Jul 27, 2009

The Nokia 5800 Xpress Music

Nokia 5800 XpressMusic

Four months have passed since its announcement in October 2008 and the 5800 XpressMusic has finally landed in Singapore. It is the first touchscreen smartphone that runs on the Series60 (S60) 5th Edition platform and bundled with an unlimited music download service, Comes With Music (CWM).

Meanwhile, Nokia has already announced the N97, its second touchscreen S60 model, in December last year. That is expected to be available worldwide in the first half of 2009. Samsung, too, has shown off its Omnia HD based on the same software at the recently concluded Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Editors’ note:

As this is the first handset that runs on the S60 5th Edition platform and bundled with CWM, we are taking a different approach for the review of the 5800 XpressMusic. Our evaluation will be split into three main sections looking at the software, service and hardware before ending with our usual performance tests and conclusion.

S60 5th Edition Software

Naturally, the highlight of this device is the touchscreen-enabled S60 interface. This is an extension of the current S60 3rd Edition UI, dubbed the S60 5th Edition. What happened to “4″, you might ask. Without elaborating too much, Tuula Rytila-Uotila, vice president for Live, GoToMarket, said the company traditionally doesn’t use that number in its products. In the Asian context, the number 4 is considered unlucky.

The 5800 doesn’t have a directional pad or an Enter button, but is instead fully controlled using the touchscreen and the three hardware keys below the display. The resistive LCD which allows you to use your fingers or a stylus for input requires a little more pressure to tap compared with capacitive screens.

Going with the music theme, Nokia has even included a plectrum–normally used with a guitar for plucking or strumming–as an alternative pointing device. Making up for the absence of tactility associated with hardware buttons is onboard haptic feedback.

User Interface

A lot of what you expect on an S60 phone has been retained, including the ability to bring up a list of running applications by holding down the menu button. To quit any application, just press and hold the corresponding icon and a context menu will pop up for you to do so. Additional shortcuts have also been added to capitalize on the touch interface. You can set an alarm by tapping on the time or switch from Silent to General by hitting on the profile. The battery indicator, on the other hand, brings up the connection manager.

The key takeaway with the touch interface is the inconsistency with scrolling and tapping gestures in the software. It’s not a deal-breaker, at worst marring the initial experience with the device. The irregularity makes it seem like Nokia hasn’t put much thought into what it wants to deliver with the 5800.

For instance, you slide your finger down in the menus to scroll down, but you “push” a page up in the Web browser instead. The swiping finger gesture is also implemented only in selected applications. One example is the picture gallery.

Applications need only one tap to activate, while other menu options require you to tap twice. Granted that a possible reason for implementing a second click is to prevent accidental presses, the constant switch between single and double taps is something which takes getting used to.

While we like the overall “stickiness” of the interface, it doesn’t beat the iPhone in terms of fluidity. Given an option, we would have preferred the rim that runs around the circumference of the device to be flush with the display instead. That will make it easier to scroll pages using the onscreen bars at the sides.

The Home screen on the 5800 prominently shows pictures or avatars of those contacts you want quick access to. Tapping on their pictures, you can then see your recent activity log with them on the screen and conveniently call or message them. Vital information like your RSS feeds and calendar appointments are also easily accessible via this Home screen.

Alternatively, you can switch back to the standard Shortcuts bar which you can customize with four frequently accessed applications. The icons are noticeably bigger to cater for finger-based inputs.

On the top right corner, a touch-sensitive “button” above the LCD brings up a shortcut dropdown column which allows you to access your music, videos, pictures and the Internet browser quickly.

Text Input

Various text input methods have been implemented including a full QWERTY for landscape mode use, a mini QWERTY if you’d rather thumb type in portrait format, the good old onscreen numeric keypad for one-hand operation, and handwriting recognition.

There is haptic feedback for every action, a useful feature when you don’t have the tactility of physical keys. You can adjust the intensity, and we found that keeping it to the minimal, so that the vibration was subtle, gave us the best experience overall.

During our review, the mini QWERTY input was much too small to be useful. On the flipside, the full QWERTY and numeric keypads both take up the entire screen so you can’t see the screen you are on. That may also cause problems in some cases where you have to type in something while referring to text or images on the display at the same time.

