Review: One week with the Nokia N97, it is staying put
Just over a week ago I posted my first impressions of the white Nokia N97. I spent all of last week with my AT&T SIM living in my N97 before picking up a 32GB iPhone 3G S this weekend (I’ll offer thoughts on how these two stack up later) and wanted to post about my experiences as I look to make a decision on whether or not this phone is worth the premium price of $600+.
I am quite pleased with my Nokia E71x and personally find the Eseries (E71, E75, and E71x) to be the most efficient and effective devices for me. I didn’t really like the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic device at first, but after a week or so I learned to really like the device for the most part and think it is quite good for media consumption with Amazon Video on Demand and more. I was really looking forward to trying out the Nokia N97, but after spending about 15 minutes with it at CTIA I didn’t think it was that outstanding and was going to skip the device. After seeing a sale in early May for the N97 at the Nokia USA site I decided to preorder the device and see if it shipped at the discounted price. When the device started shipping just over a week ago, I was pleased that I kept my preorder because I really did want to try it out and write about it here on Nokia Experts.
The Nokia N97 is the flagship Nseries device and thus should be targeted to the power user who wants to capture photos and video, share this media with others, browse the web, interact with social networks, create and edit documents on the go, and much more. There are Nseries devices that excel in media capture, such as the Nokia N86 8 megapixel phone and Nokia N82. Then there are Eseries devices that excel in productivity, such as the E71 and E75. The N97 sort of melds those two together, but really doesn’t go far enough with Eseries integration and seems to have a bit of an identity crisis.
What is good about the Nokia N97?
I am generally a positive guy so let me start off this blog post with the things I like about the N97.
The hardware design and construction of the Nokia N97 is some of the best ever seen on a smartphone. The hinge is slick and yet rock solid, the display is crisp and bright, the camera is well protected and the back cover design lets you have the N97 resting on a table to watch movies. I am quite good at text entry on the N97 and IMHO, the hardware keyboard presence is better than not having one present.
The display is resistive, but Nokia did a great job with it and I am not missing a stylus at all. Displays like this (and like the one found on the HTC Touch Pro2) may even be better than a full capacitive display because it gives you the ability to access text fields in a browser and scroll and edit within those fields. I also found the display to surprisngly perform quite well in direct sunlight.
I like when Nokia uses a high capacity battery and it is even better when they use a fairly standard model, in this case the BP-4L, since I have one in my E71 and N810 so there are plenty of spares around.
The 32GB integrated memory is awesome and with a 16GB card there is plenty of room to have fun with the N97.
My Nokia 5800 XM stereo speakers are lame and require me to hold that device up to my ear to hear podcasts in the car. The Nokia N97 speakers work quite well and I would rank them second behind my Nokia N95.
Movies look excellent on the N97 and it was quite simple to get my Amazon Video On Demand movies onto the N97’s ample flash drive. Music also sounds pretty good through the front stereo speakers. Qik works very well and the nHD streaming videos are a nice feature of the device.
The S60 browser works very well on the N97 with the automatic full screen capability and dynamic flick scrolling support. Most every site that I wanted to visit, including my custom ZDNet blog editor, worked well and was accessible. The zoom scroll bar is a bit clunky, but I am satisfied with the browser.
I like the widget home screen most of the time and have it setup to my liking. I do wish there were even more widget options and hope carriers embrace this capability soon.
There are really no limits to what you can do with the N97, including tethering, MMS, video streaming, photo editing, Bluetooth keyboard usage, and more. The N97 definitely has some great features and the UI is really not that different than the iPhone (app shortcuts laid out in icon format), but the N97 doesn’t seem to have the same snappy performance and response that the iPhone does.
Why I don’t like my N97
Some key Eseries software is missing, such as the full Quickoffice suite, Nokia Messaging/Email client, Mail For Exchange, and home screen notifications. The camera is quite good, but not as good as the N82 (check out the All About Symbian camera comparison). It should be able to play games well too, but N-Gage is only loaded on selected N97 devices and will not even install on the NAM version.
The out-of-the box experience with email is incredibly inept on the N97 and if you walk through the setup wizard you will end up with your email working in the old (DOS look and feel) messaging client. To use the new Nokia Email client the N97 owner needs to visit the email.nokia.com website and have the text message link sent to their phone for proper installation and provisioning. The E75 sets the bar for email on a S60 device and the N97 fails here. For $700, this is not what you would expect from a smartphone in 2009.
There is a rather small amount of available flash ROM on the device (something like 37MB) for storage, while there is a huge flash drive with about 29GB available. I try to load most apps on the large drive, but some work better in the ROM area and parts and pieces end up there over time. I am down to about 8MB of flash ROM available now after one week. The N97 also has a rather small amount of RAM (the place where running apps are managed) and I have had the N97 give me low memory warnings a couple of times over the past week, while I never see this on my E71x or E71. The N97 also manages running programs similarly to how Windows Mobile manages them and shuts down the memory hogs in the background as other apps are launched. You will find apps that you were running have been shut down by the OS without confirming with you that you wanted to do this. I don’t mind this too much since I have experienced this on Windows Mobile for years and am used to this way of memory management.
As I mentioned before, the Ovi Store is lame and needs a lot of work before I’ll be back in there.
There is a bug in the lock switch where flipping it will take the N97 off standby, but leave the backlight off. I then have to toggle it to get the backlight back on.
The media player is old and outdated on the N97. Adding content requires you to update your library, usually manually, and the entire player is in need of an overhaul.
Will it stay or will it go
OK, now that I have spent over a week with the N97 and have used it pretty extensively I think I can make an intelligent decision on whether or not to keep it in my collection. The Nokia N97 was announced last Fall at Nokia World and we expected a lot from the device. It is a nice piece of hardware, but smartphone owners today need more than a solid piece of hardware to enjoy their device. I think Philip Berne put together a very fair review and was spot on when he stated, “The Nokia N97 wouldn’t be such a disappointing device if it weren’t supposed to be the flagship multimedia smartphone for the largest handset manufacturer in the world.”
That said, I really do like my N97 and plan to keep it and write much more about it and its performance here on Nokia Experts.