A little while ago, the point and shoot camera that I used for all of my 'proper' photography (including review photos for All About Symbian) began to go faulty and I knew I'd have to procure a replacement. The problem was that I knew most modern cameras used proprietary batteries and chargers, which put me off. I'm one of those people who absolutely has to minimise all of his/her kit. It probably won't surprise you to know that at any one time my desk has a stack of at least five phones, but you might be surprised to know there are no mains chargers. Nope, I charge everything from the USB ports of my laptop, and I wanted to do the same with my next camera. So the idea struck me, why not replace my camera with a phone?
If I was going to do this, the choice of which phone to get was clear - the N82. This is an older phone, but it is still one of the best camera phones ever. Of course the N86 has an even more awesome camera overall, but the N82 has something the N86 doesn't - a Xenon flash. If my purchase was to replace my primary camera, I needed a real flash, not pathetic LED's!
With the decision made, I went to eBay. There wasn't much to choose from, but one entry looked promising; the write up claimed it was working fine and that he'd looked after it very well, but there were no actual photos of the device. You should never buy anything important on eBay unless you can see photos of the actual item, not marketing photos - real photos. I was interested enough that I contacted the seller and asked him to add photos, which he promptly did. The photos were enough to reassure me it was worth bidding for. In the end, I won myself a pristine silver N82 for the modest sum of £126.
The N82 from eBay in a pristine box
The phone was sold as 'Unlocked', which isn't the same as Sim-Free, i.e. it had been locked previously. This was reflected in the fact that this N82 ran an O2 animation when it booted up. As expected though, it worked just fine with my Vodafone SIM card. However, I am accustomed to having MMS and Internet settings sent to a new handset via SMS, which didn't happen. A long wait on the Vodafone customer service phone line revealed that they had never sold the N82, and so would not provide settings for it. Furthermore, I should try the auto-configure system on Nokia's website. Never having been in this position before, I took the advice in good faith and went looking around Nokia's website. After failing to find any sort of configuration system, I called Vodafone back, this time a much more helpful assistant said she would send me the settings for the next nearest model to the N82 that they had sold. Fortunately, that worked, and I was able to use my Vodafone contract data with this ex-O2 N82. [You know, you could just have asked me for the settings for Vodafone? 8-) - Ed]
The N82's O2 loading screen
I'm sad to say that after the initial purchase, the N82 sat rather neglected on my desk, only being reached for when I needed to mount it on to my mobile tripod holder to take some review photos.
The N82 doing its 'day job'
Skipping forwards a few months, it suddenly dawned on me that the wedding I'd been invited to six months ago was finally here. While some people might ask themselves, what shall I wear?, I was asking myself which phone shall I take? [... not just me, then! - Ed]
Obviously, I'd need a good camera, and so the N82 was the obvious choice (and it wouldn't mean risking a loaned device!) However, I hadn't used the N82 as a phone before and so I only had a couple of days in which to get the phone set up in a manner that I could continue in my normal usage.
Steve has recently written both about Pimping the N82 and about how There's a bookmark for that rather than using applications. It was along similar lines that I performed an emergency set up, to get the N82 in a state I could work with.
Most important was E-mail, I skipped using the N82's own client and just installed the Java application for Gmail. Had I used another webmail service, I would probably have opted for the provider's mobile website. Next along was Twitter, for which the obvious choice is Gravity, but web-based cost-free alternatives are Dabr and m.twitter.com. Not that I really needed any mapping software, I installed Google Maps 4.1.1 which is a much more user friendly experience than the old Nokia Maps version found in the N82. Finally, for some entertainment around the house I installed Mobbler. Complementing the applications, I added browser bookmarks for Google services (Reader, Docs, Tasks and Calendar) along with Facebook and PasswordMaker. Realistically, Gmail and Gravity were the only ones likely to get used, but you need to be prepared for everything, right?
My minimum requirement of S60 apps
In terms of complementary hardware, there was the battery and memory card to consider. I wasn't convinced the N82 would last a day. The N82 uses the same battery as the E51, a phone which I happened to have going spare. So the E51 'donated' its battery for the day as a backup. As for the memory card, the supplied 2GB card is ample for taking pictures. Look at it this way, would you want to produce 2GB of content from a phone in one day? So seeing as it was only to be used as a camera, and not to store multimedia content, I saw no need to upgrade the memory card.
During the ceremony, I was sat next to an old school friend who was toting his massive digital SLR, and I felt somewhat under-equipped with my little camera phone. However, it soon became clear that I was primed to take a different type of picture than he could. While he had to be careful and support his large camera, I was free to hold my camera free-hand above people's heads, and even managed to grab some impromptu shots by sticking the N82 out into the isle as people approached. This is the sort of thing you can do with small and light cameras. Some of the results were blurry, but still captured the moment in the way that a professional photographer just couldn't.
Just married and blurry - a common theme at most weddings!!
For taking more prepared shots, the N82 provided fantastic results, as good as a normal point and shoot camera. In fact, I can report that the groom was so impressed with the sneak photo I took while the happy couple were posing for official photos, it is now his Facebook profile picture!
The happy couple - unbelievably good results from the N82 (Albeit slightly compressed for the web)
Moving into the evening, the N82's Xenon flash proved its worth, allowing me to get a lot of great photos that I couldn't have done with an LED-equipped camera phone. The range is somewhat limited, but within a 1 to 3 meter range, it performed fine.
The author - scrubbing up well!
N82 Xenon flash performing well enough at a distance
Finally, I hear you asking if I had to change the battery? No I didn't. After an eight hour period of taking photos, sending texts, checking Twitter, Facebook and Gmail over 3G, the N82's battery finally gave up on me just as I was stepping in my front door - it just made it.
The N82 is almost three years old, ancient in the technology world. Although, this hopefully goes to show that when something is designed well, it withstands the test of time. While the N82 might be a bit of a brick and have a somewhat uncomfortable keypad, it can still do all that it was designed to do, even now. What's more, even though the awesomely specified N8 is set to make a splash in the world of mobile phone photography, the likes of the N82 are far cheaper to buy second hand and can still perform.
David Gilson for All About Symbian, 28th July 2010.