Nokia N79 review: Swiss Army knife

GSMArena team, 20 November 2008.
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Display: time-proven quality

Nokia N79 QVGA display totals 16M colors on a 2.4" diagonal. We have seen quite a few of those screens on them Finnish handsets and never have they let us down. Brightness and contrast levels are fine ,with commendable performance in the sun.

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The display is offers very good picture quality

Our only reason to frown at the N79 display is the OLED screen on Nokia N85 got us really spoiled. We do hope OLEDs gain more ground as the contrast they offer is unmatched by any TFT unit. Leaving that aside, the display of Nokia N79 is a winner all over.

Keypad is good enough

The keypad and controls on Nokia N79 make all the difference from N78 and most of the latest Nseries releases.

The most important navigation element, the D-pad is amply sized and really comfortable. The wide sides provide one of the best Navi-wheel experiences we've had. Even if the confirm center may look somewhat small, elevation makes it pleasantly tactile.

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There is little to complain about this part of the phone controls

The keys around the D-pad are slightly smaller than we like them but the actual layout makes them perfectly usable. We should note that the Symbian and Clear key are the only flatbed controls around the D-pad. The soft keys and the Call and End buttons are actual knobs, which offer good enough tactility and solid press.

The Multimedia key is the biggest button of them all and is this time shifted all the way to the left side. Right where the ample multimedia key is, the line of the metallic front frame bends to form a bracket. It's a nice asymmetrical pattern replicated further up on the opposite side where the Nokia logo is enclosed.

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The keypad could use some more distinguishable borders but is otherwise OK

Finally we come to the alphanumeric keypad, which is worlds apart from the N78 approach. The keys are huge compared to the tiny knobs in N78, which we were the very negation of friendly typing.

This time around you can count on adequate tactility and enjoyably solid press. The only gripe is the lack of borders between keys within the same row. But that doesn't make it any less of a gift compared to N78.

Symbian user interface looks nice

Nokia N79 runs on Symbian 9.3 with Series60 3rd Edition user interface and feature Pack 2 preinstalled. In fact it is the very same interface we saw on Nokia N85 with just a touch of extra eye-candy.

The layout is quite familiar with status icons appearing on the top of the screen and soft key labels at the bottom. Quite naturally, Nokia N79 also supports Active standby with two optional layouts.

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The UI layout is quite familiar

The active standby screen is a nice and convenient way of bringing shortcuts to all favorite applications to your home screen. You can even assign shortcuts to websites of your choice for quicker access.

The screen can be organized in either vertical or horizontal tabs, which can then be scrolled with the D-pad. If active standby is disabled the direction keys of the D-pad can also be assigned a shortcut of your choice.

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The two active standby modes allow you to bring numerous shortcuts to your home screen

Active standby or not, you can always change the shortcuts assigned to the two soft keys to best suit your needs.

Nokia N79 can automatically rotate the user interface thanks to the built-in accelerometer. There are nice transition effects when switching from one mode to another: the current screen smoothly zooms out, flips and then zooms back in.

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Almost every screen of the UI can also be switched to landscape mode

Nokia N79 also features the new and improved task manager courtesy of the new FP. It is also now somewhat better looking and is appearing on top of every pop-up menu. The shortcut used in previous versions of the OS by pressing and holding the menu key still works.

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The task manager has also been improved in this version of the OS

Finally, the S60 UI Feature Pack 2 brings quite a lot of nice transition effects. Symbian OS has been well known for offering little eye-candy but now it seems to be trying to catch up.

The multimedia menu is another of the Nseries phones trademark features. It is launched via the dedicated key and provides quick access to the multimedia features of the handset with thematically sorted shortcuts. They appear as drop-down lists when the respective tab is selected. Those can also be freely reordered if the layout isn't your cup of tea.

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The multimedia menu

Being one of the most important things to performance, let's have a look at the CPU of the N79. The handset uses a single ARM 11 369 MHz CPU with no dedicated graphic accelerator. While this certainly doesn't make it the sharpest knife in the Nokia drawer it still does OK in Symbian terms, as far as UI responsiveness is concerned. The phone reacts quickly to most commands across menus.

The gallery however is an entirely different story. Much like the N85, Nokia N79 takes almost a minute to zoom in on a photo taken with the N79 very camera to 100% and that's nothing short of outrageous. The video playback issues are also somewhat more frequent than we would've liked. Having dealt with other Nokia phones with similar CPUs, we've seen those tasks handled much better. We are therefore wondering whether some software issues are troubling the N79.

The Nokia N79 user-available memory extends to a little less than 83MB topped with the 4GB card that ships along. That should get you pretty much covered for installing any software you like and still have enough room for your favorite stuff.

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