Nokia Summer 2007
Nokia released four new handsets at its Go Play event in London. Here are previews of the N81, N95 8GB, 5610, 5310 and the Nokia Music Store.
Nokia held an event in London this week to launch several new handsets and services. The new handsets are the N81, N95 8GB, 5610 XpressMusic and 5310 XpressMusic. We had the opportunity to get some hands on time with these phones while attending the event. All of them were pre-production models, and Nokia representatives assured us that any kinks we might encounter should be worked out by the time the phones are released.
Among the services were Nokia's rebranded Ovi Internet Services division, as well as the new N-Gage gaming platform and Nokia Music store. We also have a video walkthrough of the Music Store.
For now, let's dig into the phones.
The N81 was the premier new phone of the event. At first glance, it may slightly resemble an iPhone, but it most definitely is not. The smooth black plastic of the front is attractive, though very prone to smudges. There is a silver lining that frames the entire face of the phone, and this is what lends it a little bit of the iPhone look. The sides and back of the phone are a grayish material that felt like metal. They were smooth, but the silver lining around the face is actually raised out a bit, creating a ridge that digs into your hand. Even though it is far thinner than the N95, the N81 has a solid weight to it.
The screen was very bright, had good resolution and displayed colors well. Though the front of the phone is dominated by the largish screen, it is hard to ignore the navigation cluster. Eleven buttons are packed onto the bottom of the phone, and using them is a tad tricky. The five-way D-pad is easy enough to use, but it is surrounded with a narrow rectangle that hosts 4 media control buttons, one in each corner. This strip of plastic is so thin, that using it was difficult. The boundary between the D-pad and this strip is well defined, but the boundary between this strip and the other navigation and control buttons is not easy to sense with your thumb. The media control strip is then surrounded by the two function keys on the top corners and main menu key and clear key along the bottom corners. Just to the right of the D-pad, there is another thin silver button that bridges the inner and outer rings. This button launches the media user interface. It also gets in the way when you're trying to slide your thumb to other buttons, as it is raised quite a bit from the surface of the phone. It catches your thumb quite easily. Finally, on the far left and far right edges of the nav cluster are the send and end keys. These keys are positioned right on the very corner of the phone between the front face and left and right sides. They are tiny, and we found them to be exceedingly difficult to find and use.
The slider mechanism was not smooth on several of the N81s we used during the event. Perhaps the springs weren't working, but the sliding action was decidedly sticky and didn't feel solid at all. It gave the impression of a poor build.
Once open, the keypad is a small, flat plastic affair. It is smooth and there is very little indication to your thumb to know that it has moved from one key to another. Even though the keyboard felt a little cheap and plastic-y compared to the rest of the phone, the feedback from the keys was good when pressed.
The revised media user interface of the S60 platform is fun to use. It resembles the carousel action of the picture gallery application, in that you have a 3D view of the media selection. Hitting the D-pad left or right scrolls through the different menus. The processor was snappy, because launching applications was immediate. There was no lag or delay. Most other functions of the S60 platform remain unchanged.
We were unable to make calls to determine call quality, but the stereo speakers were quite loud. They were easily heard in a very loud and busy room. The music coming through the speakers sounded better than what we've heard on many other music-themed phones. It was rich and had depth. That we could tell this in a noisy room is testament to just how good they are. The music also sounded great through the Bose headphones provided by Nokia.
Overall, the N81 is a solid media phone. It does have some ergonomic issues with respect to the navigation cluster and keypad, but the screen is good and it is a fairly attractive bit of hardware.
Here is a short video preview of the N81. You can watch it here:
Or go to YouTube for more viewing and sharing options.
Nokia has updated the N95 multimedia computer into several new versions. There is an all-black version that boasts 8GB of internal storage, as well as a new version for the U.S. that includes 3G. Putting them side by side, the differences are quite striking.
The 8GB model is jet black all the way around. In most respects, the form is nearly identical to the original, but the screen is changed. The original N95 (and the U.S. version) have a 2.6-inch screen. The 8GB model has a 2.8-inch screen. This difference may seem minute, but in real life it is huge. Putting them side by side, the screen of the 8GB looks far larger than the standard and U.S. versions.
Also, on the original and U.S. versions, the top sliding mechanism is perhaps a millimeter or two narrower than the body of the phone itself, creating an edge along that seem. On the 8GB model, the width of the sliding portion is even with that of the edges of the body underneath, creating smoother sides. It is still just as fat as the original and U.S. versions, but it feels smoother in your hand because this seam has been made flush. Lastly, to fit the larger screen, the navigation cluster has been squished down a little bit. Even though the size of all the keys was reduced, it was still easy to use. The action of the keys was good, and telling one from the other was a snap.
Unfortunately, on every N95 we picked up, the sliding mechanism felt terrible. In fact, on one of the pre-production units the slider was very loose, got stuck, and was difficult to use. The software was also buggy and slow. Half the time you popped the slider up, the screen would reorient itself to landscape mode, even if you were using the keypad, and not the media keys. Closing the N95 seemed to be the only way to get the screen to go back to standard mode.
The back portion of the N95 has also been revised, both for the 8 GB and U.S. versions. The original featured a raised sliding lens cover that was the cause of a lot of customer complaints. Nokia listened and ditched the sliding lens cover. Instead, the surface of the lens is embedded further into the body of the phone to prevent your fingers from clouding it up with fingerprints.
