The Nokia N97 : Photos, A Story, Thoughts, and Asides

This July, I participated in a three week trial of the Nokia N97 that included weekly Tangler chat meetings where we addressed various topic on and about the Nokia N97. During the time with the Nokia N97 trial device, I posted photos to this blog, tweeted about my in the moment rants/raves on the Nokia N97, posted a bit of video, and other wise left other bits of N97 commentary blowing about the winds of the internet.
Here is my official Nokia N97 Review and I am going to divide my review of the Nokia N97 into three parts plus and Aside section:
I. My Favorite Photos I took with the Nokia N97
II. A Real Life Story of the Nokia N97 and the iPhone 3GS, as it Went Down At the South Coast Plaza Apple Store and Who Won
III. The Things I Really like about the Nokia N97 and the Things I Really didn’t like
IV. A Few Asides
Here we go:

I. My Favorite Photos I took with the Nokia N97

Nokia N97 - Erika at the 4th of July BBQ Nokia N97 - Bird and Jeremy at Dog Beach Nokia N97 - Belle sunning herself
Nokia N97 - Palm Trees at sunset Nokia N97 - HappyHappy by Choi Jeong-Hwa At LACMA Nokia N97 - HappyHappy by Choi Jeong-Hwa At LACMA
Nokia N97 - Here We Go! Here We Go! Nokia N97 - Blackberries and 1 Mulberry from my Mom's Garden Nokia N97 - Kayaking at Grant Lake, June Lakes, Calif
All photos taken by Ms. Jen with a Nokia N97 in July of 2009.

While I did find it awkward to take photos with a device as big as the Nokia N97, as my hands are very small, other than a few issues with clarity and farther than I expected focal range, now looking back at the nearly 400 photos I took in the nearly 3 weeks with the Nokia N97, I really do like most of the non-close up day photos. The Nokia N97 does a fine job as a 5 megapixel camera, as evinced in the photos above.
The above photos, other than being resized, have not been retouched or processed in any way.

II. A Real Life Story of the Nokia N97 and the iPhone 3GS, as it Went Down At the South Coast Plaza Apple Store and Who Won
Last summer, when my sister’s cell phone was 2 years old, my Mom and I discussed the idea of getting her a new one for her birthday. This June I brought up the subject again, as my sister’s mobile was nearing on 3 years old and we decided that we would get her a new mobile phone for her birthday on July 21st.
To be fair, I thought that I should give my sister Allison the option to see, touch, and test/try out as many new mobile phones as possible. My sister’s major usages on her mobile are texting, Gmail, taking photos, and sending her photos Vox blog. With this in mind, I handed her my HTC Magic / Google G2 phone for her to try out the touchscreen only Android phone. She was polite but not very interested.
Then I took her to the South Coast Plaza Apple store mid-July to see what she thought of the new iPhone 3GS. I had the trial Nokia N97 with me as I wanted her to compare both phones side by side.
We tried out the iPhone 3GS with me, bizarrely, acting as the salesperson showing her all the features and pointing out how many considered each feature to be far superior to any other smart phone on the market. All the while, I had the Nokia N97 out and showed Allison how it compared to the iPhone – from the Nokia’s physical qwerty keyboard to the iPhone’s touchscreen, we tested out how each phone’s camera would take the same shot, we tried the internet on both phones, we tried the GPS, etc etc etc.
At one point we had two Apple sales humans watching me with fascinated horror, not saying a word as they stared at the Nokia N97 in my hand and the iPhone in my sister’s hand.
I was actually hoping Allison would choose the iPhone, as it is So Much Cheaper than the N97, but at the end of our 15 minutes of fondling the iPhone at the Apple store, I asked Allison,
“So, honestly, what do you think?”
Allison on the iPhone, “It is too light and plasticky. I don’t like the touchscreen and I don’t like the photos.”
Me, “But what about the User Interface? The flicking bits? All the apps.”
Allison just looked at me and said, “I guess I am a Nokia girl.”
She put the iPhone back on its pad and started to walk out.
This really happened. I did not pitch the Nokia N97 to Allison, if anything I was very indifferent about it, as it is not necessarily the phone I would choose.
My sister is an example of a person who wants a smart phone but doesn’t want an iPhone, hard as it is for many people to believe at least to many of the designers I know. Since she received her Nokia N97 for her birthday, she has been very happy with it. I have asked her several times how it is going and she continues to be very happy.
My sister’s experience is a living example of Rita Khoury’s thesis that the N97 is for the connected user not the power user. My sister loves texting, email and Facebook, as she has FB always on and connected as a widget on her Nokia N97.
But Ms. Jen, you ask, what do you really think of the Nokia N97?

