Nokia fans who can count are at fever pitch over the upcoming launch of the N97, the successor to N-series heavyweights the N95 and N96. With a touchscreen and slide-out Qwerty keypad, the N97 takes a shot at its rivals in a bid to be the capo di tutti capi when it comes to smart phones. But, while we love the raw power of the N97 and its great keyboard, it doesn't quite fulfil our Qwerty-themed dreams.
The N97 is available from free on a £40-per-month contract with Orange.
Body and soul
At 15.9mm thick, the N97 isn't the sveltest phone out there, and the physique of the black version that we review here didn't attract many oohs and aahs. It's rather lumpen, and doesn't have the compact, solid class of some of Nokia's E-series phones. But, except for the flimsy plastic battery cover, it feels solidly made, improving on the rickety N95, and the Qwerty keyboard pops open with satisfying gusto.
The N97 is slightly different to a standard slider phone, like the E75, because the screen slides out at a slight angle. That angle means you don't need a stand to watch videos with the phone sitting on a table, and it's also useful when you're typing. It's a good innovation from Nokia, and the hinge feels like it will stand up to some enthusiastic use.
The keyboard is another area where the N97 shines. It has small, 5.5 by 6.5mm buttons that are almost flat, but they have a decent 1mm of space between them and click satisfyingly when pressed, so they're easy to use. Beware long numbers, though. Since the numbers run along the top row of buttons, you have to press shift each time you want to type one, doubling your work. Sometimes it's faster to switch to the portrait view and use the on-screen number keypad, which works well.
The N97's touchscreen interface feels snappy and responsive, but we wish that Nokia had switched from the resistive touchscreen it used with the 5800 XpressMusic to a capacitive one, like the iPhone's. You have to apply pressure to a resistive display for it to register what you're doing, and it helps to use a sharp point, like a fingernail. We prefer capacitive screens because they feel harder, are brighter, and we can use them even after we've chewed our nails to the quick during an episode of Deal or No Deal. Nokia has included a stylus in the box, but that's not a good sign for what's intended to be a crowd-leading touchscreen handset.
Get yourself connected
Nokia is pitching the N97, which packs speedy 3.6Mbps HSDPA and Wi-Fi connectivity, as a handset for Web-obsessed users for whom a minute away from the Internet is like a minute without oxygen. We had no trouble staying connected via Wi-Fi and 3G, and we appreciated the feature that automatically showed us the sign-in screen for the open wireless network at our secret CNET UK base. On other phones, we have to remember to launch a browser to view the page before we can start using the connection.