GPS and Nokia Maps
The N82 is the second Nseries model after the N95 to get a built in GPS. Nokia have also considerably improved the implementation since the N95 launch by adding assisted GPS. The N82 also benefits from moving the GPS aerial from the bottom of the device to the top. The end result is excellent performance with lock on times from a cold start around 30-40 seconds in most cases and just a handful of seconds to reacquire the signal from a soft start. The phone also holds onto GPS signals much more reliably, be it in urban canyons or heavily vegetated areas.
The main built in application to take advantage of the GPS is Nokia Maps. This offers free mapping for 150 countries, with around 40 of these also offering routing. Maps can either be downloaded over the air or preloaded using Nokia Maps Loader. The preloading option is very worthwhile if you are roaming or do not have a flat rate data package as the size of downloads can quickly add up. A point of information (POI) database, divided into various categories, comes with the maps. The quality of the POIs varies by area; large urban areas are usually reasonably well catered for but do not expect comprehensive coverage. The search function is good with support for address (including postcode) and keyword based searches, and 'nearby' (nearest POI from a specified category). Custom locations (e.g. your house) can be saved as Landmarks and then used in routing and navigation.
Basic route planning is free, but turn by turn voice navigation is a premium feature, which you have to buy as a subscription service from within the application. You choose a specific area (e.g. UK and Ireland) and a time frame and the cost is set accordingly. For the UK and Ireland the costs are £4.50 (one week), £5.73 (one month), £43.06 (one year) and £50.24 (three years). For all of Western Europe, the same time frames are £6.00, £7.17, £64.59 and £71.77. The exact costs will vary by country and by operator. You can pay by credit card or, for charges under £10, by premium SMS. The pricing scheme makes a lot of sense and is especially attractive for those requiring only periodic usage. Navigation subscriptions are not transferable (to a new IMEI) so if you think you may replace your phone in the future think carefully before signing up for the longer periods.
Other premium features include guides provided by third parties such as Berlitz. I have tried a couple of these and the quality is very mixed; some are so poor they constitute a total rip off, but there's no way to distinguish between the good and the bad. You are probably better off avoiding the guides for now.
Nokia Maps has evolved considerably since its release early in 2007. It is now generally faster in operation and the user interface (information displayed on screen, menu layout) and feature set (more powerful search, bigger POI database) has been improved. Nokia Map Loader has also received similar updates and both applications feel a lot more polished that at their initial launch. However the most welcome improvement has been better navigation routing. In my experience the earlier version did not always plan the optimal route. Clearly at the local level the user will always know best - we all use local knowledge and shortcuts which are difficult to codify into a routing algorithm. The newer versions of Nokia Maps have definitely improved, more often then not they now get closer to giving the natural route. I'm now happy to rely on the software when in an unfamiliar area, whereas previously I still kept one eye on the paper map.
Web and Multimedia software
The N82 has the excellent S60 Web application, which is now relatively mature. With its intelligent column sizing, visual history, overview mode and minimap, browsing sites intended for the PC is easy. The limitations of the browser are more about the screen resolution (e.g. drop down menus not fitting on the screen) and softkey controls (as opposed to touch) than any application problems. In practical day to day usage there is the occasional annoyance of the N82 being recognised as a mobile device and presented with a stripped down version of a site. However this is not really the fault of the browser, even if some kind of user agent masking option would help here. The RSS functionality works fine though the lack of subscription import or export limits the utility. In due course the N82 is likely to receive a firmware update that adds Flash Lite 3 and Web Run Time (WRT) to the device (similar to the recent N95 8GB firmware update). This will represent a very major upgrade of Web's capabilities. It will enable Flash video (e.g. YouTube) to be viewed in the browser and usher in a new type of application - WRT widgets.
The N82 has a dedicated Music folder, in which you'll find the Music player, Radio, Podcasting and Music store applications. The Music player is little changed from its earlier versions with the hierarchical music library, support for album art, playlist management and integration into the Idle screen. Podcasts are now divided into their own hierarchy and can be paused and resumed at the same location at a later date. The podcasting application lets you find new podcasts (or enter them manually), set up subscriptions and, if required, schedule automatic downloads. There's no PC companion, but this really isn't required. Podcast downloads can be large, so unless you want have a flat rate data tariff you should stick to WiFi. Podcasting is one area where the N82 (and N95 etc.) really outshine any competition - there's nothing to match it/them on any other portable audio device or mobile phone.
