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Nokia N97 Hands-on Review

Never in the history of mobile phones was such a big-bang launch for any mobile model in the Indian market. The new Nokia N97 was announced, pre-launched, debated, previewed, and launched in Indian will all possible tricks in the marketing books. Is this mobile worth all the attention its gaining from the media? Lets have a detailed analysis of the mobile. I would like to thank Nokia India for sending the phone to my doorsteps for me to have a look at it.

The Retail pack

The Package

The Package

Nokia N97’s retail pack includes the handset, one battery, one stylus, mediocre headset with wired remote, charger with microUSB pin, charger pin adapter, Leather pouch (APAC Version), a soft cloth to clean the screen and the manuals with their supporting software CDs. I would have preferred to have an extra stylus like in the Nokia 5800 and a high end headset with can do some justice to the music quality of the handset. The leather pouch is not really leather and it feels cheap. The battery is 1500 mAh Lithium ion battery capable of going strong for 9 hours of talk time. The packing is eco-friendly. The Indian package is also touted to have the TV out cable.

micro USB charger

micro USB charger

Build quality and Design

Once you take the mobile out of the pack,  you will be surprised by the size. Its not as big as it looks in the photos and promos. Its quite sleek and fits well in your palm. The touch screen is easy to operate with a single hand on the vertical mode. But the real surprise is when you slide it open. I was so amazed by the solid click you get when you slide open. Still the phone feels like a single piece. The bottom of the slider never touches any other part of the phone and you can be assured of a scratch-less slider, which was not the case with the N95 variants. The plastic used in body is quite solid and feels rich.

The physical keypad is quite small and cramped. I don’t understand the use of the navigation D-pad to be present where it is. They keys are too small, but they are easy to operate even for people with huge hands. My doubt is all about the hinge mechanism used and its robustness. The call attend and end keys below the screen are not physical button and they are touch responsive, which is a good thing. The menu button is a physical key. The top of the phone also holds the ambient light and proximity sensor. They adjust the screen brightness relative to the ambiance lighting and the screen display light is turned off if you have the phone close to your face while on a call. These are good to have battery saving features. Though the build quality is good, this phone is not made for rugged usage. Its for people who take extra care for their mobile and predominantly live in dust-free environments.

The screen lock

The screen lock

The phone is equipped with 3.5″ resistive touchscreen with a 360 x 640 resolution. Sunlight visibility is really good and I could vouch for it as I got to demo the phone in broad daylight. I liked the haptic feedback in the touchscreen and its intensity can be adjusted. The sensitivity of the screen is much better than 5800, but still you would have to press harder as its a resistive touchscreen. The screen is very responsive and I really liked it.

At the top, you will find the usual power button and the 3.5mm audio socket. The stereo speakers are found on the left sides and the microUSB port and the screen lock key are found in the middle. The screen lock key is a new feature and its very useful. The right side of the phone houses the volume buttons and the the photo click button. The photo click button is a 2 step button and its very conveniently located. The bottom of the phone has a perforation that lets you hang the stylus.

The back of the phone has the camera with its dual LED flash and an active shutter. I would have loved the phone instantly if only i had the N79’s xenon flash. The shutter invokes the camera application in the mobile, when its

Notice the scratched lens

Notice the scratched lens

opened and closes the application when its closed. I got to review a mobile that has been used for a few days. I noticed that the camera shutter is susceptible to screen the camera lens. This was shocking. Notice the image on right. I tried to capture the scratch as much as possible with the mid-end camera I had with me. The Nokia design team had failed to provide a robust solution for the camera. Dust particles have entered the space between the lens and shutter and they have scratched the lens badly. What good the camera would be if it had scratches inspite of the shutter.

Memory

The memory card is hot-swappable, but the slot is located beneath the battery cover. So you will have to remove the cover to change the memory card. Though the memory card can take in upto 16GB microSD card, will you ever need anything more than the 32 GB onboard memory? The phone has an internal memory of 128mb.

