The functional elements on the sides of the Nokia N97 mini have an identical layout to that of its bigger brother. That means that the camera key and the dual volume button are on the right. The camera key is fine but the volume rocker feedback has quite some room for improvement.
The left side features the microUSB port and the screen lock slider. The stereo speakers are also here at the two edges. There is no protective cover for the USB slot so dust and dirt accumulation is pretty likely.
The power key is at the top of Nokia N97 mini, right next to the 3.5mm audio jack. You can also use the power key for alternating the profiles as customary for the phones with this operating system.
The bottom of Nokia N97 mini is pretty plain with the lanyard eyelet being the only diversion.
When you slide the Nokia N97 mini open, the three-row QWERTY keyboard pops up in front of your face. The keys are a bit smaller than on the original N97 but they are still large enough and will enough spacing to be comfortable even for larger-handed users.
The feedback levels are also great, increasing the typing speed even further. We aren't too thrilled about having only three rows on a QWERTY keyboard, but they got the rest of it right. The problem is that keys get a bit crowded with a three-row layout (having two chars each) and intensive usage of a modifier (the symbol key) is required.
The D-pad of the original N97 is removed in the N97 mini, replaced by four arrow keys. Placed on the right of the keyboard those are really comfortable, with the nearby enter key compensating for the lack of a confirming center.
This arrangement has allowed the Space key to be shifted a bit to the middle, where it is much easier to reach. Considering that this is one of the most frequently used keys when typing we count this as a major usability boost.
The Nokia N97 mini 5 megapixel camera is on the backside of the handset, right next to dual LED flash. Those aren't protected by anything this time so getting them scratched even under regular usage is pretty likely.
Under the battery cover lays another downgrade of Nokia N97 mini compared to the original N97. The BP-4D has 25% smaller capacity (1200 mAh) than the N97 battery. Understandably, its performance isn't quite as impressive too. The N97 mini should last for up to 320 hours of stand-by and 7 hours and ten minutes of talk-time in a 2G network or 310 hours of stand-by and 6 hours of talk time on UMTS.
In reality we had to charge our Nokia N97 mini every 36 hours but ours was nothing else than extensive torture. What regular users should expect is charging their handset every third day or something like that.
The microSD card slot is also located under the battery cover with Nokia N97 mini. That means that whenever you need to change memory cards you will need to remove it, which causes some inconvenience. On the positive side the N97 mini can handle 16GB microSD cards which are the largest currently available on the market.
The build quality of the Nokia N97 mini is really satisfactory. With the addition of some metallic elements it is now even nicer to touch than the original N97. Unfortunately, the sliding mechanism issue of having uneven tension hasn't been solved. The spring is a bit too rigid at first followed by an all too sudden release that makes a loud banging noise. We have seen Nokia do a lot better than that.
At least this time the full specs quote visible on the back of the phone when it's slid open are gone.