I've used Nokia Maps in the past a lot for car navigation with my N95 so obviously it is a must work application on the N97 as well. So when I recently drove from southern Germany to Vienna I used the N97 to guide me. While a beta of Nokia maps 3 is already available for some time now, I preferred using the installed Nokia maps 2 to test the stability of the N97. No issues, the GPS works well, a first fix only takes a couple of seconds due to A-GPS support and the route planning and execution works flawlessly. Great!
I like listening to podcasts while I'm driving and in the past this has always been an issue as the built in speakers of my N95 aren't loud enough to overcome the background noise while driving. The N97 has an FM transmitter to send the audio signal to a radio which could be a great solution to the problem.
In practice it's a bit difficult to use as the transmission power seems to be very low. To make the radio detect it I had to hold it very close to the radio. Once detected, the N97 can be removed a bit and the audio signal is still o.k. for an audio (voice) podcast. For music however, there's a bit too much static. I changed the length of the external car antenna a bit which improved the sound quality a bit but still, there is some static in the background. While driving I lost the signal after an hour or so, probably because a radio station came into range which used a nearby frequency. While driving, it's impossible to re-tune the FM transmitter and radio due to the proximity required for the radio to find the N97. This makes the whole thing a bit impractical.
So if possible from a technical and regulatory point of view, the FM transmitter should have a higher power output, the current level is just too low.
One of the most important applications on my mobile device is e-mail. The built in Nokia e-mail client is a bit to light weight for my purposes so I've been using Profimail the past couple of years. In this part of the review, I'll have a quick look at both.
The Natvie e-Mail Client
For the newcomer, the functionality and usability of the built in e-mail client might just be ok so I concentrated on how easy it is to create a new e-mail account with the creation wizard. It turns out that just a couple of steps are necessary to get an Ovi mail account (email@example.com), assuming general access to the Internet has been set-up already. The account creation wizard asks for your name and a new password, makes a couple of suggestions for how the e-mail address can look like and then sets-up the account and configures the phone. Nicely done even if the web based wizard was not yet optimized for the screen size of the N97.
My first attempts to send an e-mail to the newly created account failed but after half an hour or so the server configuration seemed to be working and e-mails were delivered promptly afterwards. Another plus is that e-mail attachments are not automatically downloaded as that is mostly unnecessary anyway. New e-mails are notified by an audio alert, by vibration and by changing the blinking of the light behind the menu button. The blinking, however, is hardly noticeable, I would have wished they would have done something more visible. There's a small white LED next to the USB / power port which which could be put to good use. Next software version, maybe? Downloading and opening a PDF attachment worked fine while doing the same with a word document repeatedly resulted in a "server error" and a subsequent automatic closing of the e-mail client.
Now over to Profimail. I've been using it for a number of years now and I am a huge fan. With it's own UI layout it's more efficient in displaying information and it's also more customizable. So no doubt I want it on the N97, too. The installation worked flawlessly and the program has even been adapted for touch input. The style and size of the menu and the soft keys are just the right size for me, not too big to take too much of the visible space and not too small for touch input. Scrolling through the e-mails with a finger on the touch display also works great and the big screen of the N97 makes e-mail reading even better than before. All the rest works as on the non-touch N95 so definitely two thumbs up for the N97 implementation. What I found a bit more difficult is writing an e-mail. The QUERTY keypad of the N97 is good for short replies but for longer texts I reverted to the on-screen T9 input. While typing works ok, the very limited space available for showing the text in this mode is not as comfortable as on the N95 where all of the screen is used for showing the text. Also, for some strange reason, typing a space character sometimes resulted in a new line. So the learning curve for typing text is not as smooth as I hoped for.
In summary, the e-mail experience on the N97 with Profimail works for me and I guess that with a bit of practice, I could manage to work with the different text input modes that are available. Well done Nokia and Profimail!
In part three of my N97 review I'll focus on how the various text input methods work for me.
Both the on-screen and built-in keyboard work great for me. I am a quick T9 user and the virtual keyboard on the touch screen works very nicely. I can type almost as fast as on the real keyboard of an N95 for example and the haptic feedback helps a lot with the experience (the phone vibrates when pressing a key). In silent mode there is no haptic feedback which is also great in some situations where even a short vibration for every key press would disturb. In that respect, it's better than the N95 which makes a mechanical sound when a button is pressed. And: T9 can be used with a single hand on the N97 just like on the N95, another important feature for me!
