I have been playing with a trial N97 device from WOMWorld for a couple of days and despite very much wanting to praise it, I can't help but admit that it is a pretty huge disappointment with Nokia's supposed N-series flagship.
WOMWorld provided the device as part of an Ovi Maps 3 The Good Things event (I'll write about it eventually but you can check out my twitter feeds with the #ovigoodthings hashtag in the meantime) in London that I attended on Thursday and Friday. The N97 has a GPS receiver, so it made sense to have a device that was capable of helping us on Thursday when we were made to run around London treasure hunting! And it failed to get a GPS fix for the whole couple of hours we were outdoors!! On a sunny clear day no-less!! Instead, I had to use my own E51 and the brilliantly accurate Navman B10 running the now outdated Nokia Maps 2 (Ovi Maps isn't compatible with the E51) to help with the tasks. I've never had problems getting a sub-one minute GPS fix with the E66, E71 and E75 - so I really had no idea how the N-series people can get it so wrong when it came to designing the N97's internal GPS aerial.
The N97 also reminded me of another N-series phone I was utterly disappointed with. You can probably guess it. Yes, it was the N80. Like the N97, the N80 was a tech geeks dream phone. It had everything. But Nokia screwed it up by giving it a small battery, slow processor and very little RAM to play with - pretty much the same mistake it made with the N97 a couple of years later. The processor is slow, not only by today's standard but also by Nokia's own standard! In fact the Nokia E55 I'll be getting next week is clocked 166Mhz quicker than the N97. Quite why Nokia is pimping their Series 60 3rd Edition phones with 600Mhz processors but only a 434Mhz processor with their S60v5 flagship I can't quite understand yet. The 46MB of available RAM is even lower than the E51, and finally despite having a 1500mAh battery and slow processor, it chews up battery very quickly when using Wireless LAN.
The hardware design is nice, if a bit none-iconic. It could do without that bulky 'lens' protector protector for one. Over complicated design for such a trivia thing is just silly - the lens protector protector probably takes up more space than the whole camera module (lens + sensor and whatever else is needed in getting a modern digital camera to work). Nokia isn't the only manufacturer guilty here though. Samsung with their obnoxious attempt at masking the tiny lens with a couple of huge over-engineered rings and bumps on the Omnia HD is one fine example, and the Sony Ericsson Satio another. Personally I think the lens protector protector probably costs more than its actual worth.
The keyboard is ok, but won't beat even my old HTC Wizard and Universal devices. Whoever decided to put the d-pad and space bar in their current locations is clearly someone not clued up in the importance of user ergonomics. Four lines of keys is a bare minimum for QWERTY keypad of that size, so it was disappointing that the N97 only has three lines. I do hope that the E-series team busy designing the successor to the E90 take note at user complaints regarding the N97's keypad. Other than that I have nothing much to complain about the N97 hardware design wise. The built quality is just as expected from a Nokia N-series device, sturdy and well built if a bit plastiky.
Series 60 5th Edition is nice and I really like it, but it is hampered by bugs - at least the one running on the N97. Why can't I copy and paste with the keyboard? Why am I forced to access the on-screen keypad to access copy and paste? Why does it crash and freeze all the time when I try to switch between opened applications or even when losing WLAN signal. Really, here you have a lovely piece of operating system but they gimped it with that lowly amount of RAM and processor speed. Half the issues I've encountered would probably be solved if Nokia would just fit in a better processor and another 64MB RAM module, the other half through quicker firmware updates. Stop with all the red tape and release the new firmware today.
The problem isn't with S60v5, as I have seen it running really well on the 5800XM, but it is Nokia's software team for not doing a good job tailoring it to the N97's specs. Why can't I disable the widgets homescreen when I can have the same fast active standby homescreen of the 5800XM? There is a reason why I do not use widgets on my PC and Omnia i900 - they are slow and resource munchers and more often than not. Yes, I am a widget hater. I understand that we are in a web 2.0 era of mashups, live search and social networking. But at least don't force it down out throat. Still I guess I must be the only one demanding active standby on the N97, but I am like that. I love speed more than anything else and not having a clean active standby screen with optional plug-ins (similar to Windows Mobile today screen plug-ins) is kinda pissing me off a little bit.
So that is my rant for today. There are plenty of things to like about the N97 as well and I'll get onto these eventually.