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Having had the phone for a good month now, I finally feel qualified to review the numerous features of this phone and give the low down on some of the more esoteric features of this fantastic bit of kit.
Phone basics ------------------- In brief, call quality is great, contact management is sensible, but detailed and menus and general layout very much in the vein we've come to expect from Nokia. Battery life is very much dependant on what you use the phone for, but you can manage around 2 hours max a day with some moderate application usage. This can improve if you dim the screen, turn off 3g etc, but frankly, as a magic toy, who would really want to do that? My advice, get a charger for work to go along with the home one. As I spend several thousand minutes a month on the phone, I find I quickly identify annoyances with basic features, and thusfar, have had none with the N95. The symbian element means it’s relatively easy to do fancy things like take a picture, look up a contact or calendar entry or even log onto a web page, all while mid call! The screen is one of the best I’ve seen on any handheld device, and the form factor of the phone is slightly smaller than my old N80, and quite sexy (my wife, ever the style junkie agrees). In fact, picking up my old N80 last night felt like I was stepping back 5 years.
Texting is predictably good, Nokia dictionary is easy to add to, input styles can be switched, symbols (including a new-line character finally!) inserted etc. I was quite impressed to see if you choose input language as “French” for example it has a French dictionary associated and correctly accents letters. Maybe this is a common feature in modern phones- I’d never noticed it before.
There are also some refinements over the N80 in form, such as a slightly more sprung slider. The key locking functionality is a big improvement on previous sliders and seems to keep my phone from phoning random friends.
More advanced “basics”, the video calling works well, working first time with my wife’s k800i. In fact, one of the most subtle impressions I’ve had from the phone is that most everything simply does work, first time.
Contacts are standard, supporting businesscards (although still having communication issues when receiving sony ericsson formatted business cards). All contacts have a voice tag automatically associated to them- basically a computer voice that attempts to say the name you’ve put in your contact. This is used to allow you to voice-activate a contact without actually having to record a sound and then associate it with a contact. It works for the most part, rather well. Sometimes if your contact’s name is peculiar, (e.g. Schleicher!) you do better to say it phonetically as it won’t always get the pronunciation right.
Camera ------------ 5 megapixels is a respectable resolution for a camera phone, and I think Nokia have done well with answering the obvious criticisms from earlier phones- namely, they’ve implemented autofocus (although it’s slow enough to hurt), and they’ve included a very durable cover switch (so your lens doesn’t get ruined). Add to that a few higher-end photo features like white-balance, scene modes (portrait mode etc), the obligatory carl zeiss lens and I think they have a winner in the phone camera-category. The flash is a waste of time though, and the speed of response between shots certainly makes it feel clunky compared to all but the cheapest real-world digital cameras. Apparently the newest firmware improves this slightly, but overall I think it consigns itself to camera-phone world rather than promotion to digital camera replacement!
Video -------- To be honest, I found this vastly more impressive than the camera- the reality is that a 640x480 video clip and 30 frames per second makes frankly astounding quality video- miles better than old VHS cameras and certainly only very slight worse than a proper digital video camera. Certainly good enough for a normal tv screen, and good enough to make friends jaws dropped when I plugged mine into my set one evening. Sound quality when recording is also excellent, very crisp and eminently usable. I’m considering putting together a for-fun music video with this since it’s highly “mobile” camera so special effects shouldn’t be hard to achieve! Fantastic.
GPS ------- This feature was obviously one of the features that excited me most in getting the phone. Having the navigational sense of a dead badger, I had visions of myself sat-navving my way around the streets of London on foot, never to get lost again. I’ve since found that the length of time to connect to satellites (sometimes up to 10 minutes) makes it pretty impractical for ad-hoc short navigation. Google maps (installable app) is much better for that. Fortunately, 2 weekends back, decided to buy a kitten in Reading and got a chance to try it in anger. My wife is a techno-sceptic and forced me to print out an AA map as well, but we didn’t end up using it. The volume on the phone was more than adequate to be audible in a car, and the navigation was sound, correctly identifying when we went off track and adjusting the route accordingly. There was a single glitch at a roundabout (it didn’t manage to say which exit to leave off) but may have been down to the fact that it was dynamically loading the map over 3g. I’d recommend downloading necessary maps to the phone.
