Multi-media Computer?

Nokia’s flagship model the N95 has been with us for a few weeks. Now we’ve stopped cooing over it and have to start living with it, is the new N-Series everything it’s hyped up to be?

Since its announcement back in September everyone’s been waiting desperately for the arrival of the Nokia N95. Billed as a ‘Multi-media Computer’ rather than a phone the N95 was meant to be the answer to all our troubles. No longer would we need to lug around a phone, a laptop, an mp3 player, a camera, and a GPS device, this thing can supposedly do it all.
Nokia even went so far as to create greatpockets.com, a spoof website for  comedy tailors Henry Needle & Son’s, who have supposedly developed trousers with huge pockets to hold all today’s necessary gadgetry as we go about our daily lives. The alternative, of course, being the N95.
It’s all well and good being a jack of all trades, but is the new Nokia a master of any?
At nearly 10 cm tall, two inches wide, an inch thick, and weighing 120g the handset isn’t even close to competing in the slim phone sector… and it gets bigger!
 
The Look
The front of the N95 slides up to reveal  the keypad, and is a lot better than the slider mechanism on the N80. The N95 uses a spring loaded mechanism instead of the friction based design used in the N80, which had a habit of sliding open on its own. Not only that, but slide it the other way and the dedicated multi-media keys are exposed. If Ernő Rubik ever designed a phone this would be it.
The multi-media keys are printed on a plastic strip, and therefore not separated, making using them without looking impossible. Other than that, they do an ok job. The alpha-numeric keys, however, are a bit awkward. They’re quite stiff, situated further down the slider than the N80 and smaller , making operation for those with over-large man hands incredibly difficult. The navigation pad and soft keys, which will be used most, work very well.
Looking around the side we find yet more dedicated keys, this time in the form of a camera button. Keeping this company is the volume rocker, and one of the stereo speakers. Not to be outdone, the left handside is home to the second speaker, 3.5mm headset jack, the infrared port and the microSD slot.
On the top we find the power switch, the bottom houses the connector, and the back holds the 5mp camera. Flip it back round and we’re back to the front, home to the QVGA camera.
Forget about Rubik, I think Escher was the chief designer.
With the N95 Nokia have decided to ditch their pop-port in favour of a miniUSB connector. Unfortunately the USB doesn’t charge the phone, this task is carried out by the new style mini Nokia charger.
Why, oh why do Nokia keep changing things just when we think they’re becoming standard? It wasn’t so long ago that you could approach any random person in the office, at their home, or even in the street and expect them to have a universal Nokia charger on them that you could borrow, heck, keep it everyone had at least two. Unfortunately those glory days of standardisation are gone.
The N95 uses a large 2.8 inch QVGA 240×320 pixel  capable of brightly displaying over 16 million different colors. It has a clever sensor on the front which which knows when it’s in direct sunlight, and turns the backlight off to save power. The reflective backing makes visibility more than acceptable.
The functions
Now we’ve finished giving it a thorough physical let’s look at the functionality.
On some phones the camera functions seem like an added extra, not so here. The N95 boasts a great 5 mega-pixel autofocus camera and certainly breathes new life into the term ‘snap-shot’. The camera is activated flipping open the lens cover on the back of the phone. It automatically switches to landscape mode, allowing the user to hold the phone naturally, with easy access to the shutter button.
The screen displays a selection of icons that run along the edge. Flicking through the options is an easy affair with the navigation pad. Switching from a landscape picture to portrait is effortless. Simply rotate the phone 90 degrees and magical pixies sense this, moving the screen appropriately. The pictures come out fantastically well for a phone, even in dark situations. The magical pixies also kick in at night and activate the flash when the picture demands it.
As well as stills, the N95 can shoot high quality VGA resolution video at 30 frames per second (which is near TV like quality!) Those of you looking to film your own fly on the wall documentary, but blighted with shaky hands will benefit from the image stablisation feature. It won’t stop the effects of an earthquake, but should limit camera wobble when trying to hold still after a few pints.
Although menu structure has changed slightly, and it looks a lot better, dab hands with S60 Nokias will be right home with the 3rd edition that runs on the N95. Its familiar interface runs incredibly fast when compared to earlier versions, with applications loading quickly and menus appearing pretty much instantly. The user interface is intuitive, flipping to landscape mode when the multi-media keys are revealed and jumping back to portrait when the alpha-numeric keys get some air. The keypad slider can also be used to easily flip between viewing modes whilst in applications with most handling the transition with ease.     
