Yes, I gave up my N93i to move on to the next model of Nseries multimedia computer – N95. Having played with it during the weekend I should say that this is one of the few gadgets in the past year that I literally could not put down for three days in a row. There are quite a few features that make N95 a magic device.
Size, look and feel. I am a fan of transformer form-factor, so I was sceptical at first about the double-slider idea. First thing that comes to mind when looking at N95 is last-year model – N80. But when you take N95 in your hand – it is much lighter (only 120g vs. 135g for N80) and thinner. Feel of the materials used for the cover is amazing – soft and pleasant. Numeric keypad despite of the small size is very usable due to the three-dimensional shape of the keys and good tactile feedback.
Display. Ratio of the display size to device size is a considerable improvement. 2.6", 16mln colors display is a pleasure to watch. It is now much easier to browse the web, read books, view office documents without having to kill your eyes.
Landscape mode. At last there is a full fletched landscape mode support. This is absolutely fantastic feature. I find it one of the greatest improvements in usability of Nseries devices. I admired the landscape mode from the moment it was first introduced in Nseries on N90 multimedia computer (only few applications supported it back then). N93 and N93i were logical development, but N95 is actually first non-transfomer multimedia computer that fully supports landscape mode.
Maps. Again, word "first" can be used here. N95 is the first Nseries multimedia computer with integrated GPS reciever. Maps application is surprisingly fast both to download maps from the server and to zoom in/out.Personally I found it difficult to use N95 as a navigator in the car because of a relatively small screen for that purpose and delays in locating sattelites. On the other hand I’ve been spoiled by an integrated navigation system in my car. But for navigating in the city when walking or cycling N95 works very well. Can’t wait to try it somewhere else than Helsinki.
Sound. Stereo speakers are spicing up an already very well equipped multimedia computer. Integrated application for setting 3D ringing tone effects is brilliant. N95 has a standard 3.5mm audio/video connector. It can be used for listening music with your favuorite headphones, as well as for connecting to TV. Headset that is delivered in the box with N95 consists of two parts – one with integrated microphone, control buttons and 3.5mm connector and another with very basic earphones. So you can just replace earphones with your favourite headphones and still have microphone and control buttons available.
Camera. Solution for the lense cover is very nice and way better than a lense cap on N93 that most of the people who haven’t tied it to their multimedia computers have lost already. Quality of the images is good enough to throw away an average pocket digital camera if it was bought a couple of years ago. I can’t agree that N95 is a total replacement for a pocket camera. N95’s flash light is too weak (it is a white LED) and it’s not performing well in poor light conditions. So there’s still some time before pocket digital camera manufacturers will ahve to find new niches on the market. N95 records videos with VGA resolution what is ofthen described with a marketing term "DVD-quality". Performance and quality of video recording are really good. A great usability improvement is a one step adding of background music and text screen before or after the video. There’s no need to launch video editor for that anymore.
Browser. Finally there’s only one browser application. WAP and WWW browsers have been merged. Also a number of improvements have been done to the browsing experience – support of fav icons, flash lite 2.0, password manager, autocompletion for form fields, toolbar with reload, minimap, popular links and search functions, saving images and complete pages for offline use. More about the new version of the browser you can read in an excellent article by Eldar Murtazin.
Settings. Settings application has undergone a complete renewal. It might be confusing at first to the old-school S60 users, but for those who take S60 product for the first time in their hands I believe it is going to be much easier to find the settings they need. Especially nice are the application specific settings collected in the main Settings application.
There are few disappointments as well.
- A minor inconvenience – my 2Gb mini-SD memory card is useless now – I had to get micro-SD card, because N95 is using this format. So prepare to invest into a new memory card, if you are a heavy media user, as I am. Default 128Mb card will fill up really soon.
- A rare use case for power users – when I was transferring my Lifeblog data via USB and demonstrating videos on the TV using TV-out, there was a distinct noise in audio channel. Disconnecting USB cable helped to get rid of it.
- Multimedia Menu is an impressive demonstration of 3D graphics capabilities of the device. Although it seems that memory consumed by special effects was the trade-off – sometimes an active application (like browser or real player) would shut down when I accidentally or deliberately press multimedia menu button. Also I am not sure if it is adding to the usability. New users might find it rather confusing – there’s active standby menu, main menu and multimedia menu on just one device. Also there’s a need to scroll in multimedia menu now to find required application, compared to just one button click in the previous versions – so the idea of fast multimedia applications access is somewhat diluted.
- Memory. Free RAM is about 22Mb. It is definitely not enough for such a powerful multimedia computer. I had difficulties running Visual Radio and Browser at the same time. Out of memory situations sometimes happen when trying to play a video that’s been just recorded or edited, when browsing content rich web pages, when using Gallery with Maps opened in background. All these applications require a lot of RAM, and it is not surprising that it is sometimes difficult to run two of them in parallel.
- Joystick is not very suitable for games – when playing Snakes I always end up in multimedia or regular menu.
- Battery life. I’ll have to see how it behaves in a daily use, because so far I had to charge it twice a day. Of course I was using it extensively – browsing using wireless lan, using bluetooth, talking, listening to music and radio, recording videos and taking pictures. But why do you need allthese features if you cannot use them to save battery?
- GPS is only integrated with Maps application. It is surprising that Local Search which is a great application in itself is not using real location to provide search results. Possibilities to use GPS in appliation software are enless and I really hope that this will be improved.
All in all, a combination of the latest technologies in a well designed and well built multimedia computer makes a hit. This is a product that I belive will be in my pocket for most of 2007. Go look for one in the nearest shop. And if you’re still in doubt – go see www.greatpockets.com 😉