Nokia N95 Review

Having been fortunate enough to be part of Nokia�s Blogger Relations Program for some time, I�ve had my share of N-Series phones to use and review. Most of the world � especially North America � doesn�t live this way, and it�s always fun to use phones that are not in the mainstream or even available here yet. They sure get people�s attention, and I�m not shy to talk about what�s great and not-so-great about these high-end phones. Anyone who has used these devices knows that calling them �phones� is a bit misleading. In fact, as you�ll see from my review, the phone seems like an afterthought in some ways.

So, I�ve had the Nokia N95 for ages, it seems, and takes over from my last Nokia phone, the N93, which I reviewed here. The N95 is a very different device, and true to form, Nokia continues to innovate and explore various designs, features and form factors. This review will be pretty straight-up; I�ll start with the strengths, and move on to the shortcomings.

What�s great about the N95

First off, the form factor is really nice. It�s slimmer than the N93, and unlike earlier N Series phones, it has more rounded edges and is less boxy. In other words, this is a phone that I can see appealing equally to both women and men. Definitely couldn�t say that about the N90.

Aside from being slimmer, it just fits in the hand very easily. You really don�t need two hands to use it, and it fits nicely in your jacket pocket. That�s much different from the N93 flip phone design, and the Rubik�s Cube features of earlier N Series models. I�m not really huge on the slider design, but it definitely has some advantages. It certainly makes for a larger screen display, and as video becomes more the norm, this is a good thing to have. The only drawback here is that with such a large exposed screen surface, it becomes easily smudged and open to scratches.

The phone actually slides in two directions, which is really neat. Slide up, and you get the keypad for dialing and texting. Slide down, and the phone converts to a media player where you can view your photos and videos in full screen mode and navigate all the various media options. The dial pad, by the way, is another plus. You really need to push down on the buttons to make them work, which means no accidental pocket calls. It only works when you are clear about what you want to do. This may seem like a small thing, but with the iPhone being so popular, I�ll take the manual keyboard any day over the touch screen keypad.

Let�s move on. The next really great feature is the camera � a 5 megapixel Carl Zeiss lens. Doesn�t get much better than that for a camera phone. The N93 was pretty good at 3.2, but 5 is just fantastic. Never had such good quality photos on a phone. And the kicker for me is the lens cover. Finally � Nokia has added this feature. Seems like such a logical thing, with the lens cover being exposed all the time. Well, the 95 has a great little switch that discretely slides a cover over the lens. Very James Bond-like � like something out of Dr. No. Love it. And of course, the photo quality is really great � same for video. As with earlier N Series phones, there�s a nice variety of photo settings � I especially like the night time settings, as I often have to take photos in low light conditions.

It seems old hat at this point, but I should also add that the Bluetooth and WiFi features are great, and really showcase the full range of what the N95 can do. It�s easy to get used to these features when phones like these are the norm, but of course, most phones aren�t wired this way. But they�re getting there. To be fair, I really haven�t taken advantage of the N95�s higher end features like WiFi, mobile blogging, or Web browsing, so my review doesn�t do justice to the full package. My uber-geek son, Max, is much more at home here, and I�ll steer you to his N95 review for that perspective.

One other positive to share with you. The phone is easy to navigate � it�s not just intuitive and responsive, but it�s easy to do with one hand. This seems simplistic, but for all the multi-taskers out there, this is an important consideration. Often, we only have one free hand when using the phone, and the toggle button in the middle of the phone is easy to locate � even in the dark � and works very well with just a thumb doing all the work.

What�s not great about the N95

Ok, so before you get too comfortable and run out to buy one, let me give you a more complete picture of what it�s like to live with the N95 every day.

For all its cool gadgetry and stylish design, this is NOT a very good phone. Isn�t that Nokia�s business? I don�t get it. How can they get all these things so right, but the phone itself is so lacking? Maybe it�s the triumph of the iPhone and the whole smartphone thing. We don�t really use these devices as phones � that�s really secondary to multimedia and using this as a proxy for a mobile PC, personal entertainment center and email client. Fair enough. That said, I�m pretty old school, and always thought these things were phones first, and everything else was a bonus. Wrong.

I can�t complain loudly enough about what I consider a FATAL DESIGN FLAW. Anybody listening? I really doubt it, as I haven�t heard anyone else raise this issue. Ready? Ok, so, this is slider phone, right? When the phone rings, you have the option to slide the top panel up to answer the call. Pretty standard for any slider phone. I don�t know about you, but when I use a phone like this, I�m usually holding it in one hand. And being a pretty regular guy � black hair, brown eyes � guess what � I�m right-handed � like most of you.

Well, when I answer a call � in my right hand � my thumb instinctively latches on to the phone to push the slider face forward. I can�t help it, but my thumb naturally rests on the right corner of the phone to do this, and as I slide it forward, guess what happens? It�s resting directly on top of the button with the red icon. You know, the one that means HANG UP. Duh!!!! How dumb is this???

