The Nokia N95 Mega Review – Part II

Mobile Device ReviewsDevin Balentina

Since the first pictures of the N95 started appearing on the net it made a really big impact not only in the mobile community, but also other tech related media, even the non-tech media covered the phone. Before the release to the public, forums were packed with discussions about this mobile phone and since then it has become some kind of ultimate gadget lover’s phone.

This is the final part of my two-part review of this amazingly cool phone. Connectivity
The N95 is a well connected device and I have to admit that when doing this review I had to recheck several time with the product page to make sure I had them all. Ok, so it supports the new 3.5G standard a.k.a HSDPA with speed of up to 3.6MB/s download and 384 Kbits/s upload. Sadly there’s no US-specific model which means no support for US 3G, but I do think that by the end of the year we should see that model arrive in US stores. Of course there’s also the EGPRS class B with a max speeds of 296 Kbits/s download and 177.6 Kbits/s upload. Furthermore it has the Dual Transfer Mode (DTM) support for simultaneous voice and packet data connection in GSM/EDGE networks.

What other standards are supported? WLAN (802.11 b/g) (of course with UPnP) Bluetooth v.2.0 and USB 2.0 via the miniUSB interface. As for Bluetooth, version 2.0 is onboard, as compared to the older Bluetooth 1.2 specs it has:

  • Three times faster transmission speed, up to 10 times in certain cases (up to 2.1 Mbit/s).
  • Lower power consumption through a reduced duty cycle.
  • Simplification of multi-link scenarios due to more available bandwidth.
  • Further improved (bit error rate) performance.

About the miniUSB I must say it’s about time Nokia! The old Pop-Port interface which was used for a long time on Nokia phones is way too bulky and wasn’t very reliable. I suspect that it was this Pop-port that caused many bricked phones during the firmware upgrade process. The miniUSB standard is a much universal standard which uses a more compact and secure connector. This shows as I haven’t really heard of bricked N95 phones due to failed firmware update. The USB connection to the PC supports mass storage, PC suite and Media Player standards. If the Media Player options is selcted the N95 is seen as Media player that is capable of syncing with Microsoft Media Player. The N80 pioneered the UPnP standard witch allows you to play videos, music and photos on UPnP home media network compatible devices like TVs, stereos, PC’s , media centre’s and other similar devices, all of this is done over a WLAN/UPnP connection. The N95 is now the 4th device to support the standard. I do see that UPnP has a lot of potential but it seems as if the time is not right yet and that more devices need to be released for the standard to really take of and show its true practicality. I tried it back when doing the N93 review, this should give you an idea as to what to expect on the N95: ‘While I don’t have any UPnP enabled media servers to try this out, I gave it a try using the included Home Media Server software. I don’t like the interface but it does what it’s supposed to do: I was successfully able to wirelessly send and receive songs, pictures and movies to and from the PC. I was also able to wirelessly display specific images on my PC’s display that resided on my N93’s memory card. Another neat trick was the ability to use the N93 as a remote control for the music being played on my PC. I did fin that Windows Media Player 11 is able to do most of the same things except for wirelessly display pictures and use the N93 as a remote control.’

TV-out, Pictbridge to connect to compatible printers, Infrared and Remote over-the-air synchronization are all there. I’m glad they are still offering infrared; it seems this is still popular, especially amongst businessman. TV-out was newly introduced in the N93 and now standard on the N93i and is TV-out through the use of Nokia’s CA-64U and CA-75U cables. TV-out is nothing new in the mobile world as phones like Samsung’s D600 have had this feature for some time now. But the N93/i and N95 go a step beyond that with 3D gaming. With its impressive 3D power you can hook it up to your TV and play games a la PS2. It displays exactly what your phone is showing allowing you to use it as PowerPoint presentation device or how about playing some tunes on the TV or showing grandma what S60 looks like. Another neat use I found for this is connecting a Bluetooth keyboard to the phone and using my TV as a huge monitor to browse the web.

GPS
When it comes to the GPS I’m going to keep it short and simple, the N95 now integrates a GPS receiver right into the device. This is handy as you don’t have to carry separate equipment. It surprisingly works and works really well, getting a steady signal in less then 30 seconds when the conditions are right. Once a signal is found it really keeps a hold on it, proving that it is a good performer in the area. I have to admit that standalone GPS receivers lock-on much quicker and are much more sensitive. Nokia has taken the necessary steps though by now improving the N95’s GPS performance by adding Assisted GPS in firmware version 12 which should improve lock-on times dramatically.

