The Nokia N97 is the flagship Nseries product for 2009 and includes many of the expected multimedia features like 5 MP camera, integrated GPS, and WiFi and includes some new ones like a digital compass and FM transmitter. But what sets the N97 apart from its predecessors is how well these multimedia functionality are integrated together in the software.
Read my N97 hardware and N97 software reviews
More after the jump!
Bug: While typing this review, my Note application kept crashing without saving when the note got too long. Turning off predictive typing stopped the crashing.
The Nokia N97 includes a 5 megapixel camera sporting Carl Zeiss Tessar lens with dual LED flash, autofocus, and macro mode.
The N97 camera application looks different than other Nseries devices with an emphasis on simplicity. But that's not to say there's a lost in control as the advanced functionality is hidden in the menus. The camera retains white balance, color tone, light sensitivity, high-level ISO, exposure, and contrast controls.
A simplified camera app makes capturing great photos a click away.
The new camera application features a simple one press camera taking button that handles autofocusing and photo capture - just like on the blackberry and iPhone. The one click photo taking button is useful for quickly taking a focussed photo and for people not accustomed with a camera phone having focussing. The physical shutter release is still very useful for manually setting the focus before taking the photo and for taking self photos. In any mode, the camera will automatically use macro-mode if you're focussing on something near.
Advanced camera settings are hidden in the 3 horizontal bar bar button on the right
The camera software still doesn't save your settings, like contrast, after each use.
Just to see how the N97's camera compares, I pitted it against Nokia's premier camera phone, the N82:
Indoors (N97 to N82):
The N97 handled the incoming sunlight a lot better than the N82 in auto mode. However the N82 photo is sharper showing better detail in the bolts of the plane.
Outside (N97 to N82):
I think the N97 produced a sharper image but both cameras produced very similar results.
Macro Mode (N97, N82 without macro, N82 with macro):
The N97 produced a more colorful photo than the duller N82. Although the focussing area was slightly different (the N97 was higher than the N82), the focus area on the N97 is 25% narrower than the N82.
Dimly lit interior with flash:
The camera software and dual LED flash on the N97 did not work well together as a number of photos were washed out with a flood of white in dimly lit. The dual LED is overly bright and can't be turned off when focussing so it's not ideal for taking photos in light sensitive places like the art gallery.
Dimly lit macro (N97 to N82):
The N97 produced a warmer photo with more accurate colors than the N82. However the N97 had more noise compared to the N82.
Photos in the dark (N97 to N82):
The N82 produced a much brighter photo and had more accurate colors. The N97 photo was grainly and dim.
The photo processing time after taking a photo was slow, taking about 4 seconds to finish saving the photo. This went down to around 3 seconds with the v12 firmware.
Although I keep referring to the Nokia N97 as having dual LED flash, it actually has 3 LEDs. There is 2 white LEDs right above the camera and a small red LED between the two white LEDs. The red LED is flashed when taking a photo under sunlight.
Bugs - if you require a passcode on your phone, you'll run into frequent problems with unlocking the phone where the screen wouldn't light up. For exanple, the flipping down the camera cover won't unlock or prompt for passcode and the camera application doesn't start in both cases.
Defect - The lens cover on my N97 does scratch the lens. I have 2 deep scratches close to the LED flash. I have 2 more medium scratchs running through the camera area. However, I didn't notice a big impact to camera quality.
Although the N97 camera sounds very 2007 (i.e. the Nokia N95) on paper, it really is. It adds widescreen support but accomplishes it by reducing the video height.
The video recording software saves some settings like flash but not all, such as scene, after each use.
Video quality settings:
4:2 aspect ratio high: MPEG4, 640 x 480, 29 FPS, ACC Mono @ 48 KHz, 2.93Mb/s
Widescr. high quality: MPEG4, 640 x 352, 29 FPS, ACC Mono @ 48 KHz, 1.95Mb/s (default)
Sharing quality: H.263, 176 x 144, 15.5 FPS, AMR Narrowband Mono @ 8KHz, 107Kb/s
Other settings: Show GPS Info, Audio Recording, Scene modes (auto, low light, night), White balance, Color tone.
The N97's large screen makes watching captured videos on the N97 look especially nice.
Sample Widescr. high quality video:
The data connection software, called Destinations, is a vast improvement over previous S60 software. It works like Birdstep's SmartConnect by grouping a mix of multiple access points like home wifi, office wifi, and carrier network into a single point for use by all your applications. As with SmartConnect, you can define priorities to the access points so it will use your home wifi network before trying to use your carrier's network. Unlike SmartConnect, if you set your software to prompt, Destinations will search through your access points and suggest the best access point based on your priority. And any access point you successfully connect will be automatically added to the bottom of your group of access points. It's so intuitive that I rarely need to manage access points for my mail synchronizing.
