Nokia’s original N97, introduced last year, wasn’t well received. Though it boasted superb hardware, the N97 was plagued by a buggy operating system.
The Finnish handset manufacturer almost seemed to have rushed an unfinished product to market. The N97 was unresponsive and slow. It also crashed regularly.
Strategic missteps like this are the last thing Nokia needs as it wages a war with other smartphone manufacturers, including BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion and iPhone-maker Apple.
The company has since released a significant update to the N97’s software that has apparently fixed many of the initial problems that plagued the device.
It’s also released the N97 Mini, a smaller version of the original. We’ve spent a few days playing with the Mini and, generally, we really like it, though it has some niggles, not least of which is that the Symbian operating system it runs is starting to look rather dated next to snazzy interfaces like the iPhone’s.
First impressions, though, are positive. The N97 Mini’s software is snappy, the smaller form factor is a big improvement, and the full-sized snap-out Qwerty keyboard is great even for folks with meaty fingers.
Nokia has managed to shrink the size of the original by reducing the screen real estate from 3,5-inches to 3,2-inches. The 16,7m-colour resistive-touch screen is bright, with an impressive resolution of 640×360 pixels.
The phone includes everything you’d expect from modern Nokia phones, including free global maps and turn-by-turn navigation. The Ovi Store is also finally starting to get some cool apps, though it still lags far behind what’s on offer in app stores operating by Apple and Google.
There’s a 5-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics, a front-facing camera for video calling (does anyone actually make video calls?) and a micro USB port through which the N97 Mini can be charged.
Connectivity options include Wi-Fi and high-speed 3G (up to 3,6Mbit/s on the downlink). And there’s an assisted GPS.
The phone feels more solid that its bigger cousin — when you snap out the keyboard, it doesn’t feel flimsy in the slightest.
The only big downside of the N97 Mini is the Symbian software it uses. Though Nokia users will easily find their way around the software, it seems really dated on a modern touch-screen phone, especially when one compares it with the intuitive user interface on the iPhone.
That said, the Mini comes packed with lots of cool apps, so chances are you won’t actually need to scour the Ovi Store for what you need.
Other niggles include the fact that you have to double-click on the screen for some actions to happen — this is counterintuitive and unnecessary.
All in all, the N97 Mini is a solid effort from Nokia. It’s what the N97 should have been. If you’re a fan of Nokia handsets, and you can afford the R5 999 price tag, this phone is well worth checking out. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral