Home > Random Stuff > The Nokia N97 mini Mobile device

The Nokia N97 mini Mobile device

I have owned my Nokia N97 mini for the last 4 months now having purchased it two days after it was launched. It seems appropriate now to post a review about the device for the benefit of others.

The Nokia N97 mini (referred to henceforth as N97 mini or just mini for purpose of brevity) is a stylish top of the line device from Finnish mobile phone giants, Nokia. The phone is the younger sibling of the Nokia N97 but there are very few things to set apart these two devices.

Out of the box

The Nokia N97 mini, like all premium Nokia products, is very neatly packaged. The box is cake-box style and opening it reveals the phone right on top. Underneath the phone shelf, you will find the battery, charger, the micro USB PC connector cable (CA-101), the headset (complete with inline music player controls), the user’s guide and the Ovi Suite DVD.

First look

The mini is a very sleek piece. Deceptively thin, it is marginally smaller than its elder sibling, the N97. It is also a bit lighter. In fact, most of my friends cannot believe the phone has a side slide full QWERTY keyboard until I show them. The slide mechanism is a very neat one where instead of sliding out parallel to the keyboard, the screen slides out and tilts up to an angle of about 45°. This gives the device a very nice “computer”ish feel. It is also easier to view the screen while typing in comparison with the competing products like the Omnia pro. The hinge in which the screen slides out, however, does seem to be a bit delicate and there is now some amount of play in the hinge after I have used the device for four months. Not a deal breaker exactly but you would want to be more careful with this device than with another Nokia device. It is definitely delicate.

The front of the device has the quintessential “Nokia” and “N97” lettering on it. The front also has the secondary camera for video calls. The call receive and reject buttons are the regular green and red colour coded but are touch based. The only physical button is the menu button used to bring up the main menu. The phone has stereo speakers which are on the top and bottom corners of the left side. The same side accommodates the screen lock slider button and the micro USB cum charger port. The right side of the device has the volume controls and the camera shutter button. Conspicuous by its absence is the PTT button that made an appearance on all my previous Nokia devices. The headset jack is a standard 3.5mm one on the top of the phone alongside the power on/off button.

The primary camera is on the back but very frighteningly lacks a lens cover – something I consider an absolute necessity on a high end camera on a high end phone. The N97 does have a lens cover, however. The camera lens is a bit raised from the back surface. The back of the device is slightly contoured at the bottom to balance the bulge of the camera setup as well as enhance grip. The back cover is made of stainless steel and has the words “Nokia Nseries” written on it. In fact the only place where the word “mini” is written on the device is on the hinge so it is only visible if u slide out the keyboard and then turn the device around.

Switching on

The power button is not very easy to press and hold (the required procedure for switching on the phone) but I guess that has been done on purpose to prevent the user from inadvertently pressing the button and switching it off while using it.

The phone starts up pretty much like all other Nokia devices. The user is prompted for the PIN (if applicable) and then the hand holding animation comes up followed immediately by the home screen. My new device used to start in about 5-7 seconds though now, after I have used it for some months, installed apps and all, it takes about 10-12 seconds. Though a tad long, it is still very workable. The best part is that the phone is usable almost as soon as the home screen comes up.

The phone is based on the S60 5th edition platform. The homescreen is populated with various customisable widgets. By default, the clock and calendar widget, the two favourite contacts widgets and the notes and to-do widgets are activated. There are 6 slots to fill. The user is free to remove or replace any or all the default widgets. In fact, if you choose you can have the clock and calendar widget right at the bottom of the screen, or remove it completely. The other widgets to choose from include shortcut bars, browser bookmarks and even apps like the preloaded Facebook or Amazon ones. The screen itself is decently sized providing very nice screen real estate for when you need to watch movies or browse the net.

Technical stuff

The phone, as previously mentioned, comes with Nokia’s most advanced S60 5th edition platform. The UI is much more responsive than previous N-series devices from Nokia. It also has the auto rotate display feature made popular in Apple products such as the iPod Touch and iPhone, though it is not as smooth. The phone supports all the standard GSM bands as well as 3G technology though the latter is yet to be available in India in earnest. Internet access is supported through regular EDGE based GPRS as well as Wi-Fi. The phone also has built-in bluetooth and A-GPS (Assisted GPS) which enables it to be used as a GPS device in conjunction with either the bundled Nokia maps app, the new Ovi maps app or the Google maps app.

