The N95 is Nokia's flagship mobile device so far in 2007 -- we say mobile device as Nokia shies away from labelling its N series "mobile phones". You'd be forgiven for asking the question, "What is the Nokia N95?" In the inescapable advertising blitz around, we've seen the Finnish phone giant touting the N95 as "this thing in my pocket" or "what computers have become", but we think the marketing department takes the cake with with its description in the manual: "your personal gateway to a world of endless possibilities."
Despite the hype, the N95 succeeds in taking the bar and raising it barely within the grasp of other manufacturers. HSDPA-enhanced 3G downloads, a 5-megapixel camera, GPS and entertainment applications a-go-go are but the tip of the iceberg for this mobile multimedia marvel.
Nokia's N95 isn't much wider or taller than most compact phones, but its thickness makes it slightly hefty. Measuring 99 by 53 by 21 mm when closed, pocketing the N95 in tight jeans creates a slight lump -- about as much as a compact camera like one in the Canon IXUS range.
The N95 is the first device we've seen with a two-way slider design: slide it up to access the keypad, or down to get to the dedicated multimedia controls (FF, play/pause, stop and RW keys), which also puts the 2.5-inch screen into landscape mode.
On the back is a 5-megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss lens, auto-focus, and a lens cover switch that activates the camera -- again, turning the large and bright screen into a viewfinder. The LED flash isn't as good as a Xenon flash, like the one found on Sony Ericsson's K800i, but does a decent enough job for close-range night shots. The pictures we've taken on the N95 are, without a doubt, the best we've seen from camera-phone to date. Recorded video is excellent, too, at 640x480 pixels and 30fps (which is technically DVD quality in the US -- NTSC).
Around the edges of the N95 are stereo speakers, a 3.5mm headphone jack, an infrared port, a microSD card slot, a mini-USB port, and some volume and media shortcut keys. Nokia includes a 1GB card in the box.
The Nokia N95's wireless abilities include 3.5G (aka HSDPA) for fast downloads through your mobile operator, 802.11g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0 and infrared for archaic devices. The N95 also doubles as a wireless broadband modem for connecting your laptop while you're on the road, say.
The Web browser renders pages very well, the only fault we could find was the lack of flash support for looking at sites like YouTube. Multimedia treats include an MP3 player, video player, FM radio and support for Bluetooth headphones. A custom large-icon menu also appears when you slide out the multimedia keys. A zippy sci-fi racing game called System Rush can also be found here.
Photos taken with the N95 can be uploaded to Web sites Flickr and Vox with ease, or shared via the traditional methods like Bluetooth, MMS, e-mail or infrared for really old phones.
There's an AV cable in the box that lets you hook up the N95 to a TV or stereo to browse photos or watch movies on the big screen, or to listen to music through a stereo. Nokia includes a pair of average-sounding headphones in the box, which doubles as a hands-free headset, thankfully you can swap these out with any other standard 3.5mm pair. A mini-USB cable and a Windows software CD is also bundled for fast PC or laptop data transfers.
The N95 biggest flaw is battery life -- we rarely got more than a single day's use. If you are using something as your MP3 player, email device, Web browser and phone, it's no surprise, really. Nokia rates talk time on 3G at only 2.5 hours, music playback 7 hours, standby time 9 days -- but who would pay over AU$1000 for a device just to sit there. With minimal usage -- a couple of texts per day -- we got just under three days.
While the battery is our number one gripe, another is the sluggish processor when multiple applications are running. Adding to the problem -- or causing it -- is the N95's Symbian-based operating system, which keeps multiple applications open unless you specifically hit exit, each taking their own slice of system memory.
GPS mapping on the N95 looks promising; the second phone after the Mio A701 to have sat nav built-in. However, we weren't able to lock onto a GPS satellite for some reason during our test period -- perhaps the areas we tested in didn't have a clear enough view of the sky. Regardless, maps and routing info are downloaded over-the-air and on-the-fly (for over 100 different countries Nokia tells us), but beware this attracts data charges from mobile operators -- maps are not pre-loaded or included on the memory card.
You can "upgrade" the N95's navigation abilities to support automatic voice instructions for each turn, but this attracts an additional charge per region -- it costs from AU$12.45 for a 7-day licence to AU$132.94 for 3 years. Other premium services include city guides -- the Sydney one costs AU$13.28, for example. Thankfully local points of interest like restaurants and attractions are included for free, and you can easily make a call to make a dinner reservation at any eatery you find.
Despite battery and performance issues, the N95 sets new standards for mobile connectivity and we award it Editors' Choice for its innovative design, the best imaging we've seen in its class, and support for standards such as UPnP, mini-USB and 3.5mm audio output.
Business users might balk at the lack of a QWERTY keypad, but there are viewers for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF files. Synchronisation of calendar, contacts, to-do, notes and e-mail is also supported.
Nokia's N95 carries a relatively high price of AU$1,379 (RRP), but considering the converged nature of this device, the ease of operation and integration with the operating system, we're not too fussed. Until Apple's iPhone hits the shelves in Australia next year, the N95 will be hard to top.