While we fully understand the need for these onscreen keypads to be large for accessibility, some size compromise could have been implemented so you can still see part of the original page. That said, we got up to speed typing on the full QWERTY the moment we picked up the phone and it was our preferred mode of text input.


According to Rytila-Uotila, programs created for current S60 phones will also work on the S60 5th Edition, though many of them have not been formatted for the 5800’s 640 x 360 display and may look odd. The software development kit (SDK) for the S60 5th Edition has been released to developers and they will be able to tweak their current applications for this UI and create new ones, too.

Bear in mind that there are still very limited applications that are fully compatible with the 5800. Preinstalled are the Web browser, Maps 2.0, music player, file manager, calculator, converter, voice recorder, FM radio, Podcast, RealPlayer and your usual Calendar, Contacts and Messaging facilities. Missing are Quick Office and a PDF reader which would have been useful for document handling. Mail for Exchange, one of our favorite free apps for syncing with Microsoft Exchange, worked perfectly fine on our review unit though.

The Web browser hasn’t seen much improvement, so it’s basically still the Webkit version, but with touch capabilities. It’s a pity because Nokia could have taken the opportunity to make it more polished than the Safari browser on the iPhone. What’s good is that the browser supports Flash and Java.

The 5800 is preinstalled with two games–Bounce and Global Race-Raging Thunder. Interestingly, only the racing game makes use of the onboard accelerometer for steering the vehicle in-game.

Comes With Music

Also a big part of the 5800, other than the new software, is Comes With Music (CWM), Nokia’s unlimited music download service. According to the company, Singapore is the first market to get the 5800 bundled with CWM for S$798. For comparison’s sake, a local export set without CWM is priced at S$560.

Here’s the proposition of CWM’s unlimited premise. You can download as many songs as you want, within 12 months, from the Nokia Music Store and you get to keep or re-download the tracks after the service period. So far, tunes from EMI Music, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music, Universal Music Group and local labels including Rock Records and Ocean Butterflies are available from the store.

Music downloaded from the store are encoded with a 192kbps bitrate in WMA format and are shackled with Windows Media DRM. This means you cannot copy the tracks to another MP3 player, for example, an iPod. Burning music onto a CD also requires additional rights which you must pay for. You can, however, transfer the songs you’ve downloaded to a new PC within three years of purchasing the CWM handset.

So is this for you? Depends, but the price-for-feature ratio is rather compelling. In the four days that our CWM service was activated, we downloaded over 700 songs, though we would chalk that number to our initial enthusiasm over downloading whatever that’s readily available. That brings us to the next point.

What we find most appealing about CWM is the instant gratification it offers. The only thing to watch out for if you are downloading from the device are the airtime charges incurred, which means you’ll need to factor in a data plan with decent bandwidth. What would have been great complements to the service are a music recognition app like Track ID on Sony Ericsson mobiles and a feature that pulls the lyrics of the song you are listening to off the Web.

A few other things to note about CWM are that after the initial phase of downloading all the music available on the storefront, it comes to a point where you either search for a particular album or track that you want, or wait for Nokia to refresh the store’s page so you can pick from there again.

The downloading speed is also dependant on the network which can make or break the user experience. Mass downloads are best on a PC (no support for Mac) and single tracks on the handset. Syncing between the PC and device is only via the bundled micro-USB cable connection (no Bluetooth). A nice feature to have is the ability to charge via micro-USB.

We did encounter a few errors during downloading where the songs couldn’t be found and albums couldn’t be downloaded fully. A Nokia representative said that could be due to our network connection as she didn’t encounter the problems we noticed on her end. There were instances where we resume the download though that doesn’t work all the time.

The 5800 XpressMusic

The 640 x 360-pixel display on the 5800 may seem strange at first because it’s not the VGA (640 x 480) screens we are more used to seeing. The reason for this becomes clear when you think about its 16:9 aspect ratio. 640 x 360 is exactly one-quarter of 1,280 x 720, the minimum resolution for something to be classified as high definition (HD).

If you visit video-sharing sites like Vimeo which allows you to upload HD clips, you will notice that the streaming clips are displayed at 640 x 360 within the browser. For a media-centric mobile phone like the 5800, this is ideal for watching movies and television clips originally formatted for HD displays. You may also want to know that the 5800 has 50 percent more pixels than the iPhone 3G, but has a smaller display which measures 3.2 inches diagonally.

