Nokia N93 Review

This post has been a long time coming, and I can't give you one particular reason why. I've been using the Nokia N93 for quite a while now, and I've had a few starts and stops getting a review done. Most of the reviewers contributing to the N93 blog that Andy Abramson runs posted their reviews a while back, but if you're still interested in this phone, hopefully you'll find my review worthwhile.

It's a long read, but if you've used this phone, you'll probably read the whole thing. If you want a shorter review, skip this, and read my son Max's N93 review from late last year. Actually, we both had pretty similar opinions about it. Or better yet, read 'em both, and tell me what you think.

Ok, here we go....

Well, I�ve been using this phone for a while, and it really is a mixed bag. If this was my first Nokia N Series phone, I�d have a greater sense of wonder. No doubt, it�s a very cool phone, and I feel very lucky to be able to make it my everyday phone. However, having lived with earlier N Series models, the wow factor isn�t as great at this point. Not to mention, the N95 is waiting on deck, and I suspect that model addresses many of the problems I�m experiencing with the N93. Actually, you�ll hear more about that first from my son, Max, my co-reviewer in this program. He�s writing his own reviews, and has been using the N95 for some time, and really loves it. Am sure his review will be done well before mine.

Ok, let�s talk about the good stuff first, and there�s lots to choose from. At first glance, the N93 is smooth and sleek - more refined looking than the N91 or N90. Not as angular, less masculine � this is a phone that a woman would be as comfortable using as a man. The curves and rounded edges make it look less bulky, which helps, given that the N Series phones are larger than what people typically use.

As with the other N Series phones, I find the N93 to be a better camera than a phone. The still camera continues to improve, with a 3.2 megapixel lens. The N91 was pretty good at 2.0, but 3.2 is even better. When the photos turn out well, they�re very good � no complaints there. However, it has its quirks when used as a camera, and a lot of things have to go right to get good photos. More on that later.

On the plus side, there are lots of settings to choose from for all kinds of situations, and I particularly like the Night setting, as I often need to take photos in low light settings. These photos turn out grainier, but at least the image is much easier to see. I also really like how easily you can choose to save or delete a photo as soon as you take it. Just a quick push of the same button you use to snap the photo, and it�s saved. However, with a couple of quick clicks, you can delete it pretty quickly and easily.

Another feature with mixed utility is the zoom. You can certainly zoom in closer than with earlier models, but there�s not much point since the photos never turn out. For taking photos at conferences, I find you can only zoom in just a touch and still get passable results. Things go out of focus in a hurry as soon as you starting getting a closer look at your subject.

I love the video capabilities too � it�s really what I enjoy most about these Nokia phones. As long as you have sufficient memory, you can have a lot of fun taking short videos � zooming is easy, and the sound quality is quite good.

Quite a few other pluses to report. It�s easy and fun to scroll through photos in the Gallery section. There�s a carousel-type effect as the photos scroll quickly around the perimeter of the screen, and can easily be enlarged for full screen viewing.

The keypad is very solid � you really have to push down on the keys to enter anything. I like this feature, as other keypads are too sensitive and it�s too easy to key in the wrong number when making a call. In the flip phone mode, the keypad is like a regular cell phone � nothing special there. As with other N Series phones, the N93 is a Rubik�s Cube, and the screen also flips out to the right � as opposed to up, like a flip phone � and now the phone looks like a mini-notebook. It�s a very cool effect, with the keyboard right below the screen � but I really haven�t found any practical use for it. So far, it�s just a cool way to show your pictures or videos.

What else? Having WiFi and Bluetooth are great features. For me, Bluetooth makes it very easy to quickly download photos to my PC, which I often do for blog posts. It�s not practical for video or a large batch of photos, but for small spot jobs, it�s a great. The WiFi feature is neat because it turns the N91 into a WiFi endpoint, which is great if you happen to come across a free hotspot. Not many of these in Toronto, but it�s handy to have.