To this day, the vast majority of incoming calls never get answered because I inadvertently hang up on the caller. How embarrassing. I don�t receive enough calls to have conditioned myself to change my natural response, so this keeps happening over and over. But that�s really beside the point. I shouldn�t have to change my habits � good design takes this into account.

Of course, if I was left-handed, I wouldn�t have this problem. In that case, guess where my left thumb would naturally land when sliding up the cover to answer a call? On the green button � not the red button. You know, the ANSWER button. Isn�t that the way it should be? Is it just me, or are the only people out there smiling the lefties? Sorry, but I don�t care how great all the other features are, this one is a killer for me. I have no regrets about moving on from this phone to my next Nokia, which is the N81.

I should also say, that I don�t think it�s just me. I�ve tested this with dozens of people. I try it out on everyone I show this phone to, and in most cases, they have the same result. To be fair, there are loads of people who don�t have this problem, and don�t push the slider to answer the phone. However, it is often just as likely that I�ll hang up an incoming call simply by the act of reaching for my phone to pick it up. Often, my phone is in my coat pocket or out of sight when it rings, so I usually just reach for it blindly. For whatever reason, invariably, my fingers somehow end up touching the red button, and just like that, the call dies. It�s just too easy for this to happen for my liking. So, either all the Nokia engineers are left-handed, or they assume too much. Maybe they should hire me to be a product tester....

While we�re talking about the phone, I should also add that it�s not the easiest phone to actually use. You have to be really precise about lining up the phone to your ear. If it�s off-center just a little bit, you can�t hear a thing. I�m not big on walking and talking, but when I do, I really have to concentrate on keeping the phone in a tight zone, otherwise you can�t hear a thing.

I also find it�s not that simple to make a phone call. You can�t just open the phone and dial away. It goes into lock mode almost instantly, and you have to unlock the phone to start dialing. It doesn�t take much, but it�s another little step you�d rather not have to take to make a simple phone call. And then, of course, you can�t just dial a call. You have to click through a few options to place the call. Is it a voice call or a video call? Jeez � just make the call � too much choice is a bad thing. I know the phone has tons of advanced features, but making a call should be pretty easy and intuitive.

Enough on the phone. It�s ok at best, but this is Nokia after all. These issues � both big and small � just shouldn�t be in the equation. I�d love to hear your take on this. I don�t know about you, but if I was buying this phone � the better part of $700 � I would not be a happy customer.

What else? Well, the other stuff is minor in comparison, but still worth mentioning. As good as the camera is, it�s really only good for staged photos. No question about the quality of results � what�s not to like about 5 mega pixels? However, this is not an SLR, so there has to be some give and take here. The N95 isn�t very good for quick-response point and click situations. It takes time for the shutter to kick in, so if your subject is moving, chances are you�re going to miss the moment. I often have to take many shots just to get one I can use, but that was also my experience with other N Series phones. Nothing new here, but still an issue. For me, the N95 is a camera as much as it is a phone. I really love being able to just shoot in the moment, but if there�s a lot of motion involved, the results can be very mixed.

Similar story for the camera features. The zoom is pretty good, but it takes a while to do. By the time I�ve set up the shot, it�s too late. Oh well. More troubling is the positioning of the toggle switches on the top of the camera. Ready for this one? On the far right is the clicker to take the photo � or activate the video. There are two other switches on the top � a zoom toggle on the left and a photo/video mode toggle on the right - just next to the shutter clicker. Again, being a rightie � as most of us are � wouldn�t you think that the zoom would be on the right? No --- it�s on the left. So, just when you�ve decided a close-up would improve the photo, guess what? You�ve switched from photo to video mode. Arghhh!!! And � it takes a while to switch from one mode to another, and of course, by then, it�s way too late � the moment has long passed.

Finally, two small points that seem to be common to N Series phones. First, the battery life can be short, and more annoying is how it can go from 3 bars of power to zero in no time. Just when you figured you have another hour or so, it dies with no warning. Second is the limited memory that comes with the phone. This one came with a 256 MB micro chip, but that just doesn�t take you very far with a device this sophisticated. As with N93, I had to buy a chip with more memory, and once I did that, it�s worked just fine. A small thing, but still a reality any user will have to live with.

All told, definitely a mixed bag. I�m not a power user, so I don�t really get the full benefit of the N95, and you�ll have to read other reviews for a more comprehensive assessment. However, for my everyday needs, it�s got some great strengths, but some significant shortcomings. I realize many people think this is the best Nokia yet, and it probably is. I�m certainly glad I�ve had a chance to experience it, but it�s not a game-changer for me. Time to move on the N81 � I�ll let you know if the story will be different there.

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