Nokia N95 Smartphone (North America)

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INTRODUCTION

    I've heard a lot about
the Nokia N95. It seems to be very popular. None of
the carriers in North America have offered it to
their customers, however, Nokia has made a North
American version available which will get you 3G
internet access on the AT&T GSM/UMTS network. I
first got to play with an N95 at the Digital Life
Expo at the Javitt's Center in New York City this
year. One of the employees showed me the basics on
how to use it and showed off some cool features like
the web browser and camera. He asked when I was
going to review an N95, and I thought that would be
an interesting experiment.

(all images link to higher resolution)

Here we are at Digital
Life Expo getting a quick demo of the N95.

    
I've been a Windows
Mobile phone user since the GSM/GPRS Expansion pack was available for the
iPAQ H3600 in 2002. I know very little about the
Symbian S60 OS, so I expected that switching to the
Nokia N95 would reveal some frustrations as well as
some enjoyable revelations. If 72% of the smart
phone market uses Symbian phones, they must be doing
something right.

WHAT’S HOT
    There's no denying, Nokia phones look
good. The N95 is no exception. While it is as thick
as the TyTN II, it's much shorter and still packs
just as many hardware specifications such as HSDPA,
WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS. The N95 also has a
great 5MP camera with flash, but lacks a touch
screen and full Qwerty keyboard. It also includes
160Mb of internal memory and a removable 1Gb Micro
SD card. For a thorough rundown of specifications, check out PDAdb.net.

Device (no cover)
Size (inches)
Weight (grams | ounces)
Nokia N95
3.90" x 2.10" x 0.80"
120 | 4.23
4.01" x 1.97" x 0.78"
110 | 3.88
4.40" x 2.32" x 0.75"
190 | 6.70
4.69" x 2.40" x 0.85"
196 | 6.91
4.40" x 2.50" x 0.50"
120 | 4.23
4.60" x 2.60" x 0.50"

134 | 4.70

3.93" x 2.28" x 0.54"

112 | 3.95

4.29" x 2.32" x 0.67"

168 | 5.92

3.99" x 1.96" x 0.69"

140 | 4.93

4.96" x 2.65" x 0.57"

160 | 6.40

4.62" x 2.34" x 0.77"

165 | 5.82

4.40" x 2.50" x 0.50"

120 | 4.20

4.37" x 2.28" x 0.87"

154 | 5.40

4.40" x 2.30" x 0.90"

180 | 6.40

4.44" x 2.34" x 0.61"

146 | 5.14

4.33" x 2.52" x 0.45"

115 | 4.05

4.80" x 2.79" x 0.86"

160 | 6.40

4.37" x 2.28" x 0.86"

154 | 5.40

4.18" x 2.31" x 0.68"

150 | 5.30

4.25" x 2.28" x 0.64"

127 | 4.48

4.80" x 2.88" x 0.76"

186 | 6.56

4.60" x 2.79" x 0.82"

165 | 5.82

4.25" x 2.28" x 0.93"

160 | 5.64

4.92" x 2.81" x 0.71"

210 | 7.40

4.18" x 2.31" x 0.68"

150 | 5.30

4.70" x 2.90" x 0.70"

175 | 6.20

4.60" x 3.21" x 0.58"

138 | 4.80

5.17" x 3.03" x 0.59"

187 | 6.60

4.50" x 2.80" x 0.64"

158 | 5.57

WHAT’S IN
THE BOX
    The Nokia N95 comes with a USB sync cable, AC
adapter, 3.5mm stereo headphones, 3.5mm stereo
headphone adapter with talk button/mic/volume
control, RCA video output cable, MicroSD-to-SD card
adapter, 1Gb Micro SD preloaded with sample
music/video content, cloth pouch,
software CD, 
extensive
manual, and Getting Started guide.

 

The N95 comes with some great
accessories.

THE DEVICE
 

The N95 has a VGA front facing
camera for use with video phone calls as well as an
ambient light sensor for automatically adjusting the
screen brightness. You also see the handset speaker
grill here.

Sliding the screen down reveals
some media player buttons and turns the screen to
landscape view orientation. It takes about 1.5
seconds to switch the screen orientation, so it's
about the same as the HTC TyTN II in this respect.