Here�s another fun one. The N93 comes with an RCA cable adapter, so you can easily view your photos and video on your TV set at home. I didn�t realize how many people like to watch their photos on TV, so I can definitely see why this would be a popular feature. And for those who have never done this, there�s definitely a wow effect seeing photos up on the big screen for the first time.

Finally, the built-in games are pretty good. I�m not a gamer, but my kids love them, and it�s been a great life-saver when I�m out with my youngest son and he needs to keep occupied when I�m doing things. Well, it�s great for a little while � the battery has a habit of dying quickly and suddenly.

So far, so good, right? Lots to like here. But it is a phone, and I haven�t said much about that yet. I actually don�t use cell phones much at all, and you�ll have to troll the N93 blog site for what the power users have to say about the phone features. All I can tell you is how it comes across for making/taking everyday phone calls. In short � not great. You�d think Nokia would have this in spades, but not for this phone, and I�m not alone. When my son Max posted his N93 review some time back, I was surprised at how critical he was about the phone features.

Now that the N93 has passed from son to father, I�m not surprised any more. I just don�t get it. Unless you�re in a quiet spot, sitting still, it�s pretty hard to hear the caller. I�ve certainly had better experiences with other phones, and the phone experience almost seems like an afterthought. In a perverse way, I wish everyone would use this phone. I�m old school, and have a problem with people walking and talking in busy, public places. This phone would solve that problem pretty fast.

Actually, I suspect most of these people are �phonies� anyhow, and aren�t really talking to anyone. The phone is just a prop, and it�s a great way to look busier than you really are. When you see people talking on their phones in a loud nightclub, don�t tell me they�re actually having a conversation. I better leave it at that if I want to keep reviewing these phones!

Another thing � setting up your profile. You have to go pretty deep into the menu program to do the most basic things like set the phone to silent mode or change the volume of your ring. Very unintuitive, and simply too much bother. It�s much easier to just turn the phone off when going into a meeting than to scroll through so many menus just to go into silent mode.

Next item � memory. Can you believe this phone only comes with 32MB? I know they do that to keep the price of the phone down, but with so much horsepower, and 3.2 megapixels, it�s just absurd. The earlier N Series phones had more memory, so what gives here? The N93 photos are high resolution, and often come in at 1MB or more. It�s like having a roll of 35mm film to work with � 24 shots if you�re lucky. And forget about doing any decent video. I�ve never had to buy any accessories or upgrades to any gadget I�ve used, but $30 for a 1GB SD card was the best money I�ve spent in a long time. No longer do I have to worry about how many photos I take, or having the video max out 30 seconds into a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

The battery life is next. In some ways it�s fine � definitely can go many days between charges, but then again, I�m a very light user. However... it sure has a habit of dying out of the blue. It�s one thing when it�s down to 1 or 2 bars � you expect that. But it�s another when you�re at 4 bars, and boom � it just dies � no warning. Or, you know you were at 4 bars � maybe higher � when you turned the phone off at night. But when I go to power up in the morning � nothing � no juice. Does it just die overnight? I don�t think so. Very strange, and this happens fairly often. It�s not a big deal when I�m at home, and I can just plug in the charger. But it�s happened many times when I�m away, and then phone just becomes dead weight until I can get home and charge it up again.

Let�s move on to more practical matters. The main moving part � the swivel screen � was no doubt designed by a right-handed person. This phone has an asymmetrical design, and I just don�t see how left-handed people could be comfortable using it. If you have a very steady hand � which I don�t � you can take pictures with one hand. For lefties, this has got to be a challenge, no doubt. All the features � the zoom, the toggle switches, the screen positioning � work great for righties, but for the left of us, you�ll need a whole new set of micro-motor skills. I�m not a fan of all these tiny button and switches, and Nokia is hardly alone here, so I�ll just move on. However, let�s stay on the theme of taking pictures.

