Nokia N95 Review

As I am sure you have seen, Jenneth has been extremely impressed by the Nokia N95 smartphone, going as far as to call it her “JesusPhone”. I managed to get my hands on one for a couple of weeks to review, and while I agree with many of her points, I have some reservations.

The N95 comes quite nicely presented. You don’t even have to take it out of the box to see this gorgeous phone. That large screen dominating the front panel looks fabulous.

Like Sony Ericsson with the P1i, Nokia hasn’t skimped on the included accessories either. Not that they should on an expensive phone like this, but some manufacturers do. In the box you will fine a 1GB microSD, stereo headset, tiny AC adaptor, AV cable and a leather case.

The AC adaptor is easily the smalled AC adaptor that I have used!! It is about the same size as the Motofone one, and a lot smaller than the Nokia AC adaptor that they have included in the past. It really is necessary that it is small, because you will be carrying it a lot (more about that later).

The composite video and stereo audio cable connects up the N95 to a TV for pretty much any purpose. Nice to see it in the box instead of a $49 extra!

The stereo earphones are you usual phone variety, decent but not great. If you only want to listen to music through headphones, you won’t be needing these (or any adaptors for that matter!).

The phone Nokia sent was the Plum colour, and hence the casing is a matching purple colour. I’m sorry Nokia but this case sucks!! It is so boxy!! Definitely look for something better if you want to carry your phone in a case. I’m sure Vaja will come up with something 😉

The cutouts are very precise though.

Now to the phone itself, and I reckon this is one of the best looking phones available, and I can’t really explain why. It’s simple design with it’s large screen, dark outline and slim bezel just looks great!! The N95 ditches the keypad on the front, instead just having the navigational keys. I think this is a great idea, as it allows for a large portrait display (hence the phone isn’t wide) without the phone being ridiculously long all the time. I had a device like that (the iPAQ 4355), and I much prefer this slider design.

It is rather thick though, and while not long it still isn’t the most compact high-end phone out there. It is only slightly smaller than the Sony Ericsson P1i that I reviewed recently, and that includes a touchscreen and full QWERTY keyboard. Granted it misses out on GPS and TV out, but I’m sure Nokia could have done a little better.

This phone doesn’t skimp on the wireless radios either. It packs in HSDPA (2100Mhz only, sorry USA!), Bluetooth, WiFi, IrDA and GPS! Plenty of ways of getting connected to almost anything, even satellites! The latest ROM also shows you when yo are in a UMTS (3G) or HSDPA (3.5G) area.

The navigation buttons aren’t very big, but most of the time it isn’t a problem. The buttons are nicely raised and have good feedback, but on occasion I press a nearby button (particularly irritating when it is the end call button!). The buttons surrounding the d-pad are made of a shinny plastic that smudges like crazy!! I’m constantly wiping them off only to smudge them up again. They do look good though, so it’s a good compromise.

At the top is the front-facing video calling camera and a light sensor.

On the bottom is Nokia’s 2mm power plug aaaaaaaaand ……. a miniUSB plug!!!! THANK YOU NOKIA!! Why manufacturers can’t just use this plug instead of some proprietary nonsense baffles me. OK it doesn’t really, they want to sell their expensive cables, but thank goodness some manufacturers are listening!! The N95 can act as a USB drive as well, which is great for transferring music, photos and apps to the phone without messing around with Nokia PC Suite. You can also use it to print to compatible printers. The only thing it doesn’t do is charge the phone. So close to perfect, but just missed out!! Regardless, it is better than Nokia’s Pop-Port.

Once again I have to hand it to Nokia as on the left side is a standard (yes, STANDARD) 3.5mm headphone jack!! No silly adaptors to use your good headphones, just plug them in! And the N95 sounds fantastic through good headphones. This isn’t the only reason the N95 makes a good music player though.

The microSD slot is also on the left, as is the left speaker and an IrDA port. Why IrDA is still included is beyond me considering this phone includes WiFi, BT and HSDPA.

On the right side is the right speaker, volume control, Gallery button and shutter button (with auto focus semi-press). Unfortunately I haven’t found a way to remap the Gallery button, as it would be far more useful to me in some other capacity.

As you can see the N95 has stereo speakers, and they are incredibly LOUD!! All my phones have the ringtone set to maximum, but the N95 is only at 75%. When playing music at high volumes the speakers still manage to sound pretty good. Another tick in the box as an excellent music device.