The choice of a plastic chassis may irk users who are used to the metallic accents on premium handsets, but we found the build quality impressionable overall. The SIM card, once inserted, is difficult to remove without a prodding stick (stylus), but that’s not an issue unless you swap SIM cards often. A keylock switch is found on the right edge of the 5800 and it was indispensable for quick locking of the touchscreen.

Internally, there’s little to gripe about. This handset comes with HSDPA, Wi-Fi, GPS and a touchscreen display. An 8GB card is included as standard and the microSD card slot supports up to 16GB and even 32GB cards when the latter becomes commercially available.

Having lots of storage is, of course, important to a music-focused mobile phone, and that’s further complemented by its built-in speakers and a 3.5mm audio jack so you can plug in your favorite headphones. This same jack also lets you to output the sound and screen onto an external display using a TV-out cable that’s included by default.


Overall, we found the 5800’s performance to be snappy and there weren’t any issues with call quality. Audio playback via the onboard speakers was also surprisingly good. If you own a pair of decent earphones, the 5800 is a very good alternative to standalone MP3 players.

The 3.2-megapixel camera wasn’t fantastic, although it would suffice for occasional snapshot moments.

On average, the 5800 lasted two days with combined Web browsing, music playback, calls and text messages. Your experience with the device may vary depending on your usage pattern.

Nokia rates the 5800 for up to 9 hours of talktime and 35 hours for music playback.


Though we expected Nokia’s first touchscreen UI to appear on a high-end device like one of its Nseries or Eseries products, the birth of the S60 5th Edition on a mass market phone like the 5800 has its advantages, too. For one, it has an amazing price of 279 euros (about US$386). That’s phenomenal considering the features you get–a comparable Windows Mobile phone is easily 50 percent more expensive than that. With Comes With Music, the additional premium puts the device in the midrange portfolio.

The positioning of the phone also makes sense if you take into account the competition the 5800 faces. Most manufacturers are already into their second- or third-generation touchscreen handsets. For Nokia to come in at this price point and with a laundry list of features, it will force other makers to revisit their lineup.

That’s not all. The Finnish outfit is also going all out with Ovi, its online portal for a range of services. In the case of the 5800, the Comes With Music is key. Building a tightly integrated ecosystem is pertinent to a successful product. The Apple iPhone clearly showed the way with iTunes. BlackBerry is catching up and Nokia is obviously not far behind.

The 5800 isn’t without misses, too. There aren’t that many third-party apps right now, though that will change down the road. Plus the touch user interface isn’t consistent, which is what the company should urgently address. We were close to giving the 5800 our Editors’ Choice award but felt that this aspect caused it to miss the mark slightly.

Overall, it’s hard to find a touchscreen smartphone that matches the 5800 in terms of price and features.

According to Nokia, the red and blue versions of the 5800 XpressMusic bundled with a grey plectrum will be available on February 28 in Singapore. A silver-black model will come in mid-March. Nokia added that a standalone 5800 XpressMusic without CWM won’t be available at launch, but didn’t comment on whether its decision will change in the future.


Physical design
Phone type Candy bar
Dimensions (W x D x H) 111 x 51.7 x 15.5 mm
Weight 109g
Secondary display resolution x pixels
Input method(s) Touch screen
Available colours Silver–Black, Red, Blue
Network Quadband
Network type(s) GSM 850, GSM 900, GSM 1800, GSM 1900
Connectivity options 3G, GPRS, GPS, HSDPA, Bluetooth, A2DP, USB, WLAN
Calling Features Video calls
LCD display size 3.2-inch 640 x 360-pixel, up to 16 million colors
Color LCD? Yes
Operating system Symbian OS
Max. talktime (in hours) 9 hours
Max. standby time (in hours) 408 hours
Internal memory 81 MB
Expansion slot(s) TransFlash / microSD
Included accessories Handset with stylus, extra pen stylus, stylus plectrum, headset, 8GB microSD card, carrying case, portable stand, video-out cable
Built-in digital camera? Yes
Maximum camera resolution 3.2 megapixels.


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