As mentioned, you really need a steady hand, and I find with the N93 camera design, that I need 2 hands to get good results. The screen can easily swivel up and out of view, which makes it hard to frame your shot. Secondly, it doesn�t take much for your forefinger to block the lens and/or the flash when doing a one-hand photo. Related to this is the fact that the image capture is not very real-time. As with all cameras, action shots take a lot of practice � such as trying to get a good shot of Max when he�s at the plate for his baseball games.

That�s a given, but even such simple things as photographing a speaker on stage are much harder to do than you think. For every good one that makes it to my blog, there are often a dozen or more attempts that turn out blurry or with the speaker in a goofy pose. This is especially challenging for speakers who move around a lot, but with a digital camera, you don�t really care. Just keep shooting and hopefully you�ll get a keeper. Fair enough, but it�s often a lot of work to get a pretty simple result.

To be fair, this is a phone, and not a Cybershot. Of course I�m going to get better and more consistent results with a real camera, and it�s arguable how much of this is the N93, and how much is just me not being a great photographer. However, this is what I use for a camera when I�m working, and I�m here to tell you what works and what doesn�t.

Enough about the photos. To finish up, I�ve got a few other things to cover that I�m not crazy about. Below the toggle switch on the right edge are two single-purpose toggles for the camera features. One allows you to switch back and forth from photo to video mode. The other turns the flash on or off. It�s really great to have these features � it�s much easier this way to make these switches than earlier N Series phones, where you have to go into the menu programs. That�s good design. However, it�s also very easy to unwittingly switch modes, and it�s happened too many times than I�d care to remember. Just when you think you�re lining up a great photo, you click away, only to find out you�re in video mode.

That�s problem #1. Problem #2 is the fact that it takes time, patience and precision to switch modes. It doesn�t just happen with a quick toggle move. Takes a lot longer, and it�s not always a smooth process. In real time, it may only take 3-4 seconds, but when that Kodak moment comes, it�s an eternity, and invariably the moment is long gone by the time you�ve gotten back into photo mode. I don�t have a healthy relationship with machines, and more than once this has put me into a state where all I want to do is smack this thing around. Not a good idea, and I don�t do stuff like that, but the frustration level gets very high at times.

And on top of that, the N93 often simply freezes up and crashes � just when you�re lining up a shot, or switching from photo to video. I don�t even want to begin to tell you how aggravating that is.

A related annoyance is how easy it is to set the flash off. This happens to me all the time, and it often startles people. I have no idea what button I�m pushing to do this, but it sure looks goofy, and really, it shouldn�t be so easy to set the flash off when you�re just picking up the phone. If you�re old enough to remember the Woody Allen movie, Bananas, you�ll know where I�m coming from. I feel like his character, Fielding Mellish, who is a product tester, and is constantly getting hurt doing the most routine, inane things.

Are we done yet? Ok, one more. I know you can�t have it all, but this one sticks with me a fair bit. The speaker is on the outside of the phone. So, sure when the phone rings, it�s loud and clear. And if you�re sitting in a quiet place, the sound quality when playing back a video clip or listening to music is pretty good. But... try picking up the audio when there�s background noise � forget it, at least for watching video clips. You can watch clips in two modes � either flipped up (like a flip phone), or flipped out (like a PC screen).

Either way, the speaker is on the other side of the screen, so the sound coming from the phone is going away from you � not towards you. If there�s an ambient noise, the sound gets totally lost and you can�t hear a thing. I know � this isn�t why you would run out to get the N93, but it�s one of those little things that might give you buyer�s remorse.

All told, the N93 has a lot of great things going for it, but definitely with some caveats along the way. I suspect many of the things that are drawbacks for me will not resonate with everyone, or you�re just more clever than me in overcoming these problems.

However, I think it�s fair to say you�re going to run into a lot of these shortcomings with any phone that is designed to do so many different things. As a multipurpose device, the N93 sure is a great product, but it sure wouldn�t be my first choice if my priority was a great cell phone.

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