Nokia N97 in-depth review -

Look and feel

The N97 is quite chunky to accommodate the QWERTY keyboard, but its 150g gives it a dolid feel. The 3.5-inch VGA-quality display dominates the front on the handset.

Ease of use

The handset's touch-screen is responsive to touch, and the QWERTY keypad's keys are spacious, making typing much faster.

Features

The N97's five-megapixel camera is more than adequate. It also boasts 3.5mm headset jack, 32GB of on-board memory, and supports HSDPA an Wi-Fi.

Performance

Aside from sluggish zoom, it features a handy five-way navigation pad, which is ideal when scrolling through webpages or emails.

Battery life

Battery life is average.

The verdict

Easily the best Nseries device so far; however, it lacks the iPhone's flair and guile.

 Nokia N97 Review -
4

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,12/12/2011 3:55:36 PM

8

out of 10

Performance

6

out of 5

Look and feel

8

out of 5

Ease of use

10

out of 5

Features

8

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

Responsive touch-screen, spacious QWERTY keyboard, ergonomic tilting display and good all-round multimedia performance.

Cons:

Large and heavy, temperamental web browser, and sometimes needs double taps to activate selection.

Nokia's range of feature rich Nseries 'multimedia computers' has dominated the smartphone league for what seems like forever. But lately, the manufacturer hasn't been getting it all its own way.

 

The arrival of the Apple iPhone and the touch-phone revolution caught the Finnish giant on the hop. Admittedly, the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic flew off the shelves, but if we're being honest, it doesn't even come close to the iPhone. This means the responsibility for knocking the new iPhone 3GS of its perch has been left squarely on the broad shoulders of Nokia's second touch-phone, the N97.

Tilting touch-screen

This Symbian S60 smartphone is certainly better equipped to succeed than the 5800. It arrives with a bevy of features associated with Nokia's Nseries flock, including a five-megapixel snapper, VGA-quality video recording, a whopping 32GB of internal memory, on-board GPS with Nokia Maps, built-in Wi-Fi and a 3.5mm headphone slot. And more interestingly, it rocks up with a tilting touch-screen, support for Nokia's new Ovi download store and a sliding QWERTY keyboard.

 

Unfortunately, accommodating the QWERTY keyboard means the N97 has a chunky waistline. It's certainly narrower than the iPhone but its hefty 150g tonnage does give it presence in the pocket. It's also solid but loses marks for an overly creaky plastic rear battery cover, although this could have been a one-off issue with our review sample.The palatial 3.5-inch VGA display dominates the front, joined only by touch-sensitive call keys and a handy mechanised menu button. The sides are a little busier, featuring a screen lock switch, a mini USB port for charging and hooking up to your PC, a dedicated camera button and volume keys.

 

We were surprised by the sensitivity and receptiveness of the resistive touch-screen, though it's not quite as deft as the iPhone's capacitive offering. You have to add a little more pressure at times, but it's certainly responsive to your taps, swipes and drags. Our only moan is that some selections require a double tap, which can be deceiving.

 

The traditional Symbian S60 home screen has also been given a facelift and is now made up of customisable panels. At the top sits a clock, date and profile zones - tap on these and you get instant access to the alarm, calendar and your profile options (great for switching easily to silent).

The rest consists of five panels that you can personalise using a variety of content. For example, we customised the screen with two rows of shortcuts to main features, favourite photo ID contacts, email and a full-feature Facebook app. Email and Facebook both update with the latest messages and show the top two or three on the home screen. You can remove individual panels or one quick swipe removes the lot; another swipe will retrieve it.

 

Having a full QWERTY keypad gives the device a distinct advantage over the iPhone and other touch handsets. Typing is much faster and less error strewn, and the N97's keyboard is spacious and great to thumb. It also features a handy five-way navigation pad, which is ideal when scrolling through webpages or emails. Although the N97 touch performance is very accurate, we actually preferred using the joypad when we could.

You'll need to nudge open the front end to thumb the QWERTY and the slider mechanism proved smooth, snappy but incredibly robust. Having the screen tilt at a 45° angle feels natural, especially when writing messages, watching video via the embedded YouTube app, browsing the web or
playing games.

Sluggish zoom

The 3.5-inch display is perfectly sized for full fat internet browsing and webpage viewing. Unfortunately, Nokia's default browser is a bit erratic and not having the iPhone multi-touch skills means zooming in on pages is a bit sluggish. Similarly, dragging webpages around proved slow at times. A more reliable and efficient alternative is the preloaded Opera Mini browser. Luckily with HSDPA support and Wi-Fi on board, pages load quickly pretty much anywhere you go. The Nokia N97 is already brimming with apps but visit the Ovi Store via the main menu icon and you can download more straight to your handset. Despite reported early teething problems, we found setting up an account and downloading apps very simple. You can pay either via your phone bill or by credit card with the whole process relatively seamless. Of course, because the Ovi store is in its infancy, content can't match the scope of iTunes but there's certainly enough to get on with. It could also do with a more accurate search facility instead of relying solely on users trawling through categories to find apps.

 

Deep down we'd hoped for an eight-megapixel snapper but the N97's five-megapixel lens is more than adequate, especially when you consider the iPhone 3GS only packs a measly 3.2 megapixels. Also, Nokia has a long tradition of turning out sharp Carl Zeiss shooters and the N97 is no exception. The lens is protected by a sliding cover, and although we expected a Xenon flash, the dual power LED is the next best thing.
It is also consistently effective in low light environments.

 

The manufacturer still shies away from fitting its camera with the latest face, smile and blink detection technology, and the on-board photo mods are Nokia standard issue for high-end camera phones. This means you get a good selection of white balance, exposure, scene, ISO, contrast and colour settings. Auto-focus is quick to get its eye when lining up shots and the results are pleasing. Picture quality is detailed and displays Nokia's signature warm colour tones.

 

With the likes of the Samsung i8910 HD shooting video in 720px HD and the LG Arena in WVGA-quality, the N97's VGA resolution at 30fps is slightly disappointing. However, it is certainly smooth enough for posting on YouTube and watching on your PC.

 

The music player is every bit as dynamic as the one inside the 5800 XpressMusic. A top loaded 3.5mm headphone jack means you can plug in your own headphones and a good quality pair will further enhance the sound. The massive 32GB of on-board memory (bolstered further by an optional 16GB microSD card) means the N97 could easily be your prime portable music player.

Conclusion

The hype surrounding the N97 as an iPhone contender means expectations are sky high. There's no doubting the N97's credentials as an accomplished all-round smartphone, and it delivers a leading performance. But while it beats the iPhone on the camera and QWERTY front, and weighs in with an app store as well, it still lacks the refinement and all-round seamless experience the King from Cupertino offers.