Nokia's new Nseries phones continue the Nseries tradition of throwing everything but the kitchen sink into really high-end phones and pushing the boundaries of phone technology. The competition in this segment of the market is much stronger this year, but Nokia is still holding its own for the most part.
The N96 is the new flagship successor to the wildly popular N95.
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The N96 is a tad wider and taller, but also thinner, which makes it feel like a wash for the most part. The feel is generally nice.
The display is massive. It rivals many personal media players. If you're the kind of person that carries a PSP for video plus a phone, but would rather carry one device, the N96 might be for you. The video experience is impressive.
The glossy black design with disappearing media keys might lead you to think these are touch keys, but they're not. All of the keys on both the N96 and N78 are physical keys. The black plastic has just enough flex to allow the keys to be pressed easily. You might expect the keys to be difficult to feel out and tell apart on the smooth surface, and to an extent you'd be right, but the keys are carefully arranged and spaced so that it's not nearly as tricky as it looks.
The media keys around the d-pad disappear when they're not needed, and also when you slide the top part down to put the phone in landscape mode and the four dedicated landscape media keys are revealed. That way you have dedicated media keys for each orientation, so they're always available when you need them, and always right-side-up.
One clever innovation is the kick-stand that swings out from around the camera lens on the back, allowing you to set the phone on a table tilted for watching video.
The N96 is a great video machine. Eurpeans will be delighted with built-in DVB-H live TV support. That doesn't mean much in the States, and we were told not to hold our breath for a MediaFLO edition, but 16 GB of built-in memory means plenty of room to store high-quality video. Unlike the various N95 variants, you aren't forced to sacrifice a memory card slot, either. You can expand the 16 GB up to 24 GB with a microSD card at any time. Rounding out the improved media experience are stereo speakers intelligently placed at the top two corners in landscape orientation. That makes a lot more sense than the N95, where the speakers were designed for the video-unfriendly vertical orientation.
Other features carry over from the N95 (8GB edition) with few changes, such as the 5 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss lens, 2.8 inch QVGA display, GPS, and 3.5 mm headphone jack.
The N78 is the logical successor to the N73. It's wrapped in the same slick styling as the N96, and the two phones also share S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 2 (let's just call it S60 3.2 - more about this new version on the next page) and the latest version of Nokia's multimedia applications for Nseries phones. Pressing the little silver key next to the d-pad on either new Nseries phone takes you to the nifty animated "carousel" application with quick access to key functions of music, photos, maps, web, contacts, and more.
The N78 only has a 3 megapixel camera like the N73, but it is auto-focus and has a Carl Zeiss lens, so it's still at the high end of camera phone quality. You'll also find HSDPA and Wi-Fi data, plus GPS and a 3.5 mm headphone jack, in keeping with the "kitchen sink" philosophy of the Nseries. The GPS function includes geo-tagging of photos, and it's integrated with Nokia Maps 2.0, so you can simply select a photo you've taken, choose "Show on map" and see exactly where you took that photo. It's all automatic.
Some really unique features of the N78 (for a Nokia) include an FM transmitter and a touch scroll wheel integrated into the d-pad. You'd never know from looking at it, but you can glide your finger around the silver d-pad ring to scroll through any list. It's especially useful for large lists like photos, music, and even simple things like contacts. The gallery application, in particular, is optimized for this, and will switch between standard mode and a special high-speed arc mode depending on how fast you scroll. Be sure to check out the video to see it in action.
Here is a quick video preview of the N78:
The N78 also has keys that disappear, either when the phone is in standby or those particular keys are not needed. Note how in the photos, in camera mode the numbers keys almost disappear, and in standby mode the whole phone has a smooth, sleek look.
The N78 is fairly thin and surprisingly lightweight.