Nokia 701 vs N8: Torpedo vs Machine Gun?

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You may remember that, exactly six months ago, I wrote 'Nokia C7 vs N8: Female vs Male: Madonna vs Kurt Cobain?', facing arguably the two top Symbian handsets against each other and pointing out that they had very different personalities. The same is true of the N8 versus the Nokia 701, arguably the C7's direct successor. We've covered the 701 before, in review part 1 and review part 2, but since then the device has received a big Feature Pack update, including a processor speed bump, so why not take a sideways look at the N8 and updated 701, blow by blow?

Nokia 701 and N8

But first, that title. Comparing the 701 and N8 is still very valid - in many people's eyes, the first Symbian^3 phone, the N8, is still the best, with that still groundbreaking camera; yet with the recent update, the 701 is now the speed king of the Symbian family, at least until the 808 arrives.

Discarding musical metaphors this time, I've gone with 'military'. The 701, while keeping the exact same form as the C7, is (in the gun-metal black of my unit, at least) not as obviously glitzy or pretty. Backing up this change in feel is the spec change inside. Brute force processor power and RAM have been brought in - we're talking serious computing power, for Symbian at least. With the smooth, curved form factor, I've gone with 'torpedo', for no reason other than that the 701 reminds me of a Star Trek 'photon torpedo' in appearance.

What does this make the N8, then? Perhaps a machine gun, something brutishly angular and cold, clinical. Am I taking these analogies a little too far? Perhaps, in which case let's get on with the main face-off.

Nokia 701 and N8

Two battle scarred smartphones: 701 and N8, the former after six months of hard real world use, the latter after 18 months, both still work perfectly and screens are pristine.

Here are the main differences, along with a brief assessment of the importance of each where appropriate. And yes, my trademark green shading for a cell with a positive advantage over the other device, all in the name of interest and, in this case, a little academic fun!

Nokia 701 Nokia N8
No sharp edges, everything rounded and sculpted, as with the C7, the 701 is quite exceptional to 'fondle'. Oddly, it's less droppable because of the way the rounded corners can easily be gripped by fingers Far more rectangular, sharp edges everywhere, plus 2mm camera 'hump' on the back
Smaller in width and depth, 4g lighter 2mm wider, 2mm deeper (despite the integral battery, oddly) and 4g heavier
3.5" TFT screen with ClearBlack Display polarisers and oleophobic coating 3.5" AMOLED screen, prettier, richer colours, but far less contrast outdoors and gets more easily covered in fingerprints
Physical call and Hangup buttons None. Calls have to be handled with swipes and taps on the touchscreen
Central, large Menu/Home key Offset, small and fiddly Menu/Home key
720p video capture with full EDoF, stunningly (slightly artificially) sharp for almost any use, providing light is good enough. Pseudo-intelligent digital zoom provided by EDoF. Digital MEMS microphone. 720p video capture with prefocus at around 2 metres and optional continuous auto-focus for close-up work - works brilliantly. Intelligent digital zoom up to 3x. Digital MEMS microphone.
8 megapixel second generation EDoF camera, great for ad-hoc snaps but ultimately limiting for anything arty or close or in low-light conditions (shots are better than first gen EDoF on the C7 etc, but ultimately limited by the artificial focus technology) 12 megapixel camera with huge 1/1.83" sensor, plus Xenon flash, still (after 18 months) the best camera phone in the world (until the 808 PureView arrives)
FM transmitter, 3.5mm out, 'good enough' loudspeaker, slightly lacking in depth in comparison to the N8 FM transmitter, 3.5mm out, large loudspeaker, excellent frequency range
Just traditional 3.5mm A/V composite video out HDMI out for video/presentation, plus HDMI adapter (though I've never used either in the real world, it has to be said 8-) )
1.3GHz ARM 11 processor, Broadcom BCM2763 chip, GPU @ 250MHz with 128MB of RAM 680MHz ARM 11 processor, plus Broadcom BCM2727 chip, GPU @ 200MHz with 32MB of RAM
512MB of RAM 256MB of RAM

The two rows above are crucial to the 701 vs N8 face-off. Whereas the N8 will be picked for its camera, the 701 is a monster by Symbian standards. To put it into perspective, the clunky WRT-based Nokia Social loads from scratch in 3 seconds, Web loads in one second and All About Symbian loads in under ten seconds (c.f. 18 seconds on the N8). Effectively, everything on the 701 is almost twice as fast. Moving around the UI, you get the feeling that if you could turn theme effects off (you can't!) then everything would just be 'instant'.

The extra system RAM and GPU RAM make a difference too, in edge cases where you're dealing with a heavyweight game, heavy web pages or manipulating large images. There's certainly no question of running out of memory.

400MB-ish (free) system disk, 8GB mass memory, plus microSD 250MB system disk, 16GB mass memory, plus microSD (the N8 has larger mass memory, but the 701 just edges it because of the larger system disk, which will make it more future proof in terms of installing updates)
1300mAh replaceable BL-5K battery 

1200mAh battery not strictly user replaceable (*

Dual LEDs with built-in keylock toggle torch function n/a
Near Field Communications (NFC) transceiver built-in n/a
Plain, cheapish, outer-ear headphones with multimedia controls Comes with USB on the go adapter, plus quality in-ear multimedia headphones 
'Dolby headphone' mode in Music player - for most, non-Dolby content, I have to say this just sounds like yet another HTC Beats/stereo-widening/loudness/EQ alteration. Best avoided, really, and I'm not going to award a win here. n/a
Runs Symbian Belle Feature Pack 1, includes new web browser, more widgets, improved notifications, and much more Runs Symbian Belle - some FP1 improvements are likely to be rolled into 'Belle Refresh' within the next month or two
No Office software in firmware, but the new MS Office suite can be installed for free  Quickoffice editing suite 

Remember that the table above lists the differences between the two device only - where something's not mentioned (e.g. Maps, GPS), then that's because the functionality is identical for each.

A quick tot up of the 'green' scores gives the 701 the victory at 12 to 6 'wins' out of the differences listed. Much of this is down to the 701 using a newer internal chipset (and thus higher specs and more modern OS build) - I think it's fair to say that a 1.3GHz/512MB/CBD-screened version of the N8 would be a slam dunk winner - or perhaps I'm just describing the upcoming 808 PureView?(!)...

As it is, the 701 has a lot to recommend it, in terms of fitting in with today's 2012 smartphone scene - it's certainly very competitive, within the constraints of the smaller 3.5" form factor. Add in Gravity, Podcatcher, CuteBox, CuteTube and Notekeeper, perhaps, and you've got a massive amount of smartphone functions in something that's small, pretty and efficient.

Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, 6 Jun 2012