Can one device really do it all? I've had my doubts, but Nokia's new N95 might yet sway me. We'll update this review with a final rating once our battery testing is complete, but in my early look at this multipurpose phone, I found a promising device with premium features: WCDMA HSDPA, and quad-band GSM connectivity; GPS; 802.11g Wi-Fi; a music player; stereo speakers; and a 5-megapixel camera.
The first thing that impressed me about the N95 was its design. Though it will rank among the largest phones we've tested for our Top 10 Cell Phones chart, the N95 is lightweight (4.2 ounces, according to Nokia). It felt comfortable to hold in my small hand, in spite of its 2.2-by-3.9-by-0.8-inch dimensions. The phone's 2.6-inch, 240-by-320-pixel (QVGA), 16-million color display can be oriented vertically or horizontally (more on that later), and displays sharp text and bright, colorful images.
The phone's dual-slider design helps the device better accommodate its phone and multimedia playback needs. Slide the display portion of the phone up to reveal a numeric keypad with generously sized, easy-to-press keys. Slide it all the way down, and the screen and button orientation shifts to horizontal (the N95's large screen is a huge benefit when playing videos)--and at the top of the phone you'll see four multimedia playback buttons (for play/pause, forward, back, and stop). The slider design impressed me: It felt solidly constructed and convenient to move one-handed, even with my weakling thumb.
The N95 runs the Symbian Series 60 operating system. The icons and displays are mostly attractive, well-organized, and easy to navigate. You can browse through the phone's animated menus using its five-way button navigation pad and several surrounding buttons. My one major complaint with the software interface: The language is unclear when you're trying to save a picture or video. Nowhere among the diverse options does it say "save"; rather, it says "New Image"--which translates to saving the image or video and letting you take another. While I appreciate the shortcut to taking additional images, sometimes I might want to save the image only to the included 2GB microSD card, and not to the included 160MB of memory, for example--and for those circumstances, the lack of a save option becomes noticeable.
Taking Pictures--or Video
From the back, the N95 looks just like a slim point-and-shoot camera. To use the flash-enabled camera, simply slide open the Zeiss lens cover. The camera app starts automatically, and you have your choice of capturing up to 5 megapixel still images, or VGA video at 30 frames per second. When holding the phone as a camera, you have a dedicated button at the top right for snapping pix, and the volume up/down keys double in camera mode to adjust the 20X digital zoom. I found the images I captured to be lively and far better quality than those from other camera phones, but I haven't compared its output side-by-side with a dedicated point-and-shoot camera yet. My initial impression from limited use is that image purists, like myself, will prefer the images generated by a dedicated camera.
Other camera-related niceties worth mentioning: You can transfer images via Bluetooth (I had no problems pairing the N95 with my Palm Treo 650 to do so), multimedia text message, or even send them directly to a Flickr or Vox photo sharing account.
As a phone, the N95 was good. According to those I spoke with on the N95, I sounded great; however, voices sounded a bit thin to me. I had no difficulties hearing the other party, but even when the volume was pumped up, the audio was not as robust as I'd have liked. The speakerphone is sufficiently loud and clear, and it is easy to invoke and deactivate while on a call.
Nokia rates the phone's battery for up to 210 minutes of talk time for GSM, and 215 hours of standby time. We'll update this review with a final rating once the PC World Test Center completes its battery life tests.
So Many Features...
The N95 has almost too many other features to concisely enumerate them all. Standard functions include e-mail (SMTP, IMAP4, POP3), text messaging, Web browsing, and support for viewing e-mail attachments in .doc, .xls, .ppt, and .pdf formats. But I also enjoyed using the device to listen to music (you can even build playlists on the fly) and watch videos via the preloaded RealPlayer app. Music sounded good, even when piped through the modest built-in stereo speakers. Videos were fun to watch, though I noticed some hesitations when I played 4MB gymnastics videos encoded using RealVideo. The phone comes with links to YouTube Mobile's beta, but it's unclear from this beta implementation how much content you'll really have access to on the phone. The N95 supports an array of formats, including MP3, AAC, M4A, WMA for music, and MPEG-4, H.264/AVC, H.263/3GPP, and RealVideo 8/9/10 for video.
Transferring content is simple: The phone appears as a USB mass storage device when connected to your PC using its a built-in mini-USB 2.0 port. Unfortunately the phone's pre-configured folders don't make it clear where you should put your music or video files.
The integrated GPS runs Nokia's own Nokia Maps app. Once I've had a chance to test this feature, I'll refresh this review with my experiences.
I can't give the N95 an official PC World rating just yet because our Test Center hasn't finished putting it through its paces. However, on my personal scale, with 10 as the highest score, I'd give this versatile phone an 8. I really liked its responsiveness and buttons, but it missed perfection because it lacks a touch screen.
In spite of my few nits, I've enjoyed using the Nokia N95. It's the first phone I've seen in a while that does a great job at combining style with function. Now, if only it weren't priced at $750--that alone is one very considerable reason to think twice about buying this phone that does it all.