In the beginning …
When the term “multimedia computer” was first unleashed by the Nokia marketing machine it was ridiculed and rejected by the masses. How dare does a company even attempt to begin to compare a fully functional notebook or desktop computer to a mobile phone?
Yes one can install applications on a S60 device in a similar fashion as one can install applications on a Windows or Linux machine, but after that single bullet point the similarities cease to exist. The Nokia N93 is quite a hideous device, but at the time the feature list had the power to make your jaw drop into your lap. The fact that it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, weighed double what most mobile phones on the market did and had an outrageous price tag made it obvious the powers that be had failed in convincing people that convergence was the future.
The Nokia N95 was next in line, the ultimate multimedia computer, in fact it was what computers have become, but how were we supposed to believe that claim the second time around? The battery life was miserable; the RAM was grossly inadequate, waiting for the GPS to lock on resulted in anger and frustration, the camera was too slow to capture that single moment in life you wished to remember and most puzzling of all: Why did Nokia choose to make their flagship device a slider?
The N95 8GB was released as the band aid to cover the wound inflicted by the original. It came with double the RAM and a larger battery, but even then it brought about new complaints. The lens lacked protection, the memory wasn’t expandable, it was quite an obese device and it was obvious that the majority of consumers were still not satisfied with this new fangled device category.
Enter the N82, the multimedia computer that I can proudly call a multimedia computer. To talk about the N82 without discussing the N95 and the N95 8GB would be a grave mistake because to understand how far we’ve come we need to remember that warm autumn day, September the 26th 2006, when the N95 landed and changed everything.
Nokia N95, the love hate relationship
The Nokia N95 was launched at the Open Studio Event in New York City in September 2006. It was, for lack a better phrase, the cock of the walk. The spec sheet might as well have been engraved on stone tablets and brought down by Moses himself. With a 5 megapixel Carl Zeiss lens, WiFi, HSDPA, GPS, dedicated video acceleration and a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack plus mini USB, it was a turning point in the mobile industry and it all went wrong from there.
The device only started shipping in March of this year, a full 6 months after it was unveiled, and even then the quantities were highly limited. Originally the N95 was supposed to fetch 550 Euros, without taxes, but when the flagship started trickling in it was difficult to find it for fewer than 800 Euros in Europe and close to impossible to locating one in America.
As the second quarter of 2007 came to a close it became easier to obtain the N95 and prices were quite reasonable. Once the journalists and bloggers got access to them, the second wave of negative press hit.
A powerful device needs a powerful battery and the 950 mAh BL-5F was not what the doctor ordered. Coming home with your N95 alive was a miracle and the battery low errors only increased in frequency as your “multimedia computer” got closer to the brink of death. It came to a point that with every key press the N95 would tell you that it had to be plugged in.
The most surprising feature of the this device was GPS, and it sounded quite marvelous, but it never worked. Lock on times took minutes and for some of us a lock never even happened. Worse yet launching the maps application was a sure fire way to end up killing a program you had running in the background. The N95 has such a pitiful amount of RAM that even taking a picture would result in your browser shutting down. If the N95 was what computers have become then it chose to become the 486 that someone left on the curb after purchasing a brand spanking new Pentium II machine, back in 1997.
The 5 megapixel camera was the last thing that could save this device and it barely delivered. The Carl Zeiss lens was protected by a manual shutter that once activated would launch the camera application. From that point on half a button press of the camera key initiated the autofocus, depressing the button even further snapped a picture. The process that I just described to you took around 3 seconds to complete, on a good day.
The image results were brilliant, no one is denying that, but to claim that you can replace your stand alone digital camera was outright lying.
All of these negative points aside, it was difficult to not fall in love with the N95. The amount of things one could do with just a mobile phone was simply staggering. The N95 may have been a ludicrously beta product, but it was a taste of what the future had to offer. A taste so sweet that it made every other phone on the market seem awfully sour.
The N95 8GB, better, faster, stronger, but at what price?
The Nokia N95 8GB fixed many of the problems the original had, but at the same time presented some new ones. Coming in at 21 mm thick the device is quite hefty and unless you wear baggy jeans, the N95 8GB will make you look like you’re trying to shoplift a VHS. I’m practically 2 meters tall and have fairly large hands: I don’t have any issues with this device’s size, but you may.
[Earlier this month my colleague Dusan found a 9 minute video that compares the N95 to the N95 8GB]
No longer will you have the pleasure of taking out your memory card and popping it into your computer; you’re stuck with the 8GB onboard. Something to take note of is how fast the memory industry is moving. One can purchase an 8GB microSDHC card today for around $100 and the maximum capacity of the microSDHC format is set to top out at 32GB.
