12 tips before you buy Nokia N95

135 Comments

n95a.jpgWEEKEND REVIEW: Darla Mack says that the Nokia flagship stores in Chicago and New York are about to start selling the much-awaited Nokia N95 phones. The phone, often described by Nokia executives as the ultimate multimedia computer, is being viewed as one of the most important handset releases for the Finnish phone giant.

There is a considerable interest from phone buyers as well, especially GigaOM readers: 48% of our readers who participated in a poll are holding out for this super-phone. (That alone is a good reason to sacrifice my weekend playing with N95. ;-) and writing this well waaaaayyyyyyyy too long review…)

Is it really what the “computers have become?” Nokia might be overstating the case, but they are moving in the right direction. A twin-slider phone, N95 has all the must have and bleeding features you should expect in a modern phone and some more.

A five-mega pixel camera, a video camera and audio features that can be described as luxurious. The web surfing experience is one of the best on any mobile phone, and there is a lot of under the hood improvements that make you believe that one day we will not lug around laptops.

m95gps.jpgIt is the first Nokia phone with an integrated GPS system, which I am having a tough time trying to get working, so for now I am leaving that one out. I won’t bore you with specs – you can read them on Nokia website.

The quad band phone is expensive and will set you back by about $750. You can buy the phone on the Internet for about $850 or so. So before you rush out, you might want to pay attention to twelve things about this phone, after three days of continuous use.

Physical attributes: It is wider than say Nokia N73 and you would think it would be heavier because all those extra features crammed into the phone. It feels surprisingly lighter, and fits in your palm nicely, despite its rectangular, digital camera type design.

That said, I think the design is boxy and doesn’t break any new ground, despite being a twin-slider. What I found disappointing was the chintzy feel to the phone, which I guess is the price of losing some weight.

Screen: The 240 x 320 pixels, 2.6 inch screen is bright and big, and in horizontal format, it can be used to watch video clips, or type out quick memos using the bundled Quick Office and a Nokia Wireless keyboard. The generous screen size is good for catching up on MLB scores, keeping tabs on GigaOM and checking out Digg.

Voice: If your primary concern is voice quality, the quad band phone gets very enthusiastic thumbs up from me, and it manages to pick up signals even in elevators.

Dialpad: The dial-pad is wide and evenly spaced and feels comfortable when thumbing out those text messages.

mediakey95.jpgNavigation & Media Key: The navigation keypad is also pretty easy to use and is clutter free, though “accept call” and “end call” keys are small. The Media key is finally doing what it says, and opens up a lush interface, which basically lets you navigate through most of the important apps – music player, FM radio, photo gallery and so on.

Camera: If you like taking a lot of photos, and don’t want to carry a separate digital camera, then the point-and-shoot features of N95 should suffice. The Carl Zeiss brand doesn’t really mean anything to me – I go by how the photos look to my naked eye. I find the quality of photos stunning. Camera is simple to use, and the built in Lifeblog software can get the photos to your Flickr account in a jiffy.

n95video.jpg

Video Recorder and Video Playback: I have been using Nokia N73 to do video interviews with Silicon Valley executives, and found that it sufficed my needs. The N95 however is a 2X improvement in video quality with better audio-pick up as well. Nokia has been smart in keeping the user interface consistent so there are no new tricks to learn.

The videos can be played-back on a regular television via a special cable that comes bundled in the box, and the quality of video is adequate, considering the source.

Music Player: This is the single best feature of Nokia N95. The sound quality is stable, smooth and not too loud, yet rich at the same time. Being one of those few who has tried I can safely say that Nokia N95 is their best music phone. Ever!

The big reason for that is the standard headphone jack, which allows me to plug in any one of my Ultimate Ears or Shure headphones/ear plugs. I simply hated the dongle-to-earphone hook-up. With this new standard audio jack, I can plug the headphones right into the phone.

n95music.jpg

When combined with the wired remote, my Shure SE 310 headphones have a new friend, one that would make me leave the iPod nano at home. The 2GB microSD card holds most of my current favorites, though I had to go through the burn-rip-load process. I will dig into the musical options of N95 later.

WiFi and Networking: N95 is one of the most connected devices on the market at present. It has the usual laundry list of connectivity options including Bluetooth and infrared.

