A very feature-rich phone marred by difficult software. (June 7th, 2008)
Product Manufacturer: Nokia
Price: $400 (Rogers 3-year plan); $750 (US unlocked)
- Excellent camera for a phone.
- Surprisingly capable Nokia media player; Mac software a big help.
- Fast 3G and Wi-Fi.
- Stronger GPS features than BlackBerry.
- Good call quality.
- Expensive, even on contract.
- Symbian S60 unstable and at times difficult.
- Rogers media software forced on users and less capable than Nokia's.
- Short battery life.
- Video calling nice, but unlikely to be used so soon in North America.
Nokia has often saved its best smartphones for Europe -- and it's a move that has cost the company North American marketshare as the iPhone and other devices pass it by. The N95 8GB North America Model (NAM), however, is evidence that the company is making amends for slacking off -- especially now that the phone is finally available through an official carrier (in the form of Rogers Wireless) and has all its features exposed. Putting this penultimate version of the N95 through its paces reveals a very powerful and flexible phone that nonetheless feels somewhat hamstrung by Nokia's legacy.
design and build quality
If there has been a common complaint about Nokia smartphones, it's been thickness. While there is evidence Nokia is starting to mend its approach, with the upcoming E71 likely to fix many of these problems, the N95 8GB seemingly epitomizes Nokia's willingness to push the sheer number of features over a pocket-friendly design.
This phone is thick -- so much so that it's bulkier than the already thick Sony Ericsson K850i. While that lends it a certain easy grip and reassuring weight that a lot of phones lack, the size is enough that it effectively rules out the phone for anyone with especially crowded or tight pockets. There are technical reasons behind this, such as the namesake 8GB storage, the 5-megapixel camera and even stereo speakers, but few would argue that the N95 8GB is a physically elegant replacement for a fashion phone or a new wave of devices like the 3G-capable iPhone.
All the same, the layout does demonstrate careful attention to real-world details. Aside from the dominating and vivid 2.8-inch LCD -- whose only real flaw is the likelihood of smudging such a large screen -- the phone also offers surprisingly comfortable controls. Most buttons on the directional and numeric pads are large enough to hit reliably and are also designed to work well in landscape mode; Nokia's "stretched" select buttons make them easy to strike when the phone is on its side. However, the company's presumptions about media use also affect control. Both the dedicated media controls (through the unique two-way slider) and camera button assume the phone is in landscape mode, which can be counter-intuitive when you simply want to skip a track or take an impromptu photo.
Nokia wisely chooses to equip the phone with a lot of industry-standard connectors, including a mini-USB jack (for sync) and a full-fledged, 3.5mm headphone jack. Too many companies, including Apple, rely heavily on proprietary connectors that virtually guarantee an expensive replacement if cables are lost or break. A decision to remove the microSD card slot is definitely unfortunate, however, and seems arbitrary when the similarly sized N96 holds 16GB built-in while still finding room for expansion cards.
What's less than impressive is the fit and finish of some buttons. The 8GB model is tangibly better than the original version and has a very solid number pad, but still falls a bit short in the quality of its directional pad. These controls have a slightly hollow feel and will squeak slightly when pressed. They aren't likely to fall off, but the comparatively flimsy feel is a bit disheartening for a phone that costs $400 even on contract.