It’s hard to like the S60v5 again after using a Maemo device like the Nokia N900. I’ve been trying to use the Nokia N97 mini to write a thorough review, but I always ended up putting it down quickly. Want to know what I think in one sentence? The Nokia N97 mini looks damn good and packs a lot of features, but I would recommend other devices before this one.
The Nokia N97 mini was well-designed. It’s shiny with nice combinations of curves and lines. It feels good in the hands, too.
Size. It’s a little smaller than the Nokia N97 making it more pocketable. Here’s a size comparison between the two N97′s. I didn’t have problems putting it in my jean pocket.
Build Quality. Nokia added stainless steel to the back of the phone with the battery cover and the camera bezel. It adds a premium look and feel to the hardware. The hinge for the slider is very smooth, yet provides nice reassuring clicks when the device is closed or open. The N97 mini is a solid device. I found no wobbling, creaking, or loose parts to complain about.
Internals. Inside the Nokia N97 is a single-core ARM 11 microprocessor clocked at 434MHz with 128MB RAM. That’s similar to the original Nokia N97. It isn’t a powerhorse if you compare it to other recent devices. For example, the Nokia N900 runs at 600MHz with 256MB RAM. A big concern for power users is the RAM. I found that running multiple applications like Gravity for tweets, web browser, Mobbler for streaming music, and Nokia Messaging for emails take up a lot of the RAM. This could be good or bad depending on how you look at it, but the phone silently closes one of those apps without warning to free up memory. This wouldn’t be a problem if Nokia gave the N97 256MB RAM instead.
Display. The Nokia N97 mini has a 3.2 inch touchscreen display with 640×360 resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio. The pixel density of 229 PPI makes it relatively sharp. Let’s compare it with other touchscreen devices.
- Apple iPhone 3GS: 165 PPI
- Nokia N97: 210 PPI
- Nokia N97 mini: 229 PPI
- Motorola Droid: 265 PPI
- Nokia N900: 267 PPI
I can’t really say if the screen on the Nokia N97 mini is responsive or not because of inconsistencies. Scrolling through lists and pages varies between applications. It’s sometimes smooth and fast on one application, while slow on another.
Keyboard. I’m a fan of the Nokia N97 mini’s keyboard. I got used to the layout very quickly found myself typing texts and emails really fast. Unlike the Nokia N900, there are actually spaces between the buttons so they don’t feel cramped. The buttons provide adequate tactile feedback, but I recommend leaving the keyboard sounds ON for a better typing experience. Just like the the 2.0 firmware on the original Nokia N97, long-press on the keyboard outputs the corresponding symbol on top of the letters.
Nokia provides an on-screen alphanumeric keypad for those who prefer not to slide out the real keyboard. Handwriting is also an input option. Since I like the keyboard on the Nokia N97 mini, I never used these two other options. On-screen Qwerty is not currently supported.
Camera. The Nokia N97 mini packs a 5mp camera with Carl Zeiss lens and dual LEDs flash. It’s similar to the original setup on the Nokia N97, but the flash is now separated from the lens to prevent it from bleeding into the photos. I’ve been impressed with the Nseries line from Nokia in regards to camera quality and the N97 mini is no exception. It takes great photos outdoors as long as there’s enough light. Of course it’s no match for my DSLR, but for quick snaps and sharing online, it’s a great camera you can bring everywhere. Don’t bet on getting great photos at a bar or club though. The dual LEDS is simply not strong enough to capture friends dancing at the club.
Video recording on the Nokia N97 mini is fine, but I wish it offered more. It records at 640 x 360 at 30 frames per second by default, but there’s an option to record VGA (640×480) too. I like that you can use the LEDs to provide light for video. I wish there was autofocus because the Nokia N97 mini seems to lock focus on far objects. This is great for landscape videos, but people talking to the camera could be sharper. Forget about objects up close.
Speakers. After some usage, I find the speakers on the Nokia N97 mini loud but found it better to use earphones. The included earphones did pretty well when I listened to music full of bass and hard-hitting beats. There’s a 3.5mm audio jack for those who want to use their own headsets.
