Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Nokia news roundup - Buying Guide: N97 and Android.

By Benedict Wee

Judging from Twitter reports of local tech celebrities, Finnish mobile giant Nokia held a press conference in Auckland today to debut their latest smartphone, the N97. I don't have the phone physically but I'll give it a buying guide based on the information I can gleam from impressions/reviews by other tech blogs.

Why I might like it

Nokia has been making phones for a long time and they've been known to make them to last. Expect the N97 to posses the same sturdy-ness.

Measuring 117.2 x 55.3 x 15.9 mm, the N97's dimensions are ideal for any pocket from bermudas to tight-fitting jeans. It's pretty amazing that it's only slightly bigger than the Nokia 5800 and it comes with a full QWERTY keyboard. It's like a mini netbook!

32GB should be an internal hard drive standard for all smartphones released after July. The N97 does just that and with an upgradable microSD slot you'll get a potential 48GB worth of storage space. What to do with that much space? Listening to your music would be appropriate as the mobile has a standard headphone jack.

The user interface looks pretty. With widgets like Qik, facebook, RealPlayer, YouTube, Accuweather and Spore already installed in the phone you'll be able to streamline your accounts and play videos from the get go.

These features combined with a 5 MP Carl Zeiss optics lens, digital compass, WMV/RealVideo video player, 2-way transmitter (able to receive signals for radio or to broadcast music to your fm receiver), removable battery and voice command/dial makes the mobile almost comparable to the iPhone 3GS and HTC Magic. Almost.


Ovi Store:
It's not the Android Market and it's definitely not the Apple App Store. Nokia's own online application store for their phones is still in its early stages so don't expect to download heaps of useful apps for the N97 and they've still got a long ways to go before developers create any that are worth mentioning. Why? Because those who want a bigger consumer base and money develop iPhone apps and those who want the freedom go to Android. After that they'll have other popular platforms to develop for like Palm and BlackBerry so you're looking at pretty tough competition out there. Also I heard the store is pretty hard to navigate.

Why I won't like it

It runs Symbian:
Or to be more specific; Symbian OS v9.4, Series 60 rel 5. The Symbian OS has been around for awhile now, going through various upgrades the past few years to its current iteration today. Symbian is also the oldest mobile OS when compared to the iPhone OS or Android so one would think that they've perfected the art of creating a easy to use operating system. They didn't. It's clunky and not very user friendly interface can be frustrating to use.

Looks like a million things happening at once

This is a major mistake to make. With us spoilt on the smooth UIs of the iPhone and Android one would think that the N97 had the strong, capable body of a 18 year old with the personality of an 81 year old. Looking at the video reviews of the phone I kept telling myself that the phone would be perfect to run Android. And speaking of Android..

I'm inserting the Nokia news about the Android here. They've flat out denied the rumors that they will release a smartphone running the Android platform. To quote:
"There is no truth to this story whatsoever. It is a well known fact that Symbian is our platform of choice for smartphones."

Why Nokia? Android could be the saving grace you need to get back that market share you've lost when other smartphones like the iPhone and HTC Android mobiles were released. You've got awesome looking phones which last really long and all you need is to have an OS that runs perfectly and you'll get an uber-phone that people will want to buy. I know, I know, you own Symbian now but flogging a dead horse is not an option when there are better platforms out there that many are using. Android is free for pete's sake!

Back to the review, I don't think anyone should bother to learn how to use an interface that might (or might not) get phased out in a couple of years because there are easier and better looking OSs out there where you'll only need to learn only once.

Price and Processor:
So apparently Finland is encased in a magical bubble where recession is a word that goes with spring to signify a weeks break for university students in March and there are no other smartphone makers out there that could possibly compete with their mobiles. Either that or Vodafone NZ is trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for most expensive phone sold commercially ever.

The cost of the phone is NZ$1799 without a contract.

Now compare that to the other (better) options in the market; a 32GB iPhone 3GS for NZ$1379 or the HTC Magic for NZ$1099 and you'll wonder how Nokia (or Vodafone) came to that really, really, really far out price. The N97 might be like a mini netbook, but its pricing is in the notebooks range.

Also why does the N97 only have a 424 MHz processor when the iPhone 3GS has 600 MHz and the HTC Magic 528 MHz? That's only a tiny step up from the iPhone 3G's 412 MHz. Does the 18 year old have the mind of a 81 year old as well?

The N97 gets so many things right but the stuff it gets wrong are so glaringly bad that you've got no choice to but to keep on staring at it like a vehicle accident. Bad OS, slow processor and an incredibly high price makes me give the phone a major fail. I would not recommend buying it at all.

It's a real pity though, and I can't help but feel sad for the Finnish mobile giant. I remember the time when I was 16 and I fell in love with the 3210 which began a very long love affair with Nokia till the 6280, but its refusal to get with the times, their ridiculous pricing and its unwillingness to be open about their OS might end up being the source of its own destruction.

Look for the N97 to appear on Vodafone's (and maybe 2degrees') shelves soon.

Gizmodo's review of the N97
The National Business Review's review of the N97
TechRadar's report on Nokia and Android

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