Hands-on with Symbian powered Nokia N95

  • April 22nd, 2007

A few weeks ago, Nokia officially launched its latest power-packed mobile handset on US soil. The Nseries handset, dubbed the Nokia N95, is one of the most anticipated and feature-packed mobile handsets on the market to date. However, at $750 MSRP, you may begin to ask yourself if a "phone" should ever cost more than most entry level laptops; because at the end of the day, the Nokia N95 is just a phone. Right?

High price, high demand, low supply

Feature packed handsets in the US are usually ages behind that found overseas. Without going into detail about the politics and hurdles of improving our mobile handset technology and wireless networks here in the US, I think it is safe to say that anyone who has ever yearned for a high-tech gadget is limited to importing it themselves, or turning to a company which specialized in overseas electronics (Dynamism).

Nokia N95 Arrives

You can imagine the excitement and anticipation when Nokia announced that the N95 would be released internationally and made available for US consumers through official Nokia channels. Although the handset has yet to grace the pages of the Nokia USA website, there are a number of US-based resellers who have begun offering the handset online. As a special N95 launch promotion, Nokia’s flagship store in Chicago was accepting orders over the phone and shipping handsets out to customers.


Unfortunately, due to high demand, the Nokia N95 may be a little difficult to get ahold of at the MSRP of $750. Nokia’s Nseries website shows the N95 as being "Out of Stock", and Nokia Chicago has also reported backorders.

Mighty features packed into a "phone"

Nokia N95 Contents

Although the features include far more than the brief overview listed below, you begin to see why this handset turns heads and runs circles around other convergence devices. Continue to remind yourself that "this is just a phone".

  • WCDMA2100 (HSDPA), EGSM900, GSM850/1800/1900 MHz (EGPRS) – Sadly, the Nokia N95 does not support HSDPA networks in the US limiting your wireless data to EDGE networks.
  • WiFi – Built-in WiFi. An incredibly fast wireless network scanner. Access the net using WiFi, share files on your home network, or use your Symbian powered handset to connect via Skype or Google Talk with contacts.
  • 99 mm (L) x 53 mm (W) x 21 mm (H) – In all honesty, the N95 is about the size of a compact digital camera. Although the handset won’t win bragging rights for being slim, it will win with features.
  • 160 MB shared memory + microSD support – Expandable memory thanks to the easy-to-access microSD slot.
  • Talk-time up to 240 min, standby up to 225 hours – Not a globetrotter but nightly charges will get you through the day. I’m hoping for an extended battery to push the ceiling. Applications or features which require more power – GPS, WiFi scanning, etc – will have a significant impact on battery life.
  • 2.6" QVGA (240 x 210 px) TFT display – Incredible color and clarity for photographs and videos. Portrait and landscape mode initialized based on the handsets slider position.
  • Powered by Symbian S60 3rd Edition – Incredibly versatile mobile operating system with a resource rich community allowing power users to tailor their handset to their specific needs.
  • 5 MP camera, Carl Zeiss optics, MPEG-4 video capture at 30 fps – Thanks to the 5 MP camera and 30 fps, I’ve retired my compact digital camera in favor of carrying a true all-in-one device. Focal length of 5.6 mm and macro focus distance 10-50 cm.
  • Mobile image & video editing – The built-in camera and video recorder are made even more valuable thanks to the built-in photo & video editors – white balance, tones, exposure adjustment, cropping, and direct web uploading. Bluetooth stereo support.
  • Digital music & video player – Music player with support for MP3/AAC/AAC+/eAAC+/WMA/M4A (unfortunately no luck playing protected tracks from iTunes). Audio player also includes FM stereo. Video player supports MPEG-4, H.264/AVC, H.263/3GPP, RealVideo 8/9/10.

Point and shoot digital camera / video recorder

There are cellphones with cameras slapped on as gimmicky selling points which suffice for MMS or quick "Kodak moments", and then there are cellphones mated to digital cameras. I’m sure you can imagine which of the two the Nokia N95 is. Nokia has gone to great lengths with each of its Nseries handsets to create cellphones with a camera, not cameraphones. What differentiates the N95 is that the handset looks like an actual digital point and shoot camera.

