With the N95 Nokia proves once again that they know how to make beautiful and elegant phones. And when the beauty comes together with power and functionality - do we need anything else?
Announced on September 26 2006, the N95 has just stated shipping. This review is based on a unit with final hardware and pre-sales firmware so some things may still change.
1. The look
As mentioned above, it's a true beaty. It weighs 120 g and measures 99x53x21 mm (90 cc). Matt silver front and plum back really match each other. The back side is made of a plastic so soft that it feels as if it was a rubber. And it's a VERY PLEASANT feel. The front side of the device is dominated by a huge 2.6" QVGA (320x240) screen, only a tad smaller than E61 and E61i displays - 55x41 mm. It's the same size as in the Sony Ericsson M600 and W950 phones. The screen provides exceptional quality, vivid colors and high brightness controlled by ambient light detector. Below the screen you can find shiny silver buttons (two softkeys, Send and End button, Menu and Multimedia button, Edit and C keys) and slightly above the display there is a small, secondary camera used for video calls.
The bottom part of the phone contains charger connector and the USB Mini-B port. On the upper part there is a Power On/Off button which is also used to change profiles. On both sides of the phone there are stereo speakers covered with shiny silver grid. The left side also contains the infrared port, hot-swappable microSD card slot with protective cover and the standard 3.5mm audio/video connector providing audio and composite TV output (A/V cable is bundled with the phone). On the right side of the device there are three silver buttons: volume control, camera button and a button providing quick access to the Gallery.
The N95's unique feature is that its front part not only slides up to reveal the traditional numeric phone keypad but it also slides down providing access to a row of multimedia playback control buttons and automatically switching the screen to landscape mode and launching Multimedia menu with Music player selected. So depending on if you want to make a phone call or listen to the music, just slide the front part of your phone in the right direction. Unfortunately, the music keys only work with Music Player and Real Player and currently cannot be assigned to any other program like e.g. Ogg Player.
Sliding the cover back to its standard position automatically locks the keypad (it also locks after configured time out). The movement is very smooth and additionally supported by a spring, which means: push it slightly and it'll go further by itself. So far so good. What's missing, however, is any kind of lock keeping the cover in its central position. Unfortunately, it happens that it slides up or down in pocket, which also automatically unlocks the keypad... It's also just a bit too loose and tends to rattle a little (although it may be just my unit). The keypad has nice looking, convex keys providing decent tactile feedback. Blue backlight is controlled by light sensor.
Let's now take a look at the back side of the phone. It's where you can find the 5 Megapixel Carl Zeiss Tessar autofocus camera with LED flash. It's protected with a manually controlled lens cover: opening the cover automatically launches the camera application. Under the battery cover you can find Nokia's new BL-5F 950 mAh accu providing 160-240 min of talk time and up to 215 hours of standby. Considering the pre-sales firmware version it's too early to comment on the power efficiency of the retail units, but the tested device worked full day with quite extensive use and about two days with light use. The N95 doesn't support USB charging.
2. What's inside
Nokia N95 is powered by the fastest processor currently used in Symbian OS devices: ARM11-based Texas Instruments OMAP2420 running at 330 MHz. It's the same processor (and the same clock speed) as used in the Nokia N93/N93i, Linux-based Nokia N800 Internet Tablet and the recently announced (and already reviewed by us) Nokia E90 Communicator. What does it mean? Great performance, additionally boosted by hardware 2D/3D graphics and imaging/video acceleration.
Unlike the Nokia E90 Communicator and the N800 Tablet, both equipped with 128 MB RAM, the N95 still stays in the smartphones camp with its traditional 64 MB total RAM and about ~22 MB RAM free (E90 offers almost 80 MB of free operating memory). I haven't, however, experienced any memory related problems or 'No memory' errors. The N95 has about 160 MB internal storage memory (disk C:) and can be expanded with microSD cards up to 2 GB.
The N95 features a built-in GPS receiver. It's the same chip you can find in the Nokia E90. It's quite sensitive and after obtaining fix it keeps working indoors and under heavy foliage, but it's slightly less sensitive and also slightly less accurate than SiRF Star III based receivers. Besides the usual Landmarks and Position applications, the N95 also comes with Smart2Go software. Mapping functionality is free; navigation and city guides services can be purchased as extra options. Unfortunately, no other existing S60 3rd Edition GPS software is able to take advantage of the built-in receiver because all of them are 'hardcoded' to communicate with Bluetooth GPS devices via the Serial Port Profile. But of course N95 and E90 optimized versions supporting their internal receivers will soon be released by developers (the location API is available to developers), so it's only a matter of time.
