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Hands-On Review: Nokia N95 US 3G Version

[qi:012] A few months ago when I got my hands on the first version of Nokia N95, my initial impression about that phone was less than enthusiastic. A 5-megapixel camera, remarkably solid music playback capabilities, and the ability to make phone calls over WiFi seemingly struck a chord with everyone but me.

Battery life, lack of U.S. 3G (HSPDA-High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) higher speeds for wireless Internet access, lack of Exchange support left me cold, though those shortcomings and a steep $750 dollar sticker price didn’t stop N95 from being a brisk seller, especially in Europe.

Well, Nokia fans in the U.S. can rejoice – the new N95 is capable of handling U.S. 3G connections, the kind currently being offered by AT&T, is finally making its debut stateside, and you are going to be impressed by the subtle tweaks that come with this new device.

You might remember that I got a glimpse of the new phone on The GigaOM Show, when Blake Krikorian, CEO of Sling Media showed up with what Nokia describes as “multimedia computer.”

I have had the opportunity to play around with an early prototype version of the new 3G-capable N95 for a couple of days, and so far, it has been an experience to remember. It seems someone at Nokia sat down, read through my long list of nagging issues with the N95, and fixed them.

The single biggest improvement is the battery life of the power-hungry device. It also seems to be faster and has more on board memory. The camera on the back of the phone is recessed but that doesn’t seem to have impacted the photo and video quality. Still, I am going to miss the shutter protecting the Carl Zeiss lens.

Did I Say 3G: What I found most impressive about the new N95 was that I could use the phone as a modem and connect to AT&T’s 3G network. The download speed was a nifty 400 kilobits per second when the device was connected over Bluetooth to my MacBook Pro.

The ability to use N95 as a modem was a good enough compensation for the disappointment I felt, when I realized that I couldn’t sync the new version of the device with Apple Address Book and iCal via the iSync module. I guess the next update from Apple should fix this issue. (No such problems when I plugged in the phone to a ThinkPad T61, where the Nokia PC Suite worked flawlessly even over Windows Vista.)

After this point forward, the phone just proved to be a pleasure, though it has been hard to adjust to the 12-key triple-tap-and-type data entry methodology after using the iPhone. I was impressed with the Windows Live search application that comes bundled with the phone, and the tons of games that have been great time-wasters.

VoIP: The phone comes bundled with Gizmo VoIP client and it took less than 30 seconds to set it up, though I could not make it work over the 3G connection for voice calls, and ended up using the WiFi connection instead. The same problems occurred with the Truphone client, though finding WiFi networks is a breeze, thanks to a built-in Wi-Fi finder.

Multimedia Madness: The new devices come with easy access links to Nokia’s new music and gaming portals, though the services were not live during the time I had the phone.

Nokia has also made it easy to watch YouTube videos on the device: the speedy connections actually make that fun when compared to YouTube videos on the iPhone. A video center shortcut on the menu gives access to more video such as Reuters business news, though I had trouble making those particular videos work. You can also add other content such as RocketBoom.

Playing back videos and music has seen marginal improvements. For instance, videos have less jitter and seem more stable, I guess because of a more powerful processor.

Maps Maps & Maps: Nokia bundles its Map application with this device, and over a 3G network it is actually useful and fast. I really like the GPS with 2D/3D views.

There were some nagging issues such as Nokia’s Mail4Exchange didn’t work.

Verdict: Overall, this is definitely a much-needed improvement over the previous (European) version of the N95. If iPhone isn’t your cup of tea, and you’ve got about $750 to spare, then this one is worthy of your time.

Next up is twisting Blake’s arm and getting him to give me a copy of the Sling Player: now that would be something. Meanwhile, I am going to settle in for the night and watch Casino Royale on the tiny screen.

46 Responses to “Hands-On Review: Nokia N95 US 3G Version”

  1. I’m glad I read this review because I was wondering if the N95 could be used as a modem cause I’m planning on getting that along with that N810 internet tablet when its released.

    The folks at didn’t know if it could be done or not but they sell the phone (they have the cheapest price by the way $609)

  2. Regarding twisting Blake’s arm for a free version of the SlingPlayer, twist no more: Sling (Echostar) has made a distribution deal with Nokia, and the SlingPlayer is available with a free license for the N95. Works great, too. I also love it on my HTC Tilt, but that’ll cost ya $30.

    I think you can just navigate your N95 browser to the Sling site, and download it from there.

    I’m a fan of the N95 for many reasons, like media, camera, aftermarket software (like Kyte and Fring), and the browser is an absolute dream — but I just can’t get over the lack of a keyboard AND the lack of a touchscreen. A 12-key UI? Unless you’re a 20-something euro-kid, that’s just not enough.

    I’ve got a roller, a keyboard, a D-pad, and a touchscreen on my HTC Tilt/KaiserII. A smartphone needs smart I/O. N95 nails the O, but poked out their I.

  3. StHalcyon

    I noticed yesterday that the has been updated to include both the N95-3 and N95 8GB in their product listings ( and respectively). However, a quick scan through the specifications on both devices reveal that the 3G portion is 2100 MHz! Do you have any idea what is up with that? You think the product information is simply incorrect? I’m anxiously waiting for this…

  4. Osho,

    1. Yes, I “sideload” all my maps to avoid network usage. The Nokia Maploader software is able to download maps state by state, province by province, or country by country into your memory card.