It's a camera

From its square housing, 2.6" display, and giant lens housing on the backside (with the horizontal Nokia branding), the N95 looks like a camera. Without sliding the screen upward, you wouldn’t think that the device was capable of making phone calls. Thanks to its 5 megapixels and Carl Zeiss optics, the N95 is more than capable of replacing your low / mid level digital camera saving you from carrying on extra device on a night out.

Mixed flowers

In addition to capturing high resolution images, the handset offers video recording at "DVD quality" 30 fps. Viewing images and videos at friends or family gatherings is as simple as connecting the handset to a television using the included AV cables or connecting to a home wireless network for streaming.

PROS: Strong photo and video capture specs – 5 MP camera and 30 fps recordings. 5 MP images weigh in at about 1.2 MB each while video recordings are saved as MPEG-4 files. Images and videos can be edited from the phone itself with the included editing suite. Slide the rear camera lens protector open and the N95 opens in landscape shooting mode.

CONS: Camera, video recorder, and editing suite are power hungry. Camera startup time and auto-focus is slow taking approximately 1-2 sec. to lock on to subjects. Some users report outdoor (natural light) photographs exhibit a slightly purple haze around edges. Additionally, edges look grainy when magnified beyond 100% due to automatic edge enhancing by the image processor.

An MP3 & video player, you’ll forget it’s a phone

Landscape mode

With the screen in the closed position, and without knowing the brand or specs of the device, it would be difficult for the average consumer to detect that hidden behind the screen is a full fledged mobile phone. Turning the device over to admire the large screen, speakers, and familiar looking "play" button, it’s clear that N95 plays music.

The built-in audio and video player are superb and perform flawlessly. No matter where files are stored, the Gallery application will show a summary of all audio and video files on your devices from a single screen allowing you to browse through each. The audio player supports MP3/AAC/AAC+/eAAC+/WMA/M4A files, and the video player MPEG-4, H.264/AVC, H.263/3GPP, RealVideo 8/9/10. Sound produced by the internal speakers is amazingly clear with surprising clarity. Those who make the morning commute via bus or train will enjoy the convenience of the standard 3.5 mm headphones jack or Bluetooth stereo support.

PROS: Will tackle most, if not all, of your audio & video file formats. Your standard 2 GB microSD card will easily hold four feature length films, television shows, or roughly 500 audio tracks. Listen to audio or video files in the background while editing emails, sending text messages, or browsing the internet. Utilize the A/V cables to connect the device to your television or car stereo for audio or video playback. Internet users will enjoy the satisfaction of knowing they are able to stay updated with their favorite podcasts or streaming internet radio stations wherever they go.

CONS: Large audio / video libraries will slow the media browser down. To ensure that the device is able to zip through files while browsing, opt for high speed microSD card (UltraII preferred). Video file startip time is slow taking approximately 2-5 sec. to load (depending on file size).

Staying connected

N95 users have no excuses when it comes to internet connectivity thanks to GSM & HSDPA support. Although the N95 does not support the higher speed HSDPA networks here in the US, EDGE will suffice for casual browsing, checking email, instant messaging, or even connecting with contacts via Skype (Skypeout calls were successfully completed via Cingular’s EDGE network using Fring).

The internet browser loads both WAP and full HTML pages with ease. The browser loaded every page I could throw at it including web based blogging services, digg, CNN, the New York Times, or anything else normally viewed on a desktop computer. Connect the N95 to an television or LCD with A/V inputs and browse or enjoy files through an external display.

PROS: Extremely fast WiFi network detections. Symbian OS enjoys the added benefit of a lively developer community which means an abundance of 3rd party applications to help you make better use of your power packed handset. Connect to Skype contacts using data saving you cellular plan minutes, enjoy streaming internet radio, or kill time viewing YouTube or Reuters clips directly on your handset. Additionally, integrated WiFi allows N95 users to stream content to and from their device on home networks for sharing.

CONS: No HSDPA support on US wireless networks. It would be nice if the N95 was capable of automatically detecting and connecting to preferred "safe" WiFi networks – setting the access point as the default internet connection rather than prompting a user to choose between EDGE or WiFi.

