Filling the role of an HSDPA capable mobile phone, a 5 megapixel digital camera, a GPS, an MP3 player and a video player, the Nokia N95 is without a doubt one of the most feature packed mobile phones we've ever reviewed. But is the eagerly anticipated N95 yet another case of a jack of all trades and a master of none?
- Feature packed, 3.5mm headphone jack, 1GB microSD card included, 5 megapixel camera, good display, TV-out
- Price, poor battery life, build quality, extra GPS costs and data usage, sluggish performance, no car mount for GPS use
The N95 packs in just about every feature under the sun. Most are welcome additions, but there are a few issues that prevent this from being a great smart phone.
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Where do we begin? Perhaps the biggest talking point of the N95 is its GPS functionality. The handset comes with two applications for using GPS; Maps (developed by Nokia) and Asia Maps (developed by Agis). Unfortunately, at the time of review, maps for Australia weren't available with Asia Maps application, so we tested the GPS function with the Nokia Maps software.
Do keep in mind that while using the Maps application in general is free, users need to pay for the GPRS/3G connection for retrieving the map data from the server. This means unless you have a mobile phone plan that allows for plenty of data use, using the N95's GPS on a regular basis could become quite costly, although Wi-Fi can also be used for retrieving data. Browsing a map, looking at your current location and locating nearby points of interest are all free, but turn-by-turn navigation and city guides are extra costs. Users can choose 3-years ($134.92), 1-year ($118.05), 30-day ($14.00) or 7-day ($10.50) licences for voice guided navigation, while the cost of city guides varies depending on location. The maps themselves are a free download via Maploader software, which is installed onto your PC.
For those used to standard in-car GPS units, using the N95 as a GPS is quite a steep learning curve, especially as there is no touch screen. Most operations centre on the two selection buttons and the five-way navigational pad, and this can get frustrating. What's more puzzling however, is the fact that Nokia doesn't include a window mount in the N95 sales package. This means you'll either have to purchase this separately on top of the already exuberant costs, or find a place in your car for the N95 to sit upright.
We purchased a 7-day licence for voice navigation in Australia and found that the Nokia Maps application is solid, but not outstanding. Voice guidance was an issue, as volume levels weren't high enough at their loudest setting. The small, side mounted speakers of the N95 didn't really do a good enough job, especially when we were trying to navigate in areas with noisy traffic. We also experienced a concerning number of GPS drop-outs, and although the receiver usually connected again in a matter of seconds, this was still a concern. Also an issue was the accuracy of the GPS receiver, as it sometimes mistakenly located us in a close, but incorrect street when on foot, and the time required to get a GPS fix, sometimes took up to two or three minutes. Overall, there was a real feeling that the N95 doesn't adequately replace a stand alone GPS unit, despite the fact that some of the Nokia Maps functions are very handy to have in your pocket.
The N95 is the first 5 megapixel camera phone to be released in Australia. Image quality was quite good for a mobile phone, and its one of the best camera phones we've had through our test labs. Despite the megapixel increase though, the N95 still doesn't do enough to replace a stand alone digital camera. We were particularly impressed with colour reproduction, and although image noise was prevalent, it wasn't as much of an issue as most camera phones usually are. But general image sharpness is an issue, and most of the shots are lacking in detail, so there is a limit as to how the N95 can be used solely as an imaging device. Night time photography is where the N95 really struggles. Image noise is a real issue here and the included night mode does little to rectify the situation.
The camera has plenty of features to tweak with. In addition to using Carl Zeiss optics, the auto focus N95 includes close-up, portrait and sport scene modes, a flash with red eye reduction capabilities, a two, 10 or 20 second self-timer, sequence and burst shooting modes, and the ability to adjust white balance, colour tone, ISO and exposure settings.
The N95 has the option to upload any images taken with the phone's camera to a Flickr or Vox account. Users can perform some basic editing on their photos but they can also create slideshows and albums using these services and this can be done directly through the phone itself. The N95 also includes Lifeblog, which is a digital photo album tool for mobile phone photographers and bloggers. Lifeblog automatically sorts the digital media between the phone and your PC so you can view, search, edit, and share your images and messages. You can also blog directly from your phone to the internet and this is easy as registering for a weblog account using your phone, selecting a message or image to post, adding a title and text and clicking send.
The N95 includes both music and video players, supporting a multitude of file formats. For music, MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA and M4A formats are catered for, while MPEG-4, H.264/AVC, H.263, 3GPP and RealVideo files are supported for video. OMA DRM 2.0 and Windows Media Digital Rights Management (WMDRM) files can also be played on this phone. In addition to music and video, the N95 has an FM radio, but like all mobile phones, you'll once again have to use included headphones which double as the FM antenna.