    Sliding the screen up reveals a
numeric keypad for dialing numbers and entering
text. You'll also see some hardware buttons on the
lower part of the sliding screen piece. The center
button and four way directional pad was pretty easy
to figure out, but the others have very cryptic
icons. The upper left and right buttons access the
left and right softkey menus on the screen. The
green and red colored buttons are call send and end
respectively. The flat button to the left of the
center d-pad toggles between the standby screen and
programs listing. The flat button to the right of
the center D-pad opens an animated U-shaped media
menu that gives you access to things like the music
player, video player, games, etc.  The two
buttons on the bottom were a mystery to me for the
longest time since they don't do anything in general
use. It turns out they only work when you're in a
text field. The pencil button brings up a menu about
working with the text, and the C button is a
backspace key.

    Of course it has built in GPS. The
N95 also has internet network assisted global
positioning which should help speed up the
time-to-fix position acquisition time. It does not
seem to work quite as quickly as the HTC TyTN II's
assisted GPS, though.

 

 On the left side, there's the
left side speaker grill, 3.5mm headset/AV out jack,
infrared port, and MicroSD slot.

 

At the bottom, is a charging port,
microphone, Mini USB port, and lanyard hole. The
Mini USB port unfortunately can not be used for
charging the device.

The right side includes a camera button,
media gallery button, volume control and the right
speaker grill.

 

The top end only has a power
button.

 

On the back is the 5 Megapixel
Autofocus camera, with flash and battery cover.

    When you plug a 3.5mm jack into
the side, a menu comes up asking you to identify
what type of interface is being used. You can choose
Headset, Headphones, TV-out cable, or music stand.
It would have been nice if it could automatically
identify the different types of cables, but it's
still pretty impressive that the headset jack can
double as a TV-out port.

 

    The microSD card
slot is underneath a flap on the side. The N95
includes a 1Gb MicroSD card pre-loaded with some
nice music and sample videos. The specifications say
that it supports MicroSD cards up to 2Gb, however, I
stuck my 6GB MicroSDHC card in there and it played
my piles of WMA music synced from Windows Mobile
just fine. So don't assume you're limited to 2Gb.

 

The SIM card slot is underneath
the battery. There's a small metal clip that holds
it in place. The battery capacity is 1000mAh.

 

Here you'll see from left to right,
the
Qtek 8500, Nokia N95, HTC P3300, and HTC
TyTN II.

From top to bottom: Qtek 8500,
Nokia N95, HTC TyTN II,
and HTC P3300.

THE CAMERA
   
The camera on the N95 is really impressive. While
we're not talking about the quality of a stand alone
digital camera, it's definitely beyond your average
camera phone. At 5MP, the noise you'll get from such
a small sensor is much less noticeable.

Here's a high contrast shot taken during my stay in
the Yucatan. There is loss of detail in the blown
out highlights and shadows, but plenty of detail in
the midtones. Of course you can't expect it to have
a great dynamic range.

Outdoors, the camera does quite well. It could use a
bit more contrast and the colors still seem a bit
camera-phone-flat.


INTEGRATED SOFTWARE

   The Nokia N95 runs on Symbian
S60. Since I am used to using Windows Mobile phones, the
Symbian OS was quite a learning experience for me.  

    The standby screen is very similar
to the Windows Mobile Today screen. The top area
shows basic status information such as reception
level, battery level, network operator, time, and
phone profile. By default the clock is shown in an
extremely ugly analog style with no numbers. I
changed mine to an easier-to-read digital style. The
row of icons is basically quick-launch programs. I
had no idea what each of them signified, but if you
pause over one, a tooltip will open telling you what
it does.

The Web browser on the Nokia N95 is very advanced.
It’s based on the same WebKit that Apple’s iPhone browser uses. It really works well for a mobile browser.

This is showing the thumbnail navigator on the right.

The flat button just to the right of the d-pad brings up
this animated application menu. Not all programs are
available here, but it's fun to spin through.

The "Welcome" app will show you some videos that
introduce you to many of the N95's features. This is
extremely cool.

The music player works well. The interface isn't very
pretty, but at least it shows album art when available.

