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Nokia Nseries 2006

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Apr 25, 2006, 12:42 PM   by Rich Brome

On-the-scene report from the Nokia Open Studio event in Berlin. Hands-on with the new Nokia Nseries N73 and N93.

Intro 

It was almost exactly one year ago that Nokia first unveiled its Nseries line of flagship phones. Since then, the lineup has received one refresh, and seen the launch of the spin-off Eseries business devices. Now, on its one-year anniversary, the Nseries family is growing once again.

One of the most common complaints about the first Nseries phones was size. The N90 and N91 were simply huge phones by any standard, and the N71 and N92 continued that trend. The N70 and N80 aren't quite as huge, although no one would really call them small, either.

Nokia has started to listen to those complaints - sort of. The new N73 - announced today - finally brings the Nseries down to an actual pocketable size. It even does so while adding quite a bit to the features of the N70 it replaces. The N93, however, goes in the opposite direction with regard to size. The N93 is the largest Nseries phone to date; it's larger than both the N90 and N92. It's hard to imagine the N93 fitting comfortably into any but the very largest pockets.

I'm not going to talk much about the N72. It's only intended for Asia, and it's really just a re-styled N70 anyway. The display is low-resolution, the memory card is the old RS-MMC type, and even the OS is the older Series 60 2.8, not the new S60 3rd Edition.

N73 

While the N93 is by far the more feature-laden of the two major new phones announced today, the N73 is more interesting to us for a number of reasons. First of course is the smaller size. Second, it has better support for US networks. While the N93 only supports GSM 1900 in the U.S., the N73 is quad-band, supporting GSM 850 and EDGE. It will also be available in a non-3G version that will presumably be more affordable and a better match for U.S. networks.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The features of the N73 seem to hit a nice sweet spot that I expect will please most people. It sports a 3.2 megapixel camera with an auto-focus Carl Zeiss Tessar lens and sliding lens cover. The QVGA display is huge and bright. It's really huge, actually: 2.4 inches, which is quite impressive for a phone as small as the N73.

It also does the whole music thing (of course). Unfortunately, it lacks stereo Bluetooth, but at least it has a miniSD memory card slot enabling up to 2 GB of memory - plenty for a decent music collection. The phone has stereo speakers, which are interestingly located at the top and bottom of the phone. That means they are only "left" and "right" if the phone is held sideways in landscape orientation. That's useful for watching full-screen video with stereo audio, although I don't know how much content like that is actually available (or at least that someone might want to watch without headphones).

There are a few compromises that make this not quite the "ultimate" Nseries phone. It doesn't have Wi-Fi, for example, and the display isn't the ultra-high-resolution type like on the N90 and N80. But of course this is an N7x phone, which is supposed to be slightly lower-end than the N8x and N9x models. For being at the low end of the Nseries, it still has an amazing feature set that is competitive with the very best phones from nearly all other manufacturers.

In my time using the N73, I found a lot about the physical design I liked, and a few things I didn't.

First, the good: The sliding lens cover has a spring-loaded action similar to a good slider-phone mechanism. It looks and feels great, and the way it fits flush with the top when closed should help minimize accidental photos of your pocket. Naturally, sliding it open starts the camera application.

The general phone design felt great and was a joy to use. The size is one of the main factors that contributes to the feeling that this phone hits a "sweet spot".

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The joystick on the N73 is not the best joystick I've used, but it's usable. The only trouble I found was that its chrome finish is a bit slick, making it difficult to use when your fingers are greasy or sweaty.

Like Sony Ericsson's high-end camera phones as of late, Nokia's camera interface and controls are similar to that of a standalone digital camera. There's an on-screen, icon-based menu for quickly accessing common options, and the zoom and shutter-release keys are arranged along the top when the phone is held sideways for camera mode. The shutter release key is pressed half-way to focus a shot, and all the way to capture.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Like most auto-focus cameras, it takes a moment to focus. However, there was something really odd about how it focuses. If you simply press the shutter button all the way down to take a picture quickly, it does indeed focus and take the picture very quickly (1, or 2 seconds at the most). However if you start by pressing the button down half-way to focus first, it takes well over two seconds to fully lock focus, and once you do, it doesn't take the picture any faster when you do press the button all the way. It's very odd; it's possible it was a bug in the software that will be fixed later on.

The slick, animated gallery application is an updated version of the one on previous Nseries models.

The number keys aren't as nice, though. For some strange reason, the keys are all concave, with the top and bottom of each key having a raised strip. It is usable, but it feels awkward, and heavy text users might find it quite cumbersome. I found myself using my fingernails to press the keys, (which I don't normally do.) Once I got used to that, it was fine.

The N73 of course has the latest and greatest version of Nokia's smartphone OS: S60 3rd Edition. This means it has Nokia's nifty new web browser for viewing full web sites exactly as you see them on a PC.