The touch screen is the capacitive type and is pretty sensitive to touch. The phone also has good handwriting detection. Calls may be placed using either the conventional method through contacts or by dialling as well as by voice commands. However, you would need to train the voice recognition software before you can start using it. Even after training, the voice commands are not always accurate especially for Indian names.

The phone is highly capable and includes many features like email and contact sync, multi tasking between apps, etc. More on that in later sections.

Call quality

Calling system in the mini remains pretty uncomplicated. The user has the choice to use phone memory or SIM card memory to store numbers. Of course the benefits of storing on phone memory are far too many to enumerate here but suffice to say that the phone memory is the way to go with this device. The device allows for advanced call handling features such as call waiting, multiple call handling (keep one call on hold while making or receiving another call), conference call as well as standards like mute microphone and activate loudspeaker for handheld use. If the keyboard is slid out when you answer the call, the loudspeaker is automatically activated and you can continue typing that mail or message while you receive the call. A tiny mic on the keyboard does duty in the device allowing you to seamlessly receive the call while typing. However, as in all mobile devices, you can either be on a call or use your packet data connection (GPRS) so unless you are on wi-fi do not hope to be able to Google that term your friend just mentioned on the call. The phone has an intelligent ambient light sensor and proximity sensor which work in conjunction to conserve valuable battery life. In fact, the phone is clever enough to automatically turn off the display light when you bring the phone close to your ear while in a call.

Voice clarity is superb as expected and there are no problems of call drops (unless your network is poor). Even during conference calls the clarity is absolutely crisp. While receiving the call, the phone still multitasks allowing you to be able to look for that number or send that message right away even when you are on the call. However, the touch screen makes it a bit of a hassle to call up those customer service centers powered by automated IVRS (read all of them!) since you have to take the phone away from your ear, punch in the code and then quickly place it back on your ear to hear the further instructions.

Usability

The mini retains the intuitive GUI design of all its Nokia predecessors. The touch UI is extremely easy to understand and since all the functions of the phone can be performed through the touch screen, it is easy to get used to the device very quickly. The keyboard has keys that are sufficiently large as well as very well spaced out so you don’t end up typing something “wronf” (classic mobile device QWERTY keypad problem where the keys are extremely tightly placed). Significantly, the d-pad present on the N97 has been replaced with 4 dedicated arrow keys in the mini. Personally I prefer this design since it has helped saved some more space and has not compromised on the functionality at all. Sliding out the QWERTY keyboard automatically rotates the screen thus making the device more like a mini computer. However, you should not expect to be able to type on it like in a conventional computer – placed on a flat surface and typing with both hands. The main reason for this is that the keyboard is not designed for touch typing like a computer’s keyboard. It has the conventional buttons which require you to have to support the device from underneath with your hands while typing with your thumbs. Having said that, the keyboard is a breeze to use and be warned that you might love it so much that you may forget how to use a conventional keypad on a monoblock phone!

I tested the touch UIs of the Samsung series and found them to be what I like to call “pseudo touch”. The N97 is a “true touch” phone. What I mean by this is that everything is “touch” able! So, for instance, if you touch the top right corner of your screen a popup comes up with a host of information like time, alarm (if set), missed calls, new messages and mew emails (if applicable) and an icon which takes you directly to the connectivity menu. Whats so special about the connectivity menu you ask? Well, Nokia have clubbed a host of settings under the head “Connectivity”. So the menu gives you access to Network selection, wifi control, bluetooth control, USB mode control as settings for GPRS access points and phone sync controls. To  illustrate, it takes me exactly 4 touches of the screen to turn on or off the bluetooth without having to scroll through menus or searching for the bluetooth settings.