The Music store application is a link to the the Nokia Music Store from where you can browse and buy music on your phone. The store is currently only available in the UK, but other countries should get their own versions shortly. Browsing the store is easy and there's a large (and increasing) music catalog available with 30 seconds samples available for all music. The downloaded music, priced at 80p per track (£8 per album), is protected by the Windows Media Janus DRM. On starting a download you'll first get the appropriate license file before the WMA music download starts. There are some nice touches to the download experience, for example new purchases are automatically added to the music library without any user intervention or annoying delays.
There's also a PC version of the music store, although this can only be accessed through Internet Explorer, as an extra ActiveX add on is required to manage the music downloads. Windows Media Player 11 is used for music management and transferring music to and from the device. It allows for two way syncs (music purchased on the phone is automatically copied to the PC) and has comprehensive, if slightly fiddly, sync options. Sync speed is a bit slow, but this isn't really a problem after you have performed the first sync. Windows Media Player 11 is not without its faults and the music management does not feel as refined as iTunes. Nokia is working on its own music management software which should improve matters, but this is not expected to be available until later in the year.
Overall, Nokia Music Store is an impressively slick system and is easy to use. Nokia has faced some criticism for its use of DRM (especially with the trend for DRM-free music) and lack of unique features. However it has to operate within the realities of the current music landscape and, with that in mind, the current system is excellent. Many users will 'side load' from their CD collection and a number will continue to buy CDs because of their flexibility. It is to Nokia's credit that this is made just as easy and seamless as buying music from Nokia's own store. I do think that the instant nature and single track purchase of the Nokia Music Store should attract its own set of users - you only need to look at the iTunes ecosystem to realise that digital music downloads are popular. iPods may currently have the digital music high ground, but the convergence trend has long pointed towards their functionality being subsumed into phones. With the Nokia Music Store in place, Nseries phones are in a realistic position to replace the complete iTunes experience. It may not be perfect, but for many it will be good enough and we can expect to see a lot of activity in this area in the next year.
Video is handled by the duo of Video Center and RealPlayer. The latter is the video playback application and supports both Real video and MP4 formats (including both H.263 and H.264). With the right formats and resolution, you can play video smoothly in full screen with excellent picture and audio quality. Video Manager is a video downloading companion program (technically it uses RSS feeds and acts in the same ways as the podcasting program). Video manager arrives with some default Nokia content but a variety of extra sources can be added. The selection is relatively limited and most people will be looking to get extra video from elsewhere. Getting video to mobile devices is generally far more cumbersome than music transfers. There are different formats, bitrates and resolutions to contend with, which means it may not always be possible to do a direct copy. The N82 also faces these problems too - Nokia provides a PC program to help with conversion of existing files. However a bigger problem is a lack of source material. Taking video off a DVD is much more cumbersome than ripping a CD (because of high resolutions and bitrates and because of complex DRM-circumvention) and digital downloads are in their infancy. The N82 is a good video playback device (even the physical screen limitations can be overcome with TV-Out), but its potential is some what limited by a lack of readily available video material.
As with other Nseries devices, there is support for the UPnP standard for interacting with other media devices over a network (WiFi) via the Home network application. UPnP devices fall into three categories: servers (store media), renderers (play media) and control points (control a renderer by telling it to play something from a server). Earlier Nseries devices were only UPnP severs and control points. The N82 (and N95 8GB and N95 with firmware v20+) can now also act as a UPnP renderer, which means you can send media to your phone from a UPnP server. The technology is impressive (for example I streamed music to the N82 from my PC using the UPnP server built into Windows Media Player 11 and then used TV Out to play it through a HiFi), but it can be fiddly to set up and use. As a result I'm not sure how much use this will get from mainstream users; nonetheless, it is good to see Nokia pushing the boundaries.
TV Out, also built into the N82 (the included cable plugs into the 3.5 mm audio jack), is likely to get more usage. This is ideal for watching videos or showing photos captured on the phone. RealPlayer (videos) and Gallery (when displaying a photo) will send a VGA resolution signal via TV Out, though whether you see it as such depends on your TV. We covered some of the possibilities for TV out in a series of feature article on AAS which you can view here. In day to day usage, I found myself using the cable for high quality audio out (connecting to a HiFi) as much as video out, but I'm sure your usage pattern will vary.
The N82's multimedia software suite is undoubtedly comprehensive. However, Nokia could improve things by making it easier for users to take advantage of some of its capabilities. The component features do not always feel like they fit together. Nowhere is this more obvious than sync - I would personally prefer a unified sync process where I could control all copying to and from the device. Moreover it sometimes feels like too many of the features have been left for users to find and take advantage of themselves; the N82 has a lot of untapped potential. I would draw a contrast with the iPhone, which many would deem a better multimedia experience despite the fact it has nowhere near the technical capabilities of the N82.