What’s in my pocket? The Nokia N95, of course. For all you people who may have missed the advertising blitz for this uber hip gadget, Nokia considers this more of a “multi-media computer” than a smart phone, and with all the things it’s capable of, I’m certainly not going to argue.
While not in the running for the thinnest and lightest handset in the market, this is hardly your generic slider handset. With a spring-loaded dual slider, it switches from phone when pushed out one way, to media player with four dedicated keys when slid the other way. Both music and video are vivid and sharp and my non-expert ears were pretty pleased with the music volume and quality levels. But it does the phone thing very well, too, and the integrated GPS makes sure you are not walking around in circles. Of course, it wouldn’t be a “computer” if it didn’t connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi or over my carrier’s GPRS network. The prize feature that I’m guessing people will be most enthralled by is the five-megapixel camera.
Clad in silver paint, with matte champagne back and sides, the Nokia N95 is a handsome beast. The N95 runs on Symbian OS v9.2 with Nokia’s S60 3rd Edition, Feature Pack 1 user interface sitting on top, and applications load fairly quickly and menus pop up almost instantaneously. I prefer the Nokia Active Standby menu system where my most used applications and bookmarks appear on the standby screen as well as currently playing media tracks, upcoming appointments, new message counts and nearby Wi-Fi access points. I also liked the N95’s ability to run both in portrait and landscape orientations. When the front of the device is pushed down to expose the four media playback keys, the device switches to landscape mode. It will stay in this mode until the alphanumeric keypad is exposed, allowing the user to toggle between landscape and portrait orientation when running most applications and menus.
As has been the case with most Nokia devices, the N95 has a superb contacts system. As many contacts can be created as the phone’s memory pool will allow, and each record can contain nearly every conceivable data point possible. One of my favourite things about the higher-end Nokia S60 devices of late is their ability to announce the name of a caller if the contacts system has the number in its database. The voice is very, very mechanical in sound, but is clear enough to be understood in most cases.
Like I said earlier, this is a damn good phone, too. Reception and call audio quality is also very good, and the handsfree speakerphone is the best I have used in years. It worked well even when it was in a cubbyhole on the far side in the car. The Nokia N95 supports an amazing variety of connectivity options. This quad-band GSM, 2,100MHz UMTS device supports EDGE and GPRS data on its GSM bands and high-speed HSDPA data on the UMTS band. That means that the N95 can access data in most parts of the world.
The N95 Configuration Wizard, downloaded to the phone free from the Download application, handled all of the GPRS, and MMS configuration options for me automatically. When I put my Hutch SIM into the phone and ran the wizard, the Hutch GPRS and MMS access points were automatically defined and made the defaults. When I swapped in the wife’s BPL SIM, the related access points showed up and were made the defaults. I never had to manually configure any of the GPRS access points at all. That’s top-notch. In addition, the N95 also supports 802.11b/g Wi-Fi connectivity. This speeds up Web browsing and email downloading speeds tremendously when compared to GPRS, as I found out using the hotel’s Wi-Fi network on a recent trip to Goa.
For shorter-range connections, the N95 has Bluetooth 2.0 and Infrared connections. The Bluetooth system supports most common profiles such as headset, handsfree, as well as A2DP (for stereo music playback). I was able to use a number of normal and stereo Bluetooth headsets with the N95 without any problem. As I type this review, I’m using a Vu Bluetooth speaker to stream the Arctic Monkeys Favourite Worst Nightmare CD from my phone in the office. (Hey! I’m not so ossified in my music tastes as yet.) You can use Bluetooth, Infrared, and a USB cable to connect to a personal computer for use with Nokia PC Suite for tasks such as synchronization, file transfers and the use of the phone as a modem.
The happy N95 owner will find not only the typical personal information management apps such as a calendar and task list, but also more advanced applications such as a PDF reader, ZIP archive tool and the Quickoffice suite.
By far, the most fascinating application for me is its GPS-based mapping and navigation system. The N95 is one of the few phones available today that has a fully featured GPS receiver built-in. Though I did not get the time to delve too deeply into the Maps app, I used the GPS to record distance, time, average speed and top speed while riding the soon-to-be-launched Royal Enfield 500cc motorcycle from Goa to Mumbai. The GPS takes quite some time to latch on to the needed satellites, but worked quite well after that. I was always able to find my location with decent accuracy, and enjoyed the compass and other positioning data offered up by the companion GPS application—fun to have, but there is certainly a learning curve.
The N95’s multimedia capabilities have been hyped to near- legendary status at this point. And yes, most of it is true. Its five-megapixel autofocus camera featuring a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens captures lovely still photos in a wide variety of lighting situations. The automatic white balance system seems to be very accurate in most situations.
The camera also has a built-in orientation sensor that allows the user to take landscape or portrait mode photos just by holding the N95 horizontally or vertically. Until the N95, mobile phones aped camcorders with spasmodic, grainy footage unworthy of YouTube. But the N95 shoots high-res 30fps MPEG-4 clips that can be displayed directly on a television. But leaving your masterpiece on the phone would be a travesty—download the footage on a computer and use Adobe Premiere software to insert transitions and, if you must, cheesy dissolves to unleash your inner Scorcese.
The music player application is fully featured and is compatible with most major music file formats. The N95 can handle microSD memory cards of up to 2GB capacity. That’s good for 250-plus photos at the full five-megapixel resolution, or 750 or more audio tracks. The N95 also has around 150MB of internal storage space, which is enough to store a large assortment of applications, media files and user data. The massive QVGA display is also worthy of praise, and the way it reorients itself, depending on how the user positions the N95’s slider mechanism, is wonderful. The picture and video gallery is quick and very easy to use. Thanks to a dedicated button that is located next to the camera shutter button, it is also very convenient.
The Nokia N95 does a fantastic job of being an extraordinary phone, with one ominous exception—battery life. The N95 begs to be flogged to its fullest capabilities, but if it is used for any reasonable amount of Web browsing, photography, music playback, or GPS navigation, it will run out of juice before the evening commute. If it wasn’t for the fact that the N95 does almost everything not only well, but superbly, the battery life would be an instant turn-off. I would probably have considered the N95 to be the best non-QWERTY smart phone ever developed to date if I wasn’t looking for a power outlet ever so frequently. Price (Gulp!): Rs40,249
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