Messaging

The mini comes bundled with Nokia’s proprietary messaging solution called Nokia Messaging. This handles your SMS, MMS and email needs. Messaging through the device has been made easier still. The onscreen keypad is similar to a conventional Nokia’s keypad complete with predictive text that matches the one on the physical keyboard. But it is when you slide out the QWERTY keyboard that the device actually comes into its own. Putting numbers, symbols and line breaks has never been easier. The piece de resistance in my opinion is the intelligent recipient list. When typing a message, all the user has to do is type the name of the intended recipient (even in part) into the “To:” field. The device automatically scans the address book for matches and sends the message when you touch send. If more than one matches are found the device prompts you to choose the correct person/number as the case may be. I find this feature very useful since I would feel really annoyed that to add one of my contacts into the receiver’s list, I had to trawl through my burgeoning list of contacts.

Apart from SMS and MMS, the device is also capable of email in combination with the GPRS or wi-fi internet connection. Setting up the mailbox is pretty simple and the device allows one to setup multiple mailboxes. I tried syncing my Gmail account through IMAP but it didn’t work because there was some problem with the settings that I couldn’t sort out. However, I am now using Microsoft Exchange syn which provides ActiveSync even for your Gmail account. Coupled with the automatic updates (immediately) and the new email alert, the phone can give you a near Blackberry experience though one should remember the device does not use Push Mail technology and depends on Google servers for the mail (in case of Gmail that is).

The Messaging app also allows the user to make rich attachments such as music, pictures and videos, thus allowing the user to send content rich messages and mails right from the device on the move. Other standard features such as sent messages and message delivery reports are present as well.

Internet and apps

Internet capability today has become the central arena for all smartphone wars today. The mini comes bundled with a browser that is usable but not very great. Basic functionality in the form of a back button and a history list are present but the browser experience leaves the user asking for more. I have been using Opera for the last four months and have found it to be a really excellent browser especially for touch phones. The phone comes bundled with a bunch of apps, most of which need an active internet connection. Among these the Facebook and the YouTube apps are worth a mention. Nokia has intelligently provided users access to the world’s most popular social networking site and the world’s most popular video sharing site out of the box. So the user does not need to fire up the browser instead directly using the dedicated app. Other web apps include those for Amazon, Bloomberg, CNBC TV18 and the like. I installed the Gmail and Google Maps app from Google and the phone runs them perfectly. In fact, the Google Maps app works much better than the bundled Nokia Maps app.

Productivity

The phone comes bundled with a version of Quick office that allows you to view Word and Excel files. However the support is restricted and any document with advanced formatting is sure to break. Nokia also bundle a copy of Adobe Reader but the app is a trial app for 10 uses only after which it expires and you would have to pay to use. Calculator, converter, scheduler, etc. are all present and work as expected, nothing to note there. Peculiarly, there is no timer app. The stop watch app also does not provide for a countdown timer. I was forced to install a third-party app called EggTimer which works fine.

Multimedia

The device is an N series and as such, multimedia is the life blood of this device. Dual stereo speakers do duty on this phone and the audio volume and quality is pretty good. The headset gives true stereo experience. The phone is capable of playing all the popular music formats such as mp3, wma, aac, etc. Playlists are supported and you can use the Ovi Music player to sync your phone like any regular mp3 player. As compared to the N97’s 32 GB internal storage, the mini has only 8 GB but this is enough for most of us. You should however keep at least 1 GB of space free in the internal memory at all times since filling it to the brim will slow down your phone tremendously. The FM radio app still annoyingly insists that you hook up your headset before the music will play. In the face of the competition producing wireless FM capable phones, Nokia could do well to reconsider this technical show stopper.

The video player on the mini is a pretty decent one that plays MPEG4 encoded videos. It gives you advanced options like aspect ratio adjustment and zoom. However, in my opinion, the screen is slightly small to be able to watch videos (like a movie) for extended periods of time. Flash video is also supported.

The phone is fitted out with two cameras. The primary camera at the back sports a 5MP Carl Zeiss Tessar optic and has a dual flash that is quite good. The lens is pretty capable of taking great pictures even in the night and with advanced controls such as white balance, brightness, etc. the camera performs admirably well. Default video is recorded in .mp4 format. The camera lens has digital zoom of 14x. The secondary camera is used for video calls only and does the job decently.