One complaint we wish Nokia had listened to was about the keypad. Unfortunately it is exactly the same. The squished and tiny keys are rounded with a raised surface, creating "valleys" between the keys. It is very easy for your thumb to slip into a valley and accidentally push the button above or below the one you intended. It is also recessed into the phone, and framed by the high ridges of the sliding grooves. This makes the keypad harder to use than many other keypads on slider phones.
The N95 8GB and U.S. version also have the same 3D multimedia menus. Other than the screen and massive internal memory on the 8GB, it is not much different in the functionality compared to the first version of the N95. The only differences between the U.S. and original versions are the U.S. 3G radio frequencies, and the slightly revised camera housing.
We were also able to shoot a short video with the N95 8GB. You can watch it here:
Or visit YouTube for more viewing and sharing options.
The 5610 XpressMusic is similar is many respects to the 5300 XpressMusic. It is a slider that is about the same size and weight of the 5300, with similar media functionality and button placement. It does, however, feature completely revised styling in a very positive way.
Where the 5300 was rather cheap and plastic-y, the 5610 is made from much better materials. The front features an average-sized screen with navigation cluster under it. The buttons on the nav cluster were all smooth as well, but easy to find and click. The buttons each had good travel and a nice action to them. Where the 5300 featured white and black coloring, the 5610 is maroon (or blue) and dark gray. These colors look good together, and the phone looks far more sophisticated.
Another major difference is the media buttons. The rubber media buttons that are featured along the left side of the 5300 are gone and replaced with a jog dial just above the nav cluster. The function of this jog dial is two-fold. It is tied directly to the music applications. Slide it to the left, and the media player launches, slide it again and the main music menu pops up, slide it again and the FM radio comes up. You can also slide it to the right, and these same menus appear, just in reverse. The jog dial also acts as a ledge for your thumb to use when opening and closing the sliding mechanism.
Contrary to the N81s and N95s, the 5610 sliding mechanism felt fantastic. It was spring assisted and these created for a nice solid "thunk" each time you open and close the phone. It was smooth and satisfying.
They keypad was also better than the N81 and N95's. The keys are simpler and well separated from one another. Though their spacing is still fairly tight, the larger key size and the texture made for easier keying.
The back of the phone has a golf ball-like dimpled texture to it. This is only slightly noticeable when you hold the phone in your hand. Stunningly, the 5610 has only a 2.5mm headset jack, and not a standard 3.5mm headset jack. It does have stereo Bluetooth, though.
The XpressMusic's music functionality has also been revised a bit. When you open the media player, the player interface has a different set of themes that can be applied to it, and the new ones are much hipper than the appearance of the 5300's media player. The media player now also includes a video playback application. Otherwise, the functionality of the Series 40 interface is mostly unchanged.
And this is a disappointment when it comes to the camera. The camera is a solid 3.2 Megapixels and has dual LED flashes. The pictures we took in the darkened room were very good, but the camera user interface is completely unchanged. There are no additional actions or features to take let you more fully take advantage of the much better picture quality. Like the 5300, the 5610 is held sideways for picture taking, and there is a dedicated camera key on the right side of the phone that launches the camera and serves as your shutter release key.
Overall, the 5610 is a major step up from the 5300. The styling is better, the media playback functions are improved, and the overall appeal of the phone is higher.
We also have a short video preview of the 5610. You can watch it here:
Or go to YouTube for more viewing and sharing options.
The 5310 is the simplest of the phones unveiled by Nokia at the Go Play event. It is a thin candybar that is lightweight and compact. Because it is so thin, cradling it in your hand is a breeze. It has the same styling as the 5610, with the same updated maroon and dark gray coloring, as well as revised media playback functions.
The materials, though, are just a tad cheaper than those of the 5610. The nav cluster is smaller, and so are the keys on the keypad. They all provide decent feedback and travel, but do feel like they belong on an entry level phone.
The media playback features are exactly like those of the 5610, with the same new menus, styling and themes. The 5310 does have the three media keys along the left side of the screen like the 5300. These keys provide instant access to and control of the media player. Hitting the "play" button launches the media player and begins playing whatever was played last via the speakerphone. You can also skip forward and backward tracks with these external buttons. Unlike the 5300s rubber buttons, they are plastic, and smaller. These buttons felt a bit cheap to use as well. The right function key serves to launch the full menu of the media player when on the home screen.
The 5310 has a 2 Megapixel camera, and it performed poorly in the dark room. Images were very grainy and not always in focus.
Though the 5310 has features befitting of its entry level status, it is a small and stylish candybar phone.
We also shot a short video preview of the Nokia 5310 XpressMusic. You can watch it here:
Or visit YouTube for more viewing and sharing options.
The Nokia Music store is a brand new service from Nokia that falls under its Ovi content division. It offers similar functionality to Apple's iTunes Music Store, and syncs seamlessly with compatible handsets. Here is a demonstration of how it works on the N95.
Or you can visit YouTube for more viewing and sharing options.
8gb looks sick! but...
Can't Someone Make a Top-End Phone For The US Market First ? ? ?
The fact that NOKIA is introducing the 8GB phone in Europe first is offensive to me. What do we American folks, who have money to burn, get all the good technology last? I wrote NOKIA an email and asked them to bring the 8GB version here to America so that we can have it too. I am aware that some of the WCDMA bands in Europe don't work over here and vice versa, but some of us travel into some seriously out-of-the-way places and like being prepared.
All the cell phone makers are trumpeting the fact that some of their phones are Quad-Band GSM and that is very nice and helpful, but what about Quad-Band WCDMA (850, 1700, 1900, 2100) too!? That would be really groovy to those of us that trav...
Man, the N95...