    The programs menu shows icons representing programs or
folders containing other programs. The layout here
matches the layout on the keypad so that if you press
the number 1, you'll activate the first program in the
upper left corner and so forth. You'll also notice a
little blue swoosh in the upper right corner next to
certain program icons. That means that the application
is currently running.

    The Messaging program handles both email and text
messages. It was a bit confusing at first. There's only
one Sent folder, and it doesn't copy sent messages to
the proper Sent folder on my IMAP server. Also, there's
no obvious predictive text when writing a new message,
however if you type the first three letters of the
person you want to send to, then press the middle action
button, a list of possible matches will appear. I much
prefer Windows Mobile's method of listing possible
matches as I type so that I can easily just scroll to
select the correct match.

The Gallery program has a confusing name. You would
think a gallery would be for photos, but it also lets
you browse videos, audio tracks, sound clips, streaming
media links, presentations, etc.

Browsing photos and videos in the Gallery shows an oval
shaped listing where the image at the top is the
selected one. Pressing left and right will scroll
through the other images. This can become annoying if
you've got a long list of images.

You can upload photos directly to Flickr or other
services.

The video playback uses Real Player and the quality is
amazing. Unlike Media Player on Windows Mobile, the
playback is extremely smooth and crisp.

    The calendar application is pretty standard. The purple
corner icons indicate which days you have appointments
on. They do not indicate whether the appointment occurs
in the morning or evening as Windows Mobile does,
however, pausing over a day will show a pop-up tool-tip
listing what appointments are on that day.

The contacts application does sync contact photos with
Outlook. Oddly when listing email addresses here, it
only shows the last part of the address. Is seeing the
domain name really more important than the first part of
the email?

The Search program not only lets you search the content
on your phone, but also includes web and image searching
capabilities.

    When you open an application that requires internet
access, you are asked to select an access point. Both
EDGE/3G phone connections, and previously defined WiFi
connections are listed here. You can actually set your
push email to use the phone's radio, while using WiFi
for web browsing.

The "Download" program lists a variety of 3rd party
applications that you can download and install directly
to your device without having to connect to a desktop
computer.

Of course the N95 has phone profiles that you can change
by pressing the power button once.

There's a File Manager that you can use to move or
delete files.

The App manager lets you remove previously installed
programs or install new ones. Unfortunately the
"Download apps." command goes to a blank bookmarks page.

The memory card app shows some statistics on your memory
card and also gives you some great options such as
backing up your phone memory, formatting the card, and
setting a password.

    The Home Network program lets you turn on Windows Media
Connect file sharing. Using this, you can access your
desktop PC's media content or vice versa. Unfortunately,
the N95 cannot play content through the network; it can
only browse and copy files.

The Clock application lets you specify any number of
other Cities that you may visit and then easily switch
between their time zones. Windows Mobile only lets you
specify one visiting city at a time.

Yes, the N95 includes a Flash player which is also
supported within the browser (to some degree).

The Help application contains documentation on all of
your programs.

SlingPlayer Mobile is also included with the N95 and it
works amazingly well. Use this in combination with the
A/V cord plugged into a TV and you've got your shows
anywhere you go.

The SRE game has great 3D graphics. The speed and play
is very smooth.

    The GPS navigation program works quite well. It uses
both Assisted GPS via the internet and the internal GPS.
Also note a nice feature is that it downloads the
mapping data through the internet. You do not have to
specifically install maps to your storage card. The
downside to this is that you need to use the internet in
order to get maps and this can be quite costly or
impossible while travelling.

Also note that if you want to use voice guided
navigation, you have to purchase a license. Non-voice
guided directions are still free.

The Nokia Maps program also lets you search
for nearby points of interest.

The Nokia N95 even has a built-in FM radio tuner.

    When you plug the N95 into
a USB port, you can select which mode you want to use.
This is an awesome feature!  You don't need to have
Nokia PC Suite installed in order to use your device for
copying files, syncing with Windows Media Player, or
printing images.

    While SkyQuiKey does not come with the Nokia N95, I
consider it a must-have application. This will bring the
great predictive phone dialing feature from Windows
Mobile to the Symbian OS. It also has plenty of other
great features for launching applications from the
Standby screen.

