Apple: Give me a free iPhone 3GS — or why the Nokia N97 sucks!

So there I was, back in December 2008 — all ecstatic about the iPhone Killer in the form of the Nokia N97. The specs (3.5inch tilting touch screen, full QWERTY keyboard, WiFi, GPS, 5megapixel camera and a 32GB internal memory) sounded awesome then, but recent reviews and user reports on Nokias’ discussion forum (over 800 posts on a search with “N97 problem”) are making me worried.

I was hoping to upgrade to Nokia’s flagship phone, but reading reviews and user feedback have now convinced me that an Apple iPhone 3GS will be the better choice (Apple, if you read this, you courier me one, it will work very well with my MacBook Air and Airport Express).

Nokia N97 issues reported on the Nokia forum (most of them on the latest v11 firmware):

  • GPS Issues: Many users complain about the phones (in)capability to lock on to satellites. Some blame it on overclouding, others had their phone replaced and some report that the GPS (in comparison to an iPhone or TomTom) reports the location off by several 100 metres. The integrated GPS does not seem work well or fast (up to 2 minutes to lock onto satellites) and many users result to rely on AGPS (which will chow your bandwidth like there was no tomorrow)
  • Signal strength: Firmware version v11 seems to have improved the signal strength problem. If you do a side-by-side comparison with a N95 or 5800 you will find that those phones will show 3 bars, while the N97 will barely show one. This occurs on both 3G and normal EDGE/GSM network modes.
  • Widget stability: Still many issues, with widgets either not refreshing, crashing or just not responding at all
  • In car calling: The N97 supports TV Out (via a Nokia Video-Out CA-75U cable) to hook up your phone to your in-car-entertainment system. While the N95 works perfectly, the N97 displays the video, but any attempt to make a call (voice dialing or manual) or receive call shuts down audio – quite disappointing, considering that this worked flawless on N95’s.
  • Speaker quality: Compared to the Nokia 5800, the N97’s speakers have poor volume and seem to be plagued by lack of bass and too much trebble. True, the 5800 is the “music-phone” but I would expect similar quality in a USD 700,00 phone. The speakers seems to be optimised for good voice-/speaker-phone functionality, but lack in the multimedia-/entertainment division.
  • Transition effects: This will get Nokia into some sort of trouble. If you watch the YouTube marketing video you will see some nifty transitions. Pity, that those are currently not available in the N97 production version. The phone itself seems to be already slow when it comes to widgets and adding this functionality will certainly have a performance penalty.
  • Compass calibration flawed: My word – better head over to this post if your screen rotation resets the compass calibration. Not a good thing if you rely on this functionality and can not trust the device.
  • Received text messages not showing the sender: I hope you don’t have friends sharing a landline or multiple contacts with the same home-phone number, because the N97 will not show you at least one contact name, and this was “perfectly” justified by Nokia: ‘Quote: “If the phone finds the same number against more than one name, it doesn’t know which to use so, perfectly sensibly, it defaults to showing the number.”‘ – not sure about “perfectly sensibly – I would have assumed a more user intuitive approach would have helped.
  • Flawed music app: If you happen to have in excess of 300-400 albums, it will take about 30 seconds for the library to load or 10 seconds for the artist list to display. One user reported that his N97’s music library “lost” all music and it took 15 hours to refresh the music library (granted it consisted of 737 albums)
  • Exchange support: You can run Mail for Exchange and v2.9 seems to be better than 2.7 on the N95, but to have a proper mail-experience you will need to purchase RoadSync. Puzzles me about Nokia’s choice of product placement, it appears that the N75 is the true communicator. Again, I would have thought that better corporate support would be bundled wit the phone.
  • Contact management / labels: No support to edit existing labels. Don’t get irritated if you sync your phone the first time, only to notice that all personal mobile phone numbers are now placed in the business-mobile label.
  • Calendaring: So you saw those call transitions and full calendar views in landscape mode. Guess what? Your new N97 will only show you today’s event in the home-screen. Even my current (and two year old) N73ME will at least show me events for tomorrow if I am on the last event for today.

While I typically don’t follow the hype and prefer to judge the quality of a phone myself, I do believe that customer feedback on Nokia’s support forum are a better representation of a products quality. Although Nokia is quick in fixing issues, Nokia is also known to abandon phones after a certain period of time and to me, the N97 does not seem to have a lifespan of more than 12 months.

To summarise the N97 is jack of all trades, but a master of none. You might also want to check out this review, which shares my sentiments.

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