- Internal 4GB hard drive, Standard 3.5mm headphone jack, External music controls, Playlist support, Album art, FM Radio with recording option, WiFi
- Design and Controls, Slow user interface, Weight
The Nokia N91 is a top notch music phone with a massive 4GB hard drive. As a mobile phone the 3G-capable Nokia does include some good features but is let down by a cramped keypad, slow interface and weight. There is plenty of potential in this unit though and with improvements to the design, Nokia may be onto a winner.
Price$ 1,199.00 (AUD)
The Nokia N91 is a music phone with a massive 4GB of space on an internal hard drive. The phones music capabilities are top notch, with a 3.5mm headphone jack and external music controls in addition to the disk space. The N91 also plays video and can be connected by WiFi. However, as a mobile phone the 3G-capable Nokia does include some good features but is let down by a cramped keypad, slow interface and weight.
The N91 is clearly a music player first and a mobile phone second. Its most pronounced features are the external music controls; at first glance there doesn't even appear to be a keypad, but this is hidden behind a small slider that houses previous/next track, play/pause and stop buttons. These controls allow users to skip through music tracks without needing to use the phone's standard joystick and selection buttons.
The N91 even includes a handy hold switch on the top to guard against accidental keypad presses. This is the first time we've seen this feature - normally reserved for standalone MP3 players - on a mobile phone. Nokia has also done away with the frustrating proprietary headphone jack, offering a standard 3.5mm jack on the top of the phone. This means you can use any set of regular headphones with the N91. There is also a small remote control with a shirt clip included in the sales package that plugs into the proprietary remote jack. The remote enables you to skip tracks and adjust volume levels during music playback.
The best feature of the N91 is the on-board 4GB hard drive and this is part of the reason the phone is so weighty. There are plenty of MP3 players on the market that don't have this much storage capacity, so it's great to finally see so much memory on a mobile phone. The N91 hard drive is capable of storing thousands of music tracks, so you shouldn't run out of space. Having such a large hard drive on board means there is no need for an extra memory storage slot.
The music player is very impressive and it supports plenty of file formats including M4A, MP3, AAC, eAAC and WMA. The N91 also includes album art, playlists, preset equaliser settings and searching by ID3 tags as standard functions. Unfortunately, it can't play music purchased from the iTunes store or DRM encrypted WMA files, although Nokia claims the latter will eventually be possible with a Nokia software upgrade. We were very impressed with the sound quality and volume levels. When combined with a quality set of headphones - we tested the device with the Sennheiser PX 200 - the N91 really is an excellent music player.
In addition to the MP3 functions, the N91 also includes an FM radio and you can even record radio broadcasts straight to the hard drive. We particularly liked the fact that you can access the hard drive directly by selecting 'Mass Storage' from the phone after you connect it to a PC via USB cable, or by navigating through the menu to Connectivity / Data cable. This enables easy and fast access to the hard drive to transfer data including music and video files. Alternately, Nokia's management software works well and has a clean, attractive design and operates extremely quickly.
The N91 also includes video playback of 3GPP, H.263 and MPEG-4 files at resolutions up to 208 x 176 and comes pre-installed with RealPlayer and Flash player. Unfortunately the video quality was a little disappointing. Video starting was sluggish and the video itself running through RealPlayer was slightly blurry and unclear.
To watch full screen you must place the phone on its side - ideally you would want to rest it on a surface like your desk at a slight angle while watching. You'll need to use the included desk stand when doing this as the N91 is so heavy that it just slides over without it.
Performance and Features
The N91 has an easy to use Series 60 interface, but its speed is a real letdown. It takes just over 30 seconds to start-up and is slow when opening and switching between applications. Playing music files also has a detrimental effect on the speed of the interface, with applications taking a couple of seconds longer to load than usual.
The N91 includes a 2 megapixel camera but there is no flash or self-portrait mirror. The quality of photos is fairly standard, but as expected, not good enough to replace a standalone digital camera. The lack of a flash makes it almost impossible to capture images in low light. The N91 camera has a respectable resolution of up to 1600 x 1200 for still images and 352 x 488 for video clips that can be used for MMS messages.
The N91 also includes Lifeblog - 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.
There are plenty of connectivity options including 3G and tri-band GSM support, Bluetooth 1.2 and native 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, but no infrared. There is USB connectivity and best of all this is through a standard mini-USB connection on the left side of the handset. Nokia also includes a standard USB cable in the N91 sales package. A calendar, calculator, converter, stop watch, voice recorder and to-do list round out an impressive list of PIM features. In terms of messaging, the N91 includes standard SMS, MMS and email messaging with T9 predictive text input.
The N91 is one of the largest phones currently available on the market. It measures a whopping 113.1mm x 55.2mm x 22mm and weighs a hefty 156 grams, so it really does rest heavily in your pocket. The only advantage of this design is the build quality, which appears to be very solid thanks to the stainless steel casing.
Unfortunately, the controls and buttons used on the N91 are small and difficult to press so the user experience isn't an overly positive one. The keypad is a disappointment. Because of the slider, the surface where the buttons sit is lower than the top half of the phone, and both the 123 and the *0# buttons are cramped against the edges of the recess. As the buttons are already very small, this makes accurate key presses even more difficult. We struggled during SMS messaging and found it difficult to maintain a constant speed. The N91 keypad's best feature is without doubt the soft blue backlight which surrounds each key, making it very easy to find your way in the dark.
The phone also has two selection buttons, a 5-way navigational joystick and answer and end call keys. The small and thin nature of these keys means those with large fingers will find the phone difficult to operate and the joystick while effective doesn't feel stable when pressed. Further perplexing is the menu button location on the right hand side of the phone - you have to alter your natural hand position to press it. The menu button would have been much better suited in its natural position, in between the two selection buttons.
The N91 display offers a 176x208 pixel resolution and supports up to 262,000 colours, but it isn't as clear or crisp as many other phones in the N Series, such as the stunning N80. It also isn't as large as it could have been, especially when taking into account the area of unused space surrounding it.
According to Nokia, the N91's battery life is four hours of talk time and up to six days of standby time. When used just as a music player the battery will last approximately 10 hours. These figures are fairly close to the mark, but if you use both the phone features and music functions you'll have to charge the handset every two days or more. Furthermore, if you regularly watch videos as well, you'll have to charge the N91 even more frequently.
Overall, the N91 is an excellent music player but a below average mobile phone. Its high price and chunky design won't appeal to everyone, but no other comparable phone has a 4GB hard drive and WiFi. The N91 has some flaws and omissions that we'd like to see fixed, but if you want a phone with loads of space for music, this should definitely be considered.
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