By July 6, 2009

Nokia N97 review

Introduction:

First announced late last year the Nokia N97 has been eagerly awaited by both Nokia and smartphone fans alike. The flagship N-Series handset certainly looks to be a major contender in the “top of the range” category.

Has the wait been worth it?

The Nokia N97

The Nokia N97

 

The ten second review:

Device – Nokia N97

Price – £469.99 inc. VAT

Summary – A powerful Symbian S60 device with a slide out qwerty keyboard.

Best of – 3G/HSDPA, QWERTY Keyboard, 3.5mm Headset Jack.

Worst of – No office document editing without paying for an upgrade.

 

What’s in the box?

  • Handset
  • Battery
  • Stylus
  • Charger
  • USB Cable
  • In Line Headset
  • Software Disc
  • Manual

Refer to Matt’s Nokia N97 unboxing video for more.

Nokia N97 Specification:

  • 2G GSM 850/900/1800/1900
  • 3G HSDPA 900/1900/2100
  • Size: 117.2 x 55.3 x 15.9mm
  • Weight – 150g
  • Display – TFT Touchscreen, 16M Colours
  • Size: 360×640 Pixels, 3.5 Inches
  • Proximity sensor for auto turn off
  • Accelerometer sensor for auto rotate
  • Full QWERTY Keyboard
  • Handwriting recognition
  • Vibration, MP3 Ringtones
  • Speakerphone with stereo speakers
  • 3.5mm audio jack
  • 32GB Storage, 128 RAM
  • Card Slot (up to 16GB)
  • GPRS
  • HSCSD
  • Edge
  • 3G – HSDPA 3.6 Mbps
  • WLAN
  • Bluetooth
  • V2.0 microUSB
  • Camera – 5MP, 2592 x 1944 pixels, Carl Zeiss optics, auto focus, LED flash, video light.
  • Video – VGA @ 30fps. Secondary camera VGA @ 15fps.
  • OS – Symbian V9.4, Series 60
  • Messaging – email, push email, SMS, MMS, IM.
  • Browser – WAP 2.0/xHTML, HTML, RSS Feeds.
  • Radio – Stereo FM with RDS, Visual radio, FM transmitter.
  • Colours – White/Black.
  • GPS with A-GPS support, Nokia Maps.
  • MP3/WMA/WAV/eAAC + Music Player
  • WMV/RealVideo/MP4
  • TV Out
  • Voice Command/Dial
  • Video & Photo Editor
  • Flash Lite 3
  • T9
  • Battery – Li-lon 1500 mAh
  • Stand By – Up to 432h (2G), 408h (3G)
  • Talk Time – Up to 9h 30min (2G), 6h (3G)
  • Music Play up to 40 h

General:

On the top of the handset are the power switch and also the 3.5mm headset jack.

Nokia N97 top view

Nokia N97 top view

 

The bottom of the phone has no switches or ports but the microphone can be seen.

Nokia N97 bottom view

Nokia N97 bottom view

 

The left hand side contains the USB port and the sliding lock switch.

n97_left

Nokia N97 left side

 

The right hand side houses the camera button and the up/down volume rocker.

Nokia N97 right side

Nokia N97 right side

 

The front of the device contains several features. On the top is the speaker grill, the front facing camera and the ambient light and a proximity sensor.

The bottom has the send and end keys as well as a dedicated menu key.

n97_front_open

Nokia N97 front view

 

Highlights:

  • QWERTY Keyboard
  • HSDPA/WiFi
  • 3.5mm Headset Jack
  • Finger friendly

Lowlights:

  • Touch screen scrolling
  • No office document editing without an upgrade

Review

Having not owned a Nokia for some years now I was extremely interested in seeing how the N97 compared to other similar handsets on the market. Without doubt it will be compared to the HTC Touch Pro2 and the SE Xperia X1 but is there a place for another sliding QWERTY device?

Handling the N97 for the first time I was impressed with the build quality. The phone felt very rugged/sturdy and although quite a tall device it sat nicely in the hand. The menu, camera and volume buttons are made of metal and are all raised from the plastic casing making using them a pleasure. The send and end keys are both touch sensitive and very responsive. As the screen can be locked this sensitivity is not an issue. What is an issue however is the lock/unlock button. It is a sliding plastic button on the left side of the device and using it is extremely awkward. When using the phone one handed I can not find a way to unlock the screen that feels natural. The way you have to slide the button feels just odd and to make things worse I found that often it did not work and had to be slid again. Sometimes upon unlocking it would take a couple of seconds for the screen to activate. Not the end of the world but I would find it annoying if using the N97 permanently.

Where the N97 really excels is when the sliding QWERTY keyboard is opened. The sliding movement is smooth and feels effortless. Once open the screen is automatically tilted at an angle. Although a nice touch I personally would prefer the option of altering the degree of the tilt like on the Touch Pro2. The mechanics of the slide are fantastic though!

n97_mechanism_1 n97_mechanism_2

 

The keyboards on the N97, TP2 and X1 are all very different which gives potential buyers a nice choice of preference.

