Xenon-drenched smartphone flagships: Nokia N8 vs Motorola XT720

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So..... Xenon flash is back in fashion (thank goodness) and we have several top end smartphones with decent cameras and decent overall specifications. Having now been using the Nokia N8 for two weeks, I wanted to pitch it at the Motorola XT720, its exact counterpart in the Android world. Which device wins out overall in terms of specifications, usability, software and results? Here's my latest best-of-Symbian versus best-of-Android 'head to head'!

Nokia N8 versus Motorola XT720

Certainly, looking at dimensions, form and ambitions, these two devices should be a close match, but can the N8, a few months newer than the XT720 and from the imaging masters Nokia, pull away from the Android device? Let's see...

(As usual, I've tinted with green the cells in each row that indicate an obvious 'winner' for that attribute, for interest sake, and if appropriate. See below for comment)

  Nokia N8 Motorola XT720
Price in the UK, inc VAT £399 SIM-free £330 SIM-free
Latest firmware v11 (launch firmware, v12 expected in a few weeks, v20 before end 2010) Android 2.1 (2.2 not confirmed, but likely by 2011)
Form factor, materials Aluminium shell, plastic end caps, full-face glass capacitive touchscreen, 135g Mix of plastic and steel, full-face glass capacitive touchscreen, 160g
Dimensions 113.5 x 59.1 x 12.9 mm (the extra 2mm is on account of the camera 'island' on the back) 116 x 60.9 x 10.9 mm
Connectivity Pentaband 3G, Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, 'USB on the go' (to USB disks/accessories) Single band 3G (according to market), Wi-Fi b/g, Bluetooth 2.1, DLNA
Input mechanisms Virtual qwerty landscape keyboard with writing aids, plus virtual numeric 'T9' input in portrait mode. Compatible with most Bluetooth and USB keyboards Virtual qwerty keyboard in both portrait and landscape modes, with writing aids, plus surprisingly good voice search in most cases. Compatible with some Bluetooth keyboards
Display  3.5" (360 x 640 pixels) AMOLED with anti-reflection layer, gorgeous indoors, still readable in bright sunlight 3.7" (480 x 854 pixels) TFT LCD, great indoors at full brightness but hard to read outdoors in bright sunlight
Interface  Symbian^3, kinetic scrolling everywhere, multi-touch where needed, three homescreens of live widgets Android 2.1, multi-touch where needed, up to 9 homescreens, heavy widget focus and flexibility in terms of size and placement
Speed  Good, with 130MB free RAM and a Broadcom graphics processor to help out with effects, transitions and multimedia. Video playback is terrific, with a wide range of codecs supported Good, despite low free RAM (less than 100MB free from boot-up, low for an flagship Android phone). Video playback is good, though not as widely compatible as on the N8
Memory capacity (storage) 250MB of (C:) system disk, plus 16GB mass memory and microSD expansion. Apps can be installed on any disk Around 150MB of internal storage is enough for basic purposes, though apps have to be installed into this space and it only takes a dozen sizeable apps and you're into the buffers and crashing. A big microSD card is essential for media as well, a 8GB card is supplied
Camera (stills) Superlative 12 megapixel stills, with huge sensor, professional optics and Xenon flash. Exposed camera glass. Decent 8 megapixel stills, with Xenon flash. Exposed camera glass.
Camera (video) HD (1280 by 720) video is superb, fixed focus but large depth of field, from 50cm to infinity, audio capture in stereo and with pro-quality digital mikes HD (1280 by 720) video is disappointing, with the lack of any kind of pre-set, initial or automatic focussing - videos are shot focussed at infinity, so anything nearby (e.g friends or family) is somewhat blurry. In addition, the audio is average and quiet, plus the .3gp files the XT720 produces need resampling before they can be used in many standard desktop video editors
GPS and navigation  Good GPS, backed up by Nokia Wi-fi location, with Ovi Maps 3.4 worldwide free sat-nav. Maps can be pre-loaded by continent, country or area. Includes digital compass Good GPS, backed up by Google Wi-Fi location and the latest Google Maps and with real time voice navigation now active in the UK and a number of other countries. Includes digital compass
Audio out Loud mono speaker, 3.5mm jack, A2DP, FM transmitter, Dolby Digital Surround Sound (through HDMI port) Loud mono speaker, 3.5mm jack, A2DP
Web browsing Symbian Web (webkit-based), functional without ever really impressing, though there is Flash support (including video) if needed and multi-touch Browser is also Webkit-based, but with no official Flash support (this is 'coming soon'). There's multi-touch and also intelligent reflowing of text blocks after zooming
Email All purpose Mail client provides 'push' facilities for Mail for Exchange, Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo! mail and many others - works well on the whole but some limitations and annoyances Tightly integrated (and generally superb) Gmail client, plus a general purpose POP3/IMAP/Exchange client
Other application highlights out of the box Quickoffice viewers, Dictionary, Zip manager, Photo editor, Video editor, Web TV YouTube client, Quickoffice viewers, Motonav trial (bizarrely)
Application store and ecosystem  Ovi Store client v2.0, hundreds of native Symbian applications are compatible. There's currently no automatic update system and apps are expected to go online and check for themselves if updates exist The Android market boasts many tens of thousands of applications - though quality is variable, there's no shortage of choice. Application updates are automatically checked for and offered
Battery 1200mAh, not strictly user replaceable (though it's not that hard), microUSB or 2mm charging, nightly charging needed for power users 1390mAh, battery can be swapped, microUSB charging, nightly charging needed for power users
Ongoing firmware support and OS updates Prospects excellent, Nokia has already committed to two major firmware updates in the next three months, most experts estimate support and upgrades will continue for up to 18 months. Many OS modules and components can be upgraded as-and-when using the 'Sw update tool' in the device Motorola's provided one minor update since launch, Android 2.2 is possible but not guaranteed. Updates beyond that are extremely unlikely

Nokia N8 versus Motorola XT720

You'll be accusing me, writing on a Symbian-focussed site, of bias here, but any independent observer would note that the N8 outguns the XT720 here. With a 'green panel' scoreline of 10 to 6, the Nokia N8 is arguably the better all round device for many people, from specifications to camera functionality to support to future proofing.

The Android device only becomes the better choice if you are a big user of Google's extended services (e.g. Gmail contacts and Google Calendar) and/or if you have a requirement for specific third party applications (e.g. Google Goggles) that are available on Android but not on Symbian.

So the Nokia N8 wins out here, against its closest match in the Android world - is the N8 in fact the best smartphone in the world?

This is arguable, certainly. There's a scene in "The Magnificent Seven" where Chris (the 7's leader) is asked whether he's faster on the draw than 'Brin', another gunfighter. "I'd hate to live on the difference" is the reply. Choosing between the N8 and (for example) the Apple iPhone 4 or new HTC Desire HD is similar. They each have so many pros and cons, yet each add up to something with similar stature and potential. Although the Desire HD isn't out yet, I'd have used the iPhone 4 in the comparison above, but didn't believe it was fair to either phone - their strengths, their functionaility, their very focus, philosophy and connectivity techniques, are all very different. Most people, when asked whether they'd rather have an N8 or an iPhone 4, would choose based on what they're used to and what they want, rather than based on doing a complex evaluation of functions and specs. As the N8 starts to become better known, as perhaps "the best Nokia ever made" or "the one that's as good as a camera" (for example), it'll build its own legend, no doubt.

Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, 17th October 2010

Nokia N8 versus Motorola XT720


Nokia N8 versus Motorola XT720