The GPS does have it’s negative points, one is the impact it has on the already weak battery life. Continues GPS usage will kill the battery in less then 2 hours, so if you plan on taking the N95 on your next trip a car charger and holder are highly recommended. The interface itself looks great with a nice and intuitive UI. Luckily all maps are free, you only have to pay for the voice guided turn-by-turn directions and city guides. This is done through an interesting pay-as-you-go system. Unlike other systems where you pay a hefty one-time fee, the Nokia Maps on the N95 allows you to pay for the period in which you’re going to use the software. I do see a lot of possibility due to the GPS’s open nature as it works with other GPS apps like Nokia’s own Sports Tracker. I found that other apps like LOCR, Google Maps , Micrsoky and Shozu can use the built-in GPS. I would like to see companies like TomTom release software to work with the N95’s GPS.

The Power of S60
To me one of the best features of N95 is the Symbian OS using the S60 3rd edition Feature pack 1 UI.( Can’t wait for 3rd edition feature pack 2). What’s so great about it you may be asking yourself? Well, there are many reasons. First of all I can point out its ability to multitask. Here is something I wrote for a Nokia N80 review (that also uses S60 3rd edition.) It’s not the same phone, but this also applies to the N95 and can give you an idea of a typical multitasking scenario using the S60 platform: ‘My PC broke down the other day so that gave me a good chance to really use all the features. With the N70 I knew what it could do but didn’t bother to use it all, but with the N80 I decided I will use everything at once: I turned my router on and of course was connected very quickly as it automatically connects and scans for available connections. I fired up the music player and setup a play list to play in the background, in the mean times I also opened the browser and went to hotmail to check my mail, I also started Agile Messenger to do some chatting, I took my Logitech diNovo keyboard (Yes it’s a Bluetooth PC keyboard, not mentioned that it is for use with mobile phones) connected it using the wireless keyboard app, and in no time I was surfing and chatting using the Bluetooth keyboard while I played songs in the background. At the same time I was downloading some podcasts for listening later on….this is all very impressive.’ The second thing I like about the S60 platform is the ability to literally add the features you want, hence the S60 slogan: open to new features. On a PC you install programs to add functionally, right? Well with S60 based phones it’s the same thing. There is this huge library of both free and pay apps available online made and supported by the very active S60 community.

There is literally an app for any task you could think of. Let me give some examples. If you want to make free Skype calls there’s the wonderful (and free) Fring app. There are various IM clients like IM+ or Agile messenger. Or how about an app to track your daily work out? For that there is the Nokia Sports tracker. Or are maybe more interested in astronomy? For that there’s an app called Micrsoky that can show you the sky with points-of-interest, while also being able to sync with a GPS module to pint point your exact coordinates. There even a widget app called Widsets. There are literally thousands of apps available. Worth mentioning is also the ability to copy and paste between apps just like on your PC. Feature Pack 1 brings some enhancements to S60 3rd edition among some of them a floating toolbar in the wonderful S60 browser. Now when apps are open a blue circle appears next to it letting you know it’s there. Over-the-air firmware updates (FOTA) is a integral part of Feature Pack 1 but yet has not made it’s way into the N95. So Nokia if you’re reading this, please add FOTA ASAP to the N95, thinking about it I think it should standard on all recent Nokia smartphones.

N95 vs iPhone vs N93/i

Coming from the N93/i how can I not compare it to Nokia’s NEW flagship? The higher number (and price) of the N95 would seem to dictate that all is better on the N95 and in most cases this is true, but sadly not all. In the process of fitting something like the N93 and N93i in a body as small as the N95 some sacrifices had to be made. The most obvious is the lack of optical zoom which isn’t critical in a device like this, but as I said before optical is always better then digital, so I would like to see Nokia re-introduce optical zoom, but of course in a more manageable package like the N95. The small body of the N95 only leaves space for a small battery, that’s why it comes as no surprise that the battery life on the N95 is poorer. When it comes to video recording, the N93 used dedicated stereo mics capturing good quality audio. The N95 lacks these stereo mics and uses the earpiece to record sound. The end results are clearly audible with the N95 having a slight his in the audio recording while the N93 has detailed stereo recordings. The N95 does have the bigger screen, higher megapixels, better looking pictures and GPS. In the end the N95 is very similar to the N93 in most respects, but in a much more manageable package. Even though some sacrifices have been made in the miniaturization process, the N95 also gains quite a few features making it a more obvious choice right now. Its smaller size should capture a larger audience. The N93 (if you can find one) and the N93i are still viable options, but of course sans the GPS.