DESKTOP SOFTWARE

   Unlike Windows Mobile's
ActiveSync, the Nokia PC Suite comes with a whole slew
of applications to help you manage and maintain your
Nokia phone. This may sound unnecessarily complicated
and it probably is, but it's also very powerful.

The Nokia PC Suite consists of a number of different
applications.

    The new version of the Nokia PC Suite was just released.
This one looks better, but is much less user-friendly as
you can see none of the icons have labels. How are you
supposed to know what does what? You actually have to
mouse-over the icons and then read the text on the
bottom. Very poor user interface design.

Nokia PC Sync synchronizes personal information between
Outlook and the Nokia N95

One touch access lets you use your phone as a modem.

The
Application installer lets you install programs to your
device while it's connected to your desktop.

The
Phone Browser is completely integrated with Windows
Explorer. This lets you browse your phone's content from
your desktop.

The
Multimedia Player lets you play videos and MMS messages
from you device.

The
Image Store application makes it easy to copy photos off
of the N95.

The
Music Manager program is similar to iTunes and Windows
Media Player, but it will copy your music to the Nokia
N95 while converting the files to an optimized supported
format.

The
Connection Manager lets you specify which methods you
can use to connect the Nokia N95 to your desktop.

The
Video Manager is great for copying and converting video
files to your N95 in a format that will definitely play
on the phone.

<< Download a sample video in .MP4 format (18MB) >>

The Nokia Software Updater is an easy way to install new
ROM or Firmware upgrades to your phone.


HELP SUPPORT

    The Nokia N95 includes a
great "Welcome" application with videos that show off
some of the features. It also includes a built-in Help
program as well as paper-based quick start and user
guide manuals. And, well… you're going to need it. The
N95 has so many features and the user interface was not
designed for ease-of-use or discoverability. However, if
you like to learn new things, there's also a large
community of Symbian users willing to help you out if
you have problems. Looking nto the Symbian community for
support will probably be much faster than trying to
contact Nokia.

BUGS AND WISHES

   
While the Nokia N95 is an amazing phone, it is not
without its problems. The first problem I encountered
was setting up the sync with Outlook. I followed the
directions to the T, but somehow the Calendar
application on my N95 became corrupt. The Calendar
wouldn't display my appointments, and would crash when I
tried to access it. I resolved the problem by installing
the Mail to Exchange program and syncing the calendar
with Exchange. This was probably just a fluke with my
system as Nokia has not heard of this type of problem
before.

   
The next thing I was a bit annoyed with was the
Messaging application. Setting up my IMAP account wasn't
a problem, but I don't like how it does not copy my sent
messages to the Sent folder on my IMAP server. It just
keeps the messages in the local Sent folder on the
phone. I also didn't like how there was no indication of
any kind of predictive contact searching when creating a
new message. It turns out there is one kind, but it's
impossible to find without reading the manual or having
some one tell you about it. If you press the action
button after typing a few letters in the To: field, it
will offer a menu with suggested matches. I much prefer
Windows Mobile's method of showing the possible matches
as you type. 

     Which brings me to the other predictive text features,
or lack there of. For the most part predictive text is
only available when typing messages. It's of the T9
variety, difficult to figure out how to activate, and
the interface only shows the first possible match. If
you want to choose other possible matches, you have to
press the * key repeatedly. Windows Mobile's method of
showing the possible matches in a list that you can see
as you type is much better.

    
The interface for dialing phone calls is even worse. On
Windows Mobile, all you have to do is start typing the
name of a person from the Home screen and it will offer
possible matches. Scroll to the match you want and press
the Call send button. With the Nokia N95, if you try to
type some one's name from the Standby screen using the
numeric keypad, all you get are numbers. You have to
switch to the Contacts app to call contacts, and even
then there's no predictive text for searching them. You
have to press the number 1 three times to get the letter
C!  Luckily installing SkyeQuicKey fixes this problem, but
that's another program that you have to buy.