All of the UI and software functions are very fast. I don't know if this is because of the new Symbian 9 underlying OS, or a faster processor, but both the N73 and N93 are impressively speedy at almost everything.

Some sample photos: (keep in mind these are prototypes!)

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

N93 

As I mentioned before, the N93 is the largest Nseries phone to date. This monster of a phone is not only large on a spec sheet, but feels large in hand, and quite heavy, weighing in at over 6 ounces.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The ample frame of the N93 does hold an impressive feature list, however. The focus is definitely on the 3.2 megapixel camera. Compared to the N73, the N93 upgrades to a 3x true optical zoom, an upgraded Vario-Tessar lens, and a vastly superior video recording mode. The N93 also inherits the impressive full set of controls in camera orientation of the N90, including a tiny d-pad, zoom switch, shutter release, and two soft-keys next to the display.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The tiny d-pad on the side is surprisingly usable. It's not great, but it's easier to use than it might appear. It also doubles as a set of music controls when playing music and the display is closed.

The camera works pretty much the same way you might expect, and a lot like a standalone digital camera (which is the idea). Taking a spur-of-the-moment shot isn't as quick as the N73, but the focusing works in a more logical way. If you pre-focus the shot by pressing the shutter button half-way, it takes a second or two, but then actually taking the shot is very fast (well under one second).

The different ways the display twists are quite handy for taking photos. You can tilt the display up or down to easily frame a shot from hip-height, or from up in the air (like over a crowd). The display also rotates to face you for a self-portrait mode.

Nokia calls the video capture mode "DVD-quality". At VGA resolution and 30 fps (frames per second), that's not 100% accurate, but it's darn close. This is definitely among the first phones I've tried that could be considered a true convergence device between a camcorder and a phone. The video capability is emphasized by the display's ability to twist into a special video-viewing configuration, just like the N92.

Nokia certainly doesn't expect to you keep such high-quality video on you phone and only view it there. To that end, they thoughtfully include a special version of Adobe Premiere so you can edit your videos.

The N93 also has Wi-Fi with the new UPnP feature just like the N80, so it can stream your photos and videos directly to a Wi-Fi-enabled TV supporting the new DLNA standard. Since there aren't many DLNA-compliant TVs available yet, you can also connect the N93 directly to a TV with a cable via the built-in TV-out connector.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The TV-out feature does more than just stream photos and videos; it can also display the phone's whole interface on your TV, which could be interesting for web browsing and gaming.

As for build quality, the N93 feels very solid, and actually more ergonomic than the N73 - especially when it comes to the numeric keys. The crazy twisting hinge might look delicate, but doesn't feel that way at all. (Perhaps extra reinforcing for the hinge contributes to the phone's bulk and weight.) The two annoyances I found were the lens cover and memory card door, both of which were exceedingly frustrating to manipulate.

The N93 also has almost everything else you'd expect from an Nseries phone, like a great QVGA display, miniSD card slot, Bluetooth 2.0, music player, 3G, etc. Unfortunately - like the N73 - the Bluetooth is not stereo.

Some sample photos: (keep in mind these are prototypes!)

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Flickr 

While the phones announced today had been rumored for a while, Nokia's partnership with Flickr was the one surprise announcement. What's new with this is a special upload client fully integrated right into the camera and gallery applications.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

While you've been able to send photos from your phone to Flickr before using email or third-party software like ShoZu, it's never been quite this handy. Now right after you take a photo, the "Send" menu includes an option to send the photo directly to Flickr.

You can add a title and description before you send the photo. Unfortunately it doesn't really support tags directly. However, if you add your photos to "albums" in the Gallery application, the album names will automatically be added as tags if you later upload those photos to Flickr from the Gallery.

The Flickr tool is pretty basic for now, but it does seem well-integrated into the OS, to make the experience every bit as seamless as it should be.

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Subject Author Date
MI:3 has the N92! wacko_javo May 7, 2006, 9:17 AM
N93--A bargain!!!` kingstu Apr 28, 2006, 2:18 PM
question rich? Bronx1977 Apr 26, 2006, 10:29 AM
n93 CrazyCraig01 Apr 25, 2006, 12:52 PM
  • Re: n93 by T-mobile_Gurl   Apr 25, 2006, 2:10 PM
  • Re: n93 by casualsuede   Apr 26, 2006, 10:57 AM
    • Re: n93 by raulg_usa   Apr 27, 2006, 5:37 PM
N73 agains K800 raulg_usa Apr 27, 2006, 5:36 PM
Dear god... Invader J Apr 25, 2006, 11:41 PM
Flickr Tool Downloadable? japhy Apr 25, 2006, 3:16 PM
n80, when? JaxPhone Apr 25, 2006, 11:27 PM
Thanks a lot talkitron Apr 25, 2006, 10:29 PM
 
 
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