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Nokia N90: Twist and Shoot Print E-mail
Written by SymbianOne   
Wednesday, 14 June 2006
It is hardly the new kid on the block anymore, but the Nokia N90 has only just landed in the SymbianOne office, albeit for a short visit. Richard Bloor offers some thoughts.

Coming late to the Nokia N90 is an interesting experience. There has been much written about this device over the last few months, creating some clear expectations.

The most common comment about the N90 is its size. It was therefore somewhat of a surprise to find that the N90 is more or less the same size as just about every other Symbian OS smartphone we have seen here at SymbianOne. Its apparent size may have as much to do with its folding design as its raw dimensions. Folded the N90 is almost exactly the same size as a Sony Ericsson P900. However, unfolded it is certainly large, making my venerable Nokia 9500 Communicator look quite small.

The N90 looks are quite stayed. Closed it is plain. The only stylistic elements come from its black and silver livery, other than that it is little more than a box with rounded edges. Closed the N90 is not likely to attract too much attention.

The N90 comes alive as you start to fold and twist. The interior design remains understated, but any notion that this device is the equivalent of that Great Aunt who disapproves of everything quickly evaporates. The folds and twists are smooth, with a satisfying click at each set position.

The simplest morph is into camera mode, with the camera pod twisted to lie at right angles to the main body of the N90. The camera pod twists in two direction, one way for capturing images and the other for video calls. This configuration is actually less than convenient for still and video capture, because the shutter release button is in an odd place; to the left. While this may be a bonus to left handed users it just seems plain wrong from a right handed perspective. As a result I found I rarely used this mode for shooting. The fact that the later generation of N9x devices have dropped this form factor suggesting I may not be the only one who did not appreciate it.

Then there is the standard flip phone position, from which all the non-imaging and media gallery features of the N90 can be accessed. The keyboard is well position, making txting comfortable, and the Frisbee like joystick is precise and responsive, although not ideal for games play. For someone like myself more used to candybar phones the position of the softkeys - way below the screen - is a little disconcerting at first, but everything soon slots into place.

The third transformation is into the camcorder position. While this position initially defaults to video mode it is just as good for stills capture and was my preferred configuration for both. There are two reasons for this, the main screen provides a better, larger viewfinder and it simply feels more comfortable in the hand; everything seems in the right place (although it is probably less than convenient for left handed users). The shutter button and second joystick fit snugly under the right thumb and additional softkeys, at what might conventionally be called the top of the screen, provide easy access to additional functionality with the left hand. Even for speed of access to the imaging capabilities, it seems just as easy to flip into this configuration as to select the "camera" position.

The stills camera offer 2 mega pixels, a flash, digital zoom and auto focus. There is a comprehensive set of controls, such as white balance, colour tone, flash mode as well as a set of predefined scenes for specific types of photo, such as close ups, night photography or fast moving subjects.

While the range of options is quite large there is also some sensible simplicity, such as the image quality settings that simply offers high, medium and low resolutions for prints, email and MMS.

The image quality is good and while it does not compete with higher resolution dedicated digital cameras the results are such that the choice between the convenience of a single device, compared to carrying a camera and a phone, is a simple one. The range of capture features combined with image quality makes the Nokia N90 ideal for day to day photography.

The N90's close up capability is also very good, although the auto focus does take a noticeable time to set itself when working with close subjects. While this managed to retain a novelty value for the time I had the N90, the auto focus speed could become irritating after a while.

Two weakest points of the stills capture are the flash and shutter delay. The flash only works to any meaningful extend on very close subjects and there is a noticeable delay in the shutter activation after the shutter button is presses. This makes photography involving erratically moving subjects, such as children or animals, a little challenging.

The video capability also impressed. The main deficiency of the video capability is that when panning the picture is a little jumpy, so it will not be replacing the dedicated video camera. However, as with the stills camera, the results are perfectly usable for occasions when convenience outweighs quality.

The image gallery now has a quite engaging interface, providing a conveyor belt of images for review. Image can also be arranged into albums (indeed still and video images can be captured straight into specific albums).

For personal information management the N90 retains the features typical of an S60 smartphone with contacts, calendar and to-do amongst others. It still remains a mystery to me why S60 has not implement repetitive to-dos and is one of the significant reasons why a Nokia 9500 Communicator remain my day-to-day choice. All the same for most personal use these applications are perfectly adequate.

For more business related use the N90 includes Adobe Reader for viewing PDF files and QuickOffice for viewing Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. The Opera browser, replaced by Nokia own open source browser in the latest S60 devices, is also provided.

Unfortunately, I only had the N90 for a limited time, precluded a full review of the phones features. I did not find too many negative points with N90, beyond those already mentioned. The only two other stand-out dislikes were the fact the memory card was quite hard to access and certainly not easy to change quickly, and the plastic cover for the Pop-Port felt like a cheap after thought.

Overall the N90 impressed. While it can not compete with a dedicated stills or video cameras for quality, it is certainly good enough to make the convenience of having a stills and video capability always with you far out weight any limitations. The folding design is both fun and functional and overall the N90 is a joy to use.

With the N92 now shipping the N90 should, in some markets, start to be available at a reduced price and should represent good value for anyone looking for a good quality, functional cameraphone with the flexibility of the S60 platform. I would recommend it, particularly if you do not want to pay the premium for the latest Nseries devices.


The Nokia N90 is now widely available and can be purchased from the SymbianOne's GBT Hardware store for $599 here.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 14 June 2006 )
 


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