Up top is a lonely power button. Press and hold will turn the phone off, and a press will bring up the profiles menu.

Around the back is the 5.0MP camera with flash. A lens cover protects the camera when not in use, and starts the camera app when opened. Since the camera has autofocus, a light press on the shutter button will focus the lens (like on a real digicam), and a full press will take the photo. Like most camera phones the flash is of little use beyond 1.5m.

The picture quality is fantastic!! The 5MP sensor on this phone is simple amazing and the results are stunning for a camera phone. This is the kind of phone that borders on dedicated digital camera replacement (for well lit shots anyway). All the photos in my new car post were taken on the N95 while out at a friends place, and they came out just great! Details are sharp and the colour is fairly accurate. Click the photos to enlarge to their original size.

The front of the device slides up to reveal a large number pad. The pad is backlit in a nice soft blue glow that is easy on the eyes. On a smartphone like this I find that disappointing. Over $1000 spent and you don’t get a full QWERTY. This makes text entry rather difficult and slow, so sending anything but short emails or SMS from this phone is a real chore. Using this phone I really miss the keyboard on my BlackJack (still not back from Expansys) and Sony Ericsson P1i. On a business smartphone I really feel that it is a must. If you’re a heavy emailer, I can’t recommend the N95. Otherwise read on, as it does some things extremely well.

The slider on this phone goes both ways, as sliding the front panel down reveals a set of music controls that work in any application. Unlike some phones whose music buttons are restricted to use while inside the music app, the N95 allows you to use other apps (like surfing the web), and change songs without going back to the music app. A third tick on the list of why the N95 is a great music player.

The display on the N95 is big and bright. While it may only be QVGA (240×320) and not one of the high-res displays that appear on some of Nokia’s other phones, it is crisp, vibrant and (when on max) very bright. Simply put, everything looks great on this phone. It still looks great on the medium setting, which is good as you won’t want to run it on full brightness for battery reasons.

The N95’s radio repertoire includes HSDPA, WiFi, BT, FM Radio and GPS. Starting with HSDPA, I can say this phone is quite fast at downloading webpages. That combined with Nokia’s renowned excellence for signal strength is great. I get a 3G signal in places where my BlackJack drops to EDGE (and barely holds it), and the P1i only gets it sporadically.

As with the BlackJack and P1i, I never really used WiFi on the N95 much. It’s just not a feature that I need anymore. But of course for the review I tried it out, and it works pretty well. The Nokia WiFi manager is easy to use, and lists all available networks when opened. Speed was just fine for internet and email.

Bluetooth worked just fine for transferring files from my MacBook Pro and connecting to my bluetooth car kit. Nothing really remarkable here. It doesn’t support Bluetooth PAN, which is disappointing. I have really missed that from my BlackJack.

Like a good music phone the N95 includes an FM radio for those times you want to listen to something completely random you might not have with you. I like radio (except for its terrible quality sometimes), but no phones I have tried have been very good at receiving it. It’s often crackly and the stereo dips in and out which is really distracting, so I don’t both. Nokia have done a superb job with the N95, as the radio is fantastic!! Sound is clear (as clear as FM gets), and static is kept to a minimum. I use it occasionally on the train, and it works very well, something I haven’t been able to do with other phones.

GPS on my N95 didn’t work when I first got it. No matter how long it sat with full view of the sky would it pickup a signal. Hard resetting didn’t fix the problem either, but a firmware update did. With the latest firmware installed the GPS works pretty well with both the included mapping application (which downloads maps on the fly) and the included info app (displays your speed, dist. Travelled, co-ords, etc). The phone needs to have good view of the sky for it to work though.

The TV out function is pretty cool, and works throughout the OS. You can watch videos, surf the web, chat on MSN and respond to email all of a big screen. I hooked it up to my dads 32? LCD and it looked pretty good!

The N95 runs the Nokia Series 60 v3 operating system, which is quite simple yet still powerful. Since it hasn’t been hacked to be used with just buttons (aka Windows Mobile) nor a button-controlled UI hacked to run with a touchscreen (aka Sony Ericsson UIQ) it works well with the controls on the device. The N95 is easily one of the best one-handed Smartphones available.

