Signs & Portents: Nokia's 5800 with Touch Screen

Today, Nokia announced its first mainstream touch screen mobile phone, the 5800 XpressMusic. This is a mass market phone that's an evolutionary extension of existing Nokia designs. Priced at Euro279 pre tax or subsidy, the phone will be available for free on many contracts and should rapidly become available on pre-pay.

Whatever you may hear, this isn't Nokia's first touch screen device or even its first touch screen mobile phone. But unlike the 7710 this will be a mass market platform with real developer support. And Nokia will need it, as many existing Series 60 applications will require developer effort in order to work on the 5800.

The 5800's device aesthetics fit its price point. This phone isn't going to turn heads -- unless the extremely loud speakers catch people's attention -- although it's not ugly either. The deep curved shape fits nicely into the hand and its narrowness makes the 5800 very comfortable to hold and likely explains the leaked 'tube' codename. There are sensible button options along the sides to act as shortcuts for the media bar, dim the screen, adjust volume, go to home, or the classic Nokia green and red buttons to control the phone. While Nokia has forsaken its anti-touchscreen religion it has avoided the fallacy of adopting a new anti-button at all costs mantra, Apple-style.

In countries where both are available, the 5800 will be the flagship Comes with Music (CWM) device. This offers unlimited music downloads, both over the air, and onto a PC, for purchasers of a 5800 that is sold with a CWM bundle. Interestingly, while the 5800 will ship in 2008, the CWM bundle version won�t arrive until 2009.

The software is clearly existing Nokia Series 60 with light enhancement for touch screen use. It works surprisingly well but the appearance is unexciting and lacks wows. Example: it's possible to switch photos by dragging a finger across the screen -- iPhone-style -- but there are no eye candy transitions, one photo just vanishes to be replaced by another in its entirety.

The 5800 should do well. Nokia are smart not to go head to head with the iPhone with this handset. At the lower price, it's a compelling phone. But I can't shake the feeling that this is a phone Nokia could have built several years ago.

Also, the premium N Series ranges' positioning feels orphaned: The 5800 delivers a better browsing experience, a better music experience, and has a larger screen for video playback compared with any current N Series handset. I wonder if Nokia has imminent plans for a revolutionary touch screen N Series mobile phone? Perhaps a new high end phone based on Nokia's Maemo Linux OS which was recently announced to have had mobile telephony support added?