Nokia N97, a solid upgrade from the N95

I’ve been playing with my new Nokia N97 and am so happy I stayed with Nokia and didn’t venture off to iPhone or Palm Pre land, or even N900. It’s an awesome device. I LOVE THIS PHONE!

I just upgraded to the v20 firmware. The phone came with v12. The only major visible improvement is kinetic scrolling. This may sound like a meaningless “for show” feature, but it really does make navigating easier and more fluid. Long press of keys to get alternate characters is nice.

I’m sure there are a lot of N95 owners, like me, wondering if they should get the N97, go with the non-touch N86, or just abandon an N-series for Appleland. Well, wonder no more. The N97 kicks all other phones’ rears. I’ll try to touch on a lot of the issues I was anticipating. Happily, for the most part, my fears ended up being unfounded.

I know there has been a lot of pooh poohing the touch interface with S60 5th edition, but, generally, I think they did a pretty good job. There are a few instances where it’s difficult to navigate through an older apps UI by touch, but in those few instances you can just flip out the keyboard and use the D pad old-school style. I suspect, apps will soon adopt a 5th-ed version as some have already done.

Unfounded Fears:

  • Resistive touch screen: It not as fluid as capacitive (iPhone), but OK.
  • Responsiveness: Reasonably responsive, but can get sluggish when you have a lot of apps running–maybe Apple is right ;-) Similar to N95 experience, however.
  • Keyboard: It is fine! The positioning of the spacebar is easy to get used to. Easy to type on.
  • D Pad vs (N97 Mini’s arrow keys): It works fine and I haven’t encountered any issues. Just use your thumbnail–as I did on N95. In fact, I’d say it’s easier to use than N95’s equivalent.
  • Virtual T9 keypad: Might be easier to use than the N95’s physical keypad which requires a much harder push
  • App compatibility: Most of the apps I used on N95 have a S60 5th ed. compatible version.
  • One-handed use: You can still use it comfortably with one hand. However, since it lacks many of the N95’s physical buttons, it usually takes several more “clicks” to accomplish some tasks.
  • Size: It’s fairly compact and not really that much larger than iPhone.
  • 3G with same SIM: It worked fine using SIM from non-3G N95. (I never notice that it actually said 3G on the SIM ;-)
  • Lens cover scratching: Doesn’t appear lens cover design is different than the one that can scratch the lens based on what I’ve seen on the Net. I suspect that the natural tendency to push down and slide may contribute to the problem, so I’m going to try to remember to slide it from the side with my fingernail. Based on this video, it doesn’t look too difficult to swap it out should I need to down the line.

Nice Surprises:

  • Charges through USB port. No more proprietary power connector.
  • Less camera shutter lag than N95
  • The msg reader app is very neat! It will read SMS messages out loud.
  • Telexy’s VPN app is very cool. I was able to transfer files from a Windows share on my home network over the Internet to my phone! Their Remote Desktop Client works too, but not sure how useful it is on the small screen.
  • Initially I really missed T9Nav. It’s an app that lets you quickly find anything on your phone. The developers say a 5th ed version is not due until March! However, I found that HandyShell from Epocware has a similar feature. The difference is that it is based on what you actually type and not T9 (i.e., phone keypad) input. Since the N97 has no physical phone keypad, it works well. Of course, this means you have to use the keyboard. There is also a built-in search app that will globally for things.
  • Opera Mini works wonderfully on N97. I still don’t like the way the built-in browser’s Back function always takes you to a list first.

Tips, Tricks and Stuff:

