Nokia N97 - There's a lot to love, and a lot to hate

Mikey 16 comments
Nokia N97 - There's a lot to love, and a lot to hate

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.

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
  • GPS
  • Wifi and 3G speed
  • Facebook app
  • Customisation
  • 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


Friday 21st August 2009 | 04:34 PM
27 total kudos | 1 for this comment

Good review. I'm a long time Nokia user and am saddened by the lack of attention shown toward their now in-house Symbian OS over the past few years. I don't know why they bought Symbian out, maybe they are just harvesting employees for their new talk-of-the-town Maemo OS, while also making sure Symbian gets buried and forgotten?

Give Kudos | Reply | Comment URL | Profile | Top


Sunday 23rd August 2009 | 02:47 PM
340 total kudos

Good review, Mike.

I used to love Symbian and thought it was a really nice mobile OS. Then I got a phone with Andriod 1.5 (HTC Magic): now I know what a phone can be, when it's done right. There's not a single thing (of note) I don't love about Android. So many awesome apps, it's fast, it's a pleasure to use and the phone is just a delight.

And I nearly got the N97, too (because I really liked my N95 before it)! Makes me glad I didn't.

Give Kudos | Reply | Comment URL | Profile | Top


Sunday 23rd August 2009 | 06:42 PM
43 total kudos

ah my n95 is a delight, i like it..but i am sure when the n98 (assuming there will be one ) comes out the bugs will be fixed then i'll update...

ah the headphones, why are they uneven in their length?

Give Kudos | Reply | Comment URL | Profile | Top


Sunday 23rd August 2009 | 06:43 PM
43 total kudos

not update but upgrade!!

Give Kudos | Reply | Comment URL | Profile | Top


Monday 24th August 2009 | 11:04 PM
6 total kudos | 1 for this comment

This must be one of the most "bias-free" review I have ever read about a smartphone! Seriously. THANK YOU.

Give Kudos | Reply | Comment URL | Profile | Top
Not a Member!


Friday 28th August 2009 | 11:26 PM

Mike here has given the finest review I have seen till now on any phone/mobile. He gives the grade where it deserves and with a boot in the hump where required and yes NOKIA deserves a much better boot in the behind for fooling all the lovers of Nokia and Symbian. I am a long time user of Nokia's and am with Symbian since its inception. I must say this is the first time I feel like placing the N97 along with the boot where it belongs.

Not a Member!


Saturday 29th August 2009 | 06:11 AM

I'm going to agree with you on most parts except one. I don't think Nokia will release any decent software for the n97. I think your 'review' is very forgiving to be honest and to anyone who is thinking about getting one be prepared for a world of pain. Why there is no class action law suit against Nokia for releasing this pile of crap is anyone's guess.

Not a Member!


Monday 31st August 2009 | 09:32 AM

awww. i like the phone



Monday 31st August 2009 | 12:41 PM
62 total kudos

Can't say much for Samsung phones either. I got mine for $0 but was being sold originally for $800 Aus. If I had paid that for this phone I would have sent it back. I cannot see the value in any phone today because all I won't is a phone that works well. I don't want a mini portable computer that zaps me with Microwave energy every time I want to do something.
Now don't call me old fashion! Oh ok if it makes you feel better about your overpriced telephone then go right ahead.......

Give Kudos | Reply | Comment URL | Profile | Top


Monday 31st August 2009 | 01:17 PM
No total kudos


I agree with the review for the most part. I have had the same experiences. I also have been my own worst enemy while working my way through the Nokia Experience with the N97.

First and Foremost, I want to state that this is not a normal Nokia Experience by any stretch. However, I have been doing much reading and learned that over time Nokia has seem to lost their way in the world of Software and Hardware roll out. They have happened to drank the Coolaid as it were when it comes to the words of the world and globalization. Their bottom line and profits are much more important to them than quality being job one. Hmmm, where else did we hear that one come to the forefront????

There was an american Car Company that refused the money from the Government that coined that phrase a while back... Hmmm, Starts with and F... Will let you fill in the dots...

Any way. The issue here is... Off Shoring. When the chips are down and Globalization is at hand, the work goes to those that are able to do the work for the least amount of money. They call it margin these days. Well the best return on investment right now is India my fellow Nokia Sufferers.... Yes India. You see the Indians have such a large population that is booming with Budding Programmers that get paid a mere 1/4 to 1/3 of a normal programmer in Europe or across the pond in the US to develope the same programs. The problem is there are few if any programming standards to follow there and if they have standards, no one pays any attention to them unless someone has greased the palms of the managers in charge to ensure the schedules are kept in line. That is just to keep the schedules in line. Not to make sure the product is accurately designed or coded for mind you.

These folks are happy to have the money they get and get out of the ghetto's they live in. Quality is not job one here. Job one is getting the Job. Then holding the job. The dream is to get out of the slums. It has nothing to do with doing a good job. There have been specials on television here in the US documenting the entire process for call centers to software coding houses. My own company that is multinational has actually pulled out of the India game. But wait. They went to the Philipines. Yes the PI. A large number of other software concerns are doing the same. Seems the PI is the place to be now. The Wages are cheaper than India and the customs and work eithics a bit easier to deal with too. However, we are learning about the PI time schedule and work ethics too.... Not exactly earth shaking to say the least.

Bottom line.... We are all in for a long time of this until all the cheap labor pools with so called educated coders that will code for 1/4 or 1/3 what any one else on the planet codes or has coded for. This is where we all have to wait until the global wage levels are set and level out where we all get paid the same across the planet. The EU was the start of all this.

The lack of quality we are seeing in all products across the spectrum is being caused by this very phenomina. Globalization.