While the HSDPA 3G options are pretty much useless to those of us in the US, we can certainly appreciate the mini USB connector (what took Nokia so long to finally support this?) that makes transferring files from your computer to the device a breeze, especially on a Mac.

WiFi is where N95 shines, thanks in part to new software applications that Nokia is bundling with the phone. The home screen of the phone has a WiFi scan option that allows you to easily find and connect to WiFi networks. No mucking around with the connectivity menu and getting the WiFi to to work. Full marks to Nokia for getting this right.

Internet Telephony: I loved the VoIP calling features of N80i, even if I didn’t care for the phone itself. I am glad that the native VoIP support is built into this device. While I have not been able to make it work with my Asterisk set-up just yet, the Truphone app is ready to go on this device.

I got the SIPphone to work as well, by simply copying the set-up from Nokia N80i. My Gizmo account is working, so I guess this feature is getting my personal blessing.

Battery Life: If you are looking for a reason to not spend $750 on a phone, well here is a good reason. The battery on this device simply sucks. It doesn’t even last the whole day, and that is when you are using it in GSM mode, WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS turned off. Nokia needs to fix this as quickly as possible otherwise, N95 could become a PR nightmare for them.

Even light email usage and web surfing starts sucking N95’s battery like Nick Nolte hitting the sauce. If you still insist on buying this phone, then buy a few extra chargers and have them littered around your house, office and car.

No Mail 4 Exchange support: And lastly, what I really hate most about this phone is the terrible email support. I don’t care for Nokia’s internal email client. On my N73, E61 and E70, the Mail 4 Exchange software works flawlessly, syncing over the air with our company Zimbra server. No such luck with N95.

You can install the older version of Mail 4 Exchange client, which can sync your contacts, calendars and email, but when you try and open the email, you get an error message: Feature not supported. Other push email clients like Seven’s AlwaysOnEmail client doesn’t work either with this latest version of Symbian S60 operating system.

Your best option right now is RoadSync by Dataviz, but it is going to set you back by about $99. But hey if you are going to spend $750 on a phone, what’s another $99.

Bottomline: Despite all those fancy features, lack of Mail 4 Exchange support and terrible battery life are reasons enough for me to stay away from this so-called Multimedia Computer. A 2 GB micro SD card, $99 for RoadSync, a couple of extra batteries and chargers – you are looking at $1000 in total spend. A four-figure phone…. That’s too much for a gadget freak like me.

PS: I am working on a post: Pimp your N95. If you are interested in sending me your pimp-tips, please email them using the tips form, and don’t forget to give us your name, location and tips.

135 Comments

Nooks

I spent my internship with the phone giant around the end of 2006 in their engineering division working on N95.

Back then, they were still trying to fix the battery. I guess they haven’t really found out of how fix it eh.

On the other hand, my E61 battery could only last 1.5 days top if I didn’t use it at all (probably just one or two smss), but I guess that’s because of the big screen display.

I think Nokia has always had battery problem since ages, can’t say for other mobile giants because I’ve never used them.

links for 2007-04-09 at Wired Gecko

[…] GigaOM » 12 tips before you buy Nokia N95 Om Malik has been testing my next phone and aside from the issues with the battery life it looks like an awesome choice. I am really excited about getting one … (tags: n95 nokia mobilephone mobile review Technology) […]

mariano

I got here to tell you the same as Simon… but if you were using it on that “radio mode” i´ll be pretty dissapointed with this

Nick Hawkins

The first thing I’d look for is charging over USB. I figure my BB 8700 and my T-Mobile MDA do it, so why can’t this? It’s a handy feature to have when you’re charging up your devices while at work.

The price – I can’t swallow it. Sorry. Maybe for $400, but not at that price.

Om Malik

Ahas

For nearly four days now, the battery peters out in about 12 hours at the most tops, though if i don’t use the super-features which one is likely to pay for, the battery gets a little longer life.

Om Malik

Simon,

I have been running the radios in pretty much the same setting as you had suggested.

Unfortunately it is not good enough – lets just say, if you have to use one of the features, like voip-calls, that is the only time i have been turning on the radios.

The photos/videos part of the phone also drains the battery as well.

ahas

The battery is good for a day’s use (probably 2 days, once it’s settled down), the sound quality is good enough for 95% of users . . . so that leaves to 2 groups of people who will not be happy with their N95 – People who never sleep, and people who never actually listen to music because they’re too busy listening to the sound of the music! Oh well – it takes all sorts I guess!

