Revisiting the Nokia N97, Four Months Later: A Review

I never did an official review of the Nokia N97, mainly because by the time I actually got the phone, everyone and their mother had already filmed videos of unboxing and smashing N97s on concrete, and released reviews left and right. And mine would just have simply echoed everyone else’s sentiments. But now, no one’s talking about the N97. It’s all about the N900.
So I decided to revisit the N97, four months later.


And four months later, the first thing I want to mention is: this phone is durable. Very durable. In the time I have owned it, it was undergone more “falls” than any of my previous phones, and yet it looks pretty much the same as it looked when I took it out of the box. Sure, some of the paint on the sides have gotten a little worn, but otherwise the phone’s held up very well. A couple of days ago, I was at the supermarket when I bent over to take a look at some meats in the refrigerated section. Next thing I know, my N97 fell out of my jacket pocket and hit the ground, causing the back cover and battery to fly off at supersonic speeds. Okay, I found them scattered on the floor a couple of feet away. But either way, there was no damage that I could see, and the phone turned back on like nothing happened. I love that.
Sadly, the slide-out keyboard never grew on me: to this day I still cannot type a single text message without making at least one mistake thanks to the extra-mushiness of the QWERTY. On the N97, I always felt that the keyboard was more of a crutch instead of a boon.


The N97 was billed as a super multimedia device, a mini-computer that could do pretty much anything. I haven’t seen much of that. Sure, I now have DosBox running on my phone, an excellent eBook reader, and some simple games, but I don’t feel like this phone opened up any more doors than my previous E66, or even my original N95. And the real reason is software.
There isn’t a lot of it out there.
This was a problem when the Ovi store first launched, and it’s still a problem now. The N97 suffers from the same issues as its predecessors with regards to software: there are very few useful/fun/unique/killer applications, or widgets, or games.
Then again, I find that most of my idle time on the phone now is spent visiting web sites on the web browser, or at least until I visit one that uses too much memory and ultimately quits back to the Home screen.


Ah, yes. The bread and butter of the N97. I hope my Definitive Nokia N97 Bug Listdidn’t contribute to Nokia’s stunning multi-million-Euro loss on Wednesday, but judging from the comments (160 and counting!), lots of people were having some serious problems with this flagship phone.
The funny part is (ok, maybe not so funny), I myself haven’t had that many problems crop up since v.11. My bug list probably includes the lock switch, the random playing of the Nokia tune, and in general the entire S60 Fifth Edition touch interface. I haven’t had the alarm-that-goes-off-3-minutes-late bug, or the random freezes (I did have this very, very early on) and reboots, or messed up camera features. Sorry guys. Maybe I just lucked out.
I’d also expect the upcoming v.20 firmware to address some of these problems that people are having. Unfortunately v.20′s release date is as hard to pin down as the N900′s.

Call Quality

This is a bit hard to pin down. Calls always sound great on the receiving end, but I’ve had numerous people say that I come across a little garbled. I’ve also experienced a number of dropped calls. Is it the fault of AT&T, or Nokia? My guess is AT&T.


I really like the N97 camera. The video camera, that is. While I wasn’t exactly impressed by still-picture quality, the video recording @ 30fps is extremely smooth. I liked it enough to take a couple “self-improvement” videos of myself playing tennis. And not having to worry about storage space is a huge benefit in my book, though I have to admit when I first got the N97 I thought it was extreme overkill.
As I noted way back in the first impressions post, the stereo speakers are kinda crappy. That hasn’t changed. The sound is nowhere near the quality of the 5800XM speakers, a phone less than half the price of this one. But I had no qualms when listening through wired/wireless headphones.

Battery Life

This one’s a mixed bag. I’ve had the phone run for days, and I’ve also had the phone die after four hours of music playing in the car. There are some times when the phone gets slightly warmer than usual, which is usually a sign that the remaining battery life is going to the crapper.

Final Conclusions

The original N97 wasn’t worth the price of admission. Now that the price has dropped to more reasonable levels, you may be considering picking it up.
Here’s the problem: the N97 is a sort of jack-of-all-trades, master of none. It’s got the touch interface, physical keyboard, high-powered camera, WebKit-based browser, but none of these things are done particularly well. They’re just kind of okay.
What I’m trying to say is: the N97 isn’t a bad phone at all. It could just be a heck of a lot better.