Nokia has never shied away from cramming in stacks of features and cutting edge functionality into its high-end mobiles, as its N95 8GB and forthcoming N96 testify.

With its luxury line of handsets though, such the 8800 Arte, it takes a more refined approach. The emphasis here is not primarily on feature count, but on build quality, design – and, of course, desirability.

A classy mobile phone

The premium Nokia 8800 Arte exudes classy, minimalist style, coming in an understatedly elegant black metal and glass casing with chrome trim. Its numberpad is hidden away by a smooth slider mechanism and the feel of the handset is reassuringly substantial.

But naturally there’s more to the 8800 Arte than simply fashion accessory cachet. It’s a 3G-enabled handset, featuring a 3.2-megapixel camera with autofocus on the back panel, and has a video and music player inside too, with 1GB of internal storage.

It has a spread of familiar Nokia features inside– email, web browser and organiser functionality among them – plus a few exclusive extras. These include a tap-to-view analogue clock face that appears onscreen when you double-tap the bottom of the front panel, and a turn-to-mute feature that switches off the call alert simply by putting the phone face down.

The 8800 Arte though doesn’t go for the kitchen sink approach to high-end functionality, however. Its feature set is built on Nokia’s popular Series 40 user interface, used on mid-tier phones, rather than the more flexible Symbian S60 smartphone operating system used in Nokia’s multimedia-rich Nseries handsets. And Nokia doesn’t include cutting edge, headline-grabbing mobile phone technology – such as built in GPS, Wi-Fi or HSDPA high-speed data connectivity, or touchscreen activation.

High price = flashy features?

Although Nokia is evidently tailoring the 8800 Arte’s features for a particular type of cash-splashing audience, there are a few surprising omissions.

There’s no MicroSD card memory expansion, relying instead on the fixed 1GB inside for tracks and picture storage. While 1GB is OK for phone memory, swappable cards offer flexibility for boosting capacity relatively inexpensively.

Video calling others for face-to-face chats isn’t on the spec list, either, even though it’s a 3G phone – there’s no extra front facing camera on this model. And oddly, there isn’t a set of stereo earphones included in the luxury box the phone comes in, which contains a high quality Bluetooth earpiece, a heavy Nokia desk stand and a suave leather pouch.

A well-built handset

In the hand, you feel the weight of the 8800 Arte’s solid glass and metal build – a full 150g of it. In a normal sized handset, that’s heavy. Build quality is impressive though, even down to the smooth slider mechanism that reveals the numberpad.

The numberpad enclosure isn’t the largest space to dabble around in, but the buttons are rounded and separated well enough to feel responsive and comfortable to use.

The display is a not particularly large 2-inch OLED screen, a 16-million colour QVGA (320x240 pixels) array. Size-wise, it’s more akin to mid-tier phones like the 6500 classic than Nseries models. Under this is the control panel, with backlit buttons that blend subtly into the black body when not is use.

Simple to use

Operation and menu navigation is straightforward Nokia Series 40. You can use the D-pad and softkeys for shortcuts (pre-set ones or program your own), and have the option to set the standby screen for Nokia’s Active Standby layout. This presents more icon-based shortcuts plus info updates on the screen, but looks distinctly un-minimalist.

Nokia has chosen to leave this as a menu option rather than the default setting. This leaves space for you to appreciate the themes Nokia’s created for the phone.

Similarly, to add to that exclusive feel, Nokia has commissioned sounds and ringtones for the phone from producers Kruder & Dorfmeister, plus visuals too by Fritz Fitzke.

A basic camera

Beyond the pretty fascia, its 3.2-megapixel camera is a key feature. Despite it’s price tag Nokia hasn’t given the 8800 Arte the snapper spec of its more higher-end cameraphones. There’s no Carl Zeiss optics, for instance, but more significantly, no flash or photo light illumination.

The camera does have an autofocus system onboard. There’s no dedicated camera capture button on the side, like many other phones, but you use the central D-pad as the shoot button; pressing this and holding it enables you to focus the camera on a particular subject when composing an image before releasing it to take a snap.

You can switch to landscape mode for shooting, but it’s not the default mode.

