12 tips before you buy Nokia N95

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.

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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.

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