Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Nokia N97 Review
If you own a mobile phone, and most of us do, there's a good chance that you're using a Symbian operating system (OS).
Symbian is the name of the OS that powers most mobile phones in use today. That's largely because it's Nokia's OS of choice and Nokia is the maker of the world's most widely-used mobile phones.
In fact, Nokia liked Symbian so much that, last year, it acquired the 52 per cent of the company it did not already own and turned it into a non-profit foundation.
Symbian is not only the most widely used mobile phone OS, it also accounts for about half of the smartphone segment of that market - the one that includes Apple's iPhone and Research in Motion's BlackBerry.
But maybe not for much longer. Despite the huge headstart, the Nokia/Symbian share of that lucrative end of the market is a shrinking one.
Enter the N97, Nokia's latest flagship smartphone and one of those products that falls into the "iPhone-killer" category - phones that pack in a suite of features that you'd typically find on Apple's trend-setting mobile.
The phone sports a distinctive fold-out screen, which transforms it from a standard "candy bar" form into a "butterfly" with a keyboard and screen in landscape mode.
The phone itself ticks off most of specs you'd like to find in a modern smartphone: 5 megapixel camera (with zoom and flash), video, removable battery, a big 3.5-inch touchscreen and a physical keyboard.
Plus it has 32GB of internal memory that can be topped up with another 16GB of external memory using the microSD memory card.
That's basically everything the iPhone is criticised for not having: physical keyboard, replaceable battery, expandable memory, non-proprietary cables and more megapixels.
But you can't judge a phone by its hardware specs alone - impressive as they are.
What drives the phone is arguably more important. And the N97's driver is Symbian.
I have been a long-time user of Nokia and Symbian, so I'm familiar with most of its idiosyncrasies. But I didn't realise how stuck in a time warp that OS had become until I took the N97 for a test drive.
Newer operating systems such as the iPhone OS and Google's Android make Symbian seem almost prehistoric.
And Nokia seems to have fallen into the same trap that RIM did when it introduced the BlackBerry Storm last year, assuming that all you need is the veneer of a touchscreen in order to tackle the iPhone. But, instead of making it simpler, that just added to the complexity of the device.
I found the set-up process equally frustrating and non-intuitive, beginning with the flimsy back panel that you have to pry off to insert the SIM card and the battery.
The camera also disappoints. I was expecting the 5-megapixel camera with the Carl Zeiss lens to deliver much more. Instead, I found the image quality to be flat and unreliable.
Taking a leaf out of Apple's book, Nokia has opened an app store - called the Ovi Store - where mini-programs and games can be purchased to augment the phone's functions and extend its capabilities.
Less than two months after opening, Nokia says it has about 20,000 apps available. That's an impressive total, given it took Apple a year to build up to 65,000.
But, once again, Nokia hasn't delivered. Two of the apps, the Opera browser and a newsreader for The Guardian newspaper, failed to download and my request for help via the Ovi Store was left unanswered.
On Apple's App Store, timers and wallpaper can be obtained for free and you'd be hard-pressed to find a Twitter client costing more than A$6.
All in all, I found the N97 to be underwhelming and not nearly good enough to dent the iPhone, let alone kill it.