Email is a pretty standard activity, with basic POP and IMAP standards supported. Push email only works when the Mail for Exchange application (developed for the eSeries) is installed. This can be set up with your Exchange Server to sync contacts, emails, and calendar entries. This works with Microsoft push, allowing real-time push email support and syncing.
Surfing the web is a joy with the built-in browser, which shows sites exactly how you’d expect them to be on a desktop. A scrolling window lets you see precisely where you are on the page when moving around, and an added bonus is that previous pages are cached, when hitting the back button you are presented with a series of thumbnails rather than just the page title.
The bog standard mapping application, cunningly titled Maps, is not fantastic. It’s only capable of basic route planning on its own. However, extra functionality, including turn-by-turn voice guidance is available for download… at a price. £4 a day, £5 a month, or £50 for three years gets you a fully-fledged GPS navigation unit with location search by address or postcode.
Unfortunately there’s no integration with your contacts, so you couldn’t choose someone from your address book and click ‘go to’, you’d have to manually tap in the details. There’s also no information on speed cameras or traffic problems, but this is sure to be on its way.
The N95 has the most recent version of the Nseries Music Player application, the same one as on the Nseries Music Edition devices. It’s all pretty much standard with the offer of listing tracks by playlist, artist, album, genre, and composer. Once the music kicks off the usual ‘Now Playing’ screen is shown along with any album artwork that’s been downloaded. Control icons are also displayed which can be used with the navigation pad, making the dedicated multi-media keys somewhat redundant. In the back end there’s a user programmable equalizer with presets, basic visualisations, various audio settings, and playlist management.  The music player is also displayed on the idle screen allowing quick access when sitting in the background.
Tracks can be downloaded easily from your PC. Simply connect it up using the miniUSB, open up Windows Media Player and drag your chosen tracks to the icon for your phone. Hit sync and you’re done.
The N95 also supports A2DP so you can use bluetooth headphones to listen to your music, but coupled with the AD-42w you can link it up to your stereo. The AD-42w is Nokia’s Bluetooth Audio Gateway, a little box that connects to your stereo using normal phono cables. Once it’s paired you can stream tracks from your phone to your home hi-fi.
With everything going on you might think that memory space would be a problem, not so.  The N95 can handle microSD memory cards up to 2GB in capacity. That’s enough for 250 or so photos at the full 5 megapixel resolution, or 750 plus music tracks – depending on the format. The N95 also has 150MB of internal storage space, which is enough to store a large assortment of applications, media files, and user data.
It’s easy to forget the N95 is a phone, and a great one at that. The handset is quad-band GSM, and supports EDGE, GPRS, and HSDPA, and benefits from everything that entails.
It also supports 802.11b/g WiFi which makes browsing the web, and emailing a breeze when compared to EDGE. WiFi compatibility on a phone means Voice over IP, and the N95 can do that too. VoIP services such as Truphone can be downloaded and installed, as well as SIP phone systems for use on an office network. No more excuses that you had no GSM connection, as long as you’re near WiFi you can make and take calls all day long. However, the N95 is not UMA compatible, so it won’t automatically switch from WiFi to GSM and back to WiFi as you move out of the office and on the road before getting home.
All of that is academic if you’re a Vodafone or Orange subscriber as the internet telephony feature has been disabled in their branded version of the handset. Software based services can still be used, but integrated VoIP giving the user a better experience cannot.
One area where the N95 falls down, and falls down bad is battery life.
Because the phone has a lot of functionality, there’s always a lot going on. Using the phone, mp3 player, GPS, and camera in one day (which you can expect to do, you’ve got it, you may as well use it) drains the power at a stupid rate. You can expect to have to charge the handset every day at the very least, if not more frequently.
 
The Verdict
All in all, the N95 is a brilliant phone with the functionality that we’ve been waiting for for years. It can do a lot of things, and can do them all well. Unfortunately all these utilities use a lot of power and the N95 falls short of being up to the job, a victim of its own success.

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