Nokia N97 - There's a lot to love, and a lot to hateMikey 16 comments
I've noticed a trend with many bloggers when it comes to reviewing their own devices. That is, a lot of them seem to be very forgiving of obvious failings. I have a hunch this is probably some excessive way of justifying to themselves the (often) insane amount of money they have blown on the product. That's not always the case of course, but many people don't want to admit it when they have wasted their money. Whatever your beliefs, I'm going to break 'bloggers tradition' here and tell you all what I really think of my new phone - the Nokia N97.
So it turns out I'm the only guy who somehow managed to avoid the iPhone craze. Apparently just about everyone I know, including those who at first borked at it, are now happily in the Apple camp - at least in the Apple mobile phone camp anyway.
I personally have been holding out all this time for something with a physical slide out full QWERTY keyboard and a decent camera, which led me to grab the Nokia N97.
Before I continue, let it be known I think the iPhone actually has some amazing things going for it, stuff that puts my N97 to shame. But the N97 also has some stuff, but unfortunately some of that stuff has me shaking my head in disbelief. If you've researched the N97 you've no doubt already seen this video:
Let me be the first to tell you - it's total propaganda. You see all those gorgeous transitions and movements? The sort of things we've seen on some other phones? Well none of the actually happens on the N97. I mean not even remotely close. Even with the theme effects switch on, the most the N97 does does is fade the entire screen to black before fading back in to the new state you expected - say when rotating for example. This transition can take up to 3 seconds or longer if it's having a bad day - or sometimes not at all!
Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I think that even a rendered animation of a product should actually reflect what it does instead of just making up something. When I first saw that video, I had no reason to believe it was bullshit. I mean, given what we have seen other phones do, it's totally believable. I've learned my lesson - Nokia lied.
But there's hope.
Back on track, there are some good things going for the N97. As mentioned the slide out keyboard is a very compelling reason alone. It has good responsive tactile feedback although it seems the manufacturer still thinks everyone has the fingers of a dainty Japanese teenager. In other words, the keys are a bit on the small side. Given the amount of room between each key, they could have easily been 1mm bigger on each side (making 4 mm bigger in total for each key) which would make a lot of difference. They could have also been staggered like the HTC Touch Pro 2, but at the end of the day it beats the hell out of using an onscreen 'keyboard'. Thumbs up there.
The screen looks amazing at 3.5 inches and running a generous 640 x 360 resolution, which not coincidentally is an exact 16:9 aspect ratio, the same aspect that video is captured at. The touch screen itself though is not as usable as the iPhone and nowhere near as smooth due what I'm sure is a combination poor software implementation and a significantly lower CPU speed than the iPhone.
Video capture is very good, as are the photos taken with the 5mp camera, although it struggles a bit in low light conditions. Photo quality is important to me and the N97 passes my test for most occasions.
The N97 also comes with a mass of storage - 32gb built in, and expandable with the MicroSD slot up to a further 64gb for a total of 96gb.
The OVI maps application (version 3) is the best navigation software I've used. Because the N97 has a built in compass, it remains oriented to the direction you are walking or driving. And the maps are actually pretty accurate. So much so that I was happy to part with $100 to purchase the voice guidance component to make things easier. I'm lousy with directions you see.
With hope comes despair
But the N97 is also plagued with issues. Considering they are calling it a 'flagship device', they should be rather embarrassed. If you're pimping all these great features, but you make a phone with such little memory (around 48mb remaining after a fresh boot) that apps constantly quit without warning, well then someone at Nokia needs a good kick in the pants.
Since I got the phone 2 weeks ago I've had to pull the battery due to hangs no less than 5 times, and on 2 occasions I was asked to re-enter the time and date details. On 1 occasion I had to do a factory reset and format the mass memory because the phone became too unstable and unreliable.
Firmware updates are supposed to fix issues, and a few nights ago v12.0.024 was released and thus far has actually made some improvements to stability, although there are still numerous obvious bugs. But what I don't get is, that how can any software be at version 12 and still be so buggy? Moving along...
Just comparing to the
JesusPhone Iphone again, one thing Apple do best is the consistent UI and UX. Nokia, in comparison, clearly have different departments who don't communicate with each other. In the browser for example, you flick the touch screen up to scroll down. And in other apps it's the total opposite. Also, some apps require a single tap to activate or interactive with, while some require 2 taps. And because sometimes there is a lot of lag between pressing the screen and it actually activating, I often find myself pressing again to make sure (thinking I didn't press hard enough the first time), but of course now 2 presses have been cued, and when the 2nd one catches up it usually does something I didn't want - like exit the program or change a setting for example. Yes it really is that frustrating. It's especially annoying while driving when trying to use the brilliant OVI maps app (which is severely let down by N97 lag) causing me on more than one occasion to accidentally exit the app or go into something I didn't want to.
But with the new software update there is some light at the end of the tunnel and I'm willing to stick with it for now. That said, I honestly believe with every fibre in my body that the N97 should not have been released in the state it was. There are several reports of phone suppliers taking on large numbers of N97 returns due to the - yes I will say it - the shitty software. Symbian OS, even at 5th edition needs to die. It's slow, feels bloated, inconsistent, often unreliable, un-user friendly in a lot of areas, and years behind the competition.
Considering price, it's not worth the money. At half the price you could forgive many of its failings. But most Australia phone resellers are asking a hefty - get this - $1450 for the N97. Just to put that into perspective, for that amount of anal violation you could get a brand new very decent netbook and have money left over to buy an 8gb 3G iPhone. And you'll get a lot more use with that combo than on the N97 alone (not to mention a very mature and stable OS on the iPhone).
Looking around on eBay you can get a brand new unlocked N97 for as little as $750, so if you're tempted then I would suggest that route.
At the end of the day, despite all the bad stuff the N97 has, I'm actually willing to stick by it for a little while longer in the (misguided?) hope that Nokia get their act together and release some good software.
If you're looking for a phone with a slick pretty OS, do not get an N97. It's not a totally bad phone, but it's defiantly not worth anywhere near the asking price, and for that reason, I can not recommend the Nokia N97 unless you're able to get it on a good plan or find a good deal on eBay. I did, but I wish I had known the software was going to be so bad. It will improve with time of course, but Nokia are really asking you to buy the car now, and they'll give you the parts that let you drive it properly later - and at their own convenience.
- Massive storage (32gb)
- Expandable storage slot (MicroSD)
- Slide out full QWERTY keyboard
- 5mp camera (reasonable quality pics)
- 16x9 video capture
- Good screen and resolution
- Excellent build quality
- Connectivity options
- OVI maps
- Wifi and 3G speed
- Facebook app
- Music and video playback
- Battery life
- Good quality protective case
- Piss poor amount of memory reserved for apps (around 48mb after a fresh boot)
- Buggy software
- The cheapest, nastiest headphones ever conceived by mankind
- Inconsistent user experience
- OVI App store is lacking (mostly filled with useless gimmicky apps)
- Lens cover too easy to open by accident
- Touchscreen sometimes doesn't respond
- Slow to update screen when rotating (sometimes doesn't at all)
- Tiny stylus
- Unrealistic price