Announced on April 25, Nokia's new multimedia beast in S60 skin, the N93, has just started shipping worldwide. There's too many new things in this smartphone to waste space on descibing well known features each S60 phone has, so in this review you'll only find what distinguishes the N93 from the rest. This will make the article more clear and informative.
N93 is certainly NOT a phone for girls simply because it's LARGE and THICK (118.2 x 55.5 x 28.2 mm, 180 g), with the camera barrel adding even more bulk. But while the size may make it less attractive for women, it'll most probably make it even more exciting for men because the phone looks and feels very robust and sturdy. With the N93 you don't have that feeling that you can kill the device just by squeezing it a little bit too hard.
The flip not only opens but also rotates more than 90 degrees left and right. This lets you hold the N93 like a camcorder/camera with twistable screen and also enables the landscape mode (called "View mode"), which is best for watching movies and makes the phone look like a portable DVD player. In contrast to the N90 (which only supports landscape mode in selected applications) in N93 the whole system and all programs can work in the landscape mode and automatically switch to it after you rotate the display to the right. The screen is covered with an antireflective coating which ensures very good contrast and readability even in direct sunlight. The overall display quality is exceptional, with great contrast and vivid colors. Depending on the position of the screen (2.4" active matrix), the UI works in 240x320 or 320x240 pixels resolution, with 262 thousand colors (18-bit). The phone also has a secondary 128 x 36 pixels display on the cover, which shows status info and caller ID.
Nokia N93 is the first Symbian OS smartphone equipped with new, powerful ARM11 processor (TI OMAP2420). The OMAP2420 includes an integrated ARM1136 processor (running at 330 MHz), a TI TMS320C55x DSP core (220 MHz), 2D/3D graphics accelerator, imaging and video accelerator, high-performance system interconnects and industry-standard peripherals. Finally truly powerful hardware in a Symbian phone, let's just hope it'll become standard soon. You can feel the speed boost right from the start: the system boots in about 20 seconds (compared to over 40 seconds on the E61) and the user interface works noticeably faster and smoother. Benchmark results obtained using JBenchmark HD and 3D compared to Nokia E61 show 2D/3D graphics performance increase by 5-10 times!
|N93 JBenchmark HD Performance results:
* Smooth triangles: 347704
* Textured triangles: 329043
* Fill rate: 14225 kTexels
* Gaming: 514 (17.1 fps)
|E61 JBenchmark HD Performance results:|
* Smooth triangles: 64850 (5.4 times less)
* Textured triangles: 55444 (5.9 times less)
* Fill rate: 1251 kTexels (11.4 times less!!)
* Gaming: 92 (3.1 fps) (5.6 times less)
|N93 JBenchmark 3D Performance results:
* HQ: 972
* LQ: 1008
* Triangles ps: 55213
* kTexels: 7377
|E61 JBenchmark 3D Performance results:|
* HQ: 114 (8.5 times less)
* LQ: 210 (4.8 times less)
* Triangles ps: 40039 (1.4 times less)
* kTexels: 1241 (5.9 times less)
No comments, the above figures simply speak for themselves. If you're looking for a truly powerful device then the N93 is definitely a good choice for you. On a slighly less optimistic note, the device still comes with only ~18 MB free operating memory (RAM) which is a little bit disappointing compared to the new, powerful processor and may slightly restrict potential new uses.
Only good words can be said about the keypad. The keys are large, convex and provide very good tactile feedback. However, there is a small problem with the landscape mode: the lower edge of the display covers part of the last row of keys and makes it difficult to press some of them, especially the "C" key and the red "End" key.
N93 comes with about 50 MB of free internal storage memory and a 128 MB miniSD card. Considering the exceptional video capabilities of the N93 (described later) you will quickly want to exchange the memory card with a much bigger one (1 minute of high resolution video takes 28 megabytes) so prepare for additional expenses!
N93 is a triband GSM (900/1800/1900 MHz) and WCDMA 2100 MHz phone. 1100 mAh Lithium-Polymer battery provides quite decent standby time and recording video clips at full resolution and frame rate doesn't seem to be affecting it too much. With average use, you can expect at least two days of work on one charge. Like all recent high-end S60 3rd Edition smartphones, N93 supports 3G, WLAN (802.11b/g), UPnP (Universal Plug and Play), Bluetooth 2.0 and USB 2.0.
