Cell phone giant Nokia lost some cachet in recent years as it ceded the leading edge of smartphone design to the likes of Apple, HTC and Research in Motion. Indeed, in the middle part of the last decade, the Finnish company seemed to make headlines less often for its products than for its prolonged court battles with Qualcomm over intellectual property rights and patent royalties.
Nokia has bet big on the N8, introduced in April, to burnish its image and build its smartphone market share, though some analysts have noted that the company faces an uphill battle against competitors whose brands have become synonymous with “smartphone.” UBM TechInsights tore down an N8 to find out how it stacks up against the established competition.
When Nokia and Qualcomm finally settled in 2008, with Nokia gaining access to devices based on Qualcomm patents, many market watchers expected the dawning of a new age for the handset giant, which accounted for 40 percent of the 1.15 billion cell phones sold in 2007.
Fast-forward a few years, however, and while Nokia remains the global leader in cellular handset sales, it has seen its share decline with the introduction of “do it all” phones like Apple’s iPhone series, RIM’s BlackBerry line and, most recently, HTC’s Droid. In the Chinese market, which it once dominated, Nokia is seeing increased pressure from longtime competitors such as Samsung and Motorola as well as from surging Chinese upstarts like Huawei, Lenovo and Tianyu.
Plenty of industry buzz accompanied the April rollout of the N8. Nokia equipped the smartphone with a sharp, 3.5-inch active-matrix OLED touchscreen that rivals the AMOLED screen on Samsung’s Galaxy S; a 12-megapixel camera, the largest seen in any smartphone; 16 Gbytes of internal flash; and the Symbian^3 operating system.
The bells and whistles are all there, but how about the nuts and bolts?
The first component we analyzed after taking apart the N8 was a package-on-package device that puts a Samsung memory atop a Texas Instruments application processor. The memory itself comprises a pair of Samsung dice within one package labeled the K5W462GACA-AL54: the KFG4G16Q2A 4-Gbit OneNAND flash and the K4X2G323PB 2-Gbit Mobile DDR DRAM. A similar package was recently found to provide the internal processor memory for the Samsung Galaxy Tab.
Speaking of the processor, Texas Instruments provides an ARM11 core-based application processor for the Nokia N8 that is underclocked at 680 MHz (from a stated spec of 772 MHz). At 680 MHz, it compares with the processor used in the BlackBerry Torch but falls short of the 1-GHz A4 processor in the iPhone 4 and the 1-GHz S5PC110 Hummingbird in the Samsung Wave and Samsung Galaxy S. Both the A4 and the Hummingbird feature the more powerful ARM A8 core.
Nokia, by pairing the underclocked ARM11 with Symbian^3, took the same approach in the N8 as RIM did in the Blackberry Torch; both manufacturers rely on their phones’ respective OSes to make the most of the available processor performance.
Broadcom enables the N8’s high-definition video via the BCM2727 graphics processor, which features a dedicated
3-D graphics accelerator. The AMOLED touchscreen uses a Synaptics T1021A controller. Synaptics has scored many design wins this year, particularly in HTC handsets such as the new Desire HD.
Texas Instruments grabbed several N8 design slots in addition to the app processor. Nokia went with the TI WL1271A WiLink 6.0 single-chip WLAN, Bluetooth and FM solution and with TI’s NL6350 NaviLink 5.0 single-chip solution for GPS.
TI also provides the analog baseband. Within an IC package labeled the 4376057, we found what we determined to be the TI TWL3033 baseband processor. The package also contained NXP Semiconductors’ IP5103 power management device.
Rounding out the key components of the Nokia N8 phone is a Toshiba THGBM1G7D4FBA13 multichip package housing four SanDisk/Toshiba 32-Gbit multilevel-cell NAND flash dice and a Toshiba memory controller.
The Nokia N8 is an impressive offering that has been well received thus far by both diehard Nokia fans and, more significantly, the smartphone market at large. Nokia has indicated that the N8 is the first of a series of smartphones that will all be powered by Symbian^3, with handset releases planned over the course of 2011.
The upcoming E7, C6 and C7 have all been designed with the objective of securing Nokia’s place atop the cell phone pedestal by cementing its status as a smartphone innovator.
The question is whether a field that seems already oversaturated with innovative entries from aggressive competitors has room for yet another power player. Time will tell. p
About the author
Allan Yogasingam (firstname.lastname@example.org) is technical marketing analyst for UBM TechInsights.
With the N8 and a planned series of Symbian-based follow-ons, Nokia hopes to secure its place atop the cell phone pedestal by cementing its status as a smartphone innovator.
Click on image to enlarge.
Click on image to enlarge.
|Die photo of Texas Instruments' TWL3033 baseband processor.|