Nokia N95 review: Nokia’s crown jewel
System, user interface, control, speed
Pros: a wide range of options for user-configuration • automatic orientation of the display • a great amount of available applications • Java support • very good voice control • phone lock • font size is configurable from the menu
Cons: limited setup options in the active stand-by mode • no clear function of the red key • slow access to the menu with most frequently used functions
The fact that Nokia N95 works on the OS Symbian 3rd edition could hardly surprise anyone these days. Not so sure or foreseen, however, is the presence of Feature Pack 1. It is a software package full of innovations and is comparable to Service Pack created for Windows XP. The difference is that Service Pack represents a number of additional improvements to cover security defects, while Symbian brings about very practical innovations for the user interface.
At first glance nothing seems to have changed. The stand-by display shows the menu of the active stand-by mode surrounded by standard details like time, name of operator, date, LED, and the indicators of battery status and signal strength. The active stand-by mode can be deactivated. If you do so, images in the back will be better but you will lose instant access to 6 selected programs and you will not be able to see events from the calendar. You will not be able to see all available WI-FI networks so quickly, either. Honestly, we had expected the active stand-by mode within Feature Pack to be improved somehow. Already Nokia 6300 based on Series 40 had its active display compounded by 4 bars, which users could fill with whatever they wanted. The same option would have been very useful in Nokia N95 too.
When the active stand-by mode is on, the ways of the navigation key help you browse the elements on the display. If it is off, you can assign the ways of the navigation key any function, you need to access instantly. As the menu is accessible through a separate button it is possible also to assign any function to the confirming center of the navigation key. The soft keys can be assigned various functions from the stand-by mode as well.
There are plenty of user-configurable functions. Apparently, this was the reason for the cardinal re-make of the Settings menu in the main phone menu. Settings now contain far more options than one would usually find in any older phone based on Symbian. For example, there is a new group of settings called Adjustments, where, apart from the design and the control of the stand-by display, there is also an option for selection of graphic themes. Nokia N95 offers 5 such themes; additional themes can be downloaded from Internet.
One of the fundamental innovations of this improved system is the option to set a global font size out of three possible levels. The result is visible in the menu, in messages and…simply everywhere…
Apart from menu colors you can also modify the design of the menu. If you are not satisfied with a matrix layout of the icons, you can organize them in a list. Naturally, you can move or exchange items and applications in the main menu in a way that best suits your needs. Another novelty is the option to create a multi-level structure of items. The icons in the menu are slightly animated, but if you do not like animation, you can deactivate it. The last innovation in the menu is the indicator of running applications: if an application is running, a blue symbol appears in the top right corner next to its icon.
The main menu is accessed through a special key located on the left of the navigation key. If you press and hold it, a vertical list with all running applications appears in background. The red key behaves a little bit strangely and its function is not completely clear. In older phones it first used to minimize applications, then it took up the function of closing applications, and today it does something in between. In Nokia N95 it usually closes applications, but it also sometimes leaves them running in background. Unfortunately, what makes it work this way has remained a mystery to us.
Apart from the main menu there is another special menu containing the most frequently used functions, which are user-configurable. The menu is accessed through a special key on the right of the navigation key. Feature Pack 1 brings a substitute for the hash key with its four configurable applications: an active graphic interface, in which an infinite number of applications can appear; you can set your introductory animation or admire a 3D frame. At the same time, in the background, various images will be slowly popping up. They will be either predefined, or four images you have set up on your own. Regardless their type, they are all a bit blurred in order that their visualization does not interfere with the ordinary work of the phone.
All these effects are really very nice, but they take too long. Eventually, after the first two testing days, we deactivated both the background and the animation extras hoping that Nokia N95 would run more smoothly, but it did not. So we put the animation back hoping that it would at least make those four seconds pass faster. Why Nokia designed this most frequently used functions menu in this way is a mystery, especially considering how sensitive users are to interface speed.
Otherwise, the phone is quite fast and scores high in direct comparison to other smartphones. Being a smartphone, however, it always takes longer to run applications that are not cached into its memory.
The display uses portrait or landscape mode according to the application that is being used. If you slide it up, it will start working in portrait mode. If you reveal the four music player keys, it immediately switches to landscape. When you close the phone, the last used visualization remains until application is not changed. The entire phone system including all its functions adapt to the display, so you can browse Internet or pictures or whatever else you like in landscape mode, for example.
We remind you that you can give voice commands to Nokia N95 as well. The phone features a voice-recognition function and is able to virtually accept any type of command. Which application will be voice-controlled and which not is up to you, as the voice-control preferences are user-configurable. Generally, voice control works smoothly. If the phone is not sure about the order it has received, however, it gives you a list of all items likely to satisfy your search. The most probable item is located on first position. The phone proceeds to its activation, unless you quickly select another of the options available or close the entire application. Voice control is especially helpful when driving. Press-hold the right context key and the application will start running.
If you want to prevent others from browsing your phone, you can set up an idle-time, after which Nokia N95 will automatically lock itself. Before you can start using the phone again, however, you will have to insert a password.