The Nokia N97 is model that can come off looking a good bit conflicted. When it was announced late last fall, Nokia was lauded for taking a solid and unchallenged step into the next generation of smartphones -- smartphones that essentially lived in a state of always being connected. However, since its announcement, there's been several devices that have challenged many aspects of the N97's design -- from the connectivity, to the widgets, to the amount of space, to integration with web services.
The N97's arrival, 6+ months after its announcement, put it in a totally different mobile environment. How does it stand up to other current smartphones, and more specifically, what does it mean for the future of Nokia's mobile offerings?
DESIGN & BUILD
One of the first things that you notice about the N97 is that it's not exactly a small device. Its about as plump as my Nokia N95, and just a bit longer.
To go along with its large size, it's heavy too. I was a bit shocked that the N97 felt as heavy as the Nokia N800 Internet Tablet that I also own. It has a similar form factor, but is much more pocketable.
But in that bigger size you get a really, really nice screen. Compared to the Nokia 5800XM, the N97 seems to use its 640 by 360 pixels to the best advantage as possible. Colors are reasonable, and sunlight visibility is much better than the 5800XM.
The QWERTY keyboard is one of the more debated items on the N97. Despite its unconventional design, it is a really well designed keypad. The backlight is sufficient for all but the most mixed of light settings, and each button is positioned right where you'd thumbs expect them to be - not necessarily where you've learned they would be.
That being said, the key travel doesn't inspire confidence at all. It is really needs about 1-2mm more travel. When you are in a high-content writing session, the lack of travel means that you start to feel some fatigue from slowing down to make sure that you've tapped the key that you want.
Also, there's some delay with the on-screen display in some applications like Messaging. If you get really good with this keyboard - which is possible in very little time - you will notice that you'll type a lot faster than what will show on the screen. The first major software update addressed this some, but its still quite evident.
As with most new mobile devices, there can be varying degrees of build quality across units. The N97 is no exception to this, but it's a weird one. I was so impressed at the build quality of the review unit that I was sent (speaking of the quality of the slider, the weight in hand, and the haptic feedback) that I purchased one of my own -- only the second time I've done this in all the years I've written at Brighthand. The new device didn't feel as well put together. It sounded and felt a lot looser.
This might be a result of me being around so many phones, though. In putting both N97s in the hands of people who'd not seen either device before, they could not feel the difference between them. To me, it was and continues to be very noticeable. Not enough to send the unit back, but noticeable.
That being said, the N97 is one of the most solid slider-type devices that I've ever used. The only device that has been better in recent memory is the Nokia E75 -- which feels like it was chiseled from a tank even after it is slid open.
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