Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Nokia N97 Mini

My friends at Nokia SA delivered a package to my office last week. It came as a bit of a surprise, as it's been a while since they've made contact. However, imagine my delight to find an N97 Mini - mine to evaluate for a couple of weeks.

For those not familiar with the Mini, it is the little brother of the 'N' Series flagship model, the N97. As the name would imply, the Mini is smaller is all directions, and is also lighter by 22g. The main differentiating features are the lack of the 'D' Pad, and the 3.2" screen, compared to the 3.5" of its big brother. The mini doesn't have a camera lens protector, but shares the same 5MP camera and dual LED flash. Internally, the key difference is a reduction in the internal memory, from 32GB to 8GB; still plenty for your music files and photos. If you do need more memory the Mini also supports up to 16GB expansion via microSD.

The N97 Mini runs the same Symbian OS as my Nokia 5800XM; S60V5, and so the menu structure was immediately familiar. However, the N97 and the Mini have a far nicer homescreen than the 5800; it has six customisable widgets that can show a selection of contacts, calendar, apps, or online feeds like weather or Facebook. The 640 x 360 pixel TFT display looks great indoors, but suffers in direct sunlight; something that South Africans need to consider when buying a touchscreen phone!

I have never been a fan of slide out qwerty keyboards, but the N97 Mini changed my mind. With S60V5, many apps and websites, and even Nokia's own messaging app, have not been optimised for touch. For example, if you want to send an SMS, you'll first be taken to the text screen that Nokia uses on it's normal numeric keyboard phones. Then you have to tap the screen, and you get taken to the touch screen. You enter your text, tap OK, and you go back to the text screen. Very convoluted! With the qwerty keyboard, you can type in directly from the first screen. This makes the work flow so much simpler!

The slide-out keyboard is a beautiful piece of engineering. As the keyboard slides out, the screen tilts to a convenient angle for viewing the display. This configuration also lends itself to putting the phone on a table and typing 2-handed, like a very tiny laptop. Unfortunately, while this works quite well on the N97, the off-centre design of the camera lens housing means that the phone doesn't sit flat on a table, and typing causes the phone to rock annoyingly!

The loan phone I was testing came loaded with the latest version 3.0 of Ovi Maps. This free to download app rocks! It offers voice-guided, turn-by-turn navigation, and works without a data connection, so you don't face a horrendous bill at the end of the month. You do need to upload the map for your country, as well as the voice for the guide, but this can be done on a PC and synced to your phone. Used with the provided windshield mounting, this offers a very real alternative to the dedicated GPS systems, as long as you're happy with the slightly smaller screen.

If you're choosing between the N97 and the N97 Mini, both are great phones, even if the OS is a bit limited. The Mini is cheaper, lighter and more compact, but loses out on some memory and battery life. On the other hand, if you're upgrading from a classic styled phone, and you're looking for a phone that'll look good on the board room table, this is a great option. If you don't need the qwerty keyboard, have a look at the recently released X6, or wait for the new N8 which runs the all new Symbian ^3 OS.

Thanks for reading!