The Nokia N95-4 has been sold in mainstream retail stores for about a month. And, for a little longer than that, Nokia has given us a copy to review.
Is Nokia’s fourth go-around with the N95 one that can stand up to iPhone 3G? Read more to find out.
First, the iPhone comparison. There’s no real secret that Nokia retooled the old N95-3 to answer iPhone. About the only major differences between the two devices are an all-black color, and 8 GB of memory. The N95-4 also abandons its microSD card slot, similar to Apple’s iPhone. Nokia says that this was done to make room for (and to use the connectors) for the 8 GB memory.
As such, when it comes to folks that say that the N95-4 is not something Nokia aimed at iPhone… the changes were made specifically to answer Apple’s smartphone.
Out first impression, is that this change is more than well-implemented. Nokia has given the N95-3 the same software improvements that the N95-4 has in it. And, as such, buyers in North America (NAM) have a choice; they can get the N95-3 for less money (which has a microSD card slot), or pay a bit more and get the N95-4 with 8 GB preinstalled.
In terms of usage, the 8 GB memory is considered external storage, it functions just as if you had an 8 GB microSDHC card installed. We saw no real-world difference between it, and a high-quality microSDHC card in terms of speed.
The N95-4 prides itself in being a normal phone, with every feature you can think of surrounding it. And, as a “normal” phone, it’s an excellent device. Strong signal, excellent audio quality, and it plays well with both 2G and 3G networks.
About the only basic phone drawback we could find on the N95-4, was that you cannot recharge the device using its mini-USB port. After numerous complaints about this on the first three N95 revisions, one would hope that the fourt N95 would have addressed this. If Motorola and LG can charge over USB, why not Nokia?
One thing that did wow quite a bit was the camera. Hands-down, the N95-4 has the best camera we’ve ever used inside a phone. Even with a CMOS image sensor, it blows away the CCD camera phones (which gained niche popularity) in the first half of the decade.
AppStore vs Download! & N-Gage
Both iPhone and N95-4 are revved up with online stores for buying apps. Both launched without online application stores, but now are offering them. However, this is probably one of the largest areas where Nokia takes a step forward… and then a huge step back.
With the N95-4, you can download software from anywhere. If it’s S60 3rd Edition, it just works. But, the Download! application only lists about 1% of the available S60 software. Why? Because Download! only allows for commercial software to be listed.
That means all the awesome, amazing, well-polished S60 free applications and software… are nowhere to be found. Same applies to Nokia’s N-Gage service.
The AppStore on iPhone, on the other had, allows for unlimited free software (developers simply pay a one-time $99 fee). However, there’s a problem… iPhone doesn’t allow for unsigned code in most cases. Developers need to have the code signed by Apple before it executes.
Apple may have a workaround to allow for unsigned code. However, even if they don’t, the general user won’t care. The general user will find hundreds of times more applications (and we’re not overstating that) on iPhone’s AppStore, from day one.
In case we haven’t hammered it home yet, Nokia Download! doesn’t help with the one main problem with S60: Easy access to all the free software out there still doesn’t exist.
The N95-4 comes pre-loaded with Nokia Maps 2.0. We downloaded the latest update, and it worked without problem. Well, mostly…
The main issues we encountered were with North American limitations. While Nokia Maps touts live traffic support, such service is not available in the United States. The included 180-day license however, means you don’t have to pay to find out that limitation.
Documentation came up a bit short too. It was tedious to find out how to enable features like Night Mode. And, the default settings are off. For one, Nokia Maps dares to be different from other GPS software, and doesn’t leave the screen on by default. While driving, this is not a pleasant thing to find out.
Stereo Bluetooth (A2DP) also, unfortunately had issues with disconnecting and dropout. We tested the N95-4 with the Motorola S9, one of the most popular Stereo Bluetooth headsets. Even inside a pant pocket, we experienced disconnections between the device while playing music. The dropouts were multi-second silences in playback.
But, worst of all was in one area where Nokia touts its openness. The N95-4 simply did not want to work as a wireless modem. Our attempts with Bluetooth DUN modem connections… simply were not what was expected. We expected the N95-4 to champion tethering. What we got were a series of failed connections on both Mac and PC. When it worked… it was remarkably slow, giving us about half the speed we experienced on the device’s internal connection.
Adding JoikuSpot (a Wi-Fi base station app) didn’t help much either. Speeds were extremely sluggish, indicating a bug in the N95-4’s internal IP relaying system. We might have understood that on, say, a CDMA Series 40 phone. We don’t understand that on a flagship S60 phone with the latest firmware update installed.
Speaking of Wi-Fi, the N95-4 didn’t help with that. It simply has the worst Wi-Fi we’ve ever seen short of a Linux system. It works, but it would be faster to use 3G than to wait for the constant setups and nagging connection screens.
Not much was said here that was good about the N95-4. That’s because we’ve come to take a lot of it for granted from Nokia. And, who wouldn’t expect that after years of successful phones. S60 has become the most dominant smartphone platform in the world.
Perhaps we’re nit picking then to point out the flaws on the device. We almost agreed… but then we remembered the retail price of N95-4. Right now, Best Buy (the brick and mortar) wants $759.99 for the phone. That’s three times the contracted price of an iPhone 3G. Even without contract, the multi-touch screen iPhone 3G is $160 cheaper.
What do we get for that $160? We get a better camera, buggy Stereo Bluetooth, buggy modem, and the ability to run unsigned applications. Is that worth $160? Since most people are under contract, a better question would be to ask is that worth an extra $560? We can’t say yes no matter how much money we have.
Now, shortly before going to press… Nokia changed their tune a bit. While Best Buy is still asking $760 for the N95-4, Amazon has cut the price down to just over $600. Still, for a non-touch screen… the unlocked status of this phone is still lost on us. It doesn’t feature UMTS 2100, and as such… we really wouldn’t want to use it abroad anyways. Nokia has yet to craft a truly world phone capable of international and domestic 3G frequencies.
Does all of this make the N95-3 a better phone? Yes, it does. It’s over $150 cheaper, that’s more than three times the price of an 8 GB microSDHC card.
Bottom line; if you want Nokia’s flagship phone, don’t go with the N95-4, go with the N95-3 instead.
Pros: Excellent camera, battery life, signal, balanced S60 phone.
Cons: Buggy Bluetooth, buggy tethering, bad app store, overcomplicated Wi-Fi, grossly, grossly, grossly overpriced.
Final Score: 2/5