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Nokia N97 review



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Review Price £427.30

Nokia's N97 is, for me, one of the most eagerly anticipated handsets of 2009. Yes, I know, we've had Apple and Android stealing a lot of the attention as far as smartphones are concerned, but Nokia was doing well with smartphones long before either of these two got into the game. Its Communicator series has been going for many years, and the N97 is the logical successor to that range.

Nokia's Communicators were thick-ish sizeable handsets with a clamshell design that housed a serious mini QWERTY keyboard and a wide screen. In the early days, they were seen very much as rivals to the non-network aware Psion Series 5 (still yet to be beaten for sheer usability as a mini computer as far as I am concerned).

Why the history lesson? Well, because it matters. The N97 represents a convergence of several lines of development. It is an extension of other N series handsets. Its touchscreen, for instance, is a progression of what was found in the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic, while its Communicator heritage could also bring a collective smile to the business community.

Nokia has to achieve a lot with this phone to meet all those expectations and justify the £500 price tag. But while this smartphone is full to the brim with features, I don't think it does enough to sit at the top of the tree.

The N97 is not the beast that Communicators were, but at 117mm x 55.3mm x 15.9mm it is a little on the chunky side. The latter actually grows to 18.25mm at the thickest point, in order to accommodate the sliding lid for the Carl Zeiss optics.

I can accept the chunkiness because the handset houses a QWERTY keyboard. You get to this by sliding top and bottom parts of the handset away from each other. As you slide, the upper part moves to an angle of about 45 degrees, a convention we first saw a long time ago in the HTC TyTN II and which recently resurfaced in HTC's Touch Pro2. It makes viewing the screen with the phone on your desk a pleasure. The sliding process is smooth but the hinge is plastic which makes me wonder how robust it is.

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July 3, 2009, 6:35 pm

I pre-ordered this phone to replace my beloved 2 year old N95. It was not a success and the phone is now back with Nokia.

The software is not at all finger friendly and I found myself using the point of my fingernail for accuracy whenever using the touch screen.

The keyboard is actually quite good but, with the black model, the secondary functions (in blue) are very difficult to see when the backlight is not on. You soon get used to the space bar though.

I am still a huge Nokia fan but can't help but worry that, unless the Symbian Foundations new interface is a radical departure from the current, Nokia will lose there massive share of the smart phone market.

I am not abandoning the brand as I have now ordered a Nokia N86 to replace the best phone I have ever used bar none, the N95.


July 3, 2009, 8:18 pm

How come the pics in the article of the screen look very muddy and lacking in contrast, yet the (I guess) Nokia derived ones are quite colourful. The viewing angles don't look that special either Could you be showing the phone as it really is!

And what on earth possessed Nokia to put the spacebar so offset what possible benefit ( to the user)is that?

You helped me dcide (NOT) on this unit any way!


July 3, 2009, 8:26 pm

Not sure how a lukewarm review translates into 9 out of 10. I tried this phone out and was distinctly unimpressed with it. Symbian S60 is feeling tired and others (Apple, HTC and Android) are accelerating away. Yes all the right functions are there but the usability compared to others is what lets it down.


July 3, 2009, 8:28 pm

Sorry just realised it was 8 out of 10 not 9 as stated. My comments still stand though.


July 3, 2009, 8:39 pm


Many review sites have given the N97 a kicking but still gave it a good score so not to damage their relationship with Nokia or whoever gives them review samples.

I'm sure Sandra is very nice, but I find her reviews absolutely dreadful. This review spans over a few pages thanks to the large images used to bulk out the review. She says she didn't have the phone for very long and was unable to perform the usual tests. So clearly with such little experience of the phone, how can you review it properly? In fact, why was it reviewed at all? Bizarre.


July 3, 2009, 8:47 pm

@ JonHend lol when I saw the first few sentences of your comment I had to look at look at the name to make sure it wasn't me and I had not written that when I was in a trance. I have been using an N95 for 2 years. I have been eagerly waiting the release of this phone. I have had a mobile phone for almost 10 years and have never had anything but Nokia as my main phone. I needed a new mp3 player and so this was the perfect match for me. Nokia phone with a 32gb hard drive. However, I was quite disappointed because the music interface was as dull as it gets (and the phone's whole interface in fact once you get beyond the home screen). The playback options were also very limited. The sound quality/volume was also not really great. So it was clear that there was no way I could possibly use it as an mp3 player. The touch screen controls were also very disappointing. Sometimes you would tap on the screen and nothing would happen. I also found scrolling through lists a nightmare. Also I could not get the FM transmitter to work and there was a day when if someone called me the volume would autmatically start reducing to mute and so I couldn't hear anyone who called. I also did not like the fact that in the address book I could not rename contact details. I have alot of contacts on my phone who live outside the UK and on my N95 I could relabel their UK number Mobile UK so as not to have to check the numbers to see which is UK which is for a different country (boy I really hate it when companies release an update of a product and take out a function that was in the old product). I could also not get a single video on my pc to play on the device despite trying out 5 different video converters (including 2 labelled N97 video converter). Which made about 10gb of the hard drive obsolete since I only have 20gb of music.

