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.

Nokia N97 24/7 Tour kicks off


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.


18 Comments to The Nokia N97 offers a glimpse of Nokia’s successful long future

July 8, 2009

well thought out and written analysis.
I’m a recent convert to S60 and I’ve mostly enjoyed the experience.
True multitasking is excellent, yesterday I was on a conference call, twittering, IMing and reading email simultaneously. I could never do that on my 3G.

July 8, 2009

excellent writeup, my friend! ive been trialing an iphone 3G for a few weeks and i have to agree 100% on ur postings…. I need my S60 for real work, period.

July 8, 2009

So Matthew, does this mean that you’ve changed your mind since the smartphone roundtable a couple of weeks ago? At that time you said that if you could have any phone on any network it would be the Palm Pre on AT&T.

July 8, 2009

For me the OS/Interface just feels dated….and the slider mechanism was poorly thought out, it takes up way too much space leaving you with a very small and poor layout.

The phone still is capable of doing it all, but unless you’re a die hard Symbian user, I just can’t see much reason to really go with the N97 over other super high end phones that are out now.

I played around with it and I found the hardware feels nice, but not really expensive, not $700….which is a bit disappointment….not a huge deal since it does feel reasonably solid….but worth noting.

Overall I wish the N97 felt a bit more like the SUPER E90, which felt like a million bucks….and as far as the OS goes Nokia dropped the ball…at least for me. At $500 (shipped) I don’t think I would have had any complaints but at $700 I think other phones are doing it better….even without all that built in storage the N97 has.

(please don’t attack me….I’m not being a jerk, just giving my two cents)

John Doe
July 8, 2009

Hey “Expert”-dude, S60 is a softare platform and a UI layer on top of Symbian [OS]. S60 on its own its not an OS, just as Google’s Chrome OS is nothing more than Linux.

Nokia should really stop you from abusing their brand!

July 8, 2009


Whats wrong with the e75? It has most of the features of the n97 and I can wait for the next generation of the n97. I think the e75 is the answer until nokia brings out a better n97 or equivalent. S60 may be dated but offers a better experience for power users.

July 8, 2009

I am starting to see N97 prices dropping, if i can pick one up around $500 or $550 i might bite. While i really like the POWER of the symbian software i can’t stand a few things which are deal breakers for me:

1) fonts are horrible, throughout the device. i’m guessing i could change this somehow
2) the touch UI buttons are HUUUUUUUUUUUGE. I measured it, it takes up 25% of the screen real estate when in landscape mode. WHY?!
3) i love the POWER of the browser but not the IMPLEMENATION of the broswer. Horrible fonts, nothing is smooth. everything is very squared off and not rounded which is not very pleasing to the eye.
4) more broswer complaints: double tap to zoom works well but it doesn’t refit the text; you have no idea how annoying that is if you haven’t used an iphone or android broswer.
5) no built in exchange client
6) no threaded text messaging (really?!)

Honestly i could keep going but my opinion is this: yes the phone and the OS and the features are super impressive and i could even live with some of my complaints from the business or power user side; but when it comes to the media side it fails for me. Now not from the power of the media side but from the UI part of the media side. My device doesn’t have to be “pretty” for when i’m using business type things but when i want a good well thought out media experience i can’t recommend the N97 when compared to other devices out there.

However the hardware is impressive enough that i might still get myself another one and see if i can’t find a home for it.

[…] The Nokia N97 offers a glimpse of Nokia‚Äôs successful long future […]

July 9, 2009

Thanks for the good review. I am seriously considering buying the N97 to replace my battered E71; but the price point is too high and I always think that if I wait a bit, it will come to the $500 mark and nokia would have developed a few more widgets to make the device more “next gen”.

1. You can customize the fonts…
5. Exchange client can be downloaded from Ovi Store and is very Good!
6. You can install Nokia Conversation.

July 9, 2009


Thanks for the reply; however imo i shouldn’t have to go looking for it. This is what i mean about the whole device, it was pushed to market and things were left out and not thought out well. I mean the NAM version of the N97 came with a Mfe folder that had nothing in it! Come on!

July 9, 2009

Point taken Jim.. Maybe the competition would make Nokia get their act together. Lets face it; until about 18 months ago; all they were competing against was window mobile (which is really no competition) and the outdated Palm. Now we have iPhone, Android and Palm pre and the complete eco-system of developers for the first two. This should be a huge wake-up call for Nokia. They already make EXCELLENT phones…. they just have to do that little bit extra.

July 10, 2009

I completelly agree with you Matt. Even with the old school interface, if we had a powerfull pim tool on S60 would be enough to be my DreamGadget! (Written in my N97 one week old) :-)

Ian Kennedy
July 12, 2009

“Amazon Video On Demand movies look great”

I hadn’t thought of that. True video streaming from the cloud, I’ll have to try that.

[…] The Nokia N97 offers a glimpse of Nokia’s future success. […]

July 15, 2009

Mail for Exchange is indeed installed by default. Regarding the empty MFE folder, I found that if you went through the normal mailbox provisioning process, Mail for Exchange is one of the options. Once provisioned, the formerly empty MFE folder populates with the Mail For Exchange and Comp. Dir applications. This is certainly different than the behavior I saw on my venerable N95-3 NAM but makes more sense — why should I have to go to a separate MFE folder just to setup email?

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