III. The Things I Really like about the Nokia N97 and the Things I Really didn’t like or the Things I would Add or Change about the Nokia N97
What do I really think of the Nokia N97 after using it for nearly 3 weeks in July?
Honestly? As a Nokia S60 power user, the first 5 days I *hated* the Nokia N97. Really really really hated it. I couldn’t to my satisfaction reconfigure how the device is set up & alter it to my preferences. I couldn’t set up my fave apps as front page widgets, even with a downloaded widget maker. In the whole 3 weeks, I couldn’t set up my personal email, as it uses POP3 and not IMAP, which was bizarre as every other Nokia I have ever used has let me set up a POP3 email account. So, it went. By day five, I was ready to pack that evil little puppy back into its lovely little box and ship it back to WOM World.
About 93% of my frustration was with Symbian 60 ver. 5 – the S60 for touchscreens, and not with the device. Luckily for me, by Day 5, it was time to have one of our weekly chats about the device and a few days later we were to write up the things we liked about the N97 and what we didn’t like or wanted to change, in the act of reflecting over what I liked and didn’t or would change, I found myself realizing that while it was not the device for me, that it would be liked by many other folk.
Here is my Top 5 Nokia N97 likes:
1) I really like the Keyboard, much better than any other qwerty or half qwerty keyboard I have tried. It took me less than 5 minutes to get typing fast on the N97’s keyboard.
2) I really like the fact that when playing music or a podcast if I want to reverse or forward within the song/podcast, I just pull the progress bar in the way it should go. Brilliant use of an intuitive use of the touchscreen – I wish there were a lot more of these moments with the touch screen.
3) I like the screen. I like its size, I like how I can see it in the sunlight with my sunglasses on (can’t do that on the N82, I have to lower my sunglasses to see).
4) Normally, I hate texting with a huge passion. Don’t tell anyone I know as then they would want me to text, but the keyboard is so nice that I don’t mind texting.
5) The battery is not half bad. Only once did I run it down before the end of the day, and that is when I went on a long two hour walk with the GPS, Sports Tracker, and radio all working while I took photos and video.
And Top 5 Things to Change/Add on the N97
1) The camera still does not have the focus clarity it should. The N95 & N82 are taking better photos, particularly in Close-up & Auto modes. Please fix this in the next software update.
2) Touch ‘manual’ focus is desperately needed. Samsung, LG, Sony, and the iPhone do it, the N97 should too by the next firmware update. I should be able to touch anywhere on the screen before taking a photo and the camera should choose that spot as focus. It would be even cooler if one could in the options choose the level of “Bokkeh” or blur that the non-focused areas would take (to mimic a 1.8 – 2.8 f-stop setting on an slr camera).
3) Why does Nokia NOT include all of their apps on all of their Nseries phones no matter what, regardless of locality? All of Nokia’s released apps should be on all the Nseries and Eseries phones. Sports Tracker, Nokia viNe, Ovi (all components), Nokia Maps, etc, etc, etc, no matter where the device is released. Just do it. Suck people into Nokia’s world.
I found it very frustrating to have to download Sports Tracker, as well as other apps, rather than just having it live in the applications folder. Don’t even get me started on the lack of Lifeblog…
4) To the end of the lack of applications on the N97 NAM, there is a real lack of GOOD content sharing apps. Share Online 3.0 is a stillbirth of sharing app – as it forces one to only be able to access Ovi, Flickr, and Vox. It does not give a resize option for photos. To choose a photo & resize it in the gallery, and then to use Share Online it takes 15-17 clicks (unacceptable from a UX, UI and Interaction Design perspective!), and even then I can’t add in the Atom or XML-RPC script of the location I want to share the photo to. I am stuck with 2 of 3 services I don’t use and I can’t share with the most important location which is my blog.
Now with Nokia’s (now discontinued) Lifeblog it took 5 clicks start to finish to choose the photo, click on Post to Web, and add a title, body of post, and then send. It went to my blog straight away, with no stops at a 3rd party service.
Share Online to do it right: 15-17 clicks = Interaction design nightmare
Lifeblog to do it right: 5-7 clicks = happy moblogger
5) Last but not least, I was unable to set up one of my email addresses, as it is POP only. With the email set up wizard, it would always choose IMAP. When I went back into email settings it would not let me change the IMAP to POP. As a result, I can send emails from that address but not receive them on the N97. Please allow the owner to change / toggle the IMAP to POP in the email settings if necessary, I can do it on every other Nseries device I have had.
[ 6) When the phone rings, I am missing about 60% of my calls, as when I press the screen on the answer button, it does not answer. Then I desperately hit the physical “green” curved call button and it still does not pick up the call. By the time, I have fiddled with the side unlock button and then pressed answer, I have lost the call. This is so frustrating. It should not be this hard. If the phone rings, the screen lights up, and the answer button flashes on the screen, if I touch it the phone should answer the call.
7) It would be lovely if any app installed on the phone could be added as a widget to the front screen. I cleared off all the widgets, as I don’t use Facebook and the like. But I would love to add Sports Tracker, Dabr, Log, and others as widgets, rather than just one of four app selections.]
It has been a bit over three weeks since I shipped the Nokia N97 back to WOM World, the above likes and dislikes or feature requests still stand. I have returned to my old school Nokia N95 while I await the release of the N86 in the US and I find myself missing the qwerty keyboard and big screen of the N97.
In the future, I hope to see Nokia make a true content creator and blogging device with a camera equal to that of the N86, the keyboard & screen of the N97, and a well designed blogging / sharing app modeled after Lifeblog – an application that will not keep on stuck in Ovi or a few co-promoted services but will allow the creator in question to choose where they want to share to.

