Nokia N90 review: The great mobile revolution

David Polesný, 31 July 2005. Read the original review at
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Tags: Nokia

The best display in a mobile ever

The quality of the displays of all current Symbian Nokia models is very good. Yet, some critics have already raised voices, according to which the 176 × 208 pixels resolution is insufficient. On a surface of 35 × 41 mm a single square centimetre fit in 2551 pixels. Some modern phones are equipped with displays, featuring almost twice as many pixels on a square cm. The new Nokia 6230i (4807 pixels), Panasonic VS3 (5020 pixels) or Sagem MY X-8 (5020 pixels) are only a few examples. The praised display of the new Sony Ericsson K750 has 3709 pixels on a sq. cm.

The main display of Nokia N90 keeps the original size of the displays of all previous Nokia models with Symbian. The difference lies in its resolution, which is four times higher! Yes, there is no mistake. This phone uses a grid of 352 × 416 pixels on a tiny surface of 35 × 41 mm, which means that it displays the unbelievable 10204 pixels on a square cm! If you also add the amount of 262K, the picture you get is almost ideal

Click to zoom. Click to zoom. Click to zoom.
The picture can hardly show the incredible quality of the display

When you start Nokia N90 your excitement may be cold showered. Apparently, the animated introduction logo with two shaking hands has not been optimized to display the characteristics of the new display, so everything looks just like it did before. Once the user environment has appeared, however, one can do nothing but stare with astonishment. Font and icons are perfectly clear, photographs look as if printed on glossy paper, individual pixels are impossible to recognize without using a magnifying glass. The only defect I ran into was the slightly yellowish nuance of the white color, which is however impossible to observe in normal use. In addition, you will have to do with somewhat poorer readability, when the display is positioned under direct daylight.

Click to zoom. Click to zoom.
What once used to be the main display of the high-class 6230 model is an additional outer display in the new Nokia N90

The outer display is identical to the main displays of most of the models of Series 40. It is active, offers a 128 × 128 pixels resolution on a square surface of 27 × 27 mm and is able to display 65K colors. As it is an outer or supplemental display, the parameters quoted above are respectable. But if you work some time with the inside display and then switch to the outer one, your will see the difference. The problem is that compared to the inner display this one looks much too common and "boring".

Sample view at the outer display (stand-by mode, ringing, displaying information, waiting for a voice order, camera mode in a horizontal handhold)

If not active, the outer display is showing the time in big inverse numbers. It is very easy to read, even without backlighting. When there are missed events, they are symbolized by tiny icons. When the display gets activated (for example, when you close the phone, press the joystick etc. ...), the stand-by mode starts running. It displays details about the current date, time, the name of the mobile operator, the network intensity state, the charge level of the accumulator, and of course, it shows the icons alerting missed events. To view those events, simply use the joystick. There is no need to open the phone.

Compatibility of the new environment

The changes made in the display resolution carry along the question of how these changes can be dealt with by the current version of the Symbian system and the applications available for Symbian Series 60. At first glance, everything seems much quite the same. The user's environment has been left unchanged. Only the picture features better colors and displays more details.

In order to find more, I installed one of the most favourite applications among users - FExplorer - and sat down waiting. The icon of this program looks ugly and edgy in comparison to the rest of the icons. The same holds true for the icons and the font inside the program. Nonetheless, it works without problems, which is still the most important thing. The majority of the programs work well too. Graphic motives are also compatible. Icons and pictures adjusted to lower resolution declass the quality of the display. To my disappointment, the phone has only one graphic theme, which is moreover utterly basic, with white background.


I am sure every attentive reader has recognized most of the programs mentioned in the previous paragraph. So which are the programs that have difficulties cooperating with the new environment? Display screenshot programs. After several hours of searching, testing and consulting I did not find a program that would save the entire display of Nokia N90 onto a picture. All standard readers managed to save a mere quarter of the display, this is a picture in the resolution that is typical for the displays of the current Symbian phones.

A quarter of Nokia N90's display

As any good review is expected to contain pictures of the display of the relevant phone, after having tested about 12 screen readers I moved on to searching for a program that would allow the control of the phone from a computer, because such programs transfer the mobile's display onto the screen of the computer, from where pictures can be easily acquired. My success was however far from full. As I expected, the only program that was able to work this task out (Image Expo), was only available in its trial version; so it marked the final picture with a hologram and kept functioning for a very limited period of time. As the price of this program was $ 99.95 and I had not time to lose, eventually I was forced to grab a camera and take photos of N90's display in the old-fashioned way.

Speak out loud!

Even with different resolution display, Symbian Series 60 remains the same in respect to user's environment and functions. What is notable is the modification in the design - font is smoothed, 3D menu icons are well elaborated... The owners of older Symbian phones will probably find the Active stand-by mode quite interesting. The main display shows an overview of the most recent issues from the calendar or the number of non-executed tasks. Here, you will also find temporary files of the most frequently used applications.

Main display with the Active stand-by mode on • missed calls and messages alert

But for Nokia 6681's owners this function is not new; they already have it in their mobiles. I just like to remind you that you can deactivate the Active stand-by mode. If you do so, the standard picture, clock and state icons on the display will keep their places.

Applications and functions menu

The main menu consists of 9 icons, whose tags get open rolling vertically. Icons can be filtered and organized into folders. The phone offers a line-like configuration as well.

Environment is possible to change according to graphic motives

A piece of news is the voice control option. Not because older Nokia models lacked it, but because Nokia N90 is able to recognize orders, which were not entered prior into the phone. You just need to press and hold the camera release button, situated on the right side of the phone, and speak out your wish simultaneously. This way you can also change profiles, activate Bluetooth or the mailbox, or dial voice mail number. What a pity that the phone does not allow more types of orders.

You can replay your voice orders

This technology has been also used in the phonebook. As a result, each saved name is automatically given a voice nomination too. When a name is pronounced in the same way, in which it was saved in the phone book, the priority number assigned to it is automatically dialled (i.e. mobile number, landline number, etc.). In every such dial up the phone confirms your choice by reading out the name of the called person. Initially, its electronic voice may evoke a smile on your face, but very soon this smile will turn into anger when you find that dialling a number this way is virtually almost impossible. It is obvious that this function is not "elaborated" well enough yet and is therefore virtually useless.

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