The Nokia N97 offers a glimpse of Nokia’s successful long future
I posted my first impressions of the white Nokia N97 about three weeks ago and have since followed up with several experience posts. In that initial post I also linked back to the Boy Genius preview of the N97 and several Nokia fans posted that the BGR review was too biased to be something that should be linked to. It seems that the Nokia N97 is continuing to take a beating from other sites as clearly stated in the Nokia is Doomed review from Gizmodo, Thomas’s take on the N97 in the Engadget tale of two bloggers (Chris liked the hardware and some other features), and in Phone Scoop’s slamming of the hardware.
There are also those who like the Nokia N97 for the most part, as stated in the ZOMG its Cj first impressions, Alec Saunders’ N97 vs iPhone 3GS smackdown, infoSync’s review, and Symbian Guru review series. So it seems the N97 is either loved or hated by different people, which is really the same for just about every mobile device out there.
If you read through most of these you will see that the trends are that the hardware is rock solid and excellent while the operating system is old and tired and needs a refresh. I completely agree with those that wrote that the hardware and specifications are top notch on the N97 (except for the limited RAM) and it really is tough to argue against this as most every reviewer, including those that hated the device, thought the hardware was indicative of a flagship device.
I wasn’t quite sure about the N97 the first couple of days, but think the device grows on you over time as you really start testing it out. It feels great in your hand with a narrower form factor than the iPhone or Palm Pre, the plastic is virtually scratch proof and durable, the keyboard gets better with practice, the display looks great in the sun and in the dark, and the entire device is quite indestructible as tested in my accidental 4 foot fall to concrete a couple weeks back.
There were a couple buggy issues with the keyguard switch, but Nokia was very quick to issue the N97’s first firmware update to correct this and some other bugs. I was especially pleased to see the NAM update come out at the same time as the Euro update too and really do hope Nokia is committed to doing this moving forward.
The touch screen is indeed resistive and there is no stylus silo on the device, yet the targets are generous and I have to admit I do not miss having a stylus at all and am quite pleased with the touch sensitivity of the display. I am also pleased with most aspects of the keyboard (I would sure like some custom shortcut support though).
There are also some nice touches, like the charging indicator light, removal of a door for the microUSB port with a well designed opening instead, the stylish Nokia branding around the upper front right, and the proximity sensor.
The Nokia N97 is a top notch Nseries device with Eseries construction and from a hardware perspective I think every Nokia fan will appreciate the N97.
S60 operating system
I do agree that there are some needed software improvements in the Symbian operating system and S60 UI, in particular the PIM (calendar, contacts, tasks) applications and default email client (the new Nokia Messaging as seen on the E75 and N86 8MP should have been included on the N97 without question). However, I think S60 is still relevant and highly functional in today’s mobile world and find it to be one of the most customizable and powerful.
I understand that the iPhone, Palm Pre, and Google Android all have slick user interfaces (I own an iPhone 3GS and T-Mobile G1) that make for a fun experience for the most part. The S60 touch UI was not created from the ground up to be optimized for touch, but it is quite familiar to previous S60 owners and the touch aspects are easy to pick up after a few days of heavy usage. On these three other new mobile operating systems you tap icons to launch apps, but isn’t that exactly what you do on the N97 too and isn’t that what the S60 UI has had for years? With Google Android you can create custom folders and organize all of these just like you can on the N97, but on the iPhone and Palm Pre you are stuck with just being able to move icons around on different pages. I really don’t think there is as big of a difference in the UI as everyone makes it out to be if you really take a good look at the devices side-by-side.
However, even though I own these devices I keep going back to my Nokia N97 with its “ancient” S60 user interface for the following reasons:
- Real-time customizable info presented to me on the Home screen
- Quick launch shortcuts to the apps I access all the time
- Easy custom wallpaper, folder structure, and organization of applications
- Visual history in the web browser is very useful and saves time
- Easy to tether to a notebook (this is how I kept working while out at the campground)
- Awesome video quality via Qik to post videos to Qik and Facebook
- Support for all the apps I want and need (except for Quickoffice creation/editing)
- Gravity is an awesome Twitter client that I prefer over using Twitter on a desktop PC
- Amazon Video On Demand movies look great
- I enjoy multitasking and running 3+ apps at once
- GPS fixes are FAST and Google Maps works like a champ
Some of these reasons are present on some other devices, but they are ALL available on the Nokia N97 and are valuable to ME.
What are my main issues?
As I clearly stated here before, I think the Ovi Store is junk and actually have my Ovi Store shortcut placed in my Junk folder on the N97. I won’t use it until the perform some major surgery on it and make it functional.
More RAM is needed for power users. As we saw on the N95, Nokia may be able to give us access to more RAM through and update and I really think they should have put more in here physically for the power users who are buying the N97.
More widgets are needed. While I am pretty happy with the widgets I have loaded currently, I would also like to see more to be able to continue to customize my device. And what the heck is up with the link to the Ovi Store that leads to a page that has nothing to do with widgets? Come on Nokia, let’s get these things right.
Can’t we all just get along?
Most of you probably know that I am also the blogger for ZDNet’s Smartphones and Cell Phones blog where I cover all of the mobile operating systems and that is why I own so many different phones. However, you will just about always find at least one of my two SIM cards in a Nokia Eseries or Nseries device because I really can do just about everything I need to without any limitations on these S60 smartphones.
The iPhone is a great media consumption device and web surfing tool, but it is a bit weak as a phone and very limited in customizability. The Palm Pre has very few apps, is not built very well, and needs to develop to compete with all the other players. The T-Mobile G1 is a clunky device, but the OS is quite powerful and yet also a bit buggy and hangs at times. I actually like using Windows Mobile devices too, but they are pretty weak on media creation. I don’t own a BlackBerry because I need Exchange support without a BES. However, they are very good messaging devices that are doing better with consumer needs. Every mobile platform has its pros and cons and I highly doubt ANY of them will be crowned king of all and knock out all the others. I think we will continue to see all of these players for at least 3-5 years as long as Palm improves 3rd party support for the WebOS and Microsoft keeps slowly plodding along.
Market share thoughts
The data clearly shows that Nokia’s global market share has fallen from 56.9 percent at the beginning of 2008 to 49.3 percent at the beginning of 2009. Android was a new player and the iPhone 3G was launched globally so a decrease is understandable. Also, the worldwide economy has taken a hit and the dynamics here may have impacted what people were buying. In addition, the N97 was announced last Fall and before that the N95 was the flagship with something like a 2 year history so it was pretty quiet on the Nseries front.
Nokia is NOT DOOMED and with the exciting Symbian Foundation operating system coming later in 2009 I think we may soon see Nokia stop losing market share and start increasing their share again. The user experience is apparently important to the masses and I know that the people at Nokia are quite intelligent and will not continue down the current path without addressing the UI.