10 Reasons why I'm still on the Nokia 808 and Symbian in June 2013

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I find it absolutely fascinating to reflect that, having owned or reviewed the iPhone 5, the Galaxy S4, the HTC One, the Blackberry Z10 and every other top handset of 2013, and despite recognising that their functions and features win out overall, for many users, my SIM card keeps making its way back into the Nokia 808 PureView. Yes, the great camera is one reason, of course, but I can think of nine others, in direct contravention of the wisdom of the age. Why not see how many of these ring a bell with you...?

It's true, Symbian hasn't been in my twice-yearly Phones Show 'top 5' recommendations for a year now, but what I recommend to the 'great unwashed' isn't necessarily an accurate reflection of my innermost thoughts in terms of my own smartphone use. My SIM card bounces between over twenty smartphones each year, yet it keeps coming back to the Nokia 808 PureView (and, occasionally, the E6), at which point I have enormous fun trying to analyse my own motives for doing so.

So, almost off the top of my head, here are ten reasons 'Why Symbian?' and 'Why the 808?', in June 2013:

1. As featured last week, the always on AMOLED clock and Nokia Sleeping Screen are insanely useful and fun - and very rarely matched in the wider smartphone world, even with AMOLED screens now quite common. I can only surmise that it's Symbian's efficiency as an OS that makes this viable day to day.

2. Yes, this is a personal pick, but the support for an FM transmitter is a real boon for me. Whether in my own car or someone else's, being able to take control of the audio and broadcast music or podcasts, with no prior set-up or hardware needed, is just supremely cool. Of course, in a dense urban environment the system falls flat because of interference from local stations as you drive around, but for long motorway trips the system is invaluable.

3. Battery life is superior. Cynics will say that Symbian handsets can't do web browsing very well or run many 2013 cloud services and as a result won't be used as much as, say, Android devices, so the battery is bound to last longer, but there's more to it than this. I've used every review device with more or less the same real world usage pattern and I've yet to experience a regular Android devices that lasts much more than one day on a charge. Whereas my Nokia 808 regularly does me for two days at a time. It seems that the 'standby' battery drain on Symbian is relatively low - in comparison, you can almost watch the battery meter drop on an Android handset in real time, even when not actually using it... 

808's battery

4. Expandability. I love that, when I ran out of storage on my 16GB microSD card in my 808, I just had to buy a (£20) 32GB card and I was back in business, but with twice the card space. And I love that, when I forget to charge my phone, I can simply pop in another cell, fully charged, from my 'emergency' pocket. And that when the main BV-4D is worn out, I can use any number of new replacements. There are even alternatives with double the capacity and a replacement back.

5. The 808's camera and Xenon flash. I've tried to live with the Galaxy S4, Lumia 920 and Blackberry Q10 recently, all having very decent cameras in bright light, but nothing (apart from its predecessors!) gets close to the 808's low light performance for snapping people/kids. The combination of that Xenon flash with the PureView sensor and lossless zoom is simply sumptuous. And I have the photos to prove it, even if their personal nature means I can't share them with the world.

6. Full multitasking. Yes, Android pretends to have full multitasking, but why is it that, half the time I go back to apps which were running only an hour ago, they take a few seconds to reload? In contrast, the multitasking on Symbian is so complete that I've lost count of the number of times I've left an app running by accident in the background, started a couple of weeks ago, discovering it in the multitasking carousel and tapping on it, to find it comes up instantly and is still in the exact same screen/state as when I last used it. iOS and Windows Phone try to mimic this sort of multitasking with a system of freezing apps and reawakening them later, but Symbian still rules here, and by some way.

7. Audio control. Once you've got used to a full set of control buttons on your headphone lead, it's very hard to go back to a single button kludge. Pausing, fast forwarding, skipping tracks, changing volume, answering calls, and more, all in a small pod clipped to your lapel, and no need to keep taking your smartphone out of your pocket. That's what I call control, and it's done best on Symbian. Even if your smartphone didn't come with the full control headphones, they're an easy buy on Amazon etc. Or raid the box for an older Nseries device?

HS-45 Multimedia headset

8. The Nokia 808 is still getting updates, so it's not officially 'dead' yet. Ditto devices like the N8 and E7. Nokia has promised support, in terms of patches, online support and hardware repairability until at least 2016, so I feel like there's a year or two of decent life left in the platform yet.

9. High quality music output and a decent speaker. Great audio through headphones isn't just limited to Symbian these days, but I've never found a device that can match the output from the N8 or 808. And it's only recently, with the launch of the HTC One, that we have a competing device with superior sound from its external speakers. For music, for podcast listening and Internet radio, I use my phone's headphone output and its speaker a lot, and the N8 and 808 sit very near the top of the heap here.

10. This is going to sound rather perverse, but I relish the challenge of keeping everything working in an age which is becoming increasingly unfriendly to Symbian. If everything just worked all the time, my smartphone would be as exciting as my TV, i.e. not at all. Is it just me that finds a certain satisfaction about keeping an 'old' OS ticking along smoothly, in much the same way as an enthusiast would lavish love and attention on a classic car?


Does all this mean that I intend to stay with the Nokia 808 and Symbian forever? Of course not, I'm not blind to the number of options and services which are right on their limit and which may become unavailable to Symbian at some point. I'm not blind to the incredible frustrations of a Nokia Store which is becoming increasingly flaky and a 'Smart Installer' that's slow and unreliable. But, at June 2013, stop me in the street (as @ratkat did last weekend) and, more often than not, my SIM will be in the Nokia 808 PureView. Yes, nHD screen and fifteen year old OS and all!