Nokia Nseries Launch
Comparing the N91 to other recently-announced "music phones", one interesting difference is that the N91 does not include built-in stereo speakers. Personally, I find this refreshing. I've always thought the idea of tiny stereo speakers mounted an inch apart was just silly and impractical. They just can't produce a good stereo effect mounted so closely, and speakers that small never produce sound that is both loud and high-quality. They're basically just a gimmick that wastefully adds to the size and weight of a phone.
Plus, if I want to listen to music on my phone, it's probably in a situation where I'd rather use headphones to be polite, or connect the phone to my car or home speakers. Not to mention that blasting music from built-in phone speakers would drain battery life very quickly. It's good to Nokia paying attention to how people will actually want to use these features, instead of just following the pack on the incredibly stupid idea of built-in stereo speakers.
An immediate concern that comes to mind when talking about a hard drive in a mobile phone is battery life. Nokia claims that the N91 will be able to play music continuously on one battery charge for up to 12.5 hours. But like any other function on any phone, of course that number is an ideal maximum that goes down as you place calls or do other things with the phone.
Nokia reps were also very quick to point out that the N91 has an easily-changeable battery. Of course this is nothing new for a phone, but a major advantage over an iPod. It's simple thing, but certainly if you have a need for music all weekend away from your charger, then you do have the option of bringing along extra batteries.
I didn't really have a chance to judge build quality of the N91. Since it's still many months from mass production, all that's available to try at this point are prototypes. In the photos on the previous page, you can see that the top-back part of the phone is a strange color. That's a prototype issue that won't be present in the final version.
The numeric keypad is about as awkward to use as it looks. There are no major issues of certain keys being hard to reach, and they certainly protrude enough to be easy to feel, but it just feels awkward. Another annoyance is the non-key in the middle of the music-control keys. You'd think the space in the center would be some kind center-select key, but in fact it is just fixed plastic, which makes the placement of the strange little angled music key next to it all the more puzzling.
Also on the subject of keys, the N91 does have up/down side keys for adjusting volume. This is very welcome, since that is one glaring omission from most Series 60 phones.
I was disappointed by the display quality. It seemed unusually dim for a modern Nokia. I thought it was a prototype issue, but was told that was in fact the final display.
Most of the N91's outer body is steel. This is partly for looks, but also for protection, as one of several measures to protect the hard drive. Other measures include locating the hard drive in the center of the device, and securing it inside on shock-absorbing mounts. Finally, an accelerometer in the N91 can detect if the device starts to freefall, and will instantly "park" the hard drive to protect it from being damaged.
When I first heard the specs of the N91, the one that surprised me the most was wi-fi. At first, I just couldn't picture the real-world scenario where that would be useful - or more precisely - worth the extra cost and size, not to mention the hassle of configuring it for the local coffee-shop network just to download a single song.
Surprisingly, not a single Nokia exec I spoke with was able to provide a specific, compelling example of how wi-fi might be useful in the N91.
But I think I may have figured it out: college students. This is the only major group of people that has free, unrestricted access to a single wi-fi network throughout most of their day. And they also just happen to be huge consumers of music. When you think about it, wi-fi really does make the N91 a dramatically more compelling product for a college student.
One last comment on the N91: I was pleased to discover full playlist-editing capability. Unlike an iPod, you can actually create, edit, and even re-order playlists right in the phone.