Nokia N97 mini review: Less is more

GSMArena team, 12 November 2009.

The camera has its ups and downs

Nokia N97 mini has a 5 MP camera with a maximum image resolution of 2592x1944 pixels. Carl Zeiss optics and the dual-LED flash promise nice photos with a lot of detail. Let's see is it true.

The camera UI is similar to the one found in 5800 XpressMusic and a carbon copy of the one in N97 - the few changes made are hardly for the better. All the settings are squeezed in a common menu, except for the flash, which has its own dedicated shortcut. We understand that a tabular layout isn't the easiest of thing this kind of devices but some of the more important features could have had their own shortcuts too.

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The camera UI

At least the range of settings that the Nokia N97 mini offers is extensive enough: from manual white balance and ISO to exposure compensation, sharpness and contrast. Various effects are also at hand, labeled as Color Tones.

Unlike the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic, which needed a firmware update for the purpose, in N97 mini camera geo-tagging is present out of the box.

Nokia N97 mini lacks all the modern features that the other competing manufacturers are using such as face detection, smile detection and even blink prevention - not to mention in-camera face retouching or the likes.

The Nokia N97 mini viewfinder doesn't occupy the whole screen - a bar on the right is reserved for the touch controls. You have a settings button that launches a semi-transparent overlay of all available shooting options, a dedicated Flash button and an on-screen shutter key.

The on-screen shutter key seems absolutely redundant - it doesn't have a half press/full press action to properly handle auto focus. It would've been way better to have a Quick Settings button instead.

The picture quality is pretty decent in our books. First of all the picture detail is enough to qualify the photo as a very nice one. The next thing is the noise reduction algorithm is mature enough and finds a good balance between noise levels and detail. There is no purple fringing and the white balance and auto ISO settings worked just fine.

If there is one thing to complain about in the Nokia N97 mini photos, it would be the color balance. Most of the photos have generally warmer colors and the yellow tint is at times too much to swallow. Bear in mind though that quite a lot point and shoot cameras are tuned to reproduce colors warmer than they really are since this makes the photos look more vibrant and appealing to the end-users.

The dynamic range is also not quite impressive with highlight clipping a bit more frequent that we would have liked.

And there go some more photo samples from the N97 mini camera.

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Nokia N97 mini camera samples

Synthetic resolution

We also snapped our resolution chart with the Nokia N97 mini. You can check out what that test is all about here.

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Nokia N97 mini resolution chart photo • 100% crops

HTC Hero resolution chart HTC Hero resolution chart crop
HTC Hero resolution chart photo • 100% crops

Video recording

The camcorder interface doesn't differ from the still camera much.

The N97 video capture quality is OK. Colors and white balance turn out just fine, but the compression seems too aggressive in most of the clips and produces many noticeable video artifacts.

Plus the other manufacturers are already offering better video quality at higher resolution - take Samsung, for instance, and their Samsung S8300 UltraTOUCH or even Omnia HD. Not to mention the 120fps and slow-motion videos that are already standard issue stuff on the higher segment LG and Samsung phones.

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The camcorder UI

Here are two samples from the Nokia N97 mini:

Sample 1, VGA@30fps
Sample 2, nHD@30fps

So in essence, Nokia N97 mini offers a three-year old camera technology remixed as a brand fresh product for quite a steep price tag. Image quality is still among the top-of-the-line but for a 5 megapixel cameraphone.

Five megapixels don't count as high-end anymore, not to mention the lack of all the current popular features such as face detection, tracking or manual focus, touch focus, smile shutter, blink detection and the likes.

Video recording is another area where Nokia have made no progress for the past several years. So if you've set your eyes on N97, we really hope that the camera is not the most important feature for you as Omnia HD goes for pretty much the same asking price.

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