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Nokia N90: The Ferrari of Cellphones

There’s an old saying that if you have ask the price, then you can’t afford it.  Welcome to the Nokia N90.  I’ve been carrying this telephone around for a couple of weeks.  Everywhere I go it turns heads. People stop to ask about it, and marvel at the things it can do.  It’s a darn fine camera that shoots stills and video.  It’s a music player.  It’s a screamingly fast wireless internet modem.  It does email and the web, plays games, and runs miniature versions of all your favorite productivity applications. 

nokia-n90 Did I mention that it’s also a drop dead gorgeous phone, with large dual colour displays, and gleaming chrome body?  It truly is delightful to hold in your hands.  And for some, owning this phone will be the equivalent of owning any other fashion accessory — it will be like choosing the right watch, or chain, to go with your ensemble.  It’s that pretty.

Industrial Design

In the photo to the left, you can see one of the distinguishing features of this phone — industrial design. It’s like a kids transformer toy.  Folded up, it’s just a phone.  The hinge, however, contains a camera, with very good Carl Zeiss optics.  If you grab that hinge, and twist, the telephone becomes a slick little point and shoot camera. If you then twist it 180 degrees from there, so that the camera and display are pointed at you, it’s a video phone.   And if you open the telephone, and then twist the display, it becomes a great little video camera. 

The Camera

The camera is no slouch with 2 mega pixel resolution for still shots, VHS quality for video, and Carl Zeiss optics.  You can see some of the photos I took with it, below.  Image quality is what you would expect from a 2 mega pixel camera, with good colours, good sharpness.  The camera itself has a wide range of controls, including white balancing, resolution, and zoom.  My only complaint about it was that it is a little slow, which makes it difficult to use in low light, but for well lit, or outdoor settings, it’s excellent.



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One of the most surprising things about this camera is the video quality.  I shot more than 40 clips with it over the last week. The video camera shot reasonable quality video (certainly good enough for us to preserve a few family memories with), and was consistently able to shoot in lower light conditions than the still camera. The videos are recorded in MP4 format, and can be played back using either RealPlayer, or Quicktime. Because of the MP4 compression I was able to record a respectable 12 minutes of video on the tiny 64M memory card that comes standard with the phone.  You can see a sample of that video which I shot on the beach in San Diego.

The one note of caution on video: make sure that you record the video to the MMC card, and not to the (very slow) internal memory on the telephone.  Recordings made to the phone memory tend to lose synchronization between video and audio.

Three G: Woo Hoo!

While staying with with my mother-in-law over the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday, I decided to give the 3G modem a whirl.  Ruth has no broadband, so I plugged the N90 into my PC, fired up the connection software included with the phone, and was soon surfing the net at 480k/s.  It was like having a broadband connection.  I’ve often used my RIM Blackberry 7290 for internet connectivity, in a pinch, but never achieved more than 50k/s.  This was marvelous.

Rockin’ Out!

Stereo headphones are included with the N90, and it has built in software for processing the music to give richer and better sound.  The results are very good.  I downloaded a dozen of the free MP3 clips that Amazon provides, and was soon rocking out to Arcade Fire, Moby, and a bunch of other great bands.  Go buy a 1G MMC card, and then forget about an iPod.  This will do the trick.


A good friend has the following advice: "Never use software from a hardware company".  Nokia’s software isn’t too bad, however.  The included utilities are quirky, but functional.  I was able to move files back and forth between the PC and telephone, synchronize contacts and calendar, and use the modem utility to connect to the internet.  Aside from some unusual behaviours (Nokia really needs a usability specialist to go through it), it works as advertised.

The one exception is LifeBlog, Nokia’s photo management application.  Although it’s included for free, give this one a pass.  It’s slow, buggy, and there are lots of better, free, alternatives out there, like Picasa or Flickr. 

What about the phone?

Well, what would you expect from the top vendor of cell phones in the world?  It’s great. Great sound, great reception, great battery life, easy to use.  It’s just plain, insanely, great.

I have two, minor, complaints.  The first is the goofy Nokia cable interface.  The entire rest of the industry has gone to USB 2.0 mini plugs.  Nokia stubbornly clings to their proprietary cable and charger interfaces, which means that when I travel I have to carry an extra set of cables and chargers, just for the phone.

My second complaint is a little more serious.  There is no vibrator.  What that means is that this phone can never be my primary phone.  I sit in meetings all day long, and can’t have my telephone ringing all the time.  It must vibrate.  But you know,  my wife is going to love this phone, and since she carries her phone in her purse, the vibrator mode doesn’t matter to her.

The Ferrari of Cellphones

Prices haven’t been set yet in North America for this phone.  In Europe it goes for something like €750.  Like a Ferrari, this phone is a status symbol.  It is simply the best at some of the things it does.  And, like a Ferrari, some compromises are necessary if you’re going to own one — you can’t take luggage for four in a Ferrari, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. 

The promise of the N90 is you will have a multimedia communications platform in a pocketable form factor.  It delivers in spades, whether you’re talking voice, video, music, or still photographs.  And for that, it’s well worth owning.

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • raja January 31, 2006, 4:54 am


    What can i say that i am part of the Nokia N90 club and have to agree that the abcense of the vibrator along with the absece of a radio really really sucks. You are right heads do turn on seeing the Nokia .


  • Jon Husband December 8, 2006, 12:31 pm

    Alec .. do you kniow the easiest way to find a Nokia N90 in Canada ? Any retailers carry them now, or online ?


  • Alec December 8, 2006, 3:46 pm

    Best spot to look would be EBay. Nobody carries any of the N series phones in Canada.

  • TopStreaming December 20, 2009, 3:48 pm

    FAIL @ 1st comment…

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