First impressions of the white Nokia N97
It looks like The Boy Genius Report was the first to post a US-based review of the Nokia N97 NAM (he received his black one before my white one) and after reading through it I have to say I agree with a few of his observations just about everything. They wrote that the hardware is top notch, the phone call quality is standard amazing Nokia quality, and the connectivity options are awesome. BGR does not like the keyboard and I do agree it could have been much better, but like any QWERTY keyboard you can adapt and it is highly personal. I do all right with it, but prefer other keyboards (even the E71x) much more. The display is not as good as all the capacitive ones he listed, but it is high resolution with very clear fonts and is as good as it gets today for resistive touch screens. I also really like the matte pearl-color, off white back since it seems it will never scratch and there are very few areas for finger prints to mess things up.
I also saw TechRadar’s review after checking out some discussion over on Howard Forums and you may want to read this one as well. So, now that I did a quick run through their review and my thoughts, let’s move on to my own initial take on the device to help you decide about the device.
Out-of-the box experience
The Nokia N97 comes packed in a fairly compact and very attractive black box. The Nokia N97 is embossed in an open form factor on the top of the box and the whole outside box stands out as something of high quality inside. Opening up the top flap reveals a solid black divider that then is lifted up to reveal the Nokia N97, battery, and stylus mounted in a black plastic shell. Thankfully, the battery is the fairly standard 1500 mAh BP-4L version that is found in my E71, E71x and Nokia N810 so I have a few spares around to never run out of power. The stylus is the oddest thing I have ever seen and at first I thought it was a small USB drive. There is a lanyard so you can attach it to the N97, but I have no plans to do this and it will probably never be seen outside the retail packaging. It reminds me of the Samsung OMNIA stylus I had and never used either. The top of the stylus is a triangular shape and not your typical pointing skinny stylus.
Below the plastic holder you will find the A/C adapter (unfortunately it is not the compact travel one found in other recent Nokia packages), USB to microUSB cable, wired stereo headset with media controller module, and several pamphlets (user guide, warranty, and Nokia Maps info). There is no TV out cable seen in just about every other Nseries package and there is no Amazon Video On Demand credits (seen in the 5800 package). I have a TV out cable, but I would think they would have included it for new buyers, especially at the $700 retail price of the N97.
First thoughts in hand
I had a fully charged BP-4L battery so I popped that and my AT&T SIM into the N97 to get things started. The N97 has a nice heft to it, but does not seem as heavy as I thought given the long form factor and overall size. This is the first time I have seen the white model live and I really like the back matte finish that has a kind of pearl color to it. This device is NOT a fingerprint magnet and it seems like it will not scratch either, both of which are good things for an expensive device. The camera lens cover is large and works great. The hinge opens up much better than I thought it would and as you start to slide it open it assists you in getting to the open position. The hinge feels much more robust than the Touch Pro2 and is impressive. The display is fairly high resolution and fonts are crisp and clean too. It isn’t as thick as I thought it would be either. Overall, I like the feel in my hand and am impressed with the quality of the N97. Now, let’s take a closer look at the hardware parts and pieces.
Walk around the hardware
The display is bright and clear, as well as having a good size for getting things done. It is a resistive display, but so far I am finding it to be sensitive enough for me to use without ever having to touch the display with a stylus. There are still times when you use a single tap for selection and double tap to activate something and that does take some getting used to for new S60 touch UI users. It is not an iPhone, G1, or Pre and I really do want to see capacitive displays come to Nokia in the near future.
There are only three hardware buttons on the front of the N97, including send, end, and a menu button. There is a front facing camera above the display and I hope this eventually works with a Skype client for video calls.
I was very pleased to see the keyguard switch, similar to the 5800 XM, on the left side of the N97 and I use this all the time. A microUSB port is on the upper left side and a cool touch Nokia added was a bright white light next to this to indicate charging status. Stereo speakers are mounted on the left side that make them on the front when in display open/laptop mode.
Swinging around to the top you will find the power button and 3.5mm headset jack.
The right side contains the volume rocker and camera capture button. A lanyard opening is the only thing found on the bottom of the N97.
The 5 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics and shutter slider is found along the upper part of the back. I really am liking the matter finish back of the N97 and it feels great in your hand.
This is a Nseries device so where is the media button? Shoot, even the excellent drop down media menu on the 5800 is something I would like to see on the N97.
The main design feature people are probably interested in is the QWERTY keyboard. The display slides up smoothly with a great transition feel and design. On the white N97 you will find the main characters are gray in color while the alternate characters are blue. These alternate characters are entered using the right lower blue arrow/FN key. The thing is you can hardly see the difference between the gray and blue color (check out my photo below). It is very evident in low light conditions where the characters are lit white or blue though. The characters and symbols should be larger font on the keys too and at times I have to lift the N97 closer to see them all. The space bar is over on the right and I thought this was going to be a major issue, but actually my right thumb is finding it quite easily since it is just about where my thumb rests. This is a thumb QWERTY keyboard after all and not a laptop keyboard where both thumbs need to press the space bar.
The keys are well spaced, but more are needed to speed up efficiency. I especially want a comma, @ symbol, and question mark without having to press a FN key first. There does not seem to be any predictive functions either and no shortcuts from the keyboard. I need to test out some things with Quickoffice after I get the creation version loaded up.
The left directional pad also has very little feedback and I need to spend more time with it to see how functional it will be for me.
