Nokia N97 review
Nokia is a giant in the mobile phone world, but it has never embraced touchscreen technology with the gusto you might have expected. Even with the arrival and huge success of the iPhone it seemed reluctant to join in, and the Nokia N97 is only its second such phone in recent times.
You can see why, for where the non-touchscreen E71 and E75 handsets are a joy to use, the Nokia N97 is a huge disappointment. The main problem is that S60, the phone’s underlying operating system, was never designed with touch in mind, and the few simple tweaks added here and there don’t turn it into an iPhone beater.
Navigation is frequently counter-intuitive and often inconsistent. Rather than flicking a finger up in a list, as if you were physically manipulating it, you pull down in the same direction as a scrollbar – while browsing the web, it’s reversed. In the meantime, getting to the dial pad is an exercise in mental gymnastics: most places in the OS – on the main menu screens, for example – you simply hit the green touch-sensitive pickup key below the screen, but do this on the home screen and you’re whisked off to your call history; the dialpad shortcut is a soft key in a bar at the bottom of the screen.
As with many Windows Mobile-based touch phones, there’s a litany of places where the finger-friendliness of the N97’s home screen and context menus seems to have been forgotten. Try to change the alarm, for instance, and instead of manipulating settings directly, you have to tap the fields first, then change time or date.
Neither were we impressed with the new, customisable home screen. As with Android-based phones you can arrange the screen to your preference, and there’s a range of modules available. You can choose to display news feeds, a slideshow of your photos or a Facebook widget, and there are loads more to choose from. These can all be dragged around and repositioned but, in traditional S60 style, the results are far from pretty and there’s limited space for them: you can only squeeze five items in below the clock, date and profile selection button in portrait mode.
Text entry ought to be where this phone excels. Push the 3.5in 360 x 640 screen to the right and it kicks up at an angle to reveal a Qwerty keyboard underneath. But while this is better than the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic’s touchscreen-only effort, it’s not as much of an improvement as you’d expect. The keys have little feedback or travel, so it’s hard to know when you’ve typed anything, and the layout is just bizarre, with the spacebar shunted far into the right-hand corner and a five-way directional pad on the left.
Ironically, using the touchscreen would probably be more effective, as the screen on the N97 is both sensitive and accurate – and as you dial numbers or tap out texts using the T9 dialpad it gives a short buzz every time you hit a key – but the onscreen keyboard of the 5800 has been removed here.
Then there’s the build quality and looks, which for a phone intended to be a flagship product, is nothing short of shoddy. The back is thin, flimsy and feels plasticky, the lock switch on the left doesn’t feel well constructed and the screen hinge mechanism, most critically, relies on plastic (not metal struts), which doesn’t fill us with confidence either. Aesthetics are more subjective, but we’d hazard a guess that our review model’s white screen surround trimmed with chrome and matte off-silver rear won’t be many people’s cup of tea. The black model is better, but still far from glamorous.
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