By September 10, 2009

Review: Nokia N97


I was most excited when I saw this device announced. This last week I have had to opportunity to take a look at Nokia’s top of the line N97. Brimming with everything imaginable is it a phone for all others to bow too?

I’ll fully admit that the N95 was a truly excellent phone and really captured the market here in the UK. It was the phone to have before the iPhone was sent out to wrestle it. The N95 was pretty big but customers were happy to deal with the size since it packed all the hottest features. There was an impressive amount of storage and media almost took centre stage. There were still complaints that it lacked a touch screen and the update of the N96 was nothing more than a remodelling with curved edges.

So the N97, this can’t exactly be categorised as an upgrade to the N95 however it is the next logical step. HTC had great success with the Tytn II/Kaiser so the flip up screen was not something to be sniffed at. Especially as Nokia was looking to push into the American market more. Nokia could cover most design aspects with the N97 and the 5800. Touch screen was here and they were ready for the market to celebrate.


The device looks pretty big, however I think it’s quite deceptive. If you were to complain about it being oversized then it would be a challenge to say why. It’s long, that’s about it. It’s quite narrow and thin. If anything an argument could stem by someone saying “it’s huge”, but the counter argument would be “but look at the screen, That’s huge!” It is, there screen is deceptively massive, measuring 3.5" inches it is narrow yet long and you can comfortably watch a movie on there.


Above the screen from right to left is the light sensor, secondary VGA camera, the ear speaker and a proximity sensor. To the right of the screen is the Nokia brand. It’s looks quite plush to have this and gives the phone more of a quality look.


Under the screen is the End and Call keys along with the Menu button.


The right side of the phone has the volume rocker with a tactile response. This also acts as a zoom for the camera, and on videos you can hear the click of the rocker quite well when used.


The left has the Micro USB connector and a physical lock switch.


The top contains a 3.5mm headset jack and a power button.

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The all important keyboard. The buttons are … well spaced. There, a compliment. Other than that, I found it quite cumbersome. There is little in the way of feedback aside from a beep when you type and unlike typical HTC offerings the keys are limited in function and you have to use a pop-up menu for to help punctuate. The D-pad to the far left isn’t terribly useful. I think in the time I had the device I used the this, three times, maybe four. The space bar in not centred and that can take some getting used too. the backspace is above the return button, which I admit is normal, however I found myself hitting return more often than the backspace.
Please note that the picture above has an optical illusion. The keys appear to be recessed, they aren’t, they sit above the surface a tiny amount. Light source is coming from the bottom, hence I turned the picture upside down to help 🙂


Inside is a 1500mAh battery. The back cover has a bit of a knack to it. It’s quite fiddly to start with and feels like you could break it with a little too much persuasion when removing it. It is tacky plastic. At the bottom is a lip that levels the device. Some phones I have used in the past rock about on the desk or sit squint due to the camera lens poking out the back. Nokia have worked in a simple little lip that levels it and also assists grip.


The SIM card goes in a little drawer that slides under the SD card and the camera. It’s quite compact and clever.


The underside of the flip up screen has a bit of bragging for you to show your mates. It’s a neat spec list and something to be proud of.


One feature I liked was the speaker positions. The device has been designed for desktop usage and the speakers cater for that also. They are rather nice and the sound quality is fine. Again, this makes watching videos on the device a great experience.

The hardware is nice. The phone is light and comfortable in your hands. Moving parts, like the flip up screen and the camera slide feel durable. The locking mechanism on the side does feel a little fragile and I sometimes wonder it’s out of place a little.

The camera is rather good however I found that sometimes there was be a lot of smear indoors in lower light levels. There are a decent amount of settings so you might be able to find the right combination. The Carl Zeiss lens difference can really be seen when in ideal light conditions over other 5 megapixel cameras, like the Hero.

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Below is the zoom feature. Again another phone that relies on a digital zoom.

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It all sounds quite good so far. Here is were I’ll complain.