You do need the phone slider opened as the GPS receiver is under the “#” key, which is a shame, but not a train smash. This is possibly annoying if you intend to mount this on your dashboard.
Overall, barring the slightly lengthy satellite connect time (reminiscent of older tom-toms), the experience was very positive, and certainly won over my wife. We payed £4.50 to get a week of navigation and this activated via SMS so very very easy. I believe it’s something like £47.50 for 3 years of navigation. If I had a permanent car, I’d definitely activate it. You can of course calculate routes and view the extensive maps without paying for the navigation features. It just won’t track you on the ground.
The GPS itself has all the other bells and whistles, including street-level view, a crisp English female voice, and a nice clear display that works as you’d expect. One caveat, get a car charger, as it sucked the phone battery dry in around an hour and a half (although in my opinion, that was still pretty impressive).
Music -------- Wow, another MP3 playing phone- big deal right? Well, I’m thoroughly enjoying it, firstly as a found a site online that sold me a 2gb card for… £7 (?!) amazing. That’s 35-40 cd’s on my phone. The next step was to see how I could get music onto it. I whooped for joy when I discovered Nokia supports MTP and hence Napster. For the uninitiated, Napster recently launched a paid service where for £14.95 a month, you can buy a music subscription, which allows you to download unlimited number of tracks and use them as long as you keep paying. As I’m a serious music consumer, I think it’s a fair price to pay (others may disagree), and it’s possible to have up to 3 mobile devices attached to Napster that you can use “unconnected”. They call this Napster-to-go which effectively means I can keep topping up my Nokia with whatever new CD’s take my fancy, legally, for the flat fee of £15 per month.
The player itself is well featured- it can show a little picture of the album, has a graphic equalizer so you can tweak the bass up, or knock out the treble so that an unexpected White Stripes song doesn’t pierce your eardrums. You can create playlists, repeat and shuffle and even show a little visual graphic oscilloscope if that appeals to you. There are two built in effects “stereo widening” and “loudness” which I personally don’t think are necessary, but still show that Nokia have put in that extra bit of effort.
And the bright sparks at Nokia brilliantly added a normal headphone jack onto the phone so you can finally use your Bose headphones (or cheap old favourites) with the phone without having to buy any sort of adaptor. The ergonomics of the socket isn’t ideal, as it’s on the side, but not too much of an issue. Sound quality is fine (although dependent on the choice of earphones, bitrate of MP3’s etc etc).
Menus ---------- Everything is customizable, from the normal Nokia menu, to the slick visual slidey menu (icons on a sort of curve, with a rotating lens as you slide between them). The front menu has a useful set of shortcuts that can start downloaded applications (so I’ve attached Gmail to one of them) and is generally very useable. You can also assign shortcuts to the directional button.
Gallery ---------- It contains a very functional gallery program that allows you to slide through previews of pics etc or run a slideshow (if for example attached to a tv!) which is great. The slide-show is very apple-mac, i.e rather than just a static picture after picture, it starts slightly zoomed in and slowly zooms out or pans, which adds a lot of interest and makes it more compelling to watch as it feels almost “produced”. It also cross-fades pictures which makes it all feel far more slick. You can even get it to play a song while it does the slide-show, adjust delays and turn the zoom/pan feature on or off.
Office tools --------------- It lets you view word documents, excel spreadsheets and even powerpoint presentations, but of course, it’s arguable as to usefulness when dealing with large docs or spreadsheets. I haven’t played with this much (as I’m not a traveling salesman)! The phone also opens PDF which could be useful when surfing to a site that only has a PDF of something you need to read. There’s also a flash player, which plays back most static animations but interactivity appears to fox it.
