Around 8% smaller than the original, the N97 Mini fits comfortably in the hand and the touch-screen is still an impressive 3.2 inches.
A software tweak makes navigating with the touch-screen easier that on the original, and the QWERTY keypad is easier to type on without a D-pad cluttering things up.
Powerful software, a Carl Zeiss lens and accurate GPS are all packed into a smaller, sleeker chassis than the N97.
The software upgrades improve usability, as does the adjustment to the QWERTY keypad, but it just isn’t quite as slick as we would like.
Talktime of 360 minutes on a handset of this calibre is very good indeed.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,12/12/2011 3:56:43 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Tactile, smaller keyboard; excellent Facebook app; lots of live information on the home screen; great email and GPS.
Lacks ?new? features like Facebook contact sync and Twitter app, and Ovi Store is still in its infancy.
This is the phone Nokia should have released the first time round. The N97 Mini is practically the same high-spec powerhouse as the original N97, but thankfully smaller and a touch better looking. Its updated software makes a few key tweaks to the device’s performance, and messaging and internet are still its best features. We just wish Nokia had fixed some of the things that weren’t so great about the N97 to begin with.
Your hand will wrap very comfortably around the N97 Mini, which is around 8% smaller than its big brother. This also means that the generous 3.5-inch touch-screen has been downsized to a still-reasonable 3.2 inches. Probably the most obvious hardware knockdown is the internal memory – from an impressive 32GB to a simple 8GB. A software tweak that puts the Mini ahead of its fat cousin is that there’s now ‘kinetic scrolling’, where the harder you swipe, the faster the page scrolls (free software update available for N97s, too). But we’ve still got a resistive, pressure-sensitive screen, so though it’s pretty fast and accurate, you’ll have to press rather hard to navigate the phone. One criticism of the N97 was the over large keyboard and in the Mini, it’s still a full QWERTY but minus the D-pad – so the keys are nicely spaced and easily reached. The matt rubber keys are great to type on and the keyboard operates on a smooth, heavy sliding mechanism. However, the predictive text won’t automatically add in contractions, which puts it second to the BlackBerry Bold 9700. Like the N97’s, the home screen has six customisable widgets, including two shortcut bars. There’s a good selection of preloaded widgets including the Metro and CNN News, Bloomberg and MySpace, and the Facebook app is excellent, with live updates on statuses, pokes, friend requests and invites. It’s a clear way to show a lot of information, though we find the blocky interface somewhat dated. It’s also a pity that, with such a great Facebook app, there’s no option to sync contacts with your phonebook. That aside, Nokia does make incredibly intuitive phones and we particularly like that the N97 Mini is actually easy to use as a phone as well as an internet device. Our only gripe is that, as with the N97, some menu options require a double-tap to select while others a single, keeping you in a constant of anticipation wondering whether the phone is loading, or you need to tap again. Because of its length, we preferred to use it in landscape orientation, and we found navigating the phone via a combination of typing and touch-screen taps very comfortable. However, despite having an accelerometer, the screen will only operate in landscape when you pull the keyboard out. At least the screen automatically reorients when video is played, but browsing the web would be more comfortable without the keyboard out and the home screen looks better in landscape.
Nokia Messaging supports push-email for up to 10 accounts, including Gmail, Hotmail and Microsoft Exchange for corporate accounts, and we found setting up and using email straightforward with the same features you’d expect on a desktop. For example, flagging emails and being able to access custom created folders was no problem. The only issue we had is that you can’t delete more than one email at a time. Contacts can be synced with Microsoft Outlook using Ovi Suite, Nokia’s bundled PC software, and you can also back up your photos and files here. Facebook updates, email and texts stream to the home screen, where a single tap on a new notification takes you directly to the app. You can also download the desktop-like Windows Live Instant Messenger program but we’re surprised there’s no Twitter app at the Ovi Store, Nokia’s not-so-new app and downloads marketplace. It’s still no Apple App Store or even Android Market, though there are some cute iPhone-esque apps that are pointless but show off the phone’s capabilities – Candle Touch for example, is a virtual candle whose flame you can push out and strike back on.
The N97 Mini has a full HTML browser, so it handles all sorts of websites just fine. Non-mobile optimised sites load in under 10 seconds and render reasonably well, but we occasionally encountered touch-screen freezes in the browser. Like the N97, you can save bookmarks easily and have multiple windows but there’s no tabbed browsing. The software sees a new Ovi Maps 3.0 but there isn’t a whole lot of difference from the original N97 – still a full bodied maps service with a very useful ‘what’s nearby’ feature, searchable by entertainment, shopping, lifestyle and so on. The GPS is fast and accurate and got a fix on our location in about one second, but there’s now no digital compass to indicate which direction you’re moving in. Like the N97, a Carl Zeiss five-megapixel camera rounds out the specs, but the Mini has no lens cover. We got very clear photos with the camera, though indoor shots looked surprisingly washed out even when we played around with the white balance. There is a huge number of settings you can adjust from flash modes to auto modes, white balance and exposure. Unfortunately, there’s nowhere on the screen that tells you what settings you’ve picked.
Nokia could have done a lot more to freshen and improve the N97. It’s great that it managed to pack the same five-meg lens, high quality keyboard and powerful software into a pocket-friendly chassis. But the single biggest problem of the original N97 remains – that its software and interface just don’t have some of the slicker features that smartphones do and as a result, the N97 Mini still comes off a little stodgy.
Reviewed by Natasha Stokes