N93 is the first Symbian OS phone equipped with a TV out connector, letting you to connect the phone to any PAL/NTSC television set and watch movies or play games on a large screen. Now with TV connectivity you can throw your game console away as N93 with its PowerVR MBX comes quite close in terms of 3D graphics quality and performance. You can also quickly show your recorded movies and you can expect very decent playback quality (video output can be set to PAL/NTSC and 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio). Actually, the video out connector can be active all the time and you can display all system screens and applications, which may be useful if you want to demonstrate your phone or simply do something on a large screen.
What I don't like is the location of the PopPort which also serves as audio/video out connector. It should be on the right (and not left) or bottom side of the phone. Its current location makes playing games with video (composite) cable connected quite inconvenient, especially that the original cable is quite short. Fortunately, the phone can also be connected to a compatible TV set via a wireless LAN/UPnP connection but the question is how many people have such equipment, probably not too many at the moment. And, what's even worse, there are still serious compatibility problems between UPnP devices from different manufacturers. WLAN/Universal Plug and Play can also be used to access the Internet and share files and to remotely control other UPnP devices. To share your files via WLAN/UPnP you can use the "Share content" application located in the "Connect." folder. It allows turning the content sharing on or off. Unfortunately, I couldn't test this in practice as I failed to make the N93 work with any of the UPnP devices I have (e.g. the wireless router / ADSL gateway).
The TV out connector (and the attached RCA cable) includes stereo audio output so it can be also used to connect your N93 to an amplifier or any other music system with a "chinch" connector and play your music files or even FM radio with very high quality. If your car radio has an aux connector, you can even turn the N93 into an MP3 player for your car audio system...
OK, let's take a look at the most interesting part of the device: the camera. 3.2 Megapixel CMOS imaging chip, 640x480 pixels video recording in MPEG-4 format at 30 frames per second, Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens with autofocus and 3x optical zoom, true mechanical shutter (1/2400 - 1/3 s).... is this still a smartphone? The camera is controlled with several buttons located on the right side of the device. On the camera barrel's back one can find the zoom lever/ring and shutter release button which is also used to start and stop video recording. Below there's a five-way key for controlling menus in the camera mode, when the screen is rotated and working as a viewfinder. It is followed by two hardware buttons: still camera / video camera switch and Flash light on/off switch. This LED Flash button can also serve as a "Torch button" as it can enable/disable the LED even when the phone is closed. Good idea! The lens is covered with glass and protected with removable plastic lens cap on a black string which protects it from getting lost.
Let's start from video. The quality is simply amazing. Forget about everything recorded with a camera phone you've seen so far. VGA resolution and 30 frames per second really make a difference and provide nearly camcorder quality. Well, it's still not full PAL or NTSC picture size (PAL is 720x576, NTSC is 720x480 pixels) but the difference is really unsignificant and the VGA resolution still provides high quality full screen playback on PAL and NTSC TV sets. Movies are very smooth and the level of detail is exceptional. 3x optical zoom gives you the flexibility and convenience known from "normal" camcorders but in the tested unit the zoom motor was too loud and zooming wasn't smooth - you could clearly see and hear zoom motor's activity in the recorded movies and, to be honest, that sound was very annoying. There's certainly a space for improvement here. To reduce shakes, especially when recording with optical magnification, the camera is equipped with video stabilizer, which can be enabled or disabled in settings. Movies recorded in the highest quality (TV / High, MPEG-4 format) take about 28 MB/minute, so, as already mentioned, a large memory card quickly becomes indispensable. It's also worth mentioning that high quality video is accompanied by AAC stereo 48 kHz audio (there are two microphones located on both sides of the device). In camera mode, the autofocus is disabled (focus is set to infinity). N93 records noise-free and compression-artefacts-free videos in bright sunlight but in dim light you will notice more noise which, in turn, "generates" some MPEG-4 compression artefacts. Shortly speaking, take care about good lighting whenever you can as this will have direct influence on the quality of your recordings.
The phone will be bundled with Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0, a $100 worth advanced video editing software which makes it easy to create home videos with special effects, transitions, DVD templates, etc. Using it, you will be able to quickly import a movie from the phone, add all required effects and transitions to it and burn it on a DVD disc with a nice menu and scene selection template.