    
Now let's talk about the Symbian S60 interface in
general. The overall GUI design is not very impressive.
Nothing has any containers. The icons and interface
elements are just floating around. There's no heirarchy
of importance or differentiation between command types.
Everything's just arranged on this one background image.
The two menu commands at the bottom left and right don't
have any design elements indicating that they are
separate from the other commands on the screen. They're
just floating text on the same background image.

   
Now sometimes those two words in the bottom corners of
the screen activate menus, sometimes they don't. There's
no way of knowing until you press the hardware key
associated with the command. Sometimes one of them quits
the application, sometimes you have to find the "Exit"
command in a menu. If there's one thing in user
interface design that makes for a poor experience, it's
lack of consistency.

  
Say one of the buttons does open a menu; what next? 
Well you have to use the directional buttons to scroll
through to the command you want. What's more is these
menus only have a specific height containing 6 visible
commands, however sometimes there are more commands that
you won't see until you scroll beyond the visible first
6. This makes many of the features very difficult to
discover. Furthermore, the fact that you have to use the
directional buttons to scroll to the command you want
means you've got plenty of buttons to press. This is a
highly inefficient interface design. Ideally, when I
open a menu, there would be an indicator of a shortcut
key matching one of the numeric hardware buttons. For
example, the first menu command might be assigned to the
number 1, the second to number 2 and so on. This would
make it easy for me to build motor memory for the
commands I use most and it would only require two button
presses.

   
Even the hardware keys are difficult to understand.
Here, take another look: 

    It's easy to understand the ones with
numbers and letters on them, and the four way
directional pad, but what's that button with the
box/circle and the two oval arrows pointing at each
other mean?  What's the broken diamond shaped
button do?  Well, the first one toggles between the
Standby screen and the Programs folder. You'll figure
that out by pressing it a few times (not by looking at
the label).  The second one launches a cool
animated program launcher. Now what about the pencil
button and the C button?  These took me a long time
to figure out since they don't do anything unless you're
in a text field. Talk about non-discoverable! I would
have thought the buttons were broken if I didn't look in
the manual to find out what they were actually supposed
to do. If they're going to be there on the front all the
time, you'd think giving them some function in other
parts of the interface would have been a good idea.

     Let's compare this interface
design to the one on Windows Mobile. If you pick up some
one's Windows Mobile device and look at the screen,
you'll probably see a button that says "Start". Anyone
who understands what that word means is probably going
to understand that that's where they should begin.

    In terms of hardware, I would have
liked a quieter sliding mechanism. It makes a clicking
sound every time you open or close it. Initially the
build quality was quite good, but now I'm hearing some
creaking sounds while pressing the D-pad when the slider
is extended. Shaking it up to your ear reveals a subtle
wobble as well.

PURCHASING

   
The Nokia N95 has been available in Europe on most
carriers for a while now. In many cases you can get it
for free. If you're in North America, it's a different
story. None of the North American carriers currently
carry the North American version of the N95, however you
can purchase it unlocked and use it with AT&T or
T-Mobile (without 3G). The unlocked N95 is available
from the Nokia website for $699, but you can also find it at
a number of other online retailers.

PROS

  • Impressive feature set
  • Video
    output
  • 3G
    Internet
  • Great
    quality 5MP camera
  • Excellent
    media playing capabilities
  • Unique
    dual slider design
  • Built in
    GPS

CONS

  • Very
    limited predictive text and input capabilities
  • Significant learning curve
  • Cumbersome
    menus
  • Attempting
    to sync with a desktop and Exchange will cause
    duplicates
  • No touch
    screen
  • Numeric
    keypad only
Value
Ease
of Use
Features

Overall

What
do these ratings mean
?

OVERALL IMPRESSION

    It took me a really long
time to learn about all the features in the Nokia N95.
The fact that I have never extensively used a Symbian
S60 device before probably contributed to this, but I
also believe that the user interface could use plenty of
usability
improvements (as seen in the Bugs & Wishes section
above). In terms of functionality, the N95 is an amazing
phone and certainly worth the high prices.  If
you're the type of person that likes to learn new
things, doesn't send to many messages, is big on media
functions, and wants a phone that does it all, the N95
is great. If you like things easy and simple, the N95
will probably be a bit frustrating.

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About The Author
Adam Z. Lein
Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002. Read more about Adam Lein!