[Can’t] Touch [This] Screen:
The N97 has a very impressive 3.5” touch screen, which to be honest, is iPhone good, and that is high praise. It is super responsive and when touched, the N97 vibrates a bit, resulting in great feedback and a confident navigation of the menus.
Interestingly, Woman particularly like the N97’s touch screen, as it is resistive (works on pressure) not capacitive (works on the electric current in your finger), so they can use their nails. Moreover, because it is resistive it works when you have gloves on. Anyone who has tried answering their iPhone by trying to take off one glove and drive, or whatever, will really appreciate this.

The N97 has a full QWERTY keyboard that is accessed by sliding up the screen while holding the N97 horizontally. We were expecting it to be rubbish. Well it isn’t. Keys are the right size, and there is enough space between them, so that you don’t press things you don’t want to. There is also a little controller – like found on most Nokia’s, Up, Down, Left, Right, Select – on the left of the keyboard again we thought this would be a useless inclusion, well again it isn’t. It makes browsing the menus, the web or anything really, while the N97’s keyboard is exposed, much quicker than having to touch the screen all the time.

Operating System:
The N97 is running on Symbian S60, very similar to the Nokia 5800 Express Music we reviewed a few weeks ago and it’s really cool.
The OS is superman fast, even when we have a ton of applications running. Equally as impressive are the really smooth transitions between open applications and menus. The overall feel of the OS is very intuitive and user friendly, something that Symbian has been criticised for not being in the past. The OS does have multi-tasking capability, this means that you can have more than one application running at a time, it is also something you don’t realise you need until you have it. It is going to make going back to the iPhone, which does not have multi-tasking really hard to do.

The core functions of the OS are really miles ahead of most other smart phones. Seriously, contacts management, the calendar, alarm clocks, and most of all, messaging, are all really great to use. The real test for me was getting the number of that attractive Asian girl, who was sitting in the front row of the lecture hall, and still managing to keep the N97 unseen by the lecturer. Went off without a hitch, Yeeaah.
One criticism is that when browsing the net, small warning boxes keep popping up asking for conformation of something-or-other. This is stupid and annoying; if I click “go” I want to GO to that website!

Overall we really dig the OS, as it is far more customisable than most other smart phones out there, yet it still manages to be both simple and straightforward to use.

[My, my, my] Music [hits me, so hard…] Player:
This – if you are following us on Twitter – is our favourite feature on the N97. It is fan-flipping-tastic!

No one has been able to get close to the iPhone 3G’s sound quality, till now. We think Nokia took it as a bit of a challenge, and we are really glad they did! The bass is deep, the high notes are sharp and the dynamic range is simply astounding. That said the iPhone 3G is very clean sounding and the N97 just can’t match that clarity.

However, if I am paying nearly R10 000 for a cell phone ($700) I do expect somewhat decent headphones as standard. All you get with the N97 are the crappy grey little things that Nokia has been using for years. They really don’t do the N97 justice, so we are using Skullcandy Titan headphones to truly appreciate the N97.

[Just by the way MC Hammers – Can’t Touch This is availible on the Nokia Music Store]

There are various widgets that you can customise, on the home screen. There are are plenty more you can download from OVI.

The widgets we are using are:
Quick launch bar – New message, web browser, Ovi Maps, Music Player
Other home screen Widgets
Email – Shows how many new emails you have in your inbox and the senders and subjects of two emails
Accuweather – Shows the temperature and precipitation, just don’t get any said precipitation on the N97, its allergic.
Facebook – A live stream of friend’s status updates, assuming you have a few.
Calendar – Shows your three next appointments
The widgets also act as a shortcut to the full application.

Email – Using Nokia Mail, which is great, with the glaring exception that it cannot display emails in HTML format! Pretty sure it will be in the next software update, as almost all other smart phones can do this.
Accuweather – A great application. It gives a 7 day weather forecast as well as an hourly weather forecast and satellite imagery of your location.
Facebook – Specifically written for Nokia this Facebook application allows you to do almost everything that you can do on the website. The only drawback is there is no chat function.

This was a major pain in the ass. You would think Nokia would release a barrage of software to make the N97 integrate into any operating system more smoothly than James Bond covered in butter. But no, it does not sync with Mac, and the Ovi Suite (for Windows), that is supplied with the device is so utterly overcomplicated, that it is rendered useless. We did download the Beta version of the new Ovi Suite, and this was a bit better, but it does not work properly with Windows 7, so no use for us currently.

How we got round this problem.
1. Sync’d my Nokia E66 with my Mac.
2. Sync’d my Nokia E66 with Ovi.com
3. Added the N97 to my Ovi.com account
4. Sync’d the N97 with Ovi.com

Now this means that if I want to keep my computer in sync I have to:
1. Sync the Nokia N97 with Ovi.com
2. Sync the E66 with Ovi.com
3. Sync E66 with computer

The moral of the story, if you don’t have another Nokia which can sync with your computer, you are screwed. This is a major issue as competitive phones, such as the Blackberry, and iPhone, make this whole syncing issue easy and intuitive.

We were expecting quite a bit from the camera and where a bit disappointed. Now don’t get us wrong it is a pretty good camera, but when compared to the equivalent Samsung or Sony Ericsson 5 megapixel camera it is nothing special. Considering the Nokia camera heritage and the Leica lens this was a major let down.
In low light the flash creates a white halo around the subject and in bright light the white balance seems a bit off. White balance is adjustable but who bothers with that.

We are working on a full review of Nokia’s Ovi services but here is a basic overview:

If it were not for Nokia’s new service Ovi.com the N97 would be a bit of a lame duck. The Ovi Store has lots of free and paid for applications and games available for the N97. The Ovi Store is still new, so we are not going to criticize the amount of applications available, but for now there are enough to keep you occupied for a long, long time.

The syncing of the N97, once all is working, with Ovi.com, from the phone itself, is fantastically simple, they send you a text message with the sync setting, save the settings and away you go.

Uploading pictures to Ovi.com is also as simple as a button push, select the images you want to download and click “upload”.

Battery Life:
Wow, its bad. Like really bad. If you just use it like a normal cell phone then you won’t have an issue. But using the N97 like a normal cell phone is like driving an Aston Martin round Silverstone at the speed limit. The N97 was designed to be used to browse the web, listen to music, take pictures and email like a demon. The only issue is, if you do all these things, you won’t get more than a day out of the battery, max.

Bottom line now, would we spend real money on the Nokia N97? The simple answer is YES, no question about it. It’s not a cheap cell phone, the expected retail is around R10 000 ($700) off contract, but is it good. Despite the some the stupid internet browser, bottom-of-the-class camera and disappointing battery life, the N97 is such a complete package it’s almost unnatural.

So, to sum up, the Nokia N97 it’s “Hammer, go Hammer, MC Hammer, yo, Hammer. And the rest can go and play. You can’t touch this…”


Brendon Ambrose
Nokia N97 (White)