Random rants

Nokia N97 - The Final Review

, posted: 18-Sep-2009 22:57

Welcome to my final blog about the Nokia N97, a smartphone I have owned for about 3 months.

The Nokia N97 was many firsts for me...
- 1st Symbian phone
- 1st smartphone
- 1st $1000+ phone

And I learned allot from the expereince...

I have now sold my Nokia N97, although I am holding onto it until October 1st when I will hand i over to its new owner, at which time, I will be in a waiting pattern for the new Nokia N900, my next mobile device.

So now, let me tell you all I know about the Nokia N97, my experiences, my thoughts and my recommendations.

Intro & history behind the Nokia N97

The Nokia N97 was released roughly 3 months ago to great fanfare, as the ultimate multimedia smartphone, including 32GB of storage space, capable of storing and playing movies and music, and a device perfect for the 'uber connected' due to its Home Screen and widgets, with real-time updates...

On release, it came with v10.0.012 firmware, which was very, very buggy to say the least and made the device feel like it had been rushed to market, even though it had been well over 6 months since the device was announced.

Not long after release, Nokia made available an update, taking the N97 firmware to version 11.0.021
This update was significant in that it addressed the majority of the major and noticeable bugs, and made the N97 a pleasure to use rather than the ongoing battle it previously was.

The most recent firmware update, version 12.0.024, was only a small update, focused on stability improvements and a few bug fixes, nothing really noticeable.

Recently, Nokia has announced another forthcoming major firmware update, due to be released in October, taking the N97 to firmware version 20.0.005 (otherwise nicknamed version 2.0), which according to reports will include the following features and fixes:
- Full kinetic scrolling
- Increased C: Drive space through optimization
- The 'long press' for numbers and characters 
- Visually enhanced Music Player and Photo Menu with more album art and information
- Additional Home Screen widgets
- Further system stability, theme effects and bug fixes

Experience & personal thoughts

There is no doubt, that mostly, I have enjoyed my time with my Nokia N97, but it has been a rollercoster of excitement, frustration and disappointments, many of which still exist today...

Firstly, the negatives:

- The buggy software/firmware

When I first obtained my Nokia N97, it came loaded with v10.0.012 firmware, which was buggy as hell.
This did not make for an enjoyable experience nor a good first impression.

While Nokia do offer excellent support and have since released multiple firmware updates and other various updated software, the fact the N97 was released in such a buggy state, was hugely disappointing.

When one also considers that the N97 was sold at top dollar, and was not released for more than 6 months after its announcement, Nokia should have done a far better job at releasing a more polished product, rather than allowing expectations to be over-hyped over a 6 month wait only to be crushed with a buggy device.

- The lack of RAM

This has been a major sticking point, and short of Nokia coding virtual memory, it is not something that can be easily fixed.

The lack of RAM really limits the functionality and stability of the device, limiting the amount of apps that can be run at any one time, running too many apps will cause apps to randomly crash.

I normally run my Home Screen widgets, including Facebook and email, in the background I would run my Twitter app Gravity and occasionally my Instant Messaging app Nimbuzz, and then of course would use the Internet browser and video player including Qik from time to time...but many times, I have Nimbuzz or the Internet browser crash, and trying to run N-Gage sometimes is impossible unless I close apps first due to lack of RAM. 

This is a device that is supposedly designed to run multiple apps, particularly considering the Home Screen, yet it cannot handle it...very disappointing.

- The lack of codec support

This was another huge disappointment for me, as I wanted to fill the 32GB of storage up with videos to watch on the go...

While I could convert my divx movies, why should I have too, why would I want to?
I do not want to store too identical collections of movies in different formats/codecs...its a waste of hard drive space and a time wasting and annoying exercise.

The Nokia N97 was always marketed as a multimedia powerhouse, capable of storing and playing movies...such marketing was only half truths and misleading.

There is 3rd party software that can play other codecs such as divx, but with limited results, mostly divx movies play choppy and are unwatchable on the N97, as it also lacks hardware graphics acceleration.

