Nokia N97 – Quick Impressions

This is part of an ongoing series on the Nokia N97 phone. Get started with Nokia N97 Quick Impressions and Quick Impressions II.

I had the pleasure of playing with the Nokia N97 about two weeks ago, as Text100/Nokia decided to showcase the device at Alexis. Naturally, I got a little excited, considering I’ve been using Nokia phones for over a decade, and have seen their phones and their platforms evolve. I’ve been using the E71 for nearly a year now, and have been using phones with keyboards for the last few years, so the Nokia N97 melds this for me.

Is this an upgrade from the E90, I asked? Apparently, it is. Is this an upgrade from the N96, I asked? Apparently, it is. To me, that seemed weird, as Nokia is melding the N and the E series together, which is kind of melding fun and business together.

I hate writing thoughts on anything, that I’ve played with for a couple of hours, so I took out my handy Moleskine, and started writing notes. At the end of the night, I came up with three pages worth of scribblings, so here is my take of the Nokia N97. Note that I don’t own the device (yet), and chances are I probably will, if the price is right. Its going to be tough, as the new iPhone’s come out, though ;)

  • The camera lens has a cover now, and when you open it, it starts up the camera application. This is smart – no more will I have issues of the lens scratching, anymore.
  • Build quality seems pretty good, but the one thing I dislike is the back cover. Its typically N-series (I remember this kind of back on the N73), so its got a coat of paint, and after a couple of months of heavy usage, you’ll realise that it will nicely scratch itself, and peel off. The E-series devices tend to come with metal backs, and while that will get scratched, it won’t look worn/chipped. So, this is cutting corners, definitely.
  • Changing profiles from General, to Silent, and to others, is all done via touch screen now, and you don’t need to jab the power button any longer. So much better, because chances are, everytime I try to change profiles, I end up turning my phone off.
  • It has the Keyguard for locking and unlocking the phone, which is exactly like the Nokia 5800. This is smart, and you now no longer need to have a two key combo to unlock/lock the phone.
  • Charging is now improved. You can do it via micro-USB, so chances are I can charge it easily from my laptop. This is smart. The charging port is at the left hand side of the phone, as opposed to it being at the bottom — interesting, no?
  • Browsing around is similar to the iPhone – you scroll up and down, with next to no problem. The keyboard is lit up when necessary, and to be honest, was a little harder to use than the E71, but I figure its just a matter of getting used to. Moving from the E61i to the E71, I took a few days to get used to the smaller keyboard. I’m sure after a couple of days, I should be mostly happy.
  • Opening/closing the lid to show me the keyboard or hide it, is dead easy. I was curious as to how long it might last — I was told that it should last at least during the warranty period ;-) Ha! I’m sure it’ll last longer, it doesn’t seem that flimsy, but who knows? It needs stress testing. And if you’re currently used to using the E90 (or other communicator devices), note that the screen doesn’t go all the way back now.
  • In grid view, you single click. In list view, you double click. Click, tap, whatever. This is a limitation of the Symbian platform, and I hate it. If you’re using to using the iPhone, everything there is single tap. UI matters, and the experience of knowing when to click once or twice, is annoying enough.
  • The screen is clear, like the iPhone/iPod Touch. It has rich colours. It can also play HD quality video, naturally.
  • The phone will come with a stylus in the box, but there is nowhere to place the stylus on the phone! You’re meant to place it in the case that ships with the phone. I don’t know about you, but I never use a case for my phone. So, if I was to use a stylus, I’d completely lose it. Not smart…
  • The camera does seem to rock. In fact, you seem to be able to take macro photos pretty darn well, using it. Its a great improvement over anything in the E-series world (I can’t compare to the N-Series, as the last that I looked at and used was the N73).
  • Turning Control rocks! What this means is that when you receive a phone call, and want to silent the ringer, you just need to face the phone downwards. This works for alarms too (it snoozes it). Very smart feature.
  • It comes with a digital compass, so you’ll always know where north is. I don’t know how this works, but its definitely something interesting. Will it be useful in Malaysia? Doubtful. No one says “go north five kilometres, then head east”.

Widgets

  • Facebook is on the front. Its a widget, and you can see up to three of your friends status messages scroll by. Kind of useful, as Facebook has become more Twitter like these days. I wanted a Twitter widget, but apparently this doesn’t exist just yet.
  • Apparently, you can create widgets via HTML and AJAX, and not the Series 60 development kit, so I have great dreams of developing on the Mac and Linux now. Plus, I don’t have to futz with the SDK, and C++, so I’m guessing the barrier to entry is now a lot lower to start creating widgets for the Nokia phones
  • Its worth knowing that you can distribute widgets via the Ovi Store. You can sell them too. You can run advertising off them, as well. So think the iTunes/Apple AppStore, but on the Nokia platform.
  • There exists a Friendster, Facebook, The Star (newspaper), Sin Chew Jit Poh (newspaper), Hi5, YouTube, Qik, Boingo, and a few other widgets. Interesting, no?
  • The device I was playing with had pre-release software, and the Ovi Store itself doesn’t work on it yet, so I didn’t actually get first hand experience at playing with it.
  • You can run several widgets, without the phone being sluggish.
  • Assuming I get to play with this phone more, i’ll give more thoughts on widgets… In the meantime, I’ve also downloaded Aptana Studio, and am taking my hand at writing widgets too.

Other bits

  • It supports over the air (OTA) updating of firmware. I wish the E71 came with this, to be honest.
  • You can now subscribe to video podcasts as well. I wonder how the 3G networks will handle more video feeds?
  • The battery seemed to drain quite quickly on WiFi. The suggested lifespan is supposed to be impressive, and maybe it was a case of the unit I had being buggy… Only time can tell.
  • There’s an app that says “Videos & TV”. However, it doesn’t have an in-built TV tuner. Sure, there might be next to nothing to watch on terrestrial TV, but I still think thats a good feature to have – look at Japanese phones.

Anyway, the N97 launches today (June 5th 2009) in Malaysia, and quite possibly around the world. I’m headed to Mandarin Oriental for the launch, again thanks to Text100. Maybe this time, I’ll get to take some video of the device…

  • paul moss

    I guess Nokia’s not interested in involving local TV media, either for content or value-add or promo. I assume the mass malaysian market who contribute massive ratings for local TV dramas and News, is too small or irrelevant for such a high class piece of technology.

  • Sounds good, though still not as user friendly as the iPhone. LOL!

    But I’ve to agree, flipping it downwards to turn off the ringer and alarm is neat. :)

  • DK

    Digital compass is a good feature. Hopefully developers will make full use of the digital compass and create apps like wikitude on Android.

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  • abcyesn

    Hey everybody..

    First off, I really can’t wait for the Nokia N97 but!!
    Does anybody know when it will be released in Australia?

    I have been looking everywhere for the release date for AUS, but I cannot find anything.
    I’m hoping somebody knows.. I’ve been on the Aus Nokia website but that doesn’t say; it
    only says coming soon.. So does anybody know the actual release date for the Aussies?

    I came across a website for the Nokia N97 owners http://www.NokiaN97Forum.com let’s help each other on this great phone.

  • Home widgets could be smaller but rest of the phone is simply great.

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