The N97 support 802.11 b/g which most wireless routers support.
The N97's WiFi antenna is weaker than my E71 even when its keyboard is opened. As you may remember from my E71 review, the E71 is weaker than the N82 in pulling WiFi signals.
Sadly WiFi doesn't work without a SIM card.
Bug: In the Wifi wizard, the right Exit button can stop working but Option > Exit still works
Bug: Wifi wizard, connected then it wouldn't respond. Switching to the application showed a dimmed screen. Couldn't kill app and it started to slow down the whole phone. Had to shut off the phone. Got stuck connected to an access point and not possible to connect back to it and the connection manager doesn't show the active connection
I turned off assisted GPS to test the integrated GPS. Lock on time from cold boot (no prior lock ons) and stationary was twice as long as my N82 but beat my E71 which never managed to lock on within 10 minutes. However, in motion, the N97 had a lot of difficulty locking on compared to both the N82 and E71 - sometimes taking up to 20 minutes to lock on.
The N97 has a weak GPS with v12 firmware.
While locked, the GPS was jumping all over the place and frequently didn't report me moving even in an open area with direct access to the clear skies. With both my E71 and N97 running the same version of Garmin XT driving in downtown of a major Canadian city, the N97 frequently showed me driving between streets and easily got disoriented when I was stopped at traffic lights.
The N97 is very jumpy so you'll frequently see yourselve between streets while driving
Some users report the internal GPS was better before installing Nokia Maps 3 but I couldn't report that. I'm hoping firmware v20 will resolve issues with the GPS. I wouldn't rely on the N97 as my dedicated GPS.
Just like other recent Nseries devices, you can broadcast the audio from your N97 over FM frequencies - great for cars without an auxillery input. The frequency is configurable so you just have to find a frequency not used by your local radio stations. The audio produced was had a noticable amount of static and more muffled than listening through headphones. I would say it's worst that a real FM radio station but it's great for road trips into areas with no radio stations.
The two small speakers at the top and bottom left side of the phone are tiny and weak.
Audio through the headset was also weak
The Nokia N97 includes 32GB of internal memory and supports removable microSDHC support.
The removable memory card lies under the back cover but you don't need to turn off the phone to access it.
I tested the N97 with a 8GB microSDHC and it had no problems with it. The internal memory and the removeable media both act the same in the phone - as a separate drives. One major advantage of the internal memory is that it's formatted in FAT32 file system which is better space usage over the FAT format of SD cards.
The BP-4L 1500mAh battery is the largest used in Nokia's line of phones. It's the same battery found on Nokia's E71, which is known for having a long standby time. Unfortunately, the N97 doesn't fare so well with the same battery, lasting only 2.5 days long with my typical usage of some camera, light GPS usage, light WiFi Internet browsing. My E71 would last 4 days under similar usage but my N82 wouldn't make 2 days. The longer battery life made using the N97 as my MP3/video player compared to my N82.
Being Nokia's biggest product launch this year against the mounting pressure from competitors such Apple and Google, there's bound to be criticism when expectations are so high. The N97 retains the legacy S60 platform which can be both a good thing (easy for previous S60 users to get around) or a bad thing (not as intuitive as it could be). Nokia made a significant effort to revamping the S60 software with a widget home screen, more intuitive reorganization of menu items, and improving the ease of use for beginners.
The new form factor is a welcome addition to the Nseries line of phones. With the qwerty keyboard and powerful 5MP camera, the N97 can easily replace my N82/E71 combination. But for those looking for a combination business tool while taking quality photos, you should also consider the E75 and upcoming E72.
To be honest, this isn't a groundbreaking product like the N95 was when it was launched but it's a natural evolution of the S60 platform. But it is worthy of the title of Nokia's flagship device, a big improvement over Nokia's previous flagship, the N96, and I think it'll do very well in markets where Nokia is strong.
Connectivity...............7 (a weak GPS hurt this score)
Features for $.........8
Software................7 (still buggy)
*very impressive camera under sunlight
*Great incoming sound
*longer lasting battery
*touchscreen or QWERTY keyboard when needed
*better data connection handling
*built-in FM transmitter
*no HTML in e-mails in built-in Mail client
*grainy camera in dark
*Paying for navigation in Nokia Maps
*creaking phone case
*software bugs throughout the phone
*lack of quality 3rd party software
*really bad GPS lock on and stability