You may or may not care about the 32GB card that doesn’t exist, but a quick and easy way to breathe new life into an old device, trust me the N95 8GB will be ancient in 18 months, is to shove more memory into it. For those of us who purchase a new phone every few months the 8GB doesn’t seem like a problem, but when you start using it you enter a world of pain.
Moving less than 2GB worth of music onto the N95 8GB takes over half an hour. Using HDTach, a program that measures how fast one can move data to and from a device, on a fairly high end XP SP2 machine, gave the 8GB a score of 0.9 MB/s. Using Windows Vista’s “more information” feature when dragging and dropping files resulted in the unscientific result of 625 kb/s. For those of you who like to top up your device in the morning with all the tracks you pirated last night on bittorrent, you’re going to find yourself missing the bus more often than you’d like.
The manual shutter from the original N95 is gone because they had to remove that little piece of plastic to accommodate a new larger 1200 mAh battery known as the BL-6F. Thanks to the extra juice I can now take my device out and have greater than 50% confidence it will come home alive versus a snowball’s chance in hell with the Nokia N95. Not having a shutter will result in your lens getting scratched and Nokia tries to minimize this by recessing the glass further into the device. This equates to images not being as sharp as they can be and in blind AB tests I prefer the N95 images compared to the 8GB.
[Recently I spent a weekend in Estonia. I took 164 images with the Nokia N82 and I gave my friend the N95 8GB, he took 55 images and a video (raw mp4 file).]
The Nokia N95 8GB employs a new memory usage technique called on demand paging. More information on this technology can be found over at this Symbian page, but in summary it lets you use the RAM you have in your device more efficiently. That feature compounded with the fact that the 8GB has double the RAM compared to the original ensures that you will never, no matter how hard you try, run out of memory. If you get an out of memory error on your 8GB then you must’ve installed a horribly buggy program that leaks like the Titanic.
There is a new application called Search 4.0 that does to your mobile phone experience what Google did to the internet. From one search box you can find any text message, calendar entry, MP3, contact, note, literally anything on your phone, quickly due to the fact that you don’t need to type out a complete query in order to get results. From the moment you begin entering characters into the search field the device narrows down what it is you might be trying to find. It could be a little faster, but it isn’t that unpleasant.
[Photo above is from Mobile Review, they are demonstrating Search 4.0 on the N81; there is also a video demo of Search 4.0 on YouTube]
Podcast support is not a new feature, you can download the program for any S60 3rd Edition device here, but for the first time it is built in and that makes a huge difference. To test out the lusciously large 2.8 inch screen I subscribed to several video podcasts and had the N95 8GB check for new episodes daily at 4:00 over WiFi. Watching video on this device is a sight to behold; at maximum brightness you get spoiled by the 16 million colors and high contrast levels. I can easily watch a full 30 minute episode of Cranky Geeks without getting eye strain. Starting my day in bed with a 10 minute Boing Boing TV episode is too beautiful to put into words. Martin Sargent, who stars in Web Drifter and Infected, is one of the few men alive who can make me laugh out loud. The speakers on the N95 8GB are just as powerful as the original N95. The slight hiss when listening via the 3.5 mm headphone jack on the original N95 is gone with the 8GB model.
[Tip: Most video podcasts have an option to download content formated for the iPod video. Use this option as it provides video in QVGA resolution, the native resolution of most S60 devices on the market.]
The build quality of the N95 8GB is superior to the original. The slide mechanism is much more solid and the screen is covered by either glass or plastic making the front of the device feel flat. The keypad lights are now white versus blue, a very welcome change since turning off your alarm when waking up in the morning and catching a glimpse of those bright blue buttons can can result in sensations somewhat similar to getting salt poured into your eyes.
The GPS application works beautifully, a fix takes no longer than 5 seconds, but you don’t get basic navigation out of the box. That will cost you extra, with plans that range from one week all the way to one year.
For all intents and purposes, when Steve Litchfield said that the N95 8GB was the best smart phone ever made, he was not lying. Recently however Nokia did something to the N95 that made it a totally new beast.
N95, the rebirth
A few weeks after the N95 came out a new firmware (v12) was released. It fixed the GPS lock on situation by adding Assisted GPS, a technology that uses your data connection to accelerate the lock on process.
It turned the GPS from useless to indispensable. When I received my retail N95 it had this firmware preloaded and it made living in a new country (Finland) a highly pleasurable experience as it saved me from getting lost on numerous occasions.
The problem with this new firmware was that it introduced a new bug, one that was quite obnoxious. Every 10 or so key presses the next key pushed would not be registered. For heavy text message users like myself, this bug elevated my blood pressure to unhealthy levels nearly every day. Recently however Nokia released yet another firmware (v20). It fixed that bug and breathed new life into that phone as well.
