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printed December 20, 2014
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Review: Nokia N97

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Is It Your Type? Body The Three S's Touch  

 

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Nokia's N Series phones are not known for their tiny stature. The N95, N96 and E91 are all the spiritual predecessors of the N97, and it carries forward the large, bulky form of those phones. It is thick. It is heavy. It is one big phone (or a very small laptop, depending on your point of view).

The fit, finish and materials of the N97 don't live up to the $700 price tag. Truth be told, I'd be ticked off if I paid $700 for this phone, at least as far as the hardware is concerned. The plastics are thin and feel cheap. The battery cover feels downright flimsy. There are odd gaps where the two halves of the phone meet. Frankly, I am stunned at the poor craftsmanship. Nokia can do better.

The display is huge and takes up 80% of the real estate of the N97's front face. At the bottom are three keys. Two are capacitive-touch buttons flush with the face of the phone to send/end calls. In my opinion these two buttons are placed way too close to one another. They are just a centimeter apart. This means you can accidentally hit the "end" key when you mean to hit the "send" key, thereby erasing the phone number you just typed. Seriously, why are these buttons so close? The other button is a raised menu key similar to what Nokia has done on other N Series phones, such as N81, N96 and so on. This button has good travel and feedback, and it is easily found with your thumb.

The N97's hinge is very unique. It's best to hold the phone sideways to open it. With it cradled in both hands, press upwards on the top half. There is some slight spring assistance to help it get all the way up. The top half of the phone sits at about a 40 degree angle, which makes it pretty easy to view while holding the phone open. The N97 is relatively comfortable to hold, but I found typing to be miserable.

The QWERTY keyboard has just three rows. You have to press the function key to get at the numerals. The space bar is placed to the far right side of the keyboard. There is a D-pad on the left side of the keyboard to aid in navigation, though I found it to be mostly moot since you can just reach up with your finger to touch the screen. The real problem here is the keys themselves. They are extremely flat. The keys on the left side of the keyboard offered minimal travel and feedback, while the keys on the right side offered zero travel and feedback. I could not tell when I had truly activated any of the buttons on the right. The typing experience was absolutely painful. There was no "click" at all, the keyboard was total mush. It is one of the worst keyboards I've tested in a very long time.

On the left side of the N97 (when closed) you'll find the microUSB port and lock/unlock switch. The switch is easy to find and works okay. The volume toggle and camera key are located on the right side of the phone (when closed). The volume key felt good, had decent travel and feedback and was easy to find. The two-stage camera button was a little mushy. The first click (to focus) was fine, but the second (to snap the picture) had no real click to it. In the end, I pressed down on it all the way until it wouldn't go any further to get the 97 to take pictures. The top holds the 3.5mm headset jack for most stereo headsets and the power key.

In sum, I am not impressed with the N97 hardware at all. I was expecting it to be much sturdier, with much higher build quality.

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