The Nokia N95 is a quadband GSM (850/900/1800/1900 MHz), WCDMA 2100 MHz phone. Sorry guys, again no support for North American exotic 3G frequencies but other than that almost everything's included... Connectivity and data transfer options include HSDPA (up to 3.6 Mbps) with simultaneous voice and data, wireless LAN (802.11 b/g, up to 54 Mbit/s) and UPnP (Universal Plug and Play), Bluetooth 2.0 EDR (up to 3 Mbit/s) and USB 2.0 Full Speed (12 Mbit/s) via Mini USB with mass storage class support.
3. Multimedia beast
The N95 should be code named "Multimedia Beast". Its 5 Megapixel (2592x1944) autofocus camera with Carl Zeiss Tessar optics (f/2.8, 5.6 mm, 10 cm ~ infinity focusing range) and 1/1000th ~ 1/3rd s mechanical shutter provide the best quality you can get from a camera phone. The 5 Mpix resolution is sufficient for even 28x36 cm (11x14") sized prints. The mechanical shutter and Zeiss optics put the N95's camera on par with simpler standalone digicams and the only thing that's missing is optical zoom a la N93 / N93i. The flash is a white LED diode working within a range of about 3-4 meters.
While we're on the subject of the N93, in my Nokia N93 review I was complaining about excessive noise visible on pictures and videos taken by the N93, even in good lighting conditions. It seems that Nokia has seriously improved their noise reduction algorithms or some imaging sensor hardware components (e.g. amplifiers or A/D converters) as pictures taken with the N95, even at night and in dim light, are almost noise-free, even though the CMOS sensor has much higher resolution, i.e. smaller photo-sites. One of the pictures I took at night with automatic ISO setting turned out to be ISO 800 but I still couldn't find much noise on it! The only problem, present in recent S60 camera phones, and also strongly affecting the N95 is incorrect automatic white balance resulting in excessive magenta saturation giving pictures unnatural, purple hue. Hopefully this will be fixed via a firmware update. Please check the sample photos below and judge it yourself.
Nokia N95 is not only a great still camera but also a fantastic video recorder. Like other high-end models, it records MPEG-4 video with VGA (640x480) resolution at 30 frames per second. "DVD quality" is certainly an exaggeration but it definitely offers quality of amateur single-sensor Mini-DV camcorders. The tested unit, however, was still running an early, unoptimized firmware, and the recorded video wasn't smooth, with some occasional jerks and delays. But this will undoubtedly be removed in retail firmware. Video stabilisation helps avoiding shakes and vibrations. As in case of still pictures, the only missing thing you could think of is optical zoom. Incorrect purplish white balance problem also affects video clips so let's hope it'll be fixed before the device starts shipping.
As mentioned earlier, the N95 has the standard 3.5 mm mini-jack audio-visual connector. It can be used to connect stereo headphones and other audio equipment, as well as PAL/NTSC TV set with composite input. Both audio and video are of very good quality. The TV out feature lets you play games on large screen of your TV set, but I still don't understand why the AV connector is located on the left and not on the right side of the phone. Considering that the TV out signal is generated in landscape mode when you hold the phone with the right side out, having the connector (and the cable connected to it) on the right side would be much more convenient.
The N95 has stereo speakers and generates high quality stereo sound. It supports A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) letting you stream stereo music to stereo Bluetooth headphones. The headset bundled with the phone consists of two separate parts. The remote controller part has a standard headphone connector and a built-in microphone, which lets you use other, higher quality headphones while preserving the ability to make and receive calls.
The Visual FM radio (87.5-108 MHz) is the same as on any other S60 3rd Edition phone. It requires plugging in a 'wired' headset which acts as an FM antenna, but you can redirect the audio to play via phone's stereo speakers. Unfortunately, it is not possible to record from the radio.