OK, let's move to still pictures. As mentioned, the camera is based on a 3.2 megapixel CMOS chip and it takes images with 2048x1536 pixels resolution. Like in case of video recording, you can take advantage of 3x optical zoom. Using the menu, you can change white balance, exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV with 1EV steps), color tone and picture quality; you can also enable or disable Sequence mode, Self timer mode and Night mode or turn the Flash light on or off. The quality of still pictures is OK in good lighting conditions but quickly deteriorates if there is insufficient light. In dim lighting you can expect A LOT of noise, especially in dark areas of the scene. The 3.2 megapixel resolution is apparently too high for such a small imaging sensor (or vice versa: the imaging sensor is too small for such a resolution) and it causes that photosites (pixels) are too small to capture enough light (photons). The signal read from the imaging sensor has to be amplified which also amplifies noise and results in drastically worse signal-to-noise ratio. Shortly speaking, pictures taken in poor light are VERY NOISY (both chrominance and luminance, i.e. both "grain" and color spots), much beyond what you could repair with a noise removal software like Noise Ninja or Noiseware. It's a serious problem and it should be taken care of one way or another. More efficient noise-removal algorithms in future firmware releases would be more than welcome. Another aspect in which N93 has still a long way to go to reach the quality offered by digicams is the dynamic range. If you take a picture of a dark object surrounded by very bright area and measure the light on that dark object, the bright area will be COMPLETELY burned-out, and vice versa, if you measure the light on the bright area, the dark object will be a totally black zone, with no visible details on it. Sony Ericsson P990i (2 Megapixel fixed focal length camera with autofocus) tested at the same time and in the same lighting conditions appears to be almost noiseless and offers much better tonal range and more natural colors.
Other than that, still pictures are detailed, well saturated and sharp and the autofocus works very accurately and acceptably fast for a 3x zoom lens. The focal length of the camera is 4.5-12.4 mm, which is 34-94 in 35 mm equiv. Focusing range is 10 cm to infinity.
As a summary, I can say that the N93 is certainly THE BEST video-recorder-in-a-smartphone and video clips recorded using it can compete with low end camcorders and are good enough for all amateur/home purposes. With the Premiere Elements software, your recordings may be enriched with great transitions and effects and burned on a DVD. At the same time, due to high noise level and insufficient tonal range, as a still picture camera the N93 is not as good as some rival camera phones, including the UIQ 3 based Sony Ericsson P990i which takes pictures with lower resolution (2 MPix) but noticeably better quality. And also the Nokia N73 (which seems to be using the very same imaging chip as N93) apparently takes better pictures than the N93 when it comes to noise and color. Maybe it's just a matter of better image processing algorithms in N73's firmware and a fix will be released for the N93 as well.
Nokia N93 is a Symbian OS 9.1 S60 3rd Edition smartphone. As mentioned earlier, all system menus and applications work in both portrait and landscape mode. The phone has all the usual applications known from S60 phones, including QuickOffice, Adobe PDF viewer, Barcode reader, Rotating Gallery, Music Player, Calendar, Messaging and more. They're essentially the same as in all other S60 devices, so there's no point in describing them again. N93 also has Movie Director preinstalled which lets you create "Muvees". All still picture and video editing functions are available in the Gallery application. In case of pictures, you can apply different effects like Sepia or Negative, change the contrast and brightness, resize and crop your pictures and remove red eyes.
Video clips can be merged or cut and you can apply several effects including slow motion and some text effects. It takes a lot of time, though, so it's better to send your movies to PC and process them using Premiere or other desktop software.
The tested unit also came with System Rush Evolution game with amazing and super-fast 3D graphics, demonstrating the fantastic capabilities and performance of Imagination Technologies' PowerVR MBX included in N93's OMAP2420 processor. RealOne Player has been slightly enhanced and it supports smooth full-screen VGA/30 fps video playback.
What I liked:
- finally a powerful ARM11 (OMAP2420) processor running at 330 MHz in a Symbian OS smartphone! Read: great performance, very short system startup time
- 2D/3D accellerator with PowerVR MBX technology means GREAT 3D graphics
- recording VGA resolution video @ 30 fps; quality comparable to low-end, amateur camcorders
- 3x optical zoom, high quality Zeiss lens
- high quality display with anti-reflective layer
- TV Out connector letting you connect the phone to a TV set and play games / watch movies / run presentations; the connector can also be used to connect N93 to a HiFi audio system
- UMTS, EDGE, WLAN, UPnP
- good build quality; feels very robust
- $100 worth Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0 bundled with the phone
- dedicated LED Flash button can be used to enable the LED even when the phone is closed; finally a one-touch torch
What I didn't like:
- too much noise when taking pictures / recording videos in dim light
- noisy and unsmooth optical zoom drive
- 18 MB free RAM is certainly too little for such a powerful device
- PopPort (as a TV out connector) located on wrong side of the phone; with the TV cable connected makes holding and operating the device quite inconvenient.
Discuss about Nokia N93 with other users on our S60 3.0 Discussion Forum.
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