My T-Mobile Dash and I hardly talk any more. Over the past month or so, I have been seeing other cellphones. There was the meaningless fling with the Upstage from Samsung which ended badly. And for the past three weeks (2 weeks each with one week overlap), I have been messing around with both the Nokia N95 and the Apple iPhone.
I decided to test the N95 and the iPhone at the same time because they are considered by many to be in competition with one another. After spending a couple of weeks with each, though, I’m not sure why (other than their hefty price tags). They both have very specific strengths that make them appealing to different segments of the market.
Apple’s iPhone ($599) and Nokia’s N95 ($795). Nothing like carrying $1,400 worth of phones in your pockets.
The N95 is the high-end Swiss Army knife of mobile devices. It does just about everything you could ask for: camera, video recorder, GPS, WiFi, music player, video player, FM tuner (yes, an FM tuner), external stereo speakers… oh, and it makes phone calls. Of course, all of these features will cost you. The N95 retails for $795.
The Nokia N95 is the most full-featured mobile device I have used. As I mentioned above, it has just about everything.
The 5 megapixel camera blows away every other built-in camera you will find on a mobile device. And because the phone is shaped like a camera, it is easy to hold while shooting. It features zoom, auto-focus and a powerful (sometimes too powerful) flash.
The back of the Nokia N95 looks like a regular digital camera.
The video quality is pretty impressive, too. The N95 even includes an AV cable to connect it to a TV. How many other phone manufacturers would want their phone’s video blown up onto a big screen. A 2GB MicroSD card gives you about 1 hour of video recording capacity.
The built-in stereo speakers on the N95 sound really good, too. I often used it without headphones to play music. The N95 also includes audio and EQ settings that let you tweak the sound that comes out of them.
The hardware and software interfaces are better than average as well. The N95 features a 2-way sliding design that shows your phone keypad in one configuration and media player controls in the other. I never really bothered with the media controls because all of those controls were available on-screen when in portrait mode.
Nokia N95 with keypad exposed.
Nokia N95 with music player controls exposed.
Menu items can be selected via 2 separate menus. One is an animated menu (seen in the photo) above. The other is a more conventional list of icons that you would see on a Windows Smartphone or the iPhone. Both do the job, although the animated menu is definitely cooler looking.
Web browsing on the N95 is also pretty good. N95 uses a custom open source browser that supports Flash Lite 2.0. It does a good job of rendering pages and the mouse, which is controlled with the 4-way directional pad, works really well. Of course, there is no QWERTY keyboard, but we’ll cover that later.
Twitter on the Nokia N95.
There are also a ton of apps available for the N95.
Battery life on the N95 is terrible. It would have been better if they had just added a hand crank. At least that way I could guarantee that I would have a usable phone at all times. I think the N95 died on me 5 or 6 times over the two weeks due to low battery. If you don’t charge the Nokia every 8 hours or so, you will have a very expensive paper weight in your pocket. In fact, as I type this post, the N95 ran out of juice. Nice!
The build quality of the N95 is a little lower than I expected. The case feels a bit light and the navigational buttons on the front feel kind of cheap. I expected a much sturdier product for $800. In fact, I let several people try out the N95 and all of them commented that it felt a little flimsy. It is also a little bulkier than other devices. Part of that is due to the fact that Nokia tried to shape it more like a camera.
iPhone on the left, N95 on the right.
There is no QWERTY keyboard on the N95, so texting or typing in URLs is pretty tedious.
The GPS requires you to be outside to get a decent signal.
There are also some minor usability issues with the N95. If you slide the N95 to open the media player controls, your screen will be in landscape mode until you slide it the other way to open the phone keypad. That got a bit annoying. Also, by default, the keypad would lock everytime I slid the screen closed. So if I just finished with the media player and then wanted to interact with the N95, I had to hit “Unlock” before I could do anything. Also, if you hit the camera button, but forget to slide open the lens cover, the N95 doesn’t let you know what the problem is. I also found that the sliding earpiece section of the phone never felt like it was close enough to my ear. Minor annoyances, but they added up the more I used it.
The bottom line
The Nokia N95 is a good mobile device. It has a lot of high-end features that you wouldn’t expect on a mobile phone, especially the 5 megapixel camera; however, the flimsy build quality and bulky case make me question whether I would pay $795 for it.
It is best suited for someone who wants to carry around a single device but still have high-quality audio, photo and video capabilities. Of course, the battery life could make it difficult to enjoy the N95 for long periods of time without stopping to recharge.