The N95 and the iPhone are two very different beasts that in most ways are difficult to compare. I can write pages and pages comparing the two, but this has been done several times already so I’m going to keep it simple. Basically the N95 has more feature, it does more and is more customizable. The iPhone’s strong point is in itS simplicity and the UI that’s pure eye-candy. Comparing the specs of the iPhone against the N95 the iPhone comes out looking a bit dated. Admittedly the N95 does take more time to get used to and the UI isn’t as nice looking or intuitive as the iPhone, but once mastered the N95 is a superior device due it’s level of customization of not only the way it looks or acts, but by adding features through third party apps. And ofcourse it’s a true smartphone. This makes the N95 more geared towards power users or professionals that want to use it’s ability to the max. The Apple products gives you a nice and fuzzy user experience from the Itunes to the interface on the phone itself which seems ideal for style conscious power users or non-tech people that don’t want to get to deep into mobile tech. The N95 definitely could learn from the simplistic iPhone UI, while in the case of the iPhone Steve jobs should have taken a better look at the N95 before calling the iPhone years ahead of any other phone. I would love to get an iPhone, but would definitely not use it as my main phone as it wouldn’t be able to do the things I accustomed to do on the Nseries. It should do fine as a backup or second phone but for the asking price on a 2 year contract I think I will prefer the N95 which now is my mobile device of choice.

Conclusion
The package of the N95 is typical Nseries with a good amount
f accessories; I just wish Nokia would release the goodies like the case and screen protector to all regions. If you want all of the extras get the APAC version, but US customers are advised to get the US version just for the warranty alone. Nokia should change their warranty system, making it possible that a person who buys their phone any where in the world could go to their local Nokia dealer and still be able to use their warranty.

As for the Made by Nokia vs. the Made in Finland debate I have to say that I used both and on both the slide was pretty secure. Some scratches developed and as expected it affected both samples, so it seems the N95 does have some build quality issues but I would not say that a version specific to a region is better then the other as testing and quality check is the same in all regions. In the design department the N95 is a handsome product and reminds me a lot of the N80. It’s one of Nokia’s most iconic models in recent years and seems like a mix between the N73 and N80. It’s amazing how they’ve managed to stuff all of those features in a relatively small package; basically it’s the N93 in a smaller package with added features. In the process some features have been removed like the optical zoom. The N95 takes amazing pictures making it the mobile king when it comes to photography. Its video recording abilities are equally as impressive. Together with the N93 and N93i they are the best mobile devices made to record video. The N95 outperforms the N93/i in low-light conditions and is pretty similar in other condidtions, but the N93 wins in the audio part of the video due to its dedicated stereo mics. As a music or media player the N95 is just as good as most dedicated products out there, but in terms of audio quality the N91 is a notch better. The N95 has just about every feature imaginable when it comes to connectivity, but it’s true strength lies in the Symbian OS. It’s literally the ability to multi-task, cut/paste and add features through third party apps is what makes the platform so good. The built-in GPS of the N95 is convenient and is more sensitive then what I expected, but stand-alone GPS receivers are more sensitive and lock-on much quicker. But that’s not really what the N95 is about, the built-in GPS is all about convenience and its ability to work with third party app makes it for many users the better choice.

Comparing the N95 to Nokia’s previous N93/i flagships devices it’s clear that the N95 is a much more desirable product with dimensions that make it appealing to a larger audience. In most cases the experience on the N95 is better and has more features. But in the process of making it smaller has made it loose some features like the optical zoom and the battery life has been dramatically reduced.
When it comes to the iPhone the N95 simply does more and has the better specs, not to mention it’s much more customizable. The iPhone gets the upperhand in its simplicity and ease-of-use, something the N95 could learn from.

The N95 also claims to be an all-in-one solution but does it succeed or is this more a case of a jack-of-all- trades and master of none? I have to say that the dedicated products like a separate camera, mp3 player or media player will almost always perform better then an all-in-one solution. The N95 does all of them reasonably well and some cases really well performing just as good as the dedicated product. But that’s not really what the N95 is about, it’s about having all the features in one device and performing these tasks reasonably well to really good. It’s about the convenience of having all of these functionality in a fairly small package. While my Canon camera will take better pictures, the N95 is no slouch either. On top of that there have been many cases where I captured the moment while I on the Canon I had missed them just because it wasn’t convenient or I forgot it at home. The N95 is a remarkable device that has almost all the ingredients to make it a perfect device, but due to the battery life and shortage of RAM it falls short of perfect. All-in-all an amazing device that gets an 8.9 out of 10.

Pros
Most feature packed mobile device on the market
Best mobile imaging device on the market
Camera lens protected by mechanical cover
Best mobile video camera on the market (ties with N93i)
Innovative two-way slider
microSDHC support
3.5mm audio jack
Impressive audio performance through 3.5mm jack
Loud stereo speakers
Media controls
miniUSB support (finally)

Cons
No optical zooming
Not all regions get the goodies (Screen protector, Leather case)
No US 3G
No stereo audio recording
Poor battery life
Camera takes too much time to start up
Media controls feel a bit cramped and are hard to press.
Some build quality issues

Written by Devin

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