The best feature of the N95 as a multimedia player is the fact that it includes a 3.5mm headphone jack. Although the quality of the bundled earphones isn't too shabby, plugging in your own, more expensive headphones straight into the handset is a real convenience and something we've been hoping to see more of. We were also impressed with the multimedia menu of the N95. While the keypad resides at one end of the slider, sliding the handset in the opposite direction reveals media controls, which consist of previous, play/pause, stop and next keys. This also opens an interactive multimedia menu which uses an excellent graphical interface to showcase some of the accessible applications. Users can pick and choose which items they'd like in the multimedia menu, so flexibility is a feature. Our only complaint with the menu is that it takes a good few seconds to fully load and this can become annoying when you quickly need to access your multimedia. In addition to sliding the N95 to reveal the multimedia keys, there is also a multimedia button next to the navigational pad.
The N95 display is adequate for watching videos, but we really think a larger display is needed to fully immerse yourself in the video experience. Sound from the dual speakers is solid, without being outstanding and volume is loud enough, provided there isn't any interfering background noise. The N95 includes 160MB of internal memory, in addition to a microSD card slot, located on the left side of the handset. A 1GB microSD card is included in the sales package, but the slot supports cards up to 2GB.
Video Centre, an RSS feeder for videos, is a new feature to the N95. It allows users to download and stream video clips over the air from compatible internet video services using either Wi-Fi, or your mobile providers data service. At the time of release, Nokia signed on Reuters and YouTube for video content, with more to come in the future. YouTube videos are directly streamed from the internet and require a decent connection speed to function, while Reuters videos are downloaded directly onto the phone and are accessed in the video centre main menu.
You would be forgiven for thinking the N95 is still foremost a mobile phone. It includes most regular phone features, such as voice and speed dialling, a loud and clear hands free speakerphone, and a 1000 entry phone book. Voice calls were loud and clear for most part during testing. The N95 is a quad-band GSM (850/900/1800/1900), GPRS and 3.5G HSDPA capable smart phone, meaning it can support downloads of up to 1.8Mbps.
The N95 runs the Series 60 3rd Edition operating system and a new addition to the N95 is a more advanced search function. As well as searching the phone, it is also capable of searching online through Yahoo! and Windows Live search engines. Animated icons in the main menu can now be turned off and on, while a full variety of themes and text sizes allow users to tweak the look and feel of the phone.
Integrated Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP, infrared and a standard mini-USB port mean the N95 has a full array of connectivity options. Being a smart phone, the Quickoffice application is also included, allowing users to read and edit Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents and read PDF files. The N95 also allows you to scan barcodes with the Barcode scanner application, while another noteworthy feature is the TV-output option. This allows users to connect the phone to any television with a composite AV input using the supplied TV-out cable. Connecting the N95 to a television allows navigation of the entire phone, including reading and sending messages, playing games, listening to music, browsing the web and watching video.
The N95 is a two-way slider phone. Sliding down reveals the keypad, while sliding up reveals the multimedia controls and opens the multimedia menu. We weren't impressed with the build quality of the phone, as the slider doesn't feel solid or sturdy and it rattles on the right side when closed. The plastic finish doesn't do the N95 justice, as it doesn't look or feel as a phone at this price point should.
Measuring 99mm x 53mm x 21mm and weighing 120g, the N95 is an excellent size and weight considering its features. The two-way slider is a good idea, but the automatic orientation is too sluggish, and sliding down the handset doesn't re-orientate the screen back to its original portrait position. The keypad is slightly raised and is comfortable to type on and the blue backlit keys are a classy touch. The media keys require a firm press to activate and we actually preferred to use the five-way navigational pad considering it is on the right hand side when the phone is tilted sideways. Other controls consist of two selection buttons and dedicated keys for menu, multimedia, clear and edit, as well as answer/end call keys.
The 2.6in LCD is bright and clear and has a resolution of 240 x 320 pixels. It performed well in direct sunlight and also has a good viewing angle, but fingerprints are an issue; so much so that Nokia includes a plastic screen protector that sticks onto the display to prevent scratches and marks affecting the screen.
Unfortunately battery life is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the N95, rated at just 160 minutes of talk time on a HSDPA network and up to 200 hours of standby time. These figures increase to 240 minutes of talk time and up to 225 hours of standby time on a regular GSM network, but they are still well below average. Using any of the N95's extensive features, especially the GPS and camera, will give you little more than a day of use before having to recharge.
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