Versatile Symbian OS and applications

HomeBeing my first true experience with a Symbian powered device, I must admit that I was a little hesitant; unsure if I would have any difficulty adjusting from the previous two BlackBerry’s I owned – 8703e & 8100. After about 5 minutes of browsing through the menu options and applications, I soon realized that Symbian is a mobile OS that just works. Similar to BlackBerry devices, the Symbian S60 powered N95 is capable of running multiple applications simultaneously without breaking stride. The number of concurrently running applications is only limited by the available shared memory. Users can listen to streaming music via SHOUTcast while composing an email about the current website open in the browser, or watching a video and bouncing between text messages. As previously noted, the Symbian developer community offers a great selection of free and paid-for applications sure to meet any users entertainment and productivity needs.

Fortunately, Nokia ships the N95 with a great set of applications suitable for viewing office documents, pdfs, recording voice notes, or creating notes. The N95 even includes a full featured GPS Maps application (check smart2go) which will help your on your way if you ever find yourself lost or in search of the nearest gas station, shopping center, or grocery store. However, it is very clear that this particular convergence device is geared towards users with entertainment in mind. What with its 5 MP camera, 30 fps recorder, music player, video / movie player, and support for social network sharing services, the N95 will keep any social butterfly happy when the 9-5 shift ends and Happy Hour begins.

Two particular features of the device sure to be enjoyed by most are the Video centre & Online Services. The Video centre provides users with a carousel-like browser for viewing YouTube clips, Reuters Videos, Rocketboom, Nokia short clips, and your own edited or unedited personal videos. The Online Services brings two favorites – Flickr & Vox – straight to your device. Easily capture and immediately upload images or full posts directly from your handset to the internet for sharing with contacts, friends, and family.

PROS: The Nokia N95 ships with a great assortment of standard applications. Average users will feel content with the standard applications. No matter what memory is in use for applications or files, Symbian will treat both memory sources as one allowing users to browse all images or videos internally and on the microSD card from a single carousel view.

CONS: The number of applications capable of operating at the same time is limited by the available shared memory. Memory intensive applications or utilities like GPS or image / video editing will prompt users with an insufficient memory warning if too many background applications are running. This is easily circumvented by saving the handsets onboard shared memory by loading 3rd party applications to the microSD card.

View the video: Interface demo

Screenshot of a video demo walk through of the Nokia N95

Click-through to view a video demo of features offered by the Nokia N95. Optimized for broadband users.

Click through the image above to view a broadband optimized video demo of Nokia N95 interface elements. Navigation through the various menus, listening to an MP3 track, internet browsing, and viewing a movie (Blood Diamond). Low bandwidth readers may want to view the low-resolution version uploaded on YouTube.

Verdict: The Nokia N95 is one power packed device, and it makes phone calls

The $750 MSRP for this device will surely make a few individuals cringe at the prospect of purchasing a cellphone for the price of an entry level notebook. However, it is important to keep in mind that the Nokia N95 is far more than just a phone. The N95 is a convergence device which serves the purpose of a respectable point and shoot camera, GPS receiver & navigator, MP3 player, portable video player, image & video editor, cellular network and WiFi empowered internet browser, multimedia server, VOIP handset, and productivity device which just so happens to make and receive voice calls. Conversations clarity and quality is excellent and the internal speakers used for audio / video playback serve double duty as excellent speakers for phone calls.

The N95 definitely sucks the juice out of batteries. But when you look at the previously mentioned features, what’s expected? From my own experience, and with a properly conditioned battery, the N95 is more than capable of making it through the day.

Without a doubt, the N95 definitely packs more punch than the average user would ever need. If price is a concern, wait a few months as current owners consider selling their N95’s for the latest, or for prices to fall. If you’re looking for the ultimate all-in-one device which would allow you to leave your digital camera, MP3 player, and planner at home, the N95 stands alone as one of the most powerful convergence devices on the market today. There are handsets which slap various features together, and then there are handsets which slap features together and ensure that each component works seamlessly with the next creating a truly fluid experience. The Nokia N95 is that. Would you benefit from a device like the Nokia N95? [Digg it]

Other Cell Phone Options

If you are looking into cell phone that is more on the affordable side than the N95 you might want to look into prepaid cell phones. With this type of cell phone provider you don’t get stuck in a long contract and you can switch cell phones when new technology arrives.