This is a big handset, but, unlike other clamshells, it is made up of three (rather than two) sections. Nokia has gone to town to incorporate the high-end Carl Zeiss optics, and while the company has come up with a camera phone that is superior to the competition in terms of image quality, maybe it has actually overdesigned the hardware to accommodate it.
You won't have seen a handset like the N90 before, be it 3G as the N90 is, or plain old GSM. Physically it's huge and heavy -- a real beast for the average pocket. The size and weight are pretty much down to one factor, which will in all probability be why you choose to buy it: the camera.
This is a clamshell handset and the camera lens sits in a long pod extending what would normally be the top end of the handset -- where the clamshell hinge is found. It is positioned here, we suppose, because it simply won't fit inside the main body of the N90. The lens has been designed by Carl Zeiss, camera lens whizz, and it needs space to deliver at quality.
There is a large front screen on the N90 which delivers 65K colours in a space 27 by 27mm square at a resolution of 128x128 pixels. It needs to be this large because, if you twist the lens section away from the handset, to sit at a right-angle with it, the front screen turns into a viewfinder. You can then use a shutter button and tiny joypad on the right edge of the N90 to make some formatting selections and shoot.
The right edge also contains a slot for an RS-MMC card, well protected by a solid-hinged cover. On the left edge you'll find the mains power jack and the Pop-Port connector. Disappointingly, the Pop-Port connector is protected by a rubber cover that's not physically connected to the casing and so will be easily lost, while the mains jack is not protected at all.
Lift the lid and you are faced with the usual screen and keyboard arrangement. That lens section stops the lid reaching a fully flat position as is usual with a clamshell phone, but you get a wide enough angle to hold the N90 comfortably to your ear.
An important advantage of such a large piece of hardware is the big number pad which makes finding and hitting the keys you want super easy. There is nothing unusual about the number pad, or the circular navigation button or shortcut keys. But look carefully and you'll see the unusual sight of a pair of soft buttons sitting above the screen.
These come into play when you perform another little swivelling trick, rotating the screen section. It goes slightly more than 90 degrees in one direction only, the camera function switches on and the screen becomes a viewfinder. Now those two buttons sit under your left thumb and can be used to select various options, while the edge-mounted mini joypad and shoot button take the same roles they have when using the front screen for photography. The joypad, incidentally, doubles up again when you are rooting through the icon-based phone menu, making a nice alternative to the navigation pad.