Where is my memory? While the N97 does come with integrated 32GB of Flash memory (about 29GB available) there is very little ROM RAM on the device. I saw only 37.9MB of Flash ROM when I went to install my first program and was blown away by this low amount. My Nokia E71x has a whopping 100MB available for application installation and I think this is PATHETIC for the N97. This may get to be an issue with all of the widgets that have to run on the home screen and I just don’t understand why Nokia would limit the ROM RAM so much. I understand it is a cost thing, but for $699 there really should be NO limitations on the device, right?
Walk around the software
I think the main software feature of the N97 is the widget home screen so let’s take a look at that first. You get 5 “slots” on the N97 to load up with widgets. There are several widgets included on the N97, such as Facebook, Weather, Messaging, Amazon, AP News, Bloomberg news, Music Player, Share Online, Calendar, FM transmitter, Hi5, Slideshow, Shortcut 1 and Shortcut 2, Favorite Contacts I and Favorite Contacts II. For the two Shortcut and Favorite options you can add up to four specific items (contacts, application shortcuts, or bookmarks) for each widget. I currently have Shortcut 1, Favorite Contacts I, Facebook, Weather, and Messaging loaded on my N97. For some, like Facebook and Weather, you need to maintain a connection to have the widget stay updated and logged in. There is also an option to Download Content, but this just takes you to the main Ovi Store page and not even to a widget page. Nokia needs to make sure it goes right to a page of widgets to be useful. I would love to see Gravity and a RSS feed widgets added soon.
The widgets can be useful, but I still like the standby screen customization options found on the Nokia E71 best. I know this is not a business Eseries device, but it sure would be nice if adding this kind of display was available as an option.
I think the N97 menu pages are quite a mess with some icons representing folders and some apps with no real organization at all. There are several apps in the Application folder and again it is real chaos in there. I always customize my folder arrangement anyways, one of the excellent customization functions on the S60 platform, but new customers may get a bit overwhelmed by this disorganization. You can check out my screenshots below to see what it looked like before I cleaned things up.
Ovi Store is included on the device and when I first launched it I was prompted to upgrade to the latest version that just rolled out a day or two ago. The Ovi Store works fine so far and I did find that RoadSync in there right away. UPDATE: I hard reset my N97 to test out and get back to a fresh device for further testing and then found that the Ovi Store wanted me to pay for RoadSync again, FAIL! Nokia needs to get some issues resolved with the Ovi Store (ability to redownload and maybe even download via a PC so you can archive your installation files) very soon or I will stop buying from the store and many others may as well.
Nothing else in the software department stood out to me initially so I’ll spend more time with the device and follow-up after I try out the media capabilities and more.
What should have been loaded? I was a bit surprised to see that Nokia Internet Radio, Nokia Email, Mail For Exchange, and N-Gage were not preloaded on the N97. I know this is a Nseries device, but with the keyboard and very expensive price I expected it to be capable of everything and have the latest Nokia Messaging client (like the excellent one found on the E75). It doesn’t even have the very capable Nokia Email client loaded on it so I had to login to the website and have the setup SMS sent to get that running. Since the latest Nokia Messaging client was not loaded, I expected to at least find MFE on it, but again it was missing. I bought the RoadSync client for just $10 instead of trying out MFE. I also read that N-Gage was supported on the N97, but it was not preloaded and when I went to download it I received an error that my device was not compatible with the N97. I was also disappointed to see that the version with QuickOffice loaded on the N97 is only available for viewing and not for document creation. Come on Nokia, this is your flagship device so let’s get everything loaded on it.
3rd party apps I tried: I loaded up the following applications right away on the N97:
- S60 Bible
- Astraware Board Games
- Hava Player
- Nokia Email
- RoadSync version 4
- Mail For Exchange
- Nokia Internet Radio
- Spb Puzzle
- Spb Wallet
- Spb Brain Evolution
They all seemed to work just fine, except for N-Gage, WordMobi, Mobbler, and Nokia Internet Radio. I plan to try out a few more soon as well.
Amazon Video On Demand and Zune
I thought it was cool and quite enjoyable to purchase and view Amazon Video On Demand movies on my Nokia 5800 with the little kickstand accessory and used it several times on the train and airplane. I am pleased to say it works perfectly and videos look fantastic on the N97. Nokia and Amazon really should try to plug this capability a bit more since it helps to have an easy movie experience similar to iTunes and the iPhone/iPod Touch. The added benefit of using the N97 is that it props up as part of the device design so you can comfortably enjoy movies on the go with the N97. This will be perfect for flights where the N97 can rest on the tray table.
Another thing I tested out was the support for my Zune Marketplace subscription content and unfortunately that does not work. I think this is just an added benefit for the E71x and am not knocking the N97 for this since very few devices, other than Zune players, actually work with this and it is kind of a pain to reconnect and get the license every month anyways.
Final first thoughts
I like the hardware of the device more than I thought I would so far and plan to test out the camera (still and video) a lot more this weekend at our soccer tourney. I need to spend more time with the keyboard since I currently do not find it to be that great, but I am adaptable. $650 to $700 is a hefty price to pay and I think Nokia could have done more to make the device better (RAM, keyboard, several apps and widgets). That said, Nokia stated there will be some big updates coming to the N97 in the future so I am curious to see how much these add to the device. I like my E71x and 5800 and think most users may be happy with these lower cost alternatives that meet just about all their needs. As a power user who enjoys the S60 platform the N97 may be just the ticket.
I plan to spend MUCH more time and will be posting several times next week about the N97. Please feel free to post any questions you have or things you want me to try out on the N97 below and I’ll try to get to all of them soon.