    2. The signal once locked on is good. On firmware 12, the lock on times with AGPS (Assisted GPS) is consistently 20-30seconds. Without it, it can take 1-4 minutes for a good lock. Once locked, the tracking is about +- 15 meters depending on the number of satellites. I’ve navigated using the tracking option (shows you the route and your position but no voice guidance) and was able to find my destination accurately.

    3. Not sure since I have not paid for navigation. But reviews and prices from people who have used it say it is very affordable. You can get 1 day, 1 month, 1 year or 3 year plans.

    My question is OM mentioned a more powerful processor, is this true?

  5. Hi,

    I had a few questions for N95 8GB’s GPS, maps and navigation capabilities:

    1. Is it possible to copy US data to the phone’s memory so that one doesn’t need to use the data network to download maps via 3G?

    2. How good/useful is N95’s GPS signal reader in a moving car at real-life speeds (45mph to 65 mphs)?

    3. How much their navigation capability (plan routes etc.) cost?


  6. Tony Chung

    Hey Om. So how did you get the 3G internet to work with your laptop? I understand that you used the bluetooth on the N95 to talk to the bluetooth on the laptop. Is this service built-in with the 3G phone service or is this a separate feature that I would have to pay in addition to my voice service? I’m seriously thinking about buying this phone but unfortunately I have T-mobile and will probably change over to Cingular/ATT.

  7. Whats up with the ‘even with Windows Vista”. reference. Despite Vista’s much(unfairly) publicized compatibility issues, vista supports more devices than OSX can dream off.

  8. There was an update to Mail4Exchange that added some support for the N95 a few weeks ago. Free download from Nokia’s Business Software site, or OTA via the Download app on the N95.

    To the person who asked about the N75, AT&T sells it for $100ish with contract, or from places such as Expansis/MobilePlanet and Wireless Imports for about $400 for it unlocked to any carrier. Note, its 3G only works on the AT&T side, not TMob in the US.

  9. I’m here in Singapore to cover the Nokia event. From first hand review, the new N95 8GB version has good improvements over the first gen. The Tv output is also good for photo, video and game viewing with bigger TV screens. The new Nokia Menu 1.0 is also a much better navigation and will be implemented across all future N series phones.

  10. very nice.

    My main issue with iPhone is the phone part:

    • sub-par reception
    • voice quality issues (I can recognize iPhone when someone calls me on one — it sounds pretty bad esp. for a $500 device)
    • low volume
    • no tactile feedback (or actual keys)
    • no easy blind one-handed operation so I could use it while driving.
    • no voice activation… (again would be useful while driving.)

    At least with Nokia, you get the phone part right. Everything else is of secondary importance to me. It’s nice to have a good multi-media function and a cute browser, but not as a substitute for a good phone function.

  11. monal

    in limited 72 hour testing, the battery life is better than the previous version i had. i believe the battery has been changed just to address those issues.

    not sure if i am a fan of windows mobile fans. not found anything that rocks my world so far.

  12. The iPhone and the Nokias carry similar browsers and to date there is no other phone to consider.

    • iPhone has retarded EDGE speeds that should have been eradicated with the launch of HTC Wizard in 2005

    • iPhone has the capacitive touch screen that is a must since 2007

    • N95 is so Neanderthal, a “multimedia computer” that

    • sports the retarded iSync tethering you to some desktop, when over-the-air PIM went mainstream in 2004
    • How are you going to input data on a keypad?
    • and why is it so huge? That form factor won’t impress anybody
      I think Nokia, being busy inventing funny names, is loosing it in a time when the phone is really a computer. Once, if ever, MS or Apple get their stuff together, N will be challenged.

    It’s about usability, capability, and openness which no company got right yet. Whatever you pick, you will suffer.

    Right now you need an iPhone for usability, a Nokia for stability, and an HTC for the download speed. When is it ever going to end?

  13. Om,

    If you want some help connecting Truphone to 3G let me know. I connected it to EDGE on my E61i and it worked beautifully. Email me at info @ BrilliantExpos . com if you would like help.

    By the way, I have chatted with some of your staff in the past and they were extremely nice.


  14. humanist

    Expected price is in the USD500 range from the other articles I’ve read.

    Given the outstanding warranty repair I’ve gotten on my N770, I’ll definitely take the N95 rather than the Sony/Eric I was considering.

  15. techmine

    I am assuming, I will get my iPhone unlocked, one way or the other :)

    Also, almost every Nokia model sees a price drop. So next year at the same time, N95 will be around 600. iPhone’s price won’t change.

  16. Tim Meyer

    The $750 is of course for an unlocked phone, so the comparison to the price of a locked, 2yr contract iPhone isn’t accurate. It is free on Vodafone UK with a 18 month contract for example.

  17. techmine

    Should I buy iPhone for 499 and think that I paid 250 less for not having 3G and a powerful camera? I have never used a 3G network so I don’t know how big is the improvement over EDGE network. Only OM can do this analysis and give us some numbers. I feel iPhone has a BIG advantage over all others because of the touch screen but who does not want a fast internet connection on cellphones. Damn why did Apple decide not to have 3G on iPhone.

  18. sounds great Om but still it comes back to the all important battery lfie when it comes to making constant use of those features…..Not sure if your a fan of WM6 phones but ATT also has a nice HTC variant(8925) coming out next week fully loaded which could compete with the N95