Nokia's competitor to Apple's iPhone, first reported back in April, is finally here. And the market leader's second foray into touch-screen technology has proven better than expected: the new 5800 Express Music model, also called the ''Tube'', is sturdy, satisfying to use and has an attractive, unsubsidized price tag of $385.86. (See: Nokia unveils plans for competitor to iPhone, the Tube 5800)
It does have its shortcomings, especially when compared with Apple's more sophisticated iPhone, but consumers are more likely to be attracted to the cheap price tag than be put off by the relatively plain touch interface.
While this is Nokia's second touch-screen product after the 7710 that was launched way back in 2004, the 5800 is generations ahead, with styling cues taken from the revolutionary Apple product. Although the iPhone still stands out as a better looker, the 5800 seems to offer more bang for the buck. The pricing is extremely competitive considering the iPhone retails for $199 but with a two-year compulsory AT&T contract. On the other hand, the 5800 can be used with any GSM operator in the world.
The touch feedback was nice and chunky, though not as razor-sharp as the iPhone, and text input was made easier by turning the phone on its side and using two hands to type. Using the stylus was less fun: the phone's handwriting recognition feature was flaky, and text input using the alternative plectrum-sized stylus felt clunky.
It is in the features department that the Tube edges ahead over the iPhone. It features a 3.2-megapixel camera, with auto focus Carl Zeiss optics and a dual LED flash. All these blow iPhone's 2006 style 2-megapixel-no flash camera out of the water. Also, Tube records videos at VGA quality (640X480px) and has a frontal camera for video calls, something that the iPhone can't do at all.
Storage capacity-wise, the 5800 and iPhone seems to be on the par. Tube comes with an 8GB memory card and supports up to 16GB cards. Still, the Tube can have a slight advantage for those who want more than the given storage capacity, as they can buy additional memory cards and just pop them in the phone (iPhone's memory is built in and cannot be expanded).
Nokia has also taken steps to negate a major advantage that the iPhone has: its tie-up with Apple's iTunes store, currently the largest music retailer in the world. iPhone users can download and play songs from the iTunes website at $0.99 a song. In contrast, the Tube will feature the Nokia's Comes with Music bundle, which will allow users to freely download an unlimited number of songs from Nokia's Music Store over a year after the initial purchase. (See: Apple's iTunes surpasses Wal-Mart as biggest US music seller)
As for an online experience, opinion is divided. While the iPhone potentially benefits from the thousands of widgets or applications developed to support it, it does not support Adobe Flash from the start unlike the Tube, thereby limiting the user experience. (See: Apple, AT&T sell 1 million new iPhones in 3 days; users download 10 million applications)
In a related development, chief executive of Nokia gave credit to new competitors from the computer world, but said his company was set to respond to all challengers.
Nokia President and CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo said emerging rivals Apple Inc, Google Inc, Research in Motion Ltd and Microsoft Corp have helped to accelerate interest in using the Internet on mobile phones.
"Suddenly you have the mightiest companies in the world there as your competitors. That is a little mind-boggling," Kallasvuo said in an on-stage interview at the Churchill Club, a speakers' forum for Silicon Valley civic leaders.
Of Google, the Nokia executive said it was too early to tell what impact the web company might have on the mobile-phone business: "They are a newcomer here. I think the jury is still out: what is the new thing they bring here?" (See: Android operating system to power Google's first mobile handset, G1)
He singled out the positive impact that Apple has made on the industry with its iPhone over the past year, saying the Cupertino, California computer and consumer electronics company had done the mobile phone industry "a big favour."
"We have a new, credible competitor in this business. You know I need to take my hat off," he said of how the iPhone has raised expectations for phones. He added: "Of course we need to be able to respond to any competitor and we will." Hence, the Tube.