comes With Music helps on that end of things, and the screen certainly helps with video, but this is no iPhone when it comes to to solid media integration or full-featured media player apps. On the communication side, we're sad to see Nokia almost burying some of its S60 advantages. Everything's still there, but Nokia didn't put the gruntwork in necessary to really take advantage a next-gen interface as it relates to keeping track of emails, social networking, IM and the correspondences of more than four people. All that said, Nokia isn't claiming that the 5800 is the be all end all, is releasing it with a very aggressive price point (€279 unlocked), and promises more where this came from.

The phone ships this fall in Europe, and will show up next year in the States without a carrier, though hopefully it picks up one soon -- a $50 subsidised price tag could turn this thing into a hit if the US carriers don't sit on it too long.

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Nokia 5800 XpressMusic hands-on