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July 13, 2009

The Nokia N97, Two Weeks On

Follow-up to Testing out the Nokia N97 from Steve's blog

I’ve had the N97 for a couple of weeks now, thanks to the kind folks at WoM World. Before I got it I’d heard some quite negative things about it, and slightly fewer positive things. Opinion was clearly divided and I was looking forward to finding out for myself. On paper it does everything I want from a mobile device, so two weeks on, how has it fared?

To test it I spent a couple of days just playing with it to familiarise myself with the interface – I’m not a regular Nokia user any more – and upgraded the firmware to the most recent release. Then I switched my SIM to it and used it as my regular phone for a while. As this is a proper smartphone I wanted to test all the online capabilities of the software, as well as the hardware. I was especially interested in the keyboard and the touchscreen. I’ll admit now that I’m an iPhone user and have been since the day the iPhone 3G came out. I do like the iPhone a lot and there was no way the N97 would escape being compared to it, but I think that’s what a lot of other people will be doing too.

In summary, I almost like the N97 a lot. It does everything I need. Some things it does better than others. The hardware is really nice, and I like the keyboard a lot. I wasn’t expecting to, having disliked the slide-out keyboard on the N810, but it works really well for me. I think the iPhone on-screen keyboard might be slightly faster to type on but I’m a lot more used to it so maybe that’s not a fair comparison. The major disappointment I have with the N97 hardware is the touch screen. It is a resistive screen rather than the capacitive screen on the iPhone and Google phones, and it simply isn’t as responsive. You have to press quite hard sometimes to get it to register anything and it just isn’t as satisfying to use. There are a lot of iPhone apps that wouldn’t work on the N97 because the screen simply isn’t up to it. Nokia provides a stylus with the phone and using it does make the screen work a lot better, but it doesn’t live inside the phone like the stylus on the 5800 – it hangs from a loop attached to a corner of the phone. It just looks wrong. And anyway, a stylus! Really?

On the positive side, the camera is up to Nokia’s usual standards, and the LED-based “flash” is much brighter than I expected and works very well. Not quite a Xenon flash, but actually pretty good. I like the sliding lens cover. Audio recording also works well and is very good quality. As usual for an N-series device, this makes a good multi-media machine. Overall the device feels solid and the flip-up display to reveal the keyboard doesn’t feel like it will break after a few days.

Moving on to the software, the S60 OS and default apps just feel old. S60 is clearly an OS from quite a few years ago now that has been tarted up. It looks pretty, but under the covers it just doesn’t work so well. One of the first things I always have a problem with on S60 devices is the network connections. Each app has its own idea of how to connect (WiFi or cellular). Some have defaults that you have to change if they are wrong. Some will ask you each time. Some simply refuse to work if there’s no cellular connection. It is all just too much hassle compared to the iPhone, which just connects the best way it can and gets on with it.

Then there’s the default email app, which is barely usable. Yes, there’s a much better one you can download for free, but why isn’t is installed by default? There’s no excuse for that, really, Nokia. There are lots of other little things, like that some apps will flick scroll and some won’t, that all contribute to the general feeling that this is an old operating system that’s been prettied up.

In summary, I like the device more than I was expecting to given what other people have been saying about it. It is the closest Nokia have come in a long while now to persuading me to part with my own money. It does everything I want, but that’s not good enough these days. I didn’t enjoy using the N97 in the same way as I enjoy using my iPhone. The iPhone is as much about usability as it is about functionality. The N97 might have better functionality, touch screen aside, but it falls a long way short in the usability stakes. You could say I’ve been spoiled by the iPhone. If I hadn’t seen the iPhone I’d probably love the N97, but now that I’ve seen how much better a mobile device can work I’m afraid I don’t.

Nokia – you really do need to do something about the S60 software, and you need a better touch screen. Come back when you’ve fixed those and maybe you’ll have a better chance of competing with the iPhone. Of course, if the iPhone doesn’t do it for you then maybe the N97 will. It is certainly worth a look.

July 02, 2009

Testing out the Nokia N97

Thanks to the good people at WOM World I’ve got myself a Nokia N97 to play with for a couple of weeks. I’ve been looking forward to this for months, actually. I’ve always been a Nokia fan and on paper this looks like a really good device. It does all the stuff I want a smartphone to do and it looks good. I’ve seen some mixed reviews of the N97, some from people I usually agree with, which is a shame. I really want to like this phone. We’ll see.

I’ve actually had it for a couple of days now, just getting used to it before testing out various things in detail. The first thing to do, though, is to upgrade the firmware from the version 10.0.012 supplied with the device to the current version 11.0.021. Hopefully this will address some of the little niggles I have with the device already. Anyway, testing will start in earnest this weekend.

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