In the end I decided there was no choice but to return the phone and go back to my trusted N95. For music I decided to get the ipod touch even though for about 7 years now I have been saying the world would end before I bought an ipod. However, I hear there are so many good apps that make it worth its price for once rather than just being an overpriced fashion statement (although I will still probably ditch it when Zune HD comes out as I don't like being part of the masses). The iphone I quickly ruled out because I hear you can't forward messages, can't use personalise ring tones (very big deal for me) unless bought from apple, can't send txt to more than one person (and only two weeks ago got picture messaging). Basically as a phone for me it seems as backward as a 2002 nokia.

However, I have to put a caveat on any negatives I have said about the n97. I think my phone may have been buggy which is why I had the reducing volume problem and FM transmitter not working. And if I did not need an mp3 player I would probably still have kept this phone. It is still a nokia and I don't think you can't beat nokias when it comes to basic phone functions and usablity. I couldn't justify spending over £250 on an mp3 player as well as jumping from a £25/month contract to a £45. My wife had also been bugging me to get a blackberry for her with my upgrade and then I use her upgrade in December. So I decided to get a blackberry for her. When December comes around and it is time for me to use her upgrade I think I am still probably going to end up going for this phone because I doubt that apart from the 2year old N95 there will be a phone that is just as good. And hopefully, there would have been firmware updates that improve the screen's responsiveness and improve the dull interface.


July 3, 2009, 10:40 pm

@ etuoyo

I was as firmly in the Nokia camp as you were, for years...but I took a chance on a second hand 16GB iphone recently and it's been a nothing short of a revelation. I am also a self admitted anti-Apple man, can't stand the smug iPhone owners club!

However - Jailbreak it and you can do everything you could do on your nokia - only on a lot easier and better looking OS and hardware. Battery life's not great and I can't get my beloved BBC iPlayer working since I jailbroke & unlocked it, but that's a small price to pay.

If your tech minded this really is a good option right now as they're going real cheap :)


July 3, 2009, 10:46 pm

Dont try to do the age old change your product code to get your firmware updates on this baby, i bricked mine last night and a few others have done the same from what ive read on the web. im very experienced at it so it wasnt a mishap on my part. going back to my e71 anyways, a far superior phone. it may lack the big screen and the big memory but for day to day use it's a winner over the n97 which i gave 2 weeks of use for before i bricked it. keyboard on the e71 is far superior. theres almost no tactile feel to the keys on the n97. if you want the most solid feeling and best working cell phone , buy an E71. if you want all the bells and whistles that do most things fairly well and probably the best resistive screen ive used yet then the n97 is pretty good. i get the new iphone 3gs this week , hopefully its alot better than my old 3g's i had . no a2dp and video recording and the awful camera were deal breakers for me. hopefully being chained to itunes wont be so terrible with a better phone this time.btw, my global release n97 came with out an fm transmitter. but, a very sweet stereo bluetooth headset kit.

Geek in Training

July 3, 2009, 11:43 pm

I was going to add details of the availability of a firmware upgrade for the N97 according to one website but most of you appear to be aware of it anyway.


The luke warm reviews have put me off the N97 so I'm now holding out for the Samsung i7500. It's either that or I'll be joining the ranks of iphone users despite my reservations about the camera and lack of radio.


July 9, 2009, 4:25 am

@ etuoyo;

Everything you mentioned about the iPhone can now be done with V3.0 of the OS; certainly you can on my iPhone 3GS anyway.

Some features have been a long time coming from Apple, those Americans don't really get text message for some reason, however, like with copy & paste, now Apple have implemented those features, they are the best you will ever use. Copy & paste on the iPhone is just so brilliant and simple, tried to do the same thing on my not so old Nokia Navigator and it took ages and loads of clicks to copy a bit of text. On my iphone I can copy entire web pages, with images and paste it in an email! It's superb.

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