Nokia’s latest salvo in their ongoing efforts to transform the humble mobile phone into something more is the N91.Â This slick product combines mobile phone, camera, and a music / video player with 4G of storage into a bright and shiny chrome-laden package.Â At $599, it has just been released in the United States, but not yet here in Canada.
There is much to like about this package, and many improvements over the predecessor N90 and N70.Â Setup, for instance, was a breeze.Â I simply told the telephone I was in Canada, chose Rogers as my carrier, and the correct settings were applied.Â Wireless access points, network passwordsÂ — all worked correctly.Â In comparison, I’ve neverÂ been able to configureÂ more than rudimentary data access with the N70 or N90.
The N91 is fast, too, when compared to predecessor phones.Â It boots up faster, it synchs faster, and the camera is faster.Â It can even take passable action shots.Â
Nokia has also finally switched toÂ a standard USB connector for data exchange, and a standard 3.5 mm mini jack for headphones.Â Power, however, is still provided through their proprietary interface.Â Â It’s a step in the right direction, but combining power and data on the USB cable would still be preferable.Â Â
The Music Player is fabulous.Â It’s capable of synchronizing with either iTunes, or Windows Media Player 10, and can play music in most popular formats including AAC, MP3, and WMA.Â It also has aÂ Music Shop (not yet available in Canada), so you can purchase tracks over the air.Â The included earbuds produce a rich sound, but more importantly (in a departure for Nokia) use a standard 3.5mm plug, so you can substitute any headphones.Â With equalizer controls, and an optional signal processing algorithm to increase theÂ stereo effect, it almost feels as if you’re in a concertÂ hall.Â Nokia has included a 4G hard disk, which they claim is good for up to 3000 songs.Â I got about 500 onto it before it ran out of room, but there were a nice selection of video’s fromÂ last summer’sÂ Live8 concerts already pre-installed, which were likely taking up some room.Â I also use very little compression whenÂ IÂ rip CDs. Your mileage may vary,Â depending on how much you compress your music.
The Camera is the now ubiquitous 2 megapixel unit which Nokia has put on the N70 and N90 as well.Â It’s faster than predecessors, which means faster zoom and better ability to take action shots.Â It’s also capable of storing photos and videos to the hard disk, which is a welcome improvement over the memory cards used in the N70 and N90.Â Curiously, however, Nokia has omitted a flash, and dumbed down the camera software dramatically.Â The result?Â Well, it’s not as good a still camera as either of the other two NSeries phones.Â For example, it has a lot of difficulty with low light shots, or shots taken at extremes of zoom.Â The two photosÂ below were taken at 19:21 hours yesterday, one with noÂ zoom, and one with 3.5x digital zoom.Â Â All still photos taken withÂ zoom, except in the brightest sunlight, darkened this way.Â
I did not, however, notice this darkening problem with video.Â In fact, for video, the N91 is a better product than either the N90 or N70, due to the speed of the camera and the zoom.Â
The Phone features are the hidden feature in this, er… phone.Â Tucked away behind a slide-off panel, they are roughly the same as prior NSeries phones.Â No surprises.Â Users with fat fingers may find the N90’s broad buttons more to their liking, but I found the size quite serviceable.Â You wouldn’t want to do extensive text messaging, but it’s probably good enough for most people.
Like the N70, and unlike the N90, the N91 has a vibrate setting, which makes it useful in a business setting.Â In addition, it has a new setting which vocalizes the caller ID of the person calling.Â This is slick.Â While the ringtone is playing, a little mechanical voice announces who is calling.
The Internet features include the ability to browse via WiFi access points, and a new browser.Â The WiFi is very nice.Â I configured both access points at home very quickly, and was downloading ringtones, graphics, and so on in seconds, all without incurring any airtime charges.Â The new browser is a terrific improvement over the prior browser, including a cursor which can be manipulated by the joystick on the device, and the ability to see a zoomed-out view of the page, so you can quickly jump to where you want to go.Â Moreover, this is a place where the speed of the N91 really shines.Â Amongst mobile web browsers, this is the one to beat.Â
One additional, and very intriguing, internet feature is the inclusion of a SIP client.Â I haven’t yet tried this, but when combined with an IP PBX, and WiFi, this promises to give you a single converged handset useable at the office, or outside.Â It appears to have been a last minute addition, however, because nowhere in the documentation provided is it mentioned. Nor, for that matter, is it mentioned on the Nokia website.
There are still gotchas which show that Nokia has a ways to go as it matures into a software company.Â Amongst them:Â
- The PC Synch application is better than before, but still not as capable as RIM or Microsoft products.Â It’s slow, and there are overlooked details — for instance, how do I reset every item on the handset?
- The CD provided with the package would not run on my PC more than once.Â I installed most of the software, but was unable to install a utility to convert MP3 files to AAC, which I wanted to try.Â The installation program crashed every time I tried to run it from that point forward.Â
- The system software allowed me to specify that I lived in Ottawa, but then insisted that this was in GMT -4 timezone (Ottawa is GMT -5).Â The good news is that the timezone shift bug which was present in the N70 seems to have been fixed, and it now doesn’t duplicate calendar entries when you change time zones.
- There still doesn’t seem to be any indexing of address book entries.Â I first noticedÂ this with theÂ N90.Â With 3000+ address book entries, this is a problem for me.Â Looking up the contact details for a person who’s name begins withÂ R, for instance,Â means a long wait while the phone scans the database looking for R’s, before I can proceed.Â Neither RIM, nor Microsoft have this problem on their smartphones.Â
- After a while the browser complained it was out of memory, necessitating a reboot of the phone.
- The older media application searches the hard disk for clips, etc, every time they open, rather than indexing.Â It’s very slow.Â
All in all, I like this phone a lot.Â I’m really enjoying its ability to play music.Â The industrial design is fabulous, and as phones go, the Nokia phone software is excellent.Â The PIM software has also improved from previous versions, most notably in the area of synch.Â Disappointing to me, however, were the compromises Nokia chose to make with the camera.Â It puts customers in the position of having to choose the N90 for its camera, or the N91 for music, when what you want is the best of both.
Except, of course, if you’re primarily shooting video, in which case the N91 can do it all…