The HTC Touch Pro2 has a five row keyboard making typing a lot more like using a PC or Netbook. The SE X1 has four rows and the Nokia N97 only has three.

Although out of the above devices the Nokia has the least rows of keys it does have a nice unique feature which may help you decide whether to buy it or not. On the left hand side of the keyboard is a D Pad. This enables you to scroll up, down, left and right on the screen and then press the centre of the pad to select the on screen item. This can eliminate having to touch the screen at all when using the phone. You might say “well it’s a touch screen device so why wouldn’t I want to touch it”. Through experience with this handset and similar ones, I can say that when using the slide out keyboard it feels awkward having to stretch your thumbs to the screen to select an item. Using the D-Pad will also be a lot more accurate.

n97_keyboard

The keys on the N97 do the job very well. They are raised slightly and are of a good size. The main disadvantage on the N97 keypad is the placement of the spacebar. Due to there being only three rows of keys Nokia have put the spacebar on the bottom right hand side of the keyboard which when typing feels very unnatural. On all PCs and other slide out QWERTY devices the spacebar is in the middle of the bottom row. Using the handset for a few days will get you used to this placement but initially it feels a bit strange.

The screen on the N97 is bright and the colours are rich. It is very responsive but if you are expecting a similar experience to some other touch screen devices such as the iPhone, Omnia or Touch HD you will be slightly disappointed. Scrolling on the N97 is certainly not as smooth. You cannot flick the screen to scroll but instead have to drag your finger/thumb up or down constantly keeping pressure on the screen. As the items on the screen move they tend to jump rather than slide up or down. Again this will soon be overcome by experience but this too feels a bit weird!

If you have used a Symbian phone before then the UI will be fairly familiar. The home screen has the option of adding widgets which make accessing your most used applications fast and easy. A lot can fit on the screen. At the moment on my test device home screen I have a clock, date, WiFi mode, sms, web, maps, music, Facebook, email and my four favourite contacts. All the widgets are of a decent size and this makes the home screen very finger friendly.

The menu button beside the send & end keys will quickly let you access all the other features on the device. This button is positioned fantastically for both landscape and portrait mode.

Like most Nokia devices the battery on the N97 is of good quality. It will certainly see you through a couple of days average phone usage. The N97 has the same size battery as in some other similar windows mobile handsets and I found I had better battery length with the Nokia.

The 5MP camera is pretty good and is by far better than on some other flagship devices. Images are crisp and bright and in low light conditions the LED flash becomes invaluable. Using the touch screen to change the camera settings is simple and I found it a nice camera to use. The video quality was also not bad but not good enough quality to view full screen on a PC.

Viewing the images and videos on the handset was great on the 3.5 inch screen. The video playback was really helped by the loudness of the N97s speaker. This can sometimes be an issue with some phones but not this one!

The pre installed music player is reasonable but nothing special. I was actually a bit disappointed in the quality of the music. I initially used the supplied headset (which has an amazing control pad attached) but quickly switched to a pair of Samsung earphones which improved the sound slightly. The quality wasn’t bad but I thought that as Nokia have recently released the xpress music devices it may blow me away. How wrong I was! On a good point you can fit a hell of a lot of music tracks on the N97. With 32GB storage and the option to add an additional 16GB microSD card it’s as good as you can get at this moment in time.

One thing that really got on my nerves about the N97 is that you cannot edit documents without paying for an upgrade. I would have thought that as the device has a full QWERTY keyboard Nokia may target business users. Maybe Nokia think business users can afford to pay the upgrade fee???

Web browsing on the N97 was enjoyable. The pages rendered quickly and the tap to zoom feature served its purpose. It certainly wasn’t as smooth as the iphone or some of the HTC devices but it worked and I had no issues with it both using 3G and WiFi.

Some people have recently been talking about having problems with a few features on Nokia devices. I certainly have not experienced any concerns so far. Signal strength was as good as on my other handsets. Sending and receiving text messages was no problem and syncing the device to my PC was no issue. I thought the software was very nice and I certainly preferred it to some alternatives.

Finally I must mention the stylus that comes with the device. It’s a strange looking thing and to be totally honest I think Nokia should not have bothered. Not because of its design but because you don’t need it. As the screen is so finger friendly I didn’t use the stylus once!

n97_open

Conclusion:

Just as I was finishing writing this review I saw on the internet that a software update had been announced. For all those people that have experienced some unstable programs on the device I think your problems will now be over. Why manufactures can’t get it right first before launching a product baffles me but that’s just the way it is.

Nokia have made a great job of the N97. Previous N-Series handsets have had a bit of stick about build quality and I think that Nokia have taken these comments on board and created a decent product.

Is it the best of the bunch when compared to other top of the range devices – No, but die hard Nokia fans will love it. If you want the best camera phone then it’s not for you. If you want the best business device it’s also not for you. If you want the best multimedia device look elsewhere. These comments are not meant to sound negative but they are meant to be fair. The N97 is in my opinion the best Nokia has yet offered and users of the phone will be very happy with there purchase.

 

Review by: James

Posted in: Reviews

About the Author:

More than 20 years in the IT industry. Blogging with a passion and thirst for new technology since 2005.
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