Symbian S60. The software on the phone is old and ugly. It’s a pain to fiddle around with things. I find S60 to have a high learning curve, even more so that Windows Mobile, and that’s saying something. I can appreciate that the OS can’t be identical to others however there is no reason for this to become overly complicated. It’s not finger friendly, the little plectrum stylus is quite bulky and the lanyard is antiquated. Having heard the grumbling Samsung got for the lanyard stylus last year it makes little sense that Nokia would follow suit.

Wi-fi was most annoying. Sitting beside my router doing a little surfing I’d suddenly discovered that the wi-fi on the phone had switched off. I struggled to find a setting to keep it on until I was finished but there was nothing. It’s like it kept timing out. I rushed to install my Google Sync info over wi-fi only to discover that when I had input it all there was no wi-fi connection, I’d have to reconnect and re-enter my Google exchange info. Even when I got it right and wi-fi worked I was greeted with a System Error, every time. No information of what went wrong.

The Ovi store is a nice addition, but there wasn’t too much in the way of tantalising Apps. Not enough to recommend. I gave some social networking clients a whirl like Fring and Nimbuzz and they worked well. Flipping out the keyboard helped for speedy updating.
Input wise there is also an onscreen T9 keypad and a graffiti-style hand writing tool that can be trained. Other than that you have to flip out your keyboard.


The Flip out keyboard is great, for a while. However I found the angle to become quite tedious. I have a Tytn II and I rarely tilt the screen up. The N97 you find yourself having to pitch the device a bit between looking at the keyboard and then the screen. I guess you could get used to it, however I prefer to have the option.

The home screen is customisable with blocks that can be used as application displays. You can have Facebook on there, Twitter, task managers, anything that might show updates. Initially I found it pretty damn ugly, there was a little update that I downloaded and it changed the rather pasty blue to a sexier black. It’s still looked crappy. Also, some of the applications would require a data connection to display anything in these blocks. Having bad signal I noticed the blocks sat with “loading” written in them.

The menu system can sometime work on a double click system. The odd time I’d have tapped an option and looked away from the phone, came back and had to click it again to get it to action my decision. Sometimes it works off one click. I honestly couldn’t work out what selections would require a double tap or a single tap.

I have my problems with the phone but that’s not to say you will. If you know and love S60 then this might just make your day. Aside from the keys on the keyboard, the hardware rocks. It’s an excellently specked piece of kit. I really feel they could have gone to town on the OS and pimped it out to be something that can take on the top phones. Given Android and Apple have brought simplicity to the mobile world the N97 sadly cannot stand up to the mighty ones in this incarnation.

Thanks go out to Clove who have supplied us this review device

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Networks – GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900, HSDPA 900 / 1900 / 2100, HSDPA 850 / 1900 / 2100 – American version
Size – 117.2 x 55.3 x 15.9 mm, 88 cc
Weight – 150 g
Display- TFT resistive touchscreen, 16M colors, 360 x 640 pixels, 3.5 inches
Storage – 32 GB, 128 MB RAM, microSD (TransFlash), up to 16GB
Data – GPRS, HSCSD, EDGE, 3G, HSDPA, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g, UPnP technology
Bluetooth – v2.0 with A2DP
Camera – 5 MP, 2592×1944 pixels, Carl Zeiss optics, autofocus, LED flash, video light, 2nd camera VGA,15fps
OS – Symbian OS v9.4, Series 60 rel. 5
CPU – ARM 11 434 MHz processor
GPS – with A-GPS support; Nokia Maps
Battery – Li-Ion 1500 mAh (BP-4L)
Stand-by – Up to 432 h (2G) / 408 h (3G)
Talk time – Up to 9 h 30 min (2G) / Up to 6 h (3G)
Music play – Up to 40 h
– Proximity sensor for auto turn-off
– Accelerometer sensor for auto-rotate
– Full QWERTY keyboard
– Handwriting recognition
– 3.5 mm audio jack- Digital compass
– MP3/WMA/WAV/eAAC+ music player
– WMV/RealVideo/MP4 video player
– TV-out
– Voice command/dial
– Document viewer (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF)
– Video and photo editor
– Flash Lite 3
– T9
– Geo-tagging
– microUSB

Posted in: Phones

About the Author:

Seasoned tech blogger. Host of the Tech Addicts podcast.
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