Nokia N97 review: Lock, stock and touch

GSMArena team, 16 June 2009.

A complete connectivity

Smartphones are usually well-heeled in terms of connectivity. Nokia N97 makes no exception: all contemporary means of data transfer are supported.

Both USB and Bluetooth are version 2.0 and the latter naturally also sports A2DP. Wi-Fi with UPnP support is also at hand. There is no shortcut key for the Wi-Fi manager, but it can be easily found in the Connectivity menu and connecting to a WLAN network is two taps away.

All kinds of network connectivity are at the user disposal - GPRS, EDGE and 3G with HSDPA. By the way if you want to know which version of the N97 you should get - the one with dual-band 900/2100 MHz UMTS or the 850/1900 MHz variety you might want to consult our Worldwide Network Bands distribution database.

Finally, the Nokia N97 has a memory card slot, which can usually give you the fastest data transfer rates and can take up to 16GB cards.

Web browser speeds Flash, but slows touch

The web browser of Nokia N97 is about the same as on the 5800 XpressMusic. And this is just not satisfying. A great browser indeed, but hardly touch-optimized.

Panning and kinetic scrolling are the only things that are done by sweep gestures here, and zoom/out zoom are controlled by tapping on the screen twice. There are no options for fit to width or fit to height, which makes convenient positioning of the text on screen a nightmare .

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The web browser has much room for improvement

There is a Page Overview option, which is a sort of a minimap of the webpage that eases navigation.

At least the page rendering algorithm is quite good, making all the pages look as if browsed from a desktop PC. The high resolution is also a welcome bonus here, as it allows more content to fit on the screen.

Finally, the web browser has full support for both Flash and Java, which means that you can enjoy flash videos straight from your browser without having to use the mobile versions of sites like YouTube.

So, generally speaking, the second S60 touch-browser is nicely equipped but fails to satisfy some common ergonomics shortcomings that we frowned at quite a few months back when 5800 was introduced.

Organizer has all you need

The S60 organizer didn't obviously get too much effort beyond the actual touch optimization. Well, developers were right up to a point but, given the progress of most competitors, some new functionality would have been nice - like copy/paste of events in the calendar or a new calculator.

We have to admit though that the calculator is much more comfortable to operate with fingers than with a D-pad, almost as if it was designed for such use from the very beginning.

The calendar has four different view modes - monthly, weekly, daily and to-do, which allows you to check up all your To-Do entries regardless of their date. There are the same four types of events available for setting up as on S60 3rd edition - Meeting, Memo, Anniversary and To-do. Each event has unique fields of its own, and some of them allow an alarm to be activated at a preset time to act as a reminder.

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Some of the calendar viewss and available settings

Mobile office is also very well geared, with preinstalled applications able to open Word, Excel and PowerPoint files seamlessly. The PDF viewer was preinstalled on our unit but itís only 15-days trial version (duh!) and after that you need to buy it from the Nokia download center.

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Only viewing of documents is supported out of the box

Unluckily, editing documents is not supported by the included Quickoffice version. If you would like editing enabled you will have to get the upgrade from the Nokia Download center for a fee.

The organizer package also includes a great unit converter, calculator and voice recorder, as well as the Notes application.

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Some of the other organizer apps

The Active notes is advanced application for managing notes. It allows you to attach pictures, sound files or video clips to your memo and has nice and touch-friendly user interface. Itís not so daily used app, but still it will find its fans for sure.

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The Office menu, Active notes, settings

The alarm application allows you to set up as many alarms as you want, each with its own name, trigger day and repeat pattern. If this seems too complicated, there is a quick alarm setup where all you do is set the time and you're good to go. This is quite convenient for, say, setting up your wake-up alarm.

In addition, the number of alarms is not limited. Thanks to the built-in accelerometer you can also snooze the alarm by simply flipping your phone, much like with the Nokia 8800 Arte and 5800 XpressMusic.

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We are quite fond of the alarm application

Games: oh, they forgot them

There are no preinstalled games on the Nokia N97. Not even the so popular Snakes. Thatís a real shame.

As an N-series smartphone Nokia N97 has full support for N-Gage so you can buy and download as many N-Gage games as you like. Once of course, N97 is added to the official list of supported devices on the N-Gage website.

GPS will show you the way

Nokia N97 comes with a built-in GPS receiver and judging on our experience itís a fairly sensitive unit but nothing spectacular. The handset managed to acquire satellite lock from cold start in about good 5-7 minutes upon the first attempt (A-GPS turned off at the time). Nokia 5800 XpressMusic had it somewhat quicker, but still after you get the satellite lock, keeing it locked is not an issue for N97 even in dense urban environments.

The large high-resolution screen sounds like a serious premise for reasonable use as a dedicated navigation unit. Unfortunately, the N97 has only three-month trial voice guided navigation and you need to pay for more.

The phone comes with Nokia Maps 2.0 Touch preinstalled. As you might have guessed this is merely a touch-enabled version of the standard Nokia Maps 2.0 application. It offers extensive map coverage for free but you do need to pay for most of its extra features such as traffic information or city guides.

As we just mentioned you will also have to buy the voice-guided navigation license, should you pick the application for the purpose. At least the actual purchase itself is quite simple directly via the phone interface. If you prefer an alternative navigation software, you might want to carefully look around for a compatible version.

The touch-enabled Nokia Maps application itself is doing pretty well in terms of features too. It has four different view modes including satellite and hybrid maps. Those however do need an internet connection. The more regular 2D and 3D view modes are also at hand.

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Nokia Maps 2.0 Touch application offers four different view modes

The route planning algorithm is also rather easy to customize to best suit your preferences. Toll roads and motorways can be avoided and so can tunnels and ferries. Route selection can be set to either fastest or shortest. The app is also usable for pedestrian navigation or you can switch the GPS receiver off and use the phone as a hand-held map.

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Some of the available settings

However, we do have some grudges with the touch implementation. The lack of a dedicated shortcut on the screen means you need to enter the options menu to center the map back to your current position after you have panned in some direction - in a regular keypad handset, the 0 key will take care of that. On the positive side, panning and zooming in the maps is really fast and the high-res screen is capable of showing quite a lot of data.

The overall impression with GPS navigation on Nokia N97 is very positive but, having in mind that a 1-year voice-guided navigation costs a lot and we are not sure whether many people will go for that. But who knows - with an ample screen like that it might easily replace a standalone navigation system.

As it appears, the only officially compatible third party navigation software for the S60, 5th edition UI that we could find is the ViewRanger application. It is available since February 2009 and was first introduced for the Nokia 5800 device.

ViewRanger is an off-road satellite navigation application that fully benefits the touch screen devices and offers simplified navigation for friendly experience. Users can download the the topographic maps directly to the phone via available Wi-Fi or using GPRS connection. Of course downloading the maps on the PC and uploading on the phone remains the main way of installing the navigation software.

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The ViewRanger GPS software

The feedback from users, that have already tested the software on 5800 XpressMusic are positive, so it is a safe bet that ViewRanger software will work for N97 as well.

According to user input Garmin Mobile XT 5.0 for S60 3rd edition also runs fine on the new batch of touchscren smartphones but as the support for those is not official your mileage may vary.

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