IV. A Few Asides
Aside #1: In the greater LA area, 3G on AT&T is not really that faster most days than the EDGE. Yes, People, Blashphemy. But true. All the iPhone 3G folk are sucking down 3G bandwidth to the point that the Nokia N97 US 3G didn’t really run much faster than my Nokia N95 on the EDGE. I did notice faster speeds while in Austin with the Nokia N79 US 3G, even though it was during SXSW.
Aside #2: As I have waited and waiting and waited for Nokia USA to stop picking their nose and *actually* release the Nokia N86 (my future precioussss) in the US with 3G (now 6 weeks since the UK/Euro release), I have been thinking of Further Blasphemy… Buying a Euro Nokia N86. Yep, why reward Nokia for making their loyal US customers wait for a US 3G version of a phone when the only network it will run 3G on in the US will be AT&T which is currently overloaded with iPhone 3Gs that are clogging the pipes? Thus, if I am going to have SLOW 3G, why not just get the Euro model, which will most likely work better anyways in other functions and services even if I can only get the EDGE on the Euro N86 in the US.
Aside #3: So, aside #2 leads to #3, which is why are most of the Nokia US models not only released months later than the rest of the world and then to add insult to injury, we get a phone that only works on the US and Asia 3G bandwidths, but not Europe? Now maybe other California Nokia owners are traveling to Asia frequently, but I end up in Europe 2-3 times a year and would prefer to have a true world 3G phone, one that will send and receive on at least 6 of the potential 3G frequencies (850, 900, 1700, 1800, 1900, 2100). Let’s not forget that the US is opening up 700 within a few years.
Basically folks, if the folk are going to be paying up the wazoo for a premium handset, why not give us all the bands?
March 31, 2009 – The Nokia N95 vs. The Nokia N97
July 5, 2009 – The Nokia N97 and Close-Ups (aka Macro Mode)
August 2, 2009 – The Nokia N97 : A Conversation with Jeb and Al
August 26, 2009 – The Nokia N97 : Photos, A Story, Thoughts, and Asides
November 4, 2009 – The Berm and a Worm, furthermore, I Repent What I Said About the Nokia N97
November 28, 2009 – Nokia N97 Camera & Video : A Snipet of Royal Crown Revue’s Zip Gun Bop, Or How the N97’s Flash Misbehaves
July 11, 2010 – Al P. on his (Nearly) One Year with his Nokia N97
August 27, 2010 – TuttleLA Photo Comparison: Nokia N97 v. N86 v. E73
September 7, 2010 – The Nokia N97, More than One Year Later