Nokia N97 Review - Hardware

Anticipated by millions of people for over a year, the Nokia N97 is Nokia's flagship product for 2009. It features the new S60 5th edition touch focused user interface with a slide out QWERTY keyboard and all the multimedia goodies that distinguish an Nseries like 5MP camera, wifi, and integrated GPS. The box contains the phone, AC-10U charger, CA-101 USB data cable, Nokia Wired Headset (AD-54, HS-45), Nseries pointer, screen wiper, and Nokia CD with utilities and programs.



I've had the N97 over a month now and I want to share with you my experiences with it. I wanted to make this one big review but there was just too much to talk about the N97 that I'm breaking it out over 3 posts: Hardware, Software, and Multimedia.

Thanks to WOM World for supplying me the N97-1 in this review.

More after the jump!

I originally received the N97 with the V 11.0.021 (15-06-2009) firmware but midway through my review Nokia shipped the much improved V 12.0.024 (04-08-09) firmware. As with all Nokia S60 devices, Nokia has been very diligent improving the user experience based on user feedback. Nokia also makes it very easy to update with their fantastic over the air (OTA) software update. The next firmware, V20, is rumored to arrive in October and will carry significant user experience improvements like OS wide kinetic scrolling.

Quick facts:
Name: Nokia N97-1 (RM-505)
Network: GSM 850/900/1800/1900 WCDMA 900/1900/2100
Weight: 150 g
Dimensions: 117 x 55 x 15.9 mm
Battery life (stand by): 700 hours (WCDMA), 280 hours (GSM)
Battery life (talk): 320 minutes (WCDMA), 320 minutes (GSM)
CPU: 32bit Freescale MXC300, 434 MHz ARM1136JF-S
RAM: 128 MB

My phone was manufactured in: (your phone's country of manufacture could vary) Finland.

The N97 closed:

 

The display half of the phone is very flat and undecorated. The top has a thin slit for the speaker rather than the usual Nokia grill. 3 circles are beside the speaker slit: the proximity sensor, forward facing camera, and light sensor. The bottom has two touch sensitive call keys and a really stiff multimedia key.


The multimedia keys is very stiff. I wasn't fond of the call keys because they don't consistently respond in every part of the OS.

The N97 opened:



Opening up the phone will slide the display out and up at a nonadjustable 35 degree angle to the QWERTY keyboard half of the keyboard. The slide mechanism is smooth and assisted so it'll snap open. Closing it requires a little more force but it'll also snaps to the closed position. The slide mechanism is very sturdy and never felt loose - very comparable to the E65 in slide quality. I've never had the phone accidentally slide open and the slide mechanism doesn't feel it got any looser over the month of usage.


The fixed screen angle makes it easier to see the screen when the N97 is sitting on the table but doesn't do much to improve the typing experience.

Keyboard lighting

The N97 while closed:



The N97 while opened:


There was little to no light leaking or spilling. It's nice to see the D-pad finally lighted on a Nokia phone.

Aesthetics
The N97 doesn't look like the typical Nokia Nseries of its era. Its use of circles and round corners give it a softer appearance unlike the sharp square-ish designs found in the N95 or N82. The N97 is also surrounded by a chrome trim to give it a higher class appearance that is more typical of Nokia's Eseries line of phones.


From left to right: Nokia E71, Nokia N97, and Nokia N82.

The SIM card card holder is a slide out type which is a lot easier to switch SIM cards in and out than the E71.


In terms of thickness, the N97 is almost double the thickness of a E71:

Nokia N97 compared to the Nokia E71

But the N97 is inline with other high multimedia phones:

Nokia N97 compared to the Nokia N82

Display
Wow this screen is huge for a Nokia! It's a 3.5 inch TFT LCD displaying 360 by 640 pixels with 16M colors.


The widescreen and size make watching movies on the N97 enjoyable

The screen is a resistive so it requires you to push on the screen unlike the capacitive screens found on the iPhone and many Samsung touch screen phones. However, unlike captive touch screens, the resistive touch screen does not require human touch so it is still usable with your gloves on or a stylus pen. Since the screen requires pushes, the screen has a slight flex. Although a number of reviewers bemoan the use of resistive over captive, in practice you don't notice it as much since the accuracy is still impressive right out of the box. You can also go through the calibration wizard if you're picky. A sore point to the touch screen is that the N97 doesn't currently support multi-touch. The vibration feedback for the touch screen was comfortable - being noticeable but not overwhelming.

The higher screen resolution of the N97 mark a significant improvement over the 320 x 240 pixel screens of previous S60 phones. Text and icons no longer look blocky. Screen legibility is on par with the N82 under sunlight the E71 is better however. Noticeable lines run diagonally on the screen when you reflect light off the screen. While closed you can see the top layer having a top right to bottom left by light reflecting off the screen while the lower layer runs top left to bottom right seen by looking closely at the screen in the dark

Sadly the software blanks the display while the phone is locked. It would've been nice to have a clock and phone status displayed like the E71.

During my month of normal usage, I noticed a few numerous hair-thin scratches, only visible by reflecting off the screen that slight distort the screen, appear. My N82 has screen scratches after a year or usage but my E71 hasn't yet.


Keyboard

As enjoyable using the kinetic finger swiping to navigating pages may be, it was easier to click small links found in a group of links, like a tag cloud, using the d-pad. Having the option of using both the touch screen and physical keys is a strong selling point of this phone.



D-pad is shallow. Used nails to left and right side a lot. Some reviews have commented on the unusual left placement of the D-pad but this makes a lot of sense for gaming and you compare it to most video game consoles where the D-pad is always on the left.

The keys are very shallow so there isn't a lot of feedback when you push them. A number of times I didn't know whether I pushed the function key at the bottom right for number input. Part of the issue is that different keys provide a different feedback such as the 'H' making a click sound while my 'M' key is a lot more muted. Keys also vary in stiffness such as the 'O' character was stiffer than 'H'.

The placement of the function key is so far bottom right that it's hard for my right thumb to reach making apostrophes, numbers, or anything needing the function key a chore. If you're coming from the E61 or E71 then you'll immediately notice the 'Z' character no longer sits below the 'A' character. I made a number of typographical errors hitting the CAPS key instead of 'Z'. Highlighting text is difficult with the keyboard as the shift key is far to the left along with the d-pad. Someone at Nokia was listening as the newer N97 mini addresses many of the key placement issues.

Why are the decimal, comma, and apostrophe all on the same key? They are the keys I use very often. I much prefer the E71's keyboard putting comma period beside each other and don't require a function or caps lock key press.

The flatness of the keyboard and spacing made it less enjoyable to type on the N97 and directly influenced the reduction of emailing from the N97 compared to the E71.


The N97 keyboard compared to the E71

Overall the N97 keyboard is useable but not great. It pales in comparison to other Nokia QWERTY equipped phones like the Nokia E75 or Nokia E71.

Build quality
The battery cover hinges are small and fragile so don't break them by forcing the battery cover on.



The battery cover creaked and the area around the lock/unlock key (extremely annoying as the unlock key is so frequently used) but the rest of the phone was solid.


The key lock is frequently used but also creaked the most so it keeps reminding me of bad build quality

I remember worrying about the display ribbon being exposed behind the hinge but I haven't heard of anyone complaining about it. Under heavy usage, the bottom half of the phone gets noticeably warm.

Continue to N97 Review - Software > >
Nokia N97 Review - Hardware Nokia N97 Review - Hardware Reviewed by Eric on 9/06/2009 Rating: 5

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