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Nokia Mobility Conference 2005

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Intro N92 N80  

With a number in the 90 range, the new N92 falls squarely at the top end of Nokia's line of phones that are all flagship models. The N92 is not necessarily better than the N90 or N91, though. The N90 is definitely a better imaging phone with its auto-focus lens. Similarly, the N91 is a better music phone with its hard drive.

The main draw of the N92 is its ability to receive live TV broadcasts via DVB-H. Displaying that content is a gorgeous 16.7-million-color QVGA display. It also has a keypad design with dedicated media keys and built-in stereo speakers.

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DVB-H is slated to start rolling out in the US in 2006, on a new network being built by Crown Castle, a major independent owner of cellular towers.

The N92 comes with an electronic service guide to browse channels and upcoming programs, just like modern cable and satellite systems. Like all software made for S60 3rd Edition, it can handle portrait or landscape orientation automatically.

The N92 has some powerful features, including 3G, EDGE, Bluetooth, and FM radio. That's just the tip of the iceberg, though. The N92 also has a TiVo-like 30-second instant replay feature. Then things get really interesting when you start talking about the video recording feature, which can capture up to 30 minutes of full-quality TV and save it to the SD card.

Even better, it has 802.11g Wi-Fi with UPnP and streaming technology being standardized by the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), which will let you easily stream your stored video and music to your home TV and stereo system. Of course this will require compatible home entertainment gear, and there is little-to-none on the market yet, but Nokia execs assured me it is forthcoming from multiple vendors working with the DLNA (members include Sony, Pioneer, Kenwood, Sharp, and Samsung).

This kind of feature would be really great on a phone with a hard drive like Nokia N91, so you could keep all of your music and video in one place, and take it with you at all times. I asked about this (since the N91 does happen to have Wi-Fi and S60 Third Edition) and I was delighted to hear from a top Nokia executive that they are in fact working very hard to include this capability on the N91. It's not yet certain that it will make the final cut, but Nokia engineers are trying their best to make it happen. If they are successful, that will definitely increase the appeal of the N91.

As for other features, the N92 also has a 2-megapixel camera with video capture. Unfortunately, like all of the new Nseries phones announced by Nokia this week, the lens is fixed-focus, not auto-focus. That means the lens must be very small, which can limit quality significantly, especially in low light.

The N92 has other flaws, as well. In fact, it has enough odd quirks to give the impression of a concept product more than a final design.

The keypad is home to the most glaring flaws. Most obviously, it is made from a solid sheet of rubber, with many of the keys being completely flat and marked only by a printed label. This makes it difficult to feel out those keys without looking directly at them.

The other, more egregious design flaws are the soft-keys. In landscape (TV viewing) mode, the two soft-keys are located so far under the edge of the display that those with large thumbs might not even be able to press them. The right soft-key is wedged so far in the corner that you have to really cram your thumb in the crevice to press it, which is uncomfortable no matter how small your fingers are.

The other problem with the soft-keys is in camera mode, where the soft-keys are located nowhere near the display, making it rather unintuitive to associate the label on the display with the appropriate key. It's also quite unergonomic to have to turn the phone and use two hands to press the soft-keys.

Other oddities include stereo speakers that are located on the back of the display, an unusually small color external display, and an SD memory card slot that is limited to cards no larger than 2GB, even though larger cards are already available in that format. The text on the outer display is also upside-down compared to the Nokia logo, for no apparent reason.

Nokia did say they are tweaking the design to address some of these issues, but historically it's quite rare for them to adjust a design in any significant way after its first public appearance.

The N92 should hit shelves in Europe and Asia around mid-2006. With WCDMA 2100 and GSM 900/1800/1900, it's not intended for North America, although as usual you could always import it and use it with T-Mobile USA's GSM 1900 network.

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