Nokia N97 review: Lock, stock and touch

GSMArena team, 16 June 2009.

Retail package is decent

Nokia N97 comes in a modestly-sized (for the class, that is) box. Inside you will find everything you have all the right to expect and not too many surprises. The nice car charger that was supplied with the N96 is omitted here, probably in an attempt to keep the price down.

The contents of the retail package include the mandatory charger plus an adapter which you might use with older Nokia chargers. Both preceding standards utilized by Nokia can be converted to microUSB to charge your Nokia N97.

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Looking under the hood

The box also contains a data cable plus a two-piece handsfree that allows changing the headphones without losing the remote functionality. The headphones themselves aren't exactly screaming high-end and you might as well find an alternative set to enjoy the handset's nice audio quality on.

The Nokia N97 retail package comes complete with a cloth for polishing your new toy and a nicely designed stylus - no spare though. Upmarket and stylish though it may look, the fact that it's supposed to hang on the phone on a strap makes it a no-go by our books.

Nokia N97 360-degree spin

At 117.2 x 55.3 x 15.9 mm and with a volume of 88 cc the Nokia N97 sure is a handful. It is more than 2mm thinner than the N96, in spite of the added QWERTY keyboard, but still a hefty piece of gear by modern standards. It's bigger than the XPERIA in all directions but thinner. But we guess the larger N97 screen is probably a good enough excuse.

Talking about its own segment however, the Nokia N97 is almost as compact as its gets with slimness only rivaled by Nokia E75. Considering the difference in features we would recognize the negligible difference between those two as a good achievement any day.

The weight of 150g is another thing that could've been a disadvantage were we not talking a smart QWERTY all-in-one. However it gives quite a distinct solidity and we doubt it anyone will complain too much.

Design and construction

The slide-out QWERTY form factor has only recently found its way to Symbian handsets and Nokia in particular. We have to admit, the Finnish engineers have done a good job of it making the handset quite a looker.

Plastic from tip to toe is probably the only thing we aren't particularly fond of. In all honesty though, we cannot imagine how much it would have weighed with E71-like steel finish.

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The design is pretty good for the form factor

On the positive side, we are really pleased with the material used on the rear and sides, for both slick polish and fingerprint-resistance.

The Nokia N97 16M-color resistive touchscreen takes most of the front of the handset. It measures 3.5" in diagonal and has a resolution of 360 x 640 pixels, falling short of only the E90 business monster in the Finnish company portfolio.

While that resolution seemed quite satisfactory 6 months ago, year 2009 saw WVGA resolution screens becoming standard issue equipment in the upper market segment and they are already found on a number of non-smartphone devices by competing brands. Nokia has yet to go as high as that and we really hope they achieve something along these terms later on this year or they would be in a disadvantageous position by Christmas.

Best of all the Nokia N97 is noticeably better than what we saw on the 5800 XpressMusic (talking displays, size does count above all) but the more vivid colors of the Samsung i8910 Omnia HD will probably seem more appealing to the general audience.

Don't get us wrong - the contrast and brightness are still great on the Nokia N97, it's just that the OLED blacks can hardly be rivaled by the LCD technology.

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We really dig the ample display

The sunlight legibility is the only thing that makes the Nokia N97 screen superior to what the competition has to offer. Nothing of the bad experience with Nokia 5800 XpressMusic, the N97 users will be able to fully enjoy their handsets outdoors. The legibility of the N97 is at almost the same level as the good old Nokia N95 8GB and this is about as good as we've seen a Nokia get.

The Nokia N97 uses the resistive technology for its touchscreen as opposed to the capacitive units in devices like the Apple iPhone. This means a bit of extra pressure on the screen is needed for a tap to be registered.

The resistive display technology has the dubious advantage of allowing the use of stylus (and other objects than fingers).

The sensitivity of the Nokia N97 display is improved over the Nokia 5800 and is now at least on par with a lot of the competition, but we still see better performing touchscreens on a daily basis. It's perfectly alright when you use the stylus, but resorting to your thumbs quite often leads to poor response. That of course may be an issue of the underlying UI and not the screen itself.

We guess the improved sensitivity makes the lack of a stylus compartment so much less of an issue. If you don't like the stylus dongle, with the N97 you may as well go without it. The user experience is way ahead of what the 5800 XpressMusic had to offer.

Haptic feedback is of course enabled. Vibration intensity is adjustable, with three different levels to choose from.

Leaving the display aside, there are several other elements of interest up front. The call and end keys are this time touch-sensitive, unlike the menu key which is a regular button placed somewhat askew in the lower left corner of the front.

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The three keys at the bottom of the front panel

At the other end of the front panel of Nokia N97 we find the earpiece and video-call camera, along with a couple of sensors. Those include an ambient light and a proximity sensor, which takes care of switching the display off when you hold it to your ear.

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A couple of sensors are surrounding the earpiece and the video-call camera

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