  • Get the black version. The white keyboard on the white version has white keys and back-lighting can make the keys hard to see. Hopefully they will allow you to turn off the backlight manually in the future, which would fix the problem.
  • Watch the WiFi use since it can drain the battery quickly.
  • If you are used to the iPhone’s capacitive touch screen, the N97 requires a slightly harder press. If you don’t, you’ll find that it may interpret your touch as a click instead of a drag.
  • Beware of cases that have a magnetic clasp. I didn’t realize this and every time I would take it out of the case, the camera app would go on–even if it’s in standby! I believe it thinks I opened the lens cover. The N95 had a similar issue. I went to one of those Mobile accessories carts in the mall and tried a couple out. I found one that works. I is also magnetic, but for whatever reason it doesn’t set the camera off.
  • Leave the screen protector on! It’s always a pain to put on an aftermarket one and you never get all the bubbles out.
  • If you have to use the scrollbar on long lists, use your fingernail. If you use your finger, it tends to scroll a little as you lift your finger.
  • Speed dialing (aka 1-Touch or One Touch) doesn’t work if the number has parenthesis or dashes (spaces appear to be OK). Just take them out of any speed dialed number. If you don’t, you will get an “Invalid Phone Number” error message. This only affects speed dialing. If you select a number with parenthesis from your normal Contacts, it dials fine.
  • As I stated above, it may be best to slide the camera lens cover from the side using a fingernail instead of pressing on it and sliding. Should help to minimize risk of scratching.
  • It can get confusing when using the side unlock button because it doesn’t also make the display come on. It is best to turn autolock off (Menu > Settings > Phone > Phone mgmt > Auto. keyguard) Then, just use the side lock/unlock button to lock/unlock the keypad manually.
  • Set the Light time-out (Settings > Phone > Display > Light time-out) to as short a setting as tolerable to save battery life.
  • For Google Reader, MojoStudios appears to be on the verge of releasing a dedicated app. Can’t wait to try because the browsers don’t seem to format things perfectly. Even the Google Reader Widget For The N97 is just ok. Direct link to widget here.
  • I also have an iPod Touch 2nd gen which satisfies my iPhone lust. ‘Course, since I have an N97 I can use it as a WiFi hotspot to get Internet access :-) Also, I use my Touch to access my work Exchange email, calendar, etc. and use my phone for my personal equivalents. I like to keep them segregated.
  • Automatically scale an image before it gets uploaded Flickr. Go to Applications > Share online. Highlight Flickr and press Options. Choose Edit and then sSet Upload image size to medium.
  • Epocware makes a lot of…well..handy utilities. They are on the pricey side for S60 apps. Fortunately, I had a 30% off coupon, so I just popped for the Handy Tools Pack. Some apps I’ll never use, but in addition to HandyShell, I like HandySafePro for storing sensitive data and HandyProfiles which lets you automatically switch Profiles based on time and even location.
  • If when you press the Back button from the Music Player, it goes directly to the Standby screen, try this: Connect via USB cable and delete the following directories inside “private” on drives E and F: 101ffc31, 101ffca9, 10281e17. Do a refresh. Doesn’t seem to “stick”, however.

Email:

  • I’m using LonelyCatGames’ Profimail email client. It is arguably the best (only?) email client that supports HTML email. The build-in email client sux in a big way.
  • I’m also trying out the new Nokia Messaging. This *service* accesses your email on their server and then syncs it to your phone. This is a little unnerving because you have to give your email password to Nokia. That said, it is by far the best S60 email client I’ve used. HTML email looks beautiful! It features Blackberry style “push” email, so you get notified of new messages and they can be automatically downloaded. (Personally, I don’t like this for email.) They are rather vague about how much this service will eventually cost and honestly I’m not sure how much I would pay. Here’s the FAQ. One thing I do not like is the 10-folder limit which for any heavy gMail user is not nearly enough. Profimail has unlimited.
  • You could also use the GMail app from http://m.google.com instead of web-based client, but I’ve never liked this on a Nokia device.

C Drive Debacle:

  • The N97 has two storage drives, C and E. Free space on C is very important and there is not very much of it. However, Nokia has seen fit to store and have all kinds of things load on there and you will likely have problems very quickly.
  • It’s SO stupid when you consider that it’s got gigabytes of built-in storage on the E drive! I’m thinking this will be fixed with firmware, but it doesn’t look like it made it into v20.
  • I copied over unused files to my PC and deleted a bunch.
  • A great way to see which files are installed on C is to use the App Manager (Settings > Application mgr > Installed Apps). A list will all installed apps will appear with how much space they take up. If you don’t see the icon to the right, that means the app is installed on C. You can delete by selecting and then deleting from the Options menu. Make sure you have things backed up or can get the install files later if you need!
  • Also, go to the Ovi store and see which (free) apps are available there that are pre-installed. Uninstall them from the phone. Then, download and reinstall to the E: drive. Examples include Bloomberg, AccuWeather and AP News. This will free up several megabytes.
  • If you upgrade to v20, it really does free up more C space if you do a hard reset which wipes *everything* off your phone. To do this, on the keyboard just press caps shift, spacebar, delete, and then press the power on. Back up first and be prepared to reinstall all your apps.

Disappointments:

  • v20 firmwire:
    • got rid of Podcast-specific Recently Added list! WTF!
    • Back button on Media Player often goes back to Standby screen, not library. Look like a bug.
  • Battery gets eaten up real fast if you do a lot on the phone.
  • Uses micro-USB connector instead of more universal mini-USB.
  • I miss the many physical buttons on the N95, like pencil, C, top left and right, and multimedia.
  • Browser (including Opera Mini) doesn’t have the smooth experience of the iPod Touch/iPhone. Also, Google mobile sites don’t work as well.
  • Inconsistent use of single and double-tapping. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if something isn’t happening because of a lag or you need to click again. I suppose I may get used to it. If you think about it, Windows isn’t always consistent either. Sometimes it’s single click and sometimes it double.
  • Application UIs are not always touch or “finger friendly”
  • Letters on backlit keyboard can be hard to see if it’s not dark
  • Needs a better application launcher with more customizable spots.
  • Won’t pair with my work Bluetooth dongle, but I think it’s a Vista/Nokia issue. Works fine on XP machine at home.
  • Copy and Paste using keyboard is missing. Jeeze!!!