- The lack of 'bling', outdated OS

As I have had little experience with other smartphones, this area did not intially concern me so much, as the Symbian v1 (S60v5) OS still provided much more than I have used before, and the folder structure and available customizations all were easy to learn being similar to Windows.

But, that said, having played with a few other smartphones since, and watched many many YouTube videos of the various OS's available to other smartphones, and I cannot help but feel I am missing the party.

The only 'bling' or theme effects the N97 currently offers, is the Home Screen 'swipe' effect, which when enabled, slows the device down quite somewhat, making myself question if such basic eye candy is worth the poorer device performance/speed.

In the end, I disabled the theme effects.

- The poor browser

The included Symbian browser is a tragedy, it really excels in making browsing the net...unenjoyable.

It is hugely slow, due to reloading pages every-time even when just pressing back, rather than just reverting to a cached page, it requires 2 presses just to go back 1 page as it brings up a history view rather than just simply going back 1 page, going forward again is simply not possible, and having multiple pages open is a menu laden chore which when too many are open causes the browser to regularly crash.

It is also ugly, with lots of menus to navigate and large pop-up windows that do not always show or disappear on command. 

The positives:

- The Home Screen and widgets

The Home Screen is what makes this device, it allows live updates and customization that other mobiles do not, an is perfect for the 'uber connected'.

- The hardware qwerty keyboard

The keyboard, regardless of what other reviewers say about the space bar location, is a joy to use.
That's not saying there is not room for improvement, of course there is, but as my first qwerty mobile, I have had no issues with the layout or size and I can type like a seasoned pro on it.

- 32GB memory

The included memory is obviously a big selling point, allowing a large music or movie collection to be stored on-board, but of course as I have already mentioned above, such a movie collection would have to be converted first in order to work properly.

- Widescreen video

The ability to watch and record widescreen video is awesome to say the least, all my work mates have been impressed with the quality and size of video I have been able to record on th N97.

- Flexibility for any apps and customization

Is what really puts me off ever touching Apple, is the limits imposed on the iPhone...

Having 1 big app store is all good and fine, but I do not wish 1 business telling me what I can and can't install, and where I source my apps from...I like choice, I like to experiment and I accept the consequences that could result.

The N97 offers this flexibility and freedom, as does most Nokia mobiles.

- Ergonomics/form factor

While the N97 felt large at the start, being that I have owned and used either a Samsung SGH-ZV30 or Samsung SGH-ZV60, both being small flip phones, I have grown to love the size, shape, feel, weight, and the snappy slide/tilt screen...it all adds to the quality feel and browsing the web on any smaller a screen would be horrible.

- Brilliant Nokia support, regular software and firmware updates

While I was disappointed with the initial firmware the N97 came with, the support Nokia provides is fantastic, and it was only 2 weeks after I got the N97 the first firmware update arrived, ironing out the majority of major issues.

This support continues, and Nokia is renowned for it, and when I see other major mobiles like the iPhone receive only 1 or 2 firmware updates a year, I really appreciate the service and support Nokia provides.

- Nokia apps

Of course, a smatphone is only as smart as the apps you install on it, and another major reason I decided to buy a Nokia was Nokia make some great apps, some of which only work on Nokia mobiles.

Sports Tacker is my favorite.

Favorite/recommended apps

A smartphone is only as smart as the apps you install on it, and here are my favorites, many of which greatly enhance the user experience of the N97:

- Opera Mini 5 (beta) - fantastic browser, still in beta so has bugs, but leaves the Symbian browser to shame.
- Gravity - simply the best Twitter app available, worth the couple bucks it costs
- Pixelpipe - makes uploading pics and vids to multiple sites easy
- Qik - stream live video to the web
- Nimbuzz - instant messaging, multiple client
- Joikuspot - for sharing connection over wifi, perfect for wirelessly connecting PC to web
- Shazam - listens too and names music
- Nokia Photo Browser - a better photo viewer than the default one
- N-Gage - Nokia's gaming platform
- Worms World Party - just the most fun game
- Nokia Sports Tracker - for tracking exercise using GPS, records and can publish everything
- FM transmit - turns the N97 into a radio station, so can listen to music on car radio
- Google Maps & Nokia Maps - they both have their perks

Final thoughts

The Nokia N97 is marketed as a 'mobile computer'...and thats what you can expect.