User Interface

Widgets

Widgets

The phone UI is backed up by the robust and user-friendly Symbian version 5 with feature pack 2. I find a lot of improvement when I compare it with my N95 8GB. There a lot of application pre-installed in the mobile which is a very good sign and most of these applications are really useful in the Indian context as well. The icons are organized in a 3 x4 matrix similar to the 5800. Their location can be swapped intuitively. The default icons are not really attractive and they are pretty ordinary. But there are loads of themes available to download and install from the Internet. So I wouldn’t worry about the default icons. The highlight of N97 is its homescreen. The homescreen has 2 modes. The wallpaper mode and the widget mode. The wallpaper mode is self explanatory. Just a swipe across it will reveal the must talked about widgets screens.

Widgets are lightweight applications that can do pretty much anything. They can house your contacts, shortcuts to applications, phone features, RSS syndicates and also social network sites. In the factory setting you get the Facebook widget which is really cool. The status updates can be viewed it marques itself across the widget.

This mobile is a serious multi-tasker. It handles multiple applications with ease and its very easy to switch between the open applications. Its a smooth performer with good responsiveness.

Music and Movies

The audio quality of the mobile performs as good as the iPhone. But why is there no active visualization. This could have enhanced the music hearing experience. The

The movie player

The movie player

music player is really good and is responsive. The headsets provided in the pack are suggested to be thrown away as you walk out of the showroom. The music experience is best enjoyed with some 3rd party high end headsets. The movie watching experience is not very different from the 5800. Though I would have loved to see some improvements, I dont complain either. The FM radio is pretty much the same as any other Nokia symbian device. The FM transmitter is weak but yet it serves the purpose. You would have to pump up the volume in the FM reciever to enjoy the real sound. The entire audio effects are not transmitted though.

Compfortable hold

Comfortable hold

Image Gallery

The image gallery is a let down. Nokia again chooses to mix up your videos and photos under one folder called as “Photos”. The gallery previews are fast and responsive. It allows iPhone like sweep gesture. Kinetic scrolling is absent and the photos shift between the landscape and the portrait mode based on the orientation you hold it. Zooming is quite slow, but browsing the pictures is really fast.

The bluetooth connection was pretty fast and it transferred images to my N95, much faster when compared to other symbian mobiles.

Camera

The camera interface is quite outdated and it has started to get boring with every Nokia release. Unlike the Samsung Omnia HD, the phone UI has nothing new to offer in the features department. The picture quality is quite decent for outdoor and macro photography. I didn’t get to check out the low light photography strengths. But my guess is, in the absence of a xenon flash, it would perform like any other Nokia camera mobile. The 5 mega pixel camera is a good to have feature, but its not essentially the strength of N97. The front camera is a VGA camera and its primarily of video conferencing over 3G networks.

I didn’t get a chance to check out the internet connectivity, browser, wifi, GPS or even the digital compass. But taking inputs from the video previews and other reviewers, they are very good experience in Nokia N97.

Final score: 3/5

N97 is a good phone and with this phone Nokia can be seen going in the right direction. Nokia must stop being stubborn and start listening to feedback from practical users. With my interaction with Axel Meyer, I can see that Nokia tests their products on users with prototypes and similar models. But the key is to listen to the feedback from ground zero. The phone will be available in the shelves by June 22nd and the white edition is expected to arrive in about 10 days after that.  Go ahead and get this mobile if you want a performance centric touch screen mobile and you have Rs 33,000 to spare. If you are looking for a robust mobile, hold on to ur steering and dont release those breaks until Nokia comes up with better improved versions of the mobile.

Some more photos…

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Sample photos taken with the N97 5megapixel camera (outdoor)

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Sample Video taken with the N97 (Vimeo id: 5202949)

Nokia N97 full specifications

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13 responses

  1. Cool man.. You should start writing for some tech magazine or gadget websites :) . Or Maybe host a weekly tech show on youtube.. Me ready to gang up for the youtube part :)

    June 20, 2009 at 1:48 PM

  2. cgiridhar

    thanks for the comments and encouragement dude :)

    June 23, 2009 at 5:24 PM

  3. Pingback: WOM World / Nokia » Blog Archive - N97 hands-on review

  4. Udayaditya

    ..”The phone UI is backed up by the robust and user-friendly Symbian version 5 with feature pack 2..”
    I agree on the user friendly part, but seriously disagree on the ROBUST part. The symbian s60 v5 is still quite mature, and as far I know, there is NO FP2 for this OS. Atleast no where is it mentioned.Although it HAS been mentioned that the N97 is more sensitive and responsive than the 5800 which runs the same OS version.
    I own the 5800XM, and there are a whole lot of bugs in this OS which need quite a lot of improvement. Specifically to mention the file system management.
    Nice review nonetheless :) .. Funny to note, the new nokia 5530 has kinetic scrolling in the contacts while the “flagship” device doesnt!

