Running on Nokia’s long-standing Symbian operating system but offering a shiny new mobile app platform in the shape of Ovi Store, and packing full touch plus slide-out QWERTY, the N97 is a complicated but intriguing soul.
Smartphones are the business this year. Not just Nokia’s flagship N97 but from the iPhone 3GS to the Samsung Jet and LG’s Arena, all brands are stamping their unique identity on the exciting and growing market of application oriented touchscreens.
What the N97 has to offer that the others don’t is its versatility in user interface: the full touchscreen can be used entirely on its own but for those you require speed typing for emails and instant messaging, the slide out QWERTY keyboard is certainly a plus.
The chassis design is clean and neat with a large clear 3.5-inch screen that makes the N96 and N95 seem somewhat lacking.
It looks expensive and feels meaty enough for a smartphone to seem worth the purchase but its still quite lightweight.
One drawback for the screen is that unfortunately the glass can scratch if you are not careful enough to keep it in a pouch or place a protective covering on it but it does have an ambient light detector.
Aside from the 32GB on board you can add an extra 16GB with Micro SD. The headphone jack is 3.5-mm and it has TV out plus a built in FM transmitter for getting your Nokia tunes to your car radio.
The touchscreen on the N97 is quite easy to get to grips with. Unlike the Xpressmusic it seems to be more responsive and the layout is much more dedicated to a touch-intuitive input complete with virtual keyboard but I took quite a fancy to the slide out QWERTY keyboard.
Churning out long emails and twittering away seemed more like joy than a chore – as with the Blackberry Bold or 8900, a QWERTY keyboard can mean the difference between proper work and play on the go when your fingers really do the walking.
Here’s where I am conflicted. While the homescreen is really quite forward-thinking and aethetically pleasing with live widgets feeding up-to-date email, Facebook and news (you can customize this) straight to phone, the behind the scenes functionality can be quite difficult to get to grips with.
An example: after I got on my WiFi connection and downloaded the latest Diggnation podcast I kept getting an alert telling me that the working memory was full and free up space before I could do anything else data intensive.
I knew that the N97 coming with a generous 32GB storage on board so I was baffled as to how this could be the case. It turns out that I had saved the podcast (by default) into the main memory instead of into storage.
I had to resort to reading the instructions before I found this out and finally copped that by going into a certain folder inside setting and viewing my storage options I could fix this.
Not rocket science but certainly not obvious to me, a non-Symbian acquainted smartphone user.
This, I think, will not pose a challenge to anyone using the N95 or any other Symbian handsets but as someone who got readily acquainted (and fell in love with) the Nokia E71, I found it required more effort to get comfortable with the N97.
However, once I had figured it all out I realised that this particular handset is packed with useful features; from the ability to add an extra 16GB on board, to the top notch GPS and Nokia Maps 3.0 and a good selection of media playback as well as Flash compatibility you would feel hard pressed to find another handset with more functionality on board.
Speaking of functionality, the central appeal of today’s smartphone is the fact that it behaves like a mini computer with the ability to download and install all sorts of different applications.
For this, Nokia has its recently launched Ovi Store and I was very pleased to find out that all new handsets come preinstalled with certain applications, the best of which is Qik.
The Qik and the dead
Qik is a video streaming application that turns your handset into a miniature broadcasting station with you as the star. Create a Qik account and log in through your N97.
Over 3G or WiFi you can live stream your footage over the web, and whether you’ve just bumped into a super famous celebrity or you want to create your very own live news report from a gig or sports event, your N97 (or other Symbian handset) will become your camerman.
Aside from Qik, Facebook, and a few other apps including a digital compass and Twitter app I was disappointed at the lack of choice on the Ovi Store.
I expected a raft of free downloadable high quality wallpapers to customize my homescreen background plus plenty of social networking apps but perhaps these will come with time.
The 5-megapixel Carl Zeiss lens coupled with 16:9 video recording, direct upload to places like Facebook and YouTube plus 4x digital zoom and a secondary camera for video calls makes for a very satisfying camera experience.
In the past I have continually compared other mobile web browsers to the iPhone’s Safari and they have never measured up in terms of display and navigation.
The N97 is different: coupled with a large screen the browser displays full web pages and has Flash video support. Result!
I think the N97 is misunderstood. It is certainly not in the same space as the iPhone 3GS and I wish that the Symbian operating system worked better with the needs of a touch screen user interface but if you can get over the navigation I think you will like what lies beneath.
The N97 is out now and is available on O2 from €349 and on Vodafone from €299.
Review courtesy of our sister site GadgetRepublic.com.