Included with the N95 is the latest Nokia web browser, heralded as one of the best available for smartphones. I can wholeheartedly confirm that it is true. Surfing the web on the N95 is an absolute pleasure, since it supports so many web standards. A mouse cursor controlled by the d-pad appears to scroll around and click on links, but the beauty is it also supports hovering over items that would normally act when a mouse hovers above them, like menus on many websites. As you can see here on the American Express website, the N95 has no trouble displaying the menus that slide down when the cursor hovers on them. The browser maintains the desktop format of the page, whilst squeezing the text into columns that fit perfectly on the display without side scrolling. This technique works really well, and is complimented by a thumbnail of the page that appears after scrolling for a second or so to make finding things on the page easier.

The back/forward function is really cool. Instead of simply taking you to the previous page, pressing the Back button (right soft key) displays a thumbnail view of your entire session that you can scroll through. Very clever!!

But there are a few problems with the browser. There is no history to speak of, so you can’t browse to websites you previously visited by looking through the history. The ways pages load is a tad annoying too, as it first loads without the pictures, then goes blank, before reappearing with the picture frames. There is also the fact that the browser seems to use a huge amount of the available memory, even when using only one tab. This causes other apps to quietly shutdown in the background with no warning. Occasionally I would listen to music or the radio while surfing, and the music player/radio app would close itself after a while.

The built-in mail client is awful, a stark contrast to the web browser. It has no features, wastes screen space and generally sucks. If you intend to use the phone heavily for receiving (not sending) emails then you would be best to look at Profimail, an excellent 3rd party mail application that supports HTML email, and has a clean interface that takes advantage of the large screen. I used it on the Nokia N73 and my dad used it on his N70 and it’s superb. Nokia should do a deal with these guys to include it on at least their high-end handsets out of the box.

On the good side the PIM apps are pretty good, and should suffice for most users. Something that may be trivial to some but important to others is the Alarm function. Nokia did a great job with the Alarm function, as you can setup as many as you like, have them go off regularly or only once, and set your work days so it only wakes you up on those days. I rely on my phone as an Alarm, and the N95 does a great job. I really like the way it slowly fades up the alarm tone (an MP3 file in my case), instead of starting it at full volume.

Of course to use all these features you need power, and this is where the N95 falls flat on its face. The battery life is simply appalling. Even running my BlackJack hard with BT PAN, web surfing, IMAP Idle and some calls on the standard battery it lasts longer. Taking the phone off charge at 7.20am, with moderate use (1hr web surfing, email check every 15mins, maybe one call) the phone is dead by 12 noon. That’s unbelievable. Doesn’t really matter how great the features are if the phone has a flat battery. The BlackJack battery isn’t amazing, but it is better than this, and Samsung include two batteries in the box! As I said earlier it is lucky the AC adaptor is small, because you will always want to have it nearby. Any moderate to heavy user will need to make at least one pit-stop during the day.

The N95 is great, but this is another phone that I would not buy. Other than the web browser it is not really remarkable in any other areas. Yes it has a good screen, GPS built in and looks nice, but I just can’t see how they justify the price. This thing retails for over $1300, when you could buy a Nokia 6260 with the same slider design, 320×240 screen, number pad and 3G (although admittedly not HSDPA) for $1000 less. It might run Series 40 instead, but would you pay $1000 for an OS? Not even Windows Vista Ultimate costs that much! A HTC Trinity (WM6, HSDPA, GPS and a touchscreen) can be picked up for $1049, and it is better than the N95 as a mobile communicator. I really wanted to like the N95 like Jenneth does hers, but I don’t, the lack of a keyboard and terrible battery life killed it for me.

In one pocket I have the gorgeous full-featured $1300 N95, and in the other I have the $69 Motofone for use after 12 noon (when the N95 battery has died from 5hrs of light work).

The Nokia N95 is available online and from many phone retailers.
MSRP: AU$1379
What I Like: Great screen, best web browser on a phone, excellent camera, HSDPA, nice design
What Needs Improvement: PRICE and BATTERY LIFE!!!


About the Author

Mitchell Oke
Mitchell is a video producer and director working with Australia's leading motoring news sites and car companies. He's always on the go with a camera in hand. With a Bachelor of Creative Technology (Digital Video Production), Mitchell's worked for News Limited, CarAdvice.com and as a freelancer for many years.