The N95 is fast. It uses the same hardware platform as the Nokia N93. However, GLBenchmark results are currently about 10-20% worse than N93's, most probably due to early unoptimized firmware as there are no reasons for the retail N95 to be slower than N93. Let's wait for final firmware and then compare the two. Current GLBenchmark N95 results are available here.
Menu operations, image processing, video recording and playback, 3D graphics in games (e.g. System Rush), web browsing - everything works very fast. Memory limitations are the same as of all the remaining S60 3rd Edition smartphones (except for the Nokia E90 Communicator), so if you have previously owned any other S60 3rd Edition phone then you can expect the N95 to offer you the same capabilities when it comes to number of programs you can run simultaneously or size of documents you can open.
The N95 is a Symbian OS 9.2 S60 3.1 (3rd Edition Feature Pack 1) phone. As with other S60 phones, firmware can be updated at home using the Phone Software Update service. N95 is fully compatible with all existing S60 3rd Edition software.
The N95 supports landscape mode for the full UI, which means that every menu and application can work in both the portrait and landscape mode. UI customization has been extended with possibility to select one of three font sizes, although I'd still warmly welcome yet another size, an even smaller one. As already mentioned, the N95 supports automatic keylock, which kicks in after configured time out or when you close the keypad.
The tested unit with beta firmware only had QuickOffice 3 viewers. It is unclear whether the retail version will have the newest QuickOffice 4 and if it'll also include document editors.
Being based on the S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 1, the N95 contains the new 2.0 version of the Nokia OSS web browser. It's now faster and less memory hungry. Even the first version was very good at rendering web pages the same way as you can see them on your desktop PC, but v2 goes even further and provides almost perfect accuracy. Moreover, it now supports both WWW and WAP, so it is now the only browser preinstalled in the phone. New features in the 2.0 version also include auto-completion for form data fields, video plug-in, support for favicons, Flash Lite 2.0, RSS and Atom feeds with automatic update, password manager, support for landscape orientation, toolbar, background sounds, saving images and whole pages for offline browsing, operator cache, visual windows manager and user agent profile. Wow, it's now a fully mature browser. The only thing I miss is Opera-like small screen rendering mode.
The N95 has the same Music Player with equalizer (supporting MP3/AAC/AAC+/eAAC+/WMA/M4A) and Real Player as all S60 phones. Full screen video playback is 100% smooth and movies look great on N95's huge screen. Supported video formats include: MPEG-4, H.264/AVC, H.263/3GPP and RealVideo 8/9/10. Video editor and Movie director let you edit and enhance recorded videos.
All the remaining applications and features are the same as in all S60 3rd Edition phones and have already been described in detail in our earlier reviews.
Great looking phone and a great performer. Like Nokia says, it's truly amazing "what computers have become". Great screen, powerful processor with 2D/3D graphics and video acceleration, all connectivity and data transmission options including HSDPA, WLAN b/g, UPnP, USB 2.0 and Bluetooth 2.0 EDR, fantastic camera letting you take still pictures with quality comparable to amateur digicams and record video clips of mini-DV quality, great audio and video playback capabilities, TV out connector, built-in GPS receiver and good mapping software - everything inside small, light and extremely good looking housing. What's left to say... GO, GET IT!
What I liked:
- powerful ARM11-based TI OMAP2420 processor running at 330 MHz
- superb 5 MPix Carl Zeiss Tessar camera with autofocus
- HSDPA 3.6 Mbps, UMTS, EDGE
- built-in GPS receiver
- high quality, huge 2.6" TFT screen
- quadband 850/900/1800/1900 GSM, 2100 WCDMA
- Wireless LAN 802.11 b/g 54 Mbps
- Bluetooth 2.0 EDR (3 Mbps)
- A2DP profile for stereo audio over Bluetooth
- TV-quality video recording @ VGA resolution and 30 frames per second
- good build quality, elegant design, good size and weight
- standard 3.5 mm mini-jack A/V out connector
- USB 2.0 Full speed via USB Mini-B connector
What I didn't like:
- the sliding part should have a lock to prevent it from sliding out (and unlocking the keypad) in your pocket
- the sliding part is a tad too loose - moves and rattles
- 22 MB free RAM is certainly too little for such a powerful device
- incorrect white balance in certain lighting conditions (purplish hue).
Discuss about Nokia N95 with other users on our S60 3.0 Discussion Forum.
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