The Nokia N97 mini runs on S60 5th edition. I am no longer a fan after using other systems like Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android, and Nokia’s newer Maemo OS. I found the S60v5 interface required more presses to get things done.
My main complaint about S60 5th edition is the inconsistency. Even when I’m currently connected to the wifi on the web browser, opening another application that needs connection still asks what connection to use. Different applications also require different flicks for scrolling. For example, the screen responds immediately at the menu lists, web browser, and the twitter app, Gravity, but the email application like Nokia Messaging requires a lot more flicks to scroll. Some menus also won’t scroll the page but highlights the text instead. The keylock sometimes needs to be flicked twice to turn the screen back on. This really didn’t bother me much until I’ve seen how it’s done elsewhere.
Widgets. You can install widgets on the home screen of the Nokia N97 mini. These are useful to get quick information without the need of opening individual apps. Android and Maemo however already improves on this by allowing users to have more than one page of widgets with different sizes. On the N97 mini’s homescreen, I included Facebook, calendar, music player, email, app shortcuts, and clock.
Email. Out of the box, users should avoid the default email application on the Nokia N97 mini and install Nokia Messaging right away. It provides push email with HTML support. While Nokia Messaging on S60 is better than the default email application, the email experience is much better on iPhone, Android, and Maemo.
Browsing. The browser on the Nokia N97 mini is works fine and the kinetic scrolling looks good. Flash content like embedded Youtube videos can play within the webpages without opening another application. I recommend viewing pages in landscape view because I found some websites not rendering properly in portrait view. Zooming is done with double-tap and there’s no support for pinching or multi-touch. Performance-wise, it’s not as fast as the other browsers found in the Nokia N900 or the iPhone. Users might want to check out a popular alternate browser called Opera Mini 5. I found it to be faster especially when loading larger pages.
Music. Instead of owning music albums or downloading music, I prefer discovering new songs by streaming via last.fm or Pandora. Fortunately, there’s an app for that on the Nokia N97 mini. It’s called Mobbler. The traditional way of listening works fine as well. I transferred an album via bluetooth from my Macbook and it showed up in the music library. Album art was supported. I don’t think it’s a dealbreaker, but Nokia dropped the FM transmitter in the Nokia N97 mini.
Mobbler and Music Player
Ovi Maps. Unlike the Ovi Maps in Maemo, Maps for S60 is actually pretty good for navigation. It’s not free, but a 30-day license in the US is available for about $7. I’m not sure about other regions. If you’re searching for places, I recommend finding it on the Google Maps application and bookmark it for later use on Ovi Maps. Walk navigation is surprisingly useful too. It helps guide you along pedestrian areas, parks, or over crossings while walking. 3D landmarks display buildings for better orientation.
3rd-Party Apps. The Nokia N97 mini came with a bunch of pre-installed apps and more can be found within the Ovi store. Some of my favorites are
- Handy Taskman – Task manager that also lets you view RAM usage
- Gravity – Really good Twitter application.
- Qik – Stream live video from your phone
- Pixelpipe – Upload and share your media to more than 100+ services.
- Boingo – Use your phone’s data connection as a wifi access point to connect your other devices like a laptop.
Handy Taskman and Gravity
I have no complaints with the call reception on the Nokia N97 mini. The earpiece seem loud enough. Voice command is activated when holding the green call button and incoming calls can quickly be put on silent by flipping the device over.
The Nokia N97 mini includes a 1200mAh battery. It survived a whole day of my normal usage that includes taking some photos, making calls, checking emails, tweeting, and browsing the web. Official measurements by Nokia rates it at 7.1 hours of GSM talk time and 4 hours of WCDMA. Standby time goes up to 13 days while music playback goes up to 28 hours.
The Nokia N97 mini is a good-looking phone and offers a lot of features for those want to do more with their device than just make calls or text messages. However, there are inconsistencies within the OS that leave room for frustration especially for new users. I wouldn’t recommend this phone as anyone’s first touchscreen device. If you already love your S60v5 device like the 5800 or the original Nokia N97, then maybe the N97 mini’s appealing looks, sleek body, and great QWERTY keyboard make it a worthy gadget for your pocket.
This article is supported by Affordable Mobiles, home to great mobile phone deals.