It’s been a week since I started playing with the Nokia N97 and now it’s time for my review of the hardware. I’ve been waiting for this phone for a while and I’m excited it’s finally here. I have reviewed a Nokia N97 prototype before, and the final retail version hardware isn’t that different. I’ll let you know what I think of the physical aspects and continue with my usual posts of usage experience and thoughts.
The Nokia N97 in this review is the Euro version (RM-505) running firmware version 10 dated May 15th, 2009.
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On paper, the Nokia N97 isn’t that much thicker or longer than a candybar phone like the Nokia N82, but the combination of the extended measurements makes the Nokia N97 feel big in the hand.
The build quality of the Nokia N97 is really good. It feels like an expensive device just holding it in my hands. The edge of the N97 is wrapped in a chrome-looking material while the rest is either white or black depending on the the version. I don’t hear loose parts when I shake the phone or hear any creaks when pressing into the body.
The slide mechanism is rock solid. I hear the nice click-clack sounds and find myself opening and closing the slider just to hear it. I don’t notice any wobbles at all either.
The keyboard on the Nokia N97 separates reviewers. Some hate it while others love it. I think those who hate it only used the phone for a couple of minutes. After testing the keyboard with several emails and text messages, I have to give thumbs up to whoever designed this. It’s not perfect, but it is pretty damn good!
At first, it felt weird because the spacebar is located on the right, but it actually works well because it is comfortably placed under my right thumb. I’m not sure if this makes it very uncomfortable for left-handed persons, though.
Complaints. I can type really fast on the Nokia N97, but there’s room for improvement. The keyboard is not perfect. Here are a couple of my complaints:
To type a number, I have to press the function key on the lower right corner, then the corresponding button on the top row. I’ve used plenty of T9 and Qwerty phones and the numbers have always been accessible by simply holding a button. This is not the case on the Nokia N97. Implement this ASAP please!
Another problem I notice is the buttons’ feedback. By default, the keypad tones are on. I suggest leaving that ON because it helps you feel (or hear) that you are pressing the buttons. The Nokia N97′s buttons pop out for separation, but they don’t go down very much when you press down. Tactile feedback is certainly there, but not much. Leave the keypad tones on and you should be fine.
The Nokia N97 has a 3.5 inch touchscreen at 640×360 resolution. It looks great from an arm’s length. The colors are bright and images appear sharp, but I notice some things up close.
There are grey diagonal lines that are fairly noticeable on white backgrounds. It’s not visible when darker images are shown on display. You really have to put your eyes within inches of the display to notice.
The front of the Nokia N97 is glossy, making the colors on display richer, but it also makes it hard to see the screen on bright sunny days. This is a problem found on many devices with a glossy display, though.
I like having dedicated keylocks to prevent accidental keypresses when the device is in my pocket. The Nokia N97 has one, but it doesn’t work 100% of the time.
Before I put it in my pocket, I slide the keylock and the display turns off. Later on when I take it out of my pocket and slide the keylock, I get random results. Sometimes it will unlock and sometimes it won’t, forcing me to slide it again. I hope this is something they fix in a firmware update.
I’m satisfied with the battery life on the Nokia N97. It features a 1500mAH Nokia BP-4L similar to the Nokia E71. From my typical usage, I’d have a full charge at 9AM and one bar by 9pm. If I don’t touch the phone at all, I’m sure it can go on for days.
My typical usage includes replying to push emails via Nokia Messaging, push calendar and contacts via Google Sync, taking photos and tweeting them immediately via Pixelpipe, commenting on friends’ photos via Share Online, comment on my friends’ wall posts on Facebook, checking Twitter for Nokia news via Gravity, some web browsing, and some quick phone calls here and there.
According to the official Nokia specs:
- GSM Talk Time up to 9.5 hours
- WCDMA Talk Time up to 6.0 hours
- GSM Standby Time up to 18 days
- WCDMA Standby Time up to 17 days
- Video Playback Time up to 4.5 hours
- Video Recording Time up to 3.6 hours
- Music Playback Time up to 40.0 hours
Charging. You can charge the Nokia N97 via the mini-usb cable connected to a computer or the power adapter. A nice addition I like is the light next to the port. It lights up when the phone is charging and turns off when fully charged.
I don’t like talking numbers and specs because it’s way over my head. It’s more important for me to use the device and how it performs. The Nokia N97 has a 434MHz CPU and 128MB RAM compared to the iPhone 3GS that features 600MHz CPU and 256MB RAM. You can never have too much RAM or CPU so it would have been beneficial if the N97 had more of both.
Navigating through the menus is snappy. Running apps produce mixed results. For example, The Garvity app is really fast and works pretty good. The web browser is fast, but lags on larger sites like Techmeme. A more accurate demo is available from my first impressions video.
When you have too many apps running in the background, the Nokia N97 decides to close some apps you aren’t currently using to preserve memory. For example, if I open the Gallery, web browser, Gravity, calendar, camera, it might close the gallery and sometimes Gravity without warning.
This can be good or bad. Good: Nokia N97 remains snappy with enough RAM to run your current app. Bad: You have to reopen the application that was closed. I’ll write more about the software and performance closely in an upcoming post.
Storage. The Nokia N97 comes with 32GB of internal storage, but you can add another 16GB microSD card for a total of 48GB. This is great for storing lots of music, photos, and videos.
The Nokia N97 has a 5mp camera featuring Carl Zeiss lens and protects it with a cover. People want lens cover and Nokia listened. Sliding the lens cover automatically opens the camera app where you can take photos and videos. This is great for multitasking.
Nokia has been producing quality cameraphones for a while now and the N97 isn’t an exception. The quality is up there, but the Nokia N82 still remains the leader when it comes to night photography.
Pressing halfway autofocuses on a subject and pressing all the way snaps the pic. The camera button is really good too. I already mentioned in my first impressions that it’s the best camera button compared to my other recent phones.
I’ll have another post where I dig deeper into the camera functions and review the quality of the photos. For now, you can check my uploaded live tweeting photos on Flickr, and see which ones were taken with the Nokia N97.
Mac Users Beware!
Update: NMT was updated to support the Nokia N97. As of writing this post, the Nokia N97 is unsupported by Nokia Multimedia Transfer and Nokia Maps Uploader on Mac. This means I can’t connect the Nokia N97 via “PC suite.” This also means, I have to run Windows on my Mac to use the Maps Uploader. I am forced to use mass storage mode when transferring music, videos, or photos which means I can’t receive phone calls or emails while using it. A positive thing that comes out of this is that the app doubleTwist for the Mac works incredibly on devices using mass storage mode.
Of course, you can skip all this trouble by sending files via bluetooth between the Nokia N97 and computer.
To wrap-up the hardware review, I’ll list the important things I mentioned about the Nokia N97.
Top-notch build quality. Great keyboard design. High-resolution display. Big storage space. Acceptable battery life. Excellent camera.
Need to press two buttons to type a number. Diagonal lines visible on screen with white backgrounds. Keylock randomly needs two slides to unlock the phone. Keyboard buttons provides minimal tactile feedback. No Mac support yet.
The Nokia N97 hardware is so freakin’ sexy, but it’s not currently in its full potential. The negatives I mentioned on this review can be fixed through firmware updates, except the diagonal lines I mentioned. An update is already available inside Nokia hinting a more sensitive touchscreen. Don’t let us wait too long!