The camera is capable of taking well-detailed images, with decent colour presentation in reasonable lighting situations. The auto exposure and white balance metering system seems to adjust efficiently too.

Standard image effects

When light levels fall, however, the camera’s results aren’t so impressive. Without a flash, shots in low-light environments are poor, with images dark and suffering picture noise. Even under artificial indoors light, quality is low – and far from impressive for a phone with a high-end price.

There are a series of settings adjustments – all standard fare stuff like brightness, white balance, picture quality, night mode, multi-shot, self timer and colour effects. But the impression is of an average camera rather than Nokia adding special to its premium phone.

Shooting video, quality is a better than average for a mobile phone, capturing images at VGA (640x480 pixels) resolution at 15 frames per second.

Not much of a multimedia phone

Watching downloaded video clips or side-loaded content is better quality, naturally. But the music and video player on the 8800 Arte is hampered by an inexplicable absence of stereo earphones with the handset. It has got a snazzy Bluetooth mono headset, but that’s not what you’re after when it comes to tune-playing.

This omission is compounded by Nokia equipping the 8800 Arte with an all-purpose microUSB connection that’s designated for the earphones (as well as data transfer and charger duties), rather than a standard 3.5mm headphone socket.

This makes adding your own headphones – whether spare iPod cheapies or better quality cans – difficult, as you’ll need an adapter. Alternatively, you could splash out more on stereo Bluetooth headphones, but that’s not the point. You want a smooth experience when you spend this sort of money on a phone.

An attractive music player

With a set of spare Nokia microUSB-connected headphones, the sound from the music was reasonably good. The loudspeaker on the phone is powerful too and not overly tinny, though it is still lacking in bass frequencies to fully round out the sound.

The music player interface is again typical Series 40, with a tidy look and tied in theme, and tunes are lined up in a variety of regular MP3 player categories (including a video option).

You can sync the phone’s tune player with a PC using the supplied Nokia PC Suite software and USB cable, or drag and drop tracks, videos and other files to the phone’s memory in data storage mode.

Onboard 3G means any over the air downloading or streaming of music and video is swift and easy from mobile networks’ online stores. There’s no FM radio on this particular model, however.

Dual web browers

Two web browsers are pre-loaded, a Nokia own-brand one and the well-regarded Opera Mini application, providing access to full web pages optimised for a mobile phone display. Nokia has preloaded its widgets application, WidSets, too, providing another option for getting web-based information from your favourite sites and blogs updated regularly.

As you’d expect, email is supported on the 8800 Arte, with applications handled too. There’s also a typical spread of Nokia organiser apps, including calendar, to-do list, notes convertor, world clock, translator, text-to-voice reader and speech independent voice control.

We’re happy to report excellent quality from voice calls, and reassuring tenacity with signals. On the power front, we found battery life on the Nokia 8800 Arte to be adequate rather than exceptional. Nokia claims a standby time of up to 300 hours or talktime of up to 3 hours 20 minutes on GSM networks and 2 hours 45 minutes on 3G services.

With average usage, we managed between two and three days between charges, and that’s with minimal tune-playing and limited browsing.

Nokia goes for the desirability factor

While the features list would be fine for a mid-tier Nokia handset, such as the 6500-series, there’s an inevitable feeling that for such a highly polished design and build as the 8800 Arte, the functionality and applications are rather ordinary.

A decent but limited camera, a respectable music player but no expandable card memory, 3G but no smartphone nous or Wi-Fi. And that socketry issue too.

Build quality and design apart, there is little under the bonnet that would seriously justify forking out so much cash for this phone when cheaper Nokia models can do similar stuff just as well. Nokia’s latest Nseries models offer far more features, flexibility and functionality.

Judging the Nokia 8800 Arte on a pound-for-pound, features-for-your-money basis though misses a key issue though; this is a phone that’s been built to impress a certain type of buyer primarily with its premium construction quality, materials and classy design. That desirability factor is the crucial selling point for the 8800 Arte - even if the features don’t match up to its high-end billing.

Looks:  4/5
Ease of use: 4/5
Features: 3.5/5
Call quality: 4.5/5
Value: 2/5
Networks: O2, Orange