Saturday 6 October 2018

Nokia 5800 XpressMusic (2008)

Nokia 5800 XpressMusic
Launched October 2008

Apple changed the world’s attitude to mobile phones with the launch of the original iPhone in January 2007, leaving rivals struggling to come up with something of their own. It took Google until September 2008 to come up with their first Android device, and market leaders Nokia took just a little longer.

The Nokia 5800 XpressMusic was Nokia’s answer to Apple. Taking their existing Symbian S60 software platform and stretching it almost as far as it would go, Nokia created something that was both new and familiar at the same time.

The clunky name reflected the fact that Nokia were trying to be a content company and “XpressMusic” was their downloadable music service. The 5000 series was Nokia’s mid-range “active” series where it joined the likes of the 5310.

This wasn’t Nokia’s first attempt at a touchscreen smartphone, but their attempts at creating a new platform with the 7700 and 7710 running the new Series 90 OS had failed and Nokia had given up trying to create a touchscreen smartphone. It turned out that this was a mistake, and the iPhone led to the fairly hurried adaptation of the existing S60 platform to include touch support.

On the front was a 3.2” 360 x 640 pixel touchscreen display with a middle-of-the-road 3.2 megapixel camera on the back. This was a 3.5G capable device with WiFi, 3.5G support, GPS and expandable memory. The €279 price tag made it good value too. 

It wasn’t a bad smartphone – anyone who was familiar with S60 would quickly get used to it, and that was a pretty decently-sized market. But the problem was that it was just an existing OS with touch supported added on top, whereas the iPhone’s OS was designed from scratch for a touchscreen device. Where the Nokia gave you buttons to press on the screen, the iPhone gave swipes and gestures.

The somewhat clunky Nokia interface could be used with a finger, but was really designed for a stylus and for practical purposes that meant an older style resistive touchscreen rather than the slicker capacitive touchscreen in the iPhone. And of course Android had borrowed many of the concepts from the iPhone too, so although the 5800’s interface was not bad at launch, subsequent models struggled to compete.

Although the clunky interface and cheap touchscreen would be worked on in subsequent models, there was a more intractable problem – the operating system itself. Symbian had been designed for mobile devices and could trace its history back more than a decade to PDAs such as the Psion Series 5. Designed to run efficiently on limited hardware resources it was certainly fast and efficient… but the iPhone’s iOS and Google’s Android took advantage of more powerful hardware and both of those used slimmed-down derivatives of the powerful Unix operating system. This made the two newer OSes much more forward-looking and easier to develop for, where Symbian was trickier to work with and really became outclassed by its newer rivals.

Still, the Nokia was a sales success shipping over 8 million units, and for a while it looked as if Nokia had done enough to see off the challenges of their upstart rivals. It’s a landmark Nokia device and therefore interesting enough for collectors, with prices for good ones being less than £40.

Image credit: Nokia

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