OK, there is no need for me to give an overview of the iPhone. You do everything with your finger and it costs $599.
Let me start off by saying that I was not a fan of Apple products in general, so I don’t want the rest of this post to seem like the ramblings of a fanboy. In fact, I built the iWipe parody just to show what I think of most Apple products. That’s why it pains me a bit to admit how much I like the iPhone.
The iPhone has the most intuitive and easy-to-use hardware and software interface of any mobile device out there.
On the hardware side, there is only one button on the face of the device. Press it and return to the main screen from any app. On the side there is a ringer on/off switch and a ringer volume control. On the top, there is a lock/reset button. That’s it. Everything else is controlled through the multi-touch display.
The Apple iPhone.
Of course, the software is where the iPhone really shines. Just about everything works the way you think it should. And I can’t overstate how much difference being able to manipulate objects with your hand makes. Whether it is scrolling through your inbox, moving through your music collection, flipping through your photos and browsing the web, the multi-touch interface beats every other mobile device hands down (Get it? Hands down…anyway).
The screen is amazing. Bright and, surprisingly, scratch-resistant. I kept it in my pocket without a case and had no scratches or scuffs. Much tougher than the 5G iPod I have.
Web browsing. Everything about it is great. The Safari browser renders any page you throw at it. And the ability to zoom in and out or move around the page with your hand feels very natural.
The on-screen keyboard is not nearly as bad as people have reported. I actually have grown to like it. Maybe it is just the size of my fingers, but I am able to type with very good accuracy and speed. Much faster than I can on my Dash’s QWERTY keyboard. Plus, the iPhone learns what you type, so it will suggest words for you after just a few uses.
The iPhone’s keyboard.
Oh yeah, and it has an iPod built it, too. I hear those are pretty good.
And, as with other Apple products, they sweat all of the details to make sure the experience of using the iPhone is better than other mobile devices. If you turn the iPhone to the side, the screen changes from portrait to landscape and vice versa. No buttons to mess with. The keyboard automatically capitalizes the first character after a period. It also removes the space bar when typing in a URL (since spaces aren’t valid characters in URLs). There are so many little things like this that seem trivial to mention; however, they all add up to better user experience.
There are plenty of areas where the iPhone falls short.
Phone call sound quality isn’t very good (Good thing they didn’t name this iPho-, oh wait they did?). Calls sound a bit muffled and muddy. I often found myself asking people to repeat themselves and that didn’t always help.
AT&T’s EDGE network is sloooooow, so browsing the web on anything but a WiFi network can be a test of your patience. The EDGE performance also makes the YouTube app almost unusable when you’re off of your WiFi network.
The iPhone’s 2 megapixel camera isn’t very good either. Sure, it will capture an image, but it really isn’t an image that you’d want to show off to anyone. If the lighting is perfect and you can hold the iPhone still, then you can get a decent image. Otherwise, skip it.
The bottom line
I can’t believe I am saying this, especially considering all of the negatives I just mentioned; however, the iPhone is the best mobile device I have ever used. It does everything I want a mobile device to do and it does it effortlessly (for the most part). It is perfect for anyone who is tired of the clumsy, unusable software available on the majority of mobile phones. It also provides the best mobile web browsing experience. And don’t forget about the iPod in there.
The most interesting thing to me about the iPhone is that everyone who I let use it knew how it worked immediately. This goes for my kids, for my mom and for my co-workers. And not only did they figure out how it worked in just a few seconds, but that was just about how long it took for them to say, “I want one of these!”
It also draws a crowd. If I was using the iPhone in public, people would stop me and ask to see it. A guy in line at Subway played with it the entire time we waited in line. That’s never happened with any other gadget I’ve owned.
So which one’s better?
Even though I just declared the iPhone the best mobile device I have ever used, I don’t want to suggest that it is the best device for everyone.
I think the Nokia N95 is a better choice for someone looking to cram as many high-end features into a single device as possible. If you take a lot of photos on the go, the Nokia’s camera crushes the iPhone’s. Same for shooting video, especially since the iPhone doesn’t support recording video.
However, if you’re like me and you want a device that looks great, is incredibly easy (and fun) to use and provides the best mobile web experience, then there is nothing close to the iPhone. Sure, the phone quality kind of stinks, but I hate to talk on the phone anyway 🙂
So what’s your favorite mobile device? And do you think you will ever spend $600-$800 one?