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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Nokia N97 Review

Nokia N97

I recently upgraded my phone to the Nokia N97 and thought I'd take the opportunity to review this shiney new Symbian smartphone on the 3 network.

It's fair to say that 3 are not associated with the latest handsets so I was pleased to see them launch Nokia's new N97 handset on the network very shortly after its launch. The most noticeable thing about it is the large touch screen. I'm not enough of a touch screen geek to know the difference between capacitative or resistive screens, but to me the screen looks great and responded nicely to the touch.

The home screen is customisable and can include up to 8 shortcuts to applications of your choice, and several live content feeds, such as latest emails or Facebook updates. It, of course, reminded me of the old N800 which I previously reviewed here.

The other big feature is the slide out full QWERTY keyboard. My advice is to practice opening the slider in the privacy of your own home because it takes a bit of practice and you are likely to look quite an idiot the first few times you try and work out how to get inside - but maybe that's just me.

Battery life is supposed to be pretty good on this, but I can only imagine that assume you have no applications open as I found it goes down pretty quickly, and seems to accelerate in draining power as it nears the last third.

Basic Functions

Making calls is easy - browse the Contacts or press the Dialer button to bring up the touch screen numeric pad. If you're in a call and need to press a key (ie for using automated phone services), you'll need to press the dialer key to bring the number pad up again.Text messaging is easily accessed too and you can use the touch screen or the QWERTY keyboard to knock out your messages.

Text messaging brings me onto my first major annoyance. Whenever I received text messages on the phone, it would only display the number of the sender despite the name being in my Contacts. I tried changing the mobile number to international format and I tried deleting it altogether and saving it from the actual text message itself, but it still wouldn't play ball. After a bit of hunting around on Nokia forums, I found that if you have contacts on your SIM and your phone memory, the phone won't recognise the name as a sender in text messages. So I deleted all the contacts from my SIM, which did fix the problem but even then it only fixed it for new messages and old messages didn't pick up the name. Distinctly unimpressive.


Apps are the big phenomenen of mobile devices, thanks to the success of the iPhone app store and Google Android (by the way, the guy from 3's upgrade team hadn't even heard of Google Android when I spoke to him). Nokia is finally catching up with its own app store under the name, Ovi.

The Nokia N97 from 3 comes with a bundle of nice applications ready to go, well almost ready to go - a couple of them, like Qik and MSN needed updating at first use.

The Nokia Messaging application works well. It asked for my email address and quickly determined the type of account - using Google Apps for Domains - and then my password. Before long, my inbox was up on one screen. I get too much junk in my email to be really bothered about being alerted everytime I get a new message, so personally I prefer the free Google Mail application you can download through My3 or from Google although it's not currently fully optimised for the N97's screen but is usable.

Nokia Maps are there to make use of the GPS. This is my first phone with GPS and I suspect it's one of those features that once you get used to, you'll wonder how you coped without it. Already I found it useful on a bike ride at the weekend in establishing where exactly I was!

Skype is of course a big deal on 3, with them offering it free of charge to customers. And it really does well: I called another Skype user and it was good as a standard phonecall.

Nokia N97

Other preinstalled software included BBC iPlayer - only a few clicks and you can be watching Eastenders full screen - and Qik which lets you broadcast live video straight from your phone to an internet audience (you get a short URL to share with friends and contacts etc). Videos are then also stored for viewing later too.

Through the Ovi store, you can access new applications with a range of free and paid for apps, as well as plenty of junk and theme packs. There's nothing like the range you will find for the iPhone, but its a start and hopefully this will be something that will grow. By far the best app I've found so far is the social media client, Gravity. It's not cheap at £8, but it's a super slick way to access Twitter especially if you have more than one account. It's very well intergated with Twitter picture services like Twitpic.


The N97 has a 5mp camera on board and is quickly switched on by sliding open the lens cover, which put me in mind of my much loved old K800i. Press "options" and there's load of settings that appear on the screen. Seeing the array of options overlayed across the screen with the shot in the background actually makes these settings easier to access than having to navigate knobs and buttons on a conventional camera.

Kingston shots with N97 Kingston shots with N97
(click to enlarge)


HSDPA, Wireless networking and Bluetooth give me all the connectivity options I could want. Whilst iPhone users on O2 ponder how they can possibly be charged extra for "tethering", I can easily connect this to my laptop and use it as a modem, or smarter still, use the JoikuSpot software to turn the device into a wifi hotspot - letting you access the net from your laptop etc using its wifi connection.

Joikuspot Light edition is free and lets you share HTTP access across a wireless connection. The premium, paid for edition, lets you share other protocols.

If all this worked, this would be a dream phone, but connectivity has been a big area of disappointment. I've never seen so many error messages on a mobile phone and connectivity is unbelievably patchy. I'm using the Nokia N97 is the same house as I was previously using my Sony K850i, and I'm seeing frequent interruptions to service in a way I've never exerienced before.

Go on the web, it works great. Go back on two minutes later - "Web: Gateway Not Found". At one point, I called 3's technical support and the recorded message suggested that taking the SIM out and putting it back in fixes 90% of all problems. Yep, did that and it worked fine - but how often do you want to be taking the SIM out of your phone.


A boat load of features, access to an app store, a decent camera with a touch screen and slide out keyboard - this could and should have been an awesome phone but shocking reliability has left me frustrated and occasionally pining for my old phone. I love the features and the cool-ness of it, but I do need it to be able to reliably perform on a regular basis.

Nokia N97



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