Useful bits’n’bobs ------------------------- There’s a great little unit converter, covering mass, weight etc, very useable. A “barcode” reader, although it’s not barcodes as we know them, but rather “semacodes” which are a sort of array of black and white blocks that you can find on web pages, often containing a coded “link”. Kind of weird, you can point the camera phone at the page on screen, and it will read the semacode and show you the address and let you surf to it on the phone. Not sure what this is used for, but ideas touted are things like putting a semacode at a tourist spot that contains a wikipedia link to extra information. Could be interesting but possibly a bit.. I don’t know, pointless?
Applications ---------------- There are a number of fairly compelling application standard on the phone. Even doing this review, I’m discovering new things all the time about this phone.
Video Centre: For example there is a service called “video centre” that allows you to download little video clips of reuters news onto your phone in the background and watch when downloaded. The video clips are predictably tiny, but it looks like the infrastructure for some quite interesting technology.
Life-blog: Okay, not strictly a N95 only app, I decided to activate a blog for mine (mikeanddan.typepad.com) which I’ve been using a little, for test purposes. The ability to take a photo, and via 3g upload directly to the blog is frankly quite amazing. If I were a twitter addict, I suppose I could blog every message I sent (for lifeblog keeps a list of everything that you’ve done on the phone in a day and allows you to upload these conversations, texts, pictures etc as you go), but I think the mundanity element prevents me… still, great in theory. One major drawback, is that too much time fiddling with that sort of application inevitably means that when you see that surprise spontaneous morris dancing, or someone with a silly hat, your battery is flat before you can press “upload”. Perhaps better from a legal perspective anyway ahem.
Radio: A very decent radio (that unfortunately needs earphones plugged in to get reception; it downloads all the settings for local radio stations, so no tuning or other nonsense- it’s all automatic (although you can do manual tuning if desired).
Games: Probably the least exciting bit; 3d Snake and a demo called SRE which is highly flashy 3d but generally unplayable and dull; luckily there is plenty of other things on the N95 to entertain and I’d say it’s easy enough to download games either via the N95 catalogue or the web in general.
I’ve managed also to load proprietary apps, such as google mail, fring (basically skype for mobile, and allows you to make calls via the wireless connection!), a business card reader (take a picture of a business card and the application reads all the details and sticks it in a contact in 1 easy step!) and have had no issues- it really feels like the phone has matured with this little lady.
Connectivity ---------------- UMTS, GSM, Wifi, Bluetooth- this has it all although the more of these you use, the quicker you lose your battery life. Wi-fi works extremely well, and having a wifi connection at home, checking gmail for example is often easier via the phone than turning on a computer, logging in etc etc. The phone loves wifi, and it makes web browsing or any internet enabled application a breeze to use- detecting networks quickly and easily.
You can also connect to a PC via USB cable, as mentioned earlier, and this also allows you to transfer music, backup/restore, use the phone as a modem if you’re on the run with an unconnected laptop (although Bluetooth is better!), use the phone’s memory as mass storage aka USB key.
Nokia software --------------------- Man, this software has come a long way- gone are the days of clunky and dated interfaces and options that work intermittently- even upgrading the firmware of the phone (something I did last night) worked perfectly first time; with the obligatory backup of all my phone details first and restore afterwards (although I didn’t realize I’d lose applications I’d installed, but that isn’t a big deal). Updating firmware, for the uninitiated basically means reloading the phone’s software, so for those afraid of buggy phones, rest assured, Nokia make reasonably frequent updates to fix bugs, and you can now update the phone completely from home (no taking in to service centres and sitting with courteousy phones any longer!).
Conclusion ---------------- Even my techno-sceptic wife is impressed by the sheer range of things this phone can do, and I have found myself surprised on more than one occasion at uncovering some new feature. Overall, with the sole exception of battery life, I’ve been exceptionally happy with the phone, and have tried in anger at least 90% of the features, and have yet to find anything that didn’t operate, as I’d expect, out the box. Add to that a 2gb memory card (although I hear 4gb is out now and works with the phone, albeit at a far heftier price tag) and I think you’ll agree the phone is truly a winner. Without doubt, the best phone I have ever owned by a very very long margin!
Cost? £500 unlocked (ouch), free on some contracts (big ones).