Some programs will work, some will not, some will crash...
The device may require reboots, and every now and again a format or possibly a reset...
It will have bugs, and will require ongoing optimization and maintenance to keep it running smoothly.
And of course, the hardware is never sufficient to meet the needs of ever-growing resource hogging apps. 

If someone is in the market for a phone that 'just works', I would not recommend the N97 or any other late model smartphone, as this 'mobile computer' is the direction they are all heading...simplicity and stability are not their strong points.

But as for the Nokia N97, while previously I would not have recommended it to anyone due to it being too buggy, I can honestly say I would now, as in its current state, it is a stable and productive smartphone, and when one bears in mind the coming major firmware update, the Nokia N97 is only going from strength to strength.

Of course, the N97 still has its limitations, being its lack of RAM and codec support, and an outdated OS, and those, are sufficient reasons for this reviewer, to move on to the next big thing, the Nokia N900.

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog, thank you.

Other related posts:
Motorola Nexus 6 Review
Nokia N900 - Initial Review
Kiwibank 'heaps'

Comment by BlueToothKiwi, on 19-Sep-2009 15:03

I read your review with interest - as I have an E90 (and my 13 year old has an N95 8GB, and my partner has a Nokia XpressMusic 5800). 
A month ago I was seriously considering upgrading my E90 to N97.
Then I read this comparison:http://www.phonegg.com/compare/24/Nokia-E90-vs-Nokia-N97.html
And decided that my E90 is still the best Nokia Business phone in the market by far - I just wish they will give me a free S60 V5 update (from S60 V3). How did you get your firmware update?
Last week I updated my Nokia Maps from V1 to V3 and a new version of SportTracker - two applications from Nokia that I really love.
E90 is now officially discontinued. OK - it will never sell in the 10's of millions like the N97 - but it is a shame there are no replacement in the top of the range smartphone end from Nokia.

Comment by vatsalasher, on 19-Sep-2009 16:26

very well written and really enjoyed. You have been through the pain & seen all the bugs. i have bought the phone a month back & for the last 20 days its with Nokia under repairs. they require 10 more days to fix it up. Customer Service in India is very poor. I still would caution anyone willing to buy the n97. Its far from today ready. What is of interest is can you share how much value you would realise when you sell your n97. nokia phones are known to deliver very good value on resale. However the n97 is an exception. erosion of 50% value in just 90 days may be too high for many like me to absorb. i admire your guts to go through the pains again for the n900. At least once bitten, twice shy seems to be for us. many of the n97 owners like me have echoed at the blog "my last nokia n97"

Author's note by TheBartender, on 19-Sep-2009 19:20

Thank you for your comments.

Statistically, the N97 is a better phone than the E90, but I could not say if it is a better phone for business, the E series is beter taliored to that market.

The N97 can do it all, but is a phone that is best designed for the 'uber connected', those who want live updates from there favorite sites and a premium screen for browsing the web.

As for my firmware updates, I got those simply by connecting the N97 to my PC and using the Nokia Ovi Suite, which has the Nokia Sodtware Updater (NSU)

They are freely available, but when they were made available varied from other coutries.

Thank you for your comments.

Yes I have been through the pain, but as I am someone who knew how to fix the issues as they arose, most of the time the N97 worked perfectly for me (format here, reset there...)

Personally, I feel the N97 is stable now and ready for the mainstream public, as opposed to early adopters and gadgets freaks like me, and as I poined out, with the previous firmware updates and the coming major update, I think it is just going from strength to strength.

There is no arguement that there are the unlucky few, which expereince faulty hardware, such as the GPS not working, or the scratching lens cover...luckily I have not expereinced those, although my GPS was inconsistant to say the least.