Mind you there are some places in these locations that are indeed getting their acts together and turning out some decent code.

Mind you these locations are not India or at least the ones that Nokia has contracted with are not the ones that happen to have their acts together.

Nokia's other whammy is the Symbian OS. It is cracked. No decent Developers worth their salt that want to make money are developing for Symbian at this time unless they are direct staff workers for Nokia, Sanyo, or Erickson/Sony. So unless these companies churn out the software on their handsets from the get go and do a decent job of Quality Control and solid development processing, we will not see any decent products for the forseable future.

My 2 cents worth here. This is a comment from the Software Front lines.



Give Kudos | Reply | Comment URL | Profile | Top


Monday 31st August 2009 | 05:28 PM
235 total kudos response to this comment by carydc. While the software part might be true, it's still Nokia's name on the product. The N97 - or Symbain 5th edition in general - is a miserable OS let down even further by a slow CPU.

I am going to make it my personal mission to warn people about the N97.

Give Kudos | Reply | Comment URL | Profile | Top
Not a Member!


Wednesday 2nd September 2009 | 07:22 AM

I agree with most of what you said. The N97 does have issues. So did the N95 when it first came out (I was an early adopter). I'm sure the internet is still full of N95 reviews complaining about the terrible battery life. Which was fixed in V20 firmware. As you can see from some of your other comments, the N95 became a bit of a legend it its own lifetime.
Hopefully the same will happen with the N97... Which is already sitting in front of me.

Oh, one little issue... The price of the phone. I'm not sure quite how things work in Oz, but over here in pome-land I got mine for £0 on a £35 a month contract.

Not a Member!


Tuesday 15th September 2009 | 01:53 PM

I really agree with this report. Great hardware, I love this phone... But the worst software ever. It just sucks. I was using WM phones all the time and thought that OS would be bad, but what NOKIA put into this phone is really the worst. They call it a business phone but you have to buy a pdf viewer; can't edit word or excel documents; simple functions like copy and paste don't work; CTRL + C is not available and it would be so nice with this keyboard. By coincident you delete a phone number from a contact. it's impossible to press cancel. What ever you do, the number is gone... SYMBIAN is just shit... This phone with WM would rock... Or maybe Linux as Nokia is talking about it, but surely not with SYMBIAN. More bugs: If you close the media player you can't set the volume if you open it for the second time... YOu have lot's of space, but no player to play avi movies... I think they have one now, but not as a standard... Plus, plus, plus...
IT'S NOT A BUSINESS PHONE... and some facebook crap widget will not change it...
My two cents

Not a Member!


Thursday 8th October 2009 | 07:26 AM

The Nokia N97 is the biggest piece of garbage phone that has ever been invented, all the short comings mentioned in the review here are only a fraction of its real faults, i have had one since they first came out in Australia, i have had mainly nokias all my life with a few exceptions, but this N97 is not even worthy to throw in the bin, i mean this thing is SO bad, i cant even sell it, because i just could not sell somthing so bad to anyone, yes i feel utterly ripped off.
I agree with the comment above that nokia should be sued for releassing this piece of garbage, i think everyone that ever bought one should be given a full refund.
This phone has more bugs than an ants nest, nothing on it works consistantly, i am talking about a phone here, a phone that at times cant even make or take a phone call !!! another poster said if you buy this phone be prepared to 'feel the pain' and that is putting it mildly, this piece of garbage is a pain factory, every time you use it it has more issues, more freezing and more crashes.

But seriously if the basic function of a phone is to make a phone call, and many times this phone cant even do that, not good if you are in business, because the person calling wont understand you have a phone that simply cant deal with a call, its not a good look.

Another poster remarked about the glamour n07 add on tv, is a lies becasuse the phone does NOT function that smoothly and nowhere near it, this is dead right, you need to own one for a while to get an idea of just how pathetic this phone is, as i say nothing on it what so ever works as advertised, nokia put out this ad raving about all its so called bells and whistles, but owners know the real truth.

I hate this phone with a vengance, a phone that cant make a phone call? and cant do anything it suppose to do properly? its true, just last night my wife could not find her phone so i said use my n97 and call your phone to locate it, we did that and heard her phone ringing so i tried to hang up so as not to be charged for the call, the glorious n97 would not even hang up, i had to remove the battery to stop it going to her message bank and costing me money.

I have had to pull the battery out of this piece of garbage hundreds of times, and yes rest the time/date most times.

I cant convey just how bad this phone is in real life, but imagine a billion times worse than what i have wriiten then multply that by another billion, and that is being complimentary to this heap of super garbage.

people be warned do NOT buy one, take it from me i have been ripped off and all my mates who have one aslo DEEPLY regret buying one.

If i knew then what i know now about this junk pile excuse for a phone i would not even except one as a FREE GIFT !!!

I didnt want to talk about software or technical things, all that stuff wont fix this throw away phone, so i dont blame symbian or the OS, its nokia name on the front of the thing, and for mine, i am going to sit it on a thick piece of concret and small a sledge hammer into it, that will give me the greatest joy and is a fate way to good for this piece of SHIT.



Thursday 8th October 2009 | 08:04 AM
235 total kudos response to this comment by Frank. Ditto on most of that Frank. You'll love this - The truth about the Nokia N97:

Give Kudos | Reply | Comment URL | Profile | Top
Not a Member!


Thursday 22nd October 2009 | 07:11 AM

Excellent review, after my experience with the N96 I was contemplating the N97 but after reading your review, my mind was made up and I bought an iPhone, and I have not looked back. Nokia are just going to be playing catch up for a while I reckon.

Add a comment

Login to Rusty Lime

Not registered? | Forgot your Password? Cancel Login