Battery life and other accessories

The phone comes with a standard Nokia battery that provides decent backup. While the official documents mention that the battery provides 430 mins of talk time and 320 hours of standby time, I observed that talking for 1 hour a day on average, I could make my battery last till about 3-4 days. My advise to owners would be to keep their bluetooth and wi-fi off at all times unless they need to use it. Also check occasionally that some app like the music player or the camera is not running in the background. Since the phone supports multitasking it is very easy to inadvertently leave these apps on. Even apps in the background consume battery and can drain your phone very quickly. The phone provides a nice shortcut in the “Options” menu on the home page to “Show open apps”. The camera and the radio are two other features that are very power-hungry.

Charging the battery happens through a micro USB port and can be done in two ways – via computer or via charger. Connecting the phone to a computer through the bundled USB cable not only gives you access to the phone’s contents on your computer but also charges the device battery. The other option is to connect the bundled adapter to a wall outlet and use it to charge the phone. Both methods are equally effective. On a side note, be careful when you connect your phone to a laptop running on its own battery because the phone, if nearly completely discharged, could have a considerable effect on the battery life of your laptop. There is a tiny white LED next to the microUSB that lights up when the phone is charging so you know that you should unplug the charger when the light goes off. Although the micro USB charging capability is on par with the standard for smartphones, it does do away with the ubiquitous availability of a Nokia charger thus ensuring that you would never run out of power on your phone. Ever since I got my new phone, I have gotten into a habit of carrying the charger in my laptop bag at all times. An issue I observed was that there was some amount of heating in the phone at the time of charging. On contacting the local Nokia Priority Center, I was told that this is normal behaviour since the battery is a high-capacity one.

The bundled headset is also of high quality and comes with a set of three silicone ear plugs of varying sizes so the user can adjust it according to their ears. Call clarity through the headset is very similar to that on the phone itself and the headset performs fairly well. The absence of two accessories in the standard sales package surprised me. First, that Nokia did not bundle a microSD card with their premium offering. While the built-in 8 GB of memory does render an external card unnecessary to a certain extent, I would expect them to bundle it with the product. Anyway, you can purchase an optional microSD card an insert it into the phone. The phone supports microSD cards upto 16 GB and it is possible to hot plug the card. The other accessory that I felt was missing was a stylus. Now considered almost as standard equipment with touch phones, the mini does not come with a stylus unlike its elder sibling, the N97. Thus, in spite of having a very neat handwriting detection package, the capability is wasted as very few people would purchase the stylus separately.

Summary:

Pros

  • Well thought out product
  • Nokia build and quality is evident; plays true to the brand
  • Responsive UI and convenient weight and size are a positive
  • Gives the best of both worlds – work and fun

Cons

  • Slightly expensive when compared to competition (except the iPhone)
  • Slows down after staying on for more than two weeks. It is a good idea to restart the phone once a week.
  • Battery consumption very high when bluetooth/wi-fi are switched on though this is expected
  • Since the charging is through micro USB, it is necessary to carry the charger around since it is not readily available.

Price (at the time of writing this review)

INR 23,990 (Inclusive of taxes)

Final Verdict

The Nokia N97 mini is a good device coming from one of the most popular brands in India and the world. It provides a heady mix of features and is the proverbial jack of all trades. The price may be a deterrent for some, but if you do have the budget and are looking for a good smartphone in this range, this is probably the best you can get.

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Categories: Random Stuff
  1. 8 April 2010 at 19:12 IST

    I kept reading all the technical stuff and jargon but didn’t find what I wanted — games. For me the basic handset of Nokia, is the one. I can’t use the rest of the features, so why bother? When Vinni wanted to buy me a new handset, I drove him nuts askng for one with Snake, in it. He ranted and raved about his crazy mom, but I finally got what I wanted!

    • Siddharth
      8 April 2010 at 22:16 IST

      Yes I see I overlooked the games bit… but that is because the phone doesn’t really have games worth mentioning… moreover, the target market for the phone is usually not looking for games on the phone… instead their focus is on things like multimedia, camera quality, usability, etc… But yes, snake (the first one, not the new 3d rubbish) truly was the most awesome game ever on Nokia phones

  2. 28 April 2010 at 09:02 IST

    Yet the future of mobile music is on mobile devices. Mailboxes Slots

  1. 8 April 2010 at 19:40 IST
  2. 8 April 2010 at 20:03 IST

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