Resale value?
I sold it for $800.
I purchased it for it for $1400 through a parallel importer, but they are currently selling them for only $1000, so I thought $800 is fair value...certainly much cheaper than the $1800 Vodafone are charging for it.
Bargain for the kid who brought it.

As for the N900, I know I will be a beta tester again...but if Nokia provide the support they did for the N97, then I have no concerns that all bugs will be ironed out with time.

Obviously it can be frustrating at times to have bugs and issues with a mobile, but it can also be fun, a learning curve, a journey...one that I am happy to expereince.

Comment by lotech, on 22-Sep-2009 13:18

"- Brilliant Nokia support, regular software and firmware updates
While I was disappointed with the initial firmware the N97 came with, the support Nokia provides is fantastic, and it was only 2 weeks after I got the N97 the first firmware update arrived, ironing out the majority of major issues.
This support continues, and Nokia is renowned for it, and when I see other major mobiles like the iPhone receive only 1 or 2 firmware updates a year, I really appreciate the service and support Nokia provides."

Nokia should have never shipped a phone with so many issues, its affected the reviews for the phone and any early adaptors like yourself are saying the samething - which will forever rank at the top of google searches on 'N97'.
The N97 both shipped too early yet has come far too late in the game. Just as it ships, it announces the N900 and so do our desires for the best Nokia on the market - Nokias first real iPhone competitier.

Oh, and not to be a dick but there have actually been no less that 16 firmware updates to the iPhone since its original release in 2007 - just over 2 years ago. I suppose the bonus for the Apple is that they have only ever made 3 almost identical phones, and 1 operating system for them.
If you're going to pick on anyphones for support and bug fixes you should firmly point your finger at any phone running Windows Mobile.......

Comment by Foo, on 1-Oct-2009 21:44

Some really good info there - I have enjoyed reading this. I think as you rightly pointed out the ageing Symbian OS is a major failure. The N900 will have the Maemo OS which may go some way to making it more competitive against Android and Apple. Regarding browser - I have a N95 8GB and use Opera Mini and stay away from the built in browser. I am also finding the built in email client starting to become incredibly slow to use with my gmail account, so now tend to use the gmail application instead...when it can take 20 - 30 seconds to retrieve an email, you know something isn't right! I was considering upgrading from my N95 to a new phone but eventually decided to hold off for the moment. My options were the HTC Hero, N97 or iPhone 3GS. After a lot of research the N97 dropped from that list, which is a shame as it seems to have a lot of promise. I will take a look at the N900 but I think I am leaning more towards Android - will see what comes out early next year. Have enjoyed this post - keep up the blogging! :-)

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euanandrews's profile

Euan Andrews
Lower Hutt
New Zealand

I'm a 32yo male, living and working in the Wellington region.

I currently work as a manager for Interislander, having worked in the Hospitality industry for about the last decade.

I have interests in computers, gadgets and information, and love to be 'in the know', hence I read vasts amount of information online, anything from tech news, gadgets to current events and history.

Being a movie buff and having an interest in computers, I setup a wiki about Home Theatre PC's, and have recently built my own HTPC.

I was also heavily involved with the setup and design of the NZ Connections Wiki, having been invited by Cokemaster to help, as a result of my extensive and ongoing interest in ISP's. 

NZ Connections Wiki
My profile (TheBartender)

Compaq Pressirio 5000
Case: Silverstone LC16M, CPU: Intel Quad Q9400 2.5GHz, Motherboard: abit IP35 Pro, PSU: Corsair 520HX, Optical Drive: Samsung SH-S203D DVD Writer, Graphics card: Leadtek WinFast PX8500 GT TDH HDMI, Hard drive: 2 x Western Digital Caviar GP WD7500AACS Hard Disk Drive, 750GB, 5400rpm, Wireless: D-Link DWA-547 Rangebooster N 650 Desktop, TV tuner: Blackgold BGT3540, Keyboard: Microsoft Remote Keyboard for Windows Media Center
Nokia N900