Hands-on with the Nokia N80 Internet Edition

Even as it celebrates its one-year anniversary in public circulation, Nokia's N80 keeps on scrapping with the best smartphones the world has to offer. After all, S60 3rd Edition is still fresher than anything Microsoft or ACCESS has to offer, the 3 megapixel camera is well above and beyond the standard fare, and the 416 x 352 display simply blows lesser QVGA screens out of the water. It makes sense, then, that while we all wait for the next-gen Nseries devices, Nokia would be looking to extend the useful shelf lives of the elder statesmen in their lineup by tweaking, bundling, and renaming. Among the devices to get a makeover is the N80, becoming the recently-released N80 Internet Edition with a slightly revised software bundle and two fantabulous color choices: black and bronze. Since the hardware is identical to the original N80, we'll concentrate on a couple of the Internet Edition's software goodies -- and don't worry, original N80 owners, most or all of it comes with yours, too, or can be downloaded free of charge.

We really can't emphasize it enough: the N80 Internet Edition ("N80IE," if you will) is an N80 through and through. If you like the N80, you'll like the N80IE; if you despise the N80, your seething hatred will run every bit as deep with the N80IE. The similarity carries right through to the handset's model designation in the upper left hand corner, which simply reads -- you guessed it -- "N80." It's great that Nokia's committed to revising its generally stellar smartphone lineup as it ages, but we do think that selling it with a new name is marginally misleading. Our only fear is that a few N80 owners might be duped into "upgrading" to the same phone. Heck, the Pearl Black shell (which looks fantastic, for what it's worth) isn't even new, though Patina Bronze is.

The lion's share of the N80IE's revisions lie within Nokia's new "Download!" client. We love it; it's a concept that no smartphone should go without. Think of it as a streamlined version of S60's Catalogs app -- which is now a part of Download!, coincidentally -- that offers a straightforward, foolproof way to download new apps straight to your phone. In fact, much of the N80IE's alleged new functionality isn't even present on the phone (Yahoo! Go, Gizmo VoIP, and Amazon, among others), you grab it as you need it using Download!. We found the download and installation process to be quick and utterly painless, despite the fact that we were topping out at EDGE speeds; freshly-installed apps are dropped into the phone's "My Own" folder, ready to run. The client also enables users to buy commercial apps, though we didn't have an opportunity to give it a shot.

After selecting an app to download, it's unceremoniously launched for initial configuration. Notice the second screen of Yahoo Go! where we're asked to select a country. If this isn't proof positive that the N80's American launch was an afterthought on Nokia's part, we don't know what is. Ah, Cingular-branded N80... we wish we'd gotten to know you.

Some of the new software is nothing more than a thin wrapper around a WAP site or two. Much of Yahoo! Go fits into that category, as does Amazon's offering. We'd like to have seen something a little richer to take advantage of the N80's dazzling display, though S60 3rd Edition's glorious browser makes browsing a breeze.

Mmm, WiFi...

The Barcode Reader and Podcasting apps are two of the cooler downloads currently available. Though not terribly useful, the Barcode Reader did a decent job of reading any kind of barcode we threw at it (QR codes included) -- just set the camera to macro mode and let 'er rip. As soon as a barcode is detected, a box comes up with the detected text, allowing the user to save or discard the data. That's about all it does -- but hey, still cool, especially in areas of the world (read: not this one) where QR codes are commonplace. The Podcasting app does a good job finding, organizing, and synchronizing podcasts on a schedule of the user's choosing. Best of all, the podcasts can be updated in the background -- very handy, especially for folks stuck on EDGE or GPRS that want to pull down a 5 or 10MB 'cast.

All told, our evaluation of the N80 Internet Edition is, like the hardware itself, identical to that of the original N80: it's a good phone / PDA in EDGE coverage that's made great when blanketed with UMTS and WiFi. The phone makes a great introduction to S60 for newly-minted smartphone users, while current N80 owners can keep their wallets firmly planted and start digging through the 'nets for the N80IE's added (free) goodies.