Typing in usernames and passwords with T9 is often a bit difficult as especially passwords are usually just a combination of characters and letters so it is necessary to deactivate T9 first. That's where the three-row hardware keyboard comes in for me. It works great for usernames and passwords! For longer texts, however, I prefer the T9 input especially when I can't use my Bluetooth keyboard, e.g. while standing in line or with very restricted space like in the metro.
One of the most important features of Nokia S60 phones is the support
of Bluetooth keyboards as I sometimes write lengthy e-mails or blog
entries. For The N97, there is currently no supported driver for
Nokia's SU-8W keyboard. However, the S60 3rd
edition driver works on the N97 and installation is quick and smooth. After updating the device's firmware from version 10.x to 11.x, however, the
driver always crashed and I had to re-install it to get it working
again. It would be nice to get an officially supported driver where these things don't happen.
So much for today. Next stop: e-mail
Part one of my N97 review series focused on the touch based web browsing experience with Opera Mini. Today, I'll take a look at the Voice over IP, presence and instant messaging experience on the N97.
Unfortunately, there is not much to focus on at the moment. What I very much like on my (current) N95 is the integration of SIP telephony. Whenever I come home the N95 detects my Wi-Fi and automatically registers to my SIP VoIP provider sipgate and the phone becomes a combined cellular / cordless phone with a fixed line phone number and a cellular phone number. One would expect to find the same functionality in Nokia's latest flagship product but TO MY GREAT DISAPPOINTMENT the functionality was removed. The configuration menus are still present but the UI for making SIP phone calls from the phonebook or by typing in the phone number and then selecting "Internet Call" from the menu have been removed.
But what about the much touted Skype integration Nokia announced during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this year? Again, a blank, no Skype to be seen anywhere on the phone. It made for good publicity then but if no actions follow, that kind of undermines credibility.
While it was one thump up in the last post, this post definitely ends with two thumbs down, my expectations for VoIP integration (based on the N95) were greatly disappointed. I don't really feel that connected anymore with the N97 🙁
Nokia was nice enough to send me a N97 for testing and of course I couldn't resist. There are already lots of extensive reviews about it all over the net saying both good and bad things. I can't and don't want to rival those reviews so I decided to report a bit about the things I personally like and don't like that others haven't looked at.
One of the killer applications on my N95 is Opera Mini. I much prefer it over the built in browser as it is much quicker and bandwidth efficient. On previous non-touch phones I realyl enjoyed Opera Mini's sophisticated keyboard shortcut controls. Typing *3 brings me to my favourite news web page, *5 to my favourite tech web site, *7 to Twitter, #9 to the search engine page and so on. Typing 2 scrolls upwards exactly one screen length, 8 scrolls down exactly one screen length, etc. The learning curve is a bit tough but once the shortcuts are memorized the browsing experience is awesome and lightning fast. So how does Opera Mini work on a touch based phone without keyboard shortctuts?
Much better than I thought! The Opera Mini touch implementation works quite well, scrolling up and down the page can be done by dragging a finger over the screen. After a while, the already big screen of the N95 looks rather small compared to the 16:9 screen of the N97. A downside of "touch scrolling" is that it is not quite as precise as scrolling with the keyboard controls of the N95. On the N95, it's simple to scroll down exactly one screen by pressing a button as described above. On the N97, moving the page in any direction with a finger requires some skill and the eye has to follow the page in order not to loose the location of the page where one has stopped reading. It surely looks nicer sitting in a Café but it is not quite as practicable. Nevertheless is is usable and I can live with it well, so I won't complain too much.
Some things are not quite as fast as with keyboard shortcuts. To go to my favorite news web page I have to press the "menu" button, select "bookmarks" and then select the web page I want to go to. Not too much of a hassle but it definitely takes a lot more time than just pressing *3.
I wonder if Opera is working on improving this as I think touch gestures could replace some of the keyboard shortcuts. A gesture to enter the bookmarks instead of going through the menu would already speed things up quite a bit. Also, Opera should increase the size of the menus and bookmarks when it detects a bigger screen and touch screen capabilities as hitting the right menu entry or bookmark with a finger takes a bit of practice.
So while I can't maneuver through the web quite as fast as on the N95, I nevertheless like the "touch" experience Opera Mini provides and it's difficult to declare a winner here. So I declare it a tie.
So this was part one of the review series.
Clicking on the "N97 review" tag at the bottom of the post brings you to the
other entries once they are published.