    June 24, 2009 at 2:58 PM

  5. nice review of N97. Man 33K ! thats waaay too costly. But I guess for Nokia fanatics, the price is just. Oh btw, the post with Axel you had linked is not working just FYI.

    Keep it coming … i second kannappan’s view on podcast/youtube thing…

    June 26, 2009 at 12:22 AM

  6. cgiridhar

    agreed… my bad.. no FP2 on N97. will correct it.Kinetic scrolling may soon showup with the software updates… thanks for the comment

    June 26, 2009 at 2:54 PM

  7. AndyL

    I am glad to find your review after a zealous search for answers to fixing the scratches on the camera clear cover due to the design of the shutter.

    I”ve the same case. I’ve only had the N97 for 10+ days and a similar scratch appears on the camera cover due to the shutter. I also suspected it was the shutter causing the scratch as I actually saw the scratch started to develop when I was finding the best way to open and close the shutter properly.

    Have you found or heard about the solution to the scratch problem?

    Thanks.

    July 8, 2009 at 8:45 AM

  8. cgiridhar

    Hi Andy!
    I have a N95 8GB whose camera lens has similar scratches for over 2+ years now. I have never been able to find a solution other than to change the fascia and put on a lens protection sticker.
    But in N97 its not possible to put on a sticker and Nokia must notice this issue and come out with replacement fascia for all authentic N97 buyers…

    update
    the lens scratches is more of a design issue like mentioned in this link http://www.nokiausers.net/General/Nokia-N97-Self-Harming-Check-your-N97-s-Main-Camera-Glass.html

    July 8, 2009 at 11:38 AM

  9. 方芳

    你好,我6月14号买的,我想请教一个问题,有未读短信时我试图打开总是提示内存不足,请关闭一些应用程序再试,1:“我不知道在哪里关”。2:手机刚开机哪有什么所谓的应用程序要关哦,我关机再开还是这样的提示,上周也就是7月4号,拿去客服修,说好了,结果昨天又开始了,我都不想修了。之前我用的索爱W958,那个也是智能手机,说实话比97真的好很多,世界没什么绝对的智能,但相比,也许958比97智能的多的多了,我对这个智能97真的比较失望,连客服都解决不好!

    —–
    Translated from chinese to English

    Hello, I bought June 14, I would like to ask a question, there are unread messages when I tried to open the memory is always prompt, please close some applications and try again, 1: “I do not know where the customs.” 2: What is the phone just how the so-called machine applications to be locked Oh, I shut down or re-opening such a prompt, last week is July 4, take customer service repair, saying that a good result, started yesterday, I do not want to repair the. Before I used the Sony Ericsson W958, which is also the smart phone, I can honestly say it much better than 97, the world is absolutely no intelligent, but compared to perhaps 958 of more than 97 multi-smart, and I am really smart 97 a little disappointed, and even poor customer service have been resolved!

    July 11, 2009 at 8:15 AM

  10. Hi 方芳. I dont understand much of Chinese and I tried to translate your comment in Google translator. As far as I can comprehend, you are having memory fill issues. This is common in many of the Symbian mobiles I have used. The issue is that, many applications are running in the ROM background and you have to close them. Press the menu button continously and you will see all the open application… click on each application and close them. Alternatively install a task manager application like “jbTaskMan” and close all unwanted applications running in the background. Thanks for visiting and your comments.

    July 14, 2009 at 11:59 AM

  11. davejose

    We are one of the leading company in UK, Importing and exporting of large quantity mobile phones, I pod, video games, laptop and other electrical appliances. We have in stock all various model of mobile phones and other product at cheap price.We hope to serve you.Thank youContact us: nicolenicc@live.com

    July 16, 2009 at 8:39 PM

  12. Radio Apac is a community radio station that broadcasts educational & developmental programmes and entertainment to the community. Radio Apac was ..

    September 6, 2009 at 1:46 PM

  13. vandolet

    Any recommendations for sending the Nokia back?

    October 7, 2009 at 9:05 AM

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