On Demand paging is now built in giving you 30 MB of free RAM on a fresh boot and making the entire device feel a lot more responsive. The Podcasting application is preinstalled. The Search 4.0 application is preinstalled. Support for N-Gage and the Nokia Music Store is added. The camera drivers were rewritten from scratch and now the N95 camera is just as fast as the 8 GB model. Dynamic Voltage and Frequency Scaling is enabled, a fancy way of saying power management improved and in some cases provides you 20% more battery life.
Rumor has it that yet another firmware for this device is due to be released that will add Flash Lite 3 support, which would enable YouTube playback, automatic screen rotation similar to the Nokia N82, thanks to the built in accelerometer, and support for widgets.
The N95 of today is a completely different animal compared to the N95 of one year ago. That being said, it is still a slider. What is Nokia’s solution for us monoblock fans?
Nokia N82, Nseries is now mature
Some people say that the N82 is a Nokia N95 in a monoblock form factor plus Xenon flash. While this crude description is highly accurate, it doesn’t factor in the holistic experience of the device.
The Nokia N82, like the N95, is based on the TI OMAP 2420 running at 333 MHz and like the N95 8GB it has 128 MB of RAM with nearly 90 MB free on first boot. It weighs 114 grams, is only 17.3 mm thick and stands 112 mm tall by 50.2 mm wide. Again like the N95, it runs S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 1 on top of Symbian 9.2. It has a 5 megapixel Carl Zeiss lens equipped camera with Xenon flash, WiFi, HSDPA on the 2100 MHz band and is quad band GSM/EDGE. Reception is fantastic and the call quality is similar to the N95, meaning incredible.
It has the BP-6MT battery, 1050 mAh, which after 2 weeks has always managed to bring back my N82 home alive.
On the top of the device, from left to right, is a hole for your cell phone strap, a 3.5 mm headphone jack and finally the power button.
On the right side, from top to bottom, you have a speaker, volume up, volume down, gallery button, camera button and one more speaker.
On the bottom of the device there is nothing but a hole that acts as a microphone.
The left side, from top to bottom, microUSB, microSDHC slot, 2 mm Nokia charger port.
The front of the device houses a 2.4 inch 240×320 resolution display that supports 16 million colors, a camera for video calling, a speaker, send and end keys, T9 keypad, 5 way dpad, left and right soft keys, Symbian and “C” key and a multimedia key which enables the highly gimmicky multimedia menu to launch. Watch this video on YouTube to get an idea of what the Multimedia Menu is all about.
The back of the phone has the camera, the flash and the manual shutter.
I’ve had the N82 since it launched (attended the premiere of this device along with several bloggers at Nokia HQ in Finland) on November 14 and to me, this is the best smart phone in the world. In terms of build quality this is the most solid Nseries device ever released. The Xenon flash makes a world of a difference when taking pictures. The software on the N82 is similar to the N95 8GB and the regular old N95 with the new firmware. On a fresh boot you get 90MB+ of RAM to yourself and it is impossible to use all of that up.
Not everything is perfect however. I’ve been carrying around a notebook and pen with me everywhere I go and jotting down observations of things that make me scratch my head.
First and foremost, I blame this problem due to the fact that I have an APAC (Asian and Pacific Region) N82, but setting up my Flickr account proved to be a pain. I had to Google the special Nseries website on Flickr to download the configuration file, send it to my device over Bluetooth, then enter my settings. VOX was the only configuration option in my device, Flickr wasn’t in there, but it should never be this hard to add a service. A regular user would have given up by now or installed Shozu.
Like the N95 and the N95 8GB, the N82 does not have and notification LED’s. Call me old school, but I like being able to glance at my device and see I have missed a call or received an SMS. There is no IR port either and while I personally don’t mind, I know about 10 of you really care about this. Last time I used the IR port on any handheld device that wasn’t a remote control was my Palm Pilot.
The N82 has screen rotation, but it only works in one direction. If you have the phone in your right hand and tilt it to the left, the screen will flip. If you have your phone in the left hand and tilt it to the right, it does not work.
I have tons of music that doesn’t have album art. My device is connected to the internet. My MP3’s are perfectly tagged. Why doesn’t my device go out onto the net and grab album art for my music?
The battery meter is no where near accurate. At one point I was impressed that I only lost one bar after an entire day, but then a few minutes later the phone asked to be plugged in.
Clicking on an RSS feed that has enclosures (also known as a podcast) doesn’t initiate the podcasting application. I have to subscribe to the RSS feed in the S60 browser, then go and edit my subscriptions, copy and paste the URL into the podcasting application and then I’m good to go.