?

Om, how soon will it become paper weight? Expensive one.

I don’t understand Nokia. Battery life is the most important feature.

Simon Thomas

A couple of tips. Firstly, to increase battery life set the radio mode to GSM only, I believe it ships as dual mode as default which means, even if you’re in a territory that doesn’t support UMTS it will still constantly try and find it. Secondly, make sure wifi scanning is off, turn the back-light time right down and avoid GPS.

The biggest tip I have though, get the Map Loader software off either the smart2go website or the nokia website and then load up GPS maps that way. By doing this is prevents the phone from constantly using your network connection to get the maps for your area. This saves battery life and your data charges. Only problem is, its PC only, so OSX users will have to fire up parallels or Boot Camp (Alternatively, I brought my old Vaio out of retirement temporarily).

Mike Puchol

For the last 4-5 years, I’ve had the oppinion that mobile devices will not be limited by features such as screen size, range of radios, do-it-all operating systems, and so on, but by battery life. You simply -cannot- run such as screen, processor, radios, camera, etc. on the sort of battery provided with the phone. It’s doubtful any firmware fix from Nokia can fix this, it may improve a little, but the laws of physics cannot be broken.

Om Malik

Ab… good point and I totally agree with you. I find the photo quality is that what matters, not the lens brand etc.

Ab

I don’t know why people go ga-ga over carl zeiss lenses on the nokia. Having tested the n9x series and sony ericsson’s firsthand, also take a look at their respective reviews at mobile-review, the sonys’ beat nokia in image quality.

Rodrigo A. Sepúlveda Schulz

My review of the Nokia N95 (pre-shipping model)…

I was lucky to haven gotten a Nokia N95 about 10 days ago, through the Nokia VIP / blogger program. Andy (the person managing this program on the PR side) was in town this wekk and I missed him (sorry,…

Om Malik

Nick

the phone doesn’t charge over the miniUSB. It is just good for syncing. yup, i am with you on the $1000 price tag.

Nick Hawkins

Did the phone charge over miniUSB or was it just used for syncing? Either way, a grand for a phone is kinda tough to swallow.

Nicole Simon

I had the chance to hold it in my hands last september and was quite disappointed then. I am not that much into the playing of music and am most disappointed about not having a stylus with it.

Sure for somebody just into shooting pics and videos, and doing some phone calls this is great but to use it extensivly as a smart phone / pda I am used to the benefit of such a stylus.

As for Carl Zeiss – that is a quality sign as they are some of the best lenses around ;)

Please post more information later, because this may be still the best choice around despite other shortcomings ;(

Om Malik

N. Cauldwell,

first of all, BMW test. now I wish I had a BMW to conduct that test. Regardless, the phone is definitely more responsive than most N Series phones I have used so far, though there are some strange quirks in the phone. For instance if you remove an application, a little “poop” is left as the remnant of that application. go figure.

Om Malik

Ranjeet,

the lack of 3G is for US only. That’s all. I am not saying that is a problem for our international readers (lucky and we are of course jealous.)

the 3G phones in the US have some serious battery issues as well. I had Blackjack for a week – gave it the Austin Powers Karate Chop!

Ranjeet Sodhi

You mentioned a lack of 3G; or was that a lack of 3G being offered by US providers?

I am using a Cingular 8525 with 3G (UTMS/HSDPA); additionally, I know that the Samsung blackjack also supports the above 3G network. The speeds on the 3G network are awesome (assuming you have 3G coverage). I usually get betweek 300k to 850k (download) and ~110k upload from work using my 3G brick (best way to describe the Cingular 8525).

Jesse

My battery like seems OK, but then I’m used to the N80. Last a day for me which is all I need it to do. When you consider what the device can do its mind blowing – nothing comes close.

N.Cauldwell

Om – How does the N95 OS respond during navigation? I’ve been using an N70 for over a year now, and I can’t stand the super slow Symbian OS. Accessing any function just feels like a long drawn out affair.

Come to think of it, there isn’t really much to like about the N70 – although mine has survived being run over by a BMW! Any chance the N95 could be put through the same test?

Derek Punsalan

Disheartening news about the battery life. I am considering purchasing this handset but if the battery life can’t manage a full day with more than GSM enabled, what’s the point? It’s a trick looking device. I’ll hold off until I hear more news about news on the battery front.

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