Red eye. Red eye. Red eye. Red eye. Plenty of it. There are four flash modes: Automatic, On, Red Eye and Off, but who ever remembers to turn on red eye mode? The next firmware update better fix the red eye issue, but it might not since red eye is caused by the fact that the Xenon flash is too close to the lens. Read more about the red eye effect on Wikipedia.
The keys are properly backlight, but the intensity isn’t uniform. The keys in the middle (2, 5, 8, 0) have fantastic illumination, but as you go farther and farther to the side you lose some of that intensity.
The screen rotation feature doesn’t work if your phone is tilted in the Z axis. No one holds their phone perfectly perpendicular to the earth. The taller you are the more parallel to the planet you hold your device. Sometimes when taking the N82 out of my pocket my screen is in landscape mode, a simple shake of the device brings it back to portrait mode. What people will think of you wiggling your phone as you’re walking down the street is something I’m not going to touch on.
The automatic keylock only occurs when you’re at the active standby screen. Meaning if you’re in an application and you shove your phone in your pocket, you’re going to be hitting keys and the program will react accordingly. Automatic keylock should be universal throughout the entire device.
The N82 is an incredibly solid device, but it is all plastic. I would like to see the use of metals incorporated into Nseries devices. Sony Ericsson makes some amazing phones out of metal and let us not forget the beauties that pop out of Nokia’s Enterprise Solutions division (Eseries) like the E61i and the mid range 6500 Classic made out of anodized aluminum along with the 6500 Slide made out of stainless steel, both from the Mobile Phones organization. Give me metal or give me death.
The cell phone strap should not be attached to the top of the phone. When you’re walking it hits the back of your device and creates an awful sound. It should be on the bottom, just like every other mobile phone on the planet.
I’m growing tired of the gallery application. Whoever decided to lump photos and videos into the same directory should make a video and post it onto YouTube explaining why he thought it was a good idea. YouTube is about video, Flickr is about photos. On my Nokia E61i the images are separated from the videos and I would like to see Nseries adopt this philosophy. While we’re on the topic of gallery, it needs an overhaul. It should be easier to create albums, see photos based on dates, see photos based on location (cell ID or GPS), tag my photos, etc.
The N82 cannot stand on its side to take photos. It needs to be in someone’s hand or in the Nokia DT22 tripod. This might be a turn off for some people, but I’m totally fine with it.
The N82 (and N95 8GB and N95 with firmware v20) has an option in the camera to enable a 3×3 grid to appear on top of the viewfinder. It is incredibly handy for lining up your shots or for getting your composition just right. Problem is it needs to be activated every time you start the camera application. I would like that to be a setting that the camera remembers.
I can’t watch my DivX or XviD files on my device. A majority of the video I download is in either of these two formats. Don’t even bother linking me to transcoding software; I have better things to do with my time and processing power. I should be able to drag and drop files onto my memory card and have them be playable on my Nseries device. If Samsung can get their phones DivX certified, why can’t Nokia?
I’ve made this device reboot two times and only once has it locked up so hard that I had to pull the battery. Recently however, as in less than 12 hours ago, my N82’s camera stopped working. When manually opening the shutter there is nothing but a flashing battery symbol in the top left hand corner. I’ve tried multiple things to resolve this issue, but nothing has worked.
The USB port and the power port are on the side of the device versus the bottom. Some people have complained about this and that is the only reason I’m bringing it up, it doesn’t affect me. What is more upsetting is the fact that the device does not charge via USB.
At the end of the day …
I am in love with my Nokia N82. She isn’t the prettiest girl on the block, but with all of these features inside a relatively small well built compact body, it is hard to recommend any other smart phone on the market.
The screen on the N95 8GB is absolutely stunning and the only thing that tops it is the iPhone due to the higer resolution screen.
The original N95, the one that millions of early adopters picked up, is not being ignored by Nokia, but instead getting continuous improvements. That in it of itself should make N95 owners ecstatic, but at the same time make them hesitant of switching to the N82 since it really isn’t that much better.
I’m troubled that the camera on my N82 stopped working. This is the first time in close to a decade of using mobile phones that I’ve had a Nokia break on me. I hope it is the last as well.
If you’re in the market for a new device, pick up the N82. You have my recommendation.
[Nokia N93 box from fosfor gadgets]
[Nokia N95 8GB box from Nseries Arena]
[High resolution image of N95, N95 8GB and N82 next to each other on my bed]
[Open Studio picture from Flickr]
[BL5F battery from All About Symbian]
[N95 vs N95 8GB side view from Flickr]
[Nokia N95 with 8GB SanDisk memory card from Mobility Site]