Since the first pictures of the N95 started appearing on the net it made a really big impact not only in the mobile community, but also other tech related media, even the non-tech media covered the phone. Before the release to the public, forums were packed with discussions about this mobile phone and since then it has become some kind of ultimate gadget lover’s phone.
When the first leaked pictures were posted it was known as the Nokia N83. Later on it became clear that this would not only be the follow-up to N80 but also Nokia’s new flagship multimedia device, it would be called the Nokia N95. From a features perspective Nokia decided to go with the same recipe used in the N93/N93i by aiming in getting just about every feature available at the time into this phone, but unlike the N93/N93i it would not have an adverse effect on the overall size. So how does the N95 compare to Nokia’s previous flagships N93 and N93i, has the smaller size had an affect on features? How does it compare to Apple’s iPhone? The N95 also claims to be an all-in-one solution but does it succeed or is this more a case of a jack-of-all- trades and master of none? I’ve been lucky to get two Nokia N95s: A Plum version (Made by Nokia) and a Sand version (made in Finland). Which one should you get? With two N95’s in my hand I went looking for the answers by getting started with the extensive N95 review, Gadgetnutz style!
Let’s have a look at the specs and features of the N95, which I must say is very long:
-WCDMA2100 (HSDPA), EGSM900, GSM850/1800/1900 MHz (EGPRS)
-Automatic switching between bands and modes
Dimensions-Volume: 90 cc
-Weight: 120 g
-Length: 99 mm
-Width: 53 mm
-Thickness (max): 21 mm
-Up to 160 MB* internal dynamic memory for messages, ringing tones, images, video clips, calendar notes, to-do list and applications
-Memory card slot supporting up to 2 GB microSD memory cards
-Battery: Nokia Battery (BL-5F) 950mAH
-Talk time: up to 160 min (WCDMA), up to 240 min (GSM)*
-Stand-by time: up to 200 hours (WCDMA), up to 225 hours (GSM)*
-Large 2.6” QVGA (240 x 320 pixels) TFT display with ambient light detector and up to 16 million colors
-Operating system: S60 software on Symbian OS
-User Interface: S60 3rd edition
-Dedicated Media Keys
-Active standby screen
-Contacts: advanced contacts database with support for multiple phone and e-mail details per entry, also supports thumbnail pictures and groups
-Logs: keeps lists of your dialed, received, and missed calls
-Automatic answer (works with compatible headset or car kit only)
-Supports fixed dialing number, which allows calls only to predefined numbers
-Nokia Push to talk (PoC)
-Speaker independent name dialing (SIND)
-Integrated hands-free speaker
-Text messaging: supports concatenated SMS, picture messaging, SMS distribution list
-Multimedia messaging: combine image, video, text, and audio clip and send as MMS to a compatible phone or PC; use MMS to tell your story with a multi-slide presentation
-Automatic resizing of your megapixel images to fit MMS (max 300 KB size depending on the network)
-Predictive text input: support for all major languages in Europe and Asia-Pacific
-WCDMA 2100 (HSDPA) with simultaneous voice and packet data (PS max speed UL/DL= 384/3.6MB, CS max speed 64kbps)
-Dual Transfer Mode (DTM) support for simultaneous voice and packet data connection in GSM/EDGE networks. Simple class A, multi slot class 11, max speed DL/UL: 177.6/118.4 kbits/s
-EGPRS class B, multi slot class 32, max speed DL/UL= 296 / 177.6 kbits/s
-Java and Symbian applications available from Nokia Software Market
Imaging and Video
-Up to 5 megapixel (2592 x 1944 pixels) camera, Carl Zeiss optics, Tessar lens, MPEG-4 VGA video capture of up to 30 fps
-Direct connection to compatible TV via Nokia Video Connectivity Cable (CA-75U, included in box) or wireless LAN/UPnP
-Front camera, CIF (352 x 288) sensor
-Video call and video sharing support (WCDMA network services)
-Digital stereo microphone
-Flash modes: on, off, automatic, redeye reduction
-Online album/blog: photo/video uploading from gallery
-Nokia Lifeblog 2.0 support
-Video and still image editors
-Movie director for automated video production
-Video resolutions: up to VGA (640×480) at 30 fps
-Audio recording: AAC mono
-Digital video stabilization
-Video clip length: limited by available memory
-Video file format .mp4 (default), .3gp (for MMS)
-White balance: automatic, sunny, cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent
-Scene: automatic, night
-Color tones: normal, sepia, black & white, negative, vivid
-Zoom: Digital up to 10x (VGA up to 4x)
-Image resolution: up to 5 megapixel: (2592 x 1944 pixels)
-Still image file format: JPEG/EXIF
-Auto exposure – center weighted
-Exposure compensation: +2 ~ -2EV at 0.5 step
-White balance: automatic, sunny, cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent
-Scene: automatic, user, close-up, portrait, landscape, sports, night, night portrait
-Color tone: normal, sepia, black & white, negative, vivid
-Zoom: Digital up to 20x (5 megapixel up to 6x)
-Sensor: CMOS, 5 megapixel (2592 x 1944)
-Carl Zeiss Optics: Tessar™ lens
-Focal length 5.6 mm
-Focus range 10 cm ~ infinity
-Macro focus distance 10-50 cm
-Shutter speed: Mechanical shutter: 1/1000~1/3 s
-Digital music player – supports MP3/AAC/AAC+/eAAC+/WMA/M4A with playlists and equalizer.
-Integrated handsfree speaker
-OMA DRM 2.0 & WMDRM support for music
-Stereo FM radio (87.5-108MHz /76-90MHz)
-Listen to music and interact with your favorite radio stations
-Find out what song is playing, who sings it, and other artist information
-Enter contests and answer surveys, vote for your favorite songs
-Find out more about Visual Radio
-Easy-to-use e-mail client with attachment support for images, videos, music and documents
-Compatible with Nokia Wireless Keyboard (sold separately)
-Nokia Web Browser with Mini map
-Play video, music and photos on home media network – compatible TV, stereo and PC over WLAN/UpnP
-Java MIDP 2.0, CLDC 1.1 (Connected Limited Device Configuration (J2ME))
-Over-the-air download of Java-based applications and games
-Personal Information Management (PIM)
-Advanced S60 PIM features including calendar, contacts, to-do list, and PIM printing
-Settings Wizard for easy configuration of e-mail, push to talk and video sharing.
-Data transfer application for transfer of PIM information from other compatible Nokia devices.
-Integrated wireless LAN (802.11 b/g) and UPnP (Universal Plug and Play)
-Bluetooth wireless technology with A2DP stereo audio
-USB 2.0 via Mini USB interface and mass storage class support to support drag and drop functionality
-3.5 mm stereo headphone plug and TV out support (PAL/NTSC)
-Nokia PC Suite connectivity with USB, Infrared and Bluetooth wireless technology
-Local synchronization of contacts and calendar to a compatible PC using compatible connection
-Remote over-the-air synchronization
-Send and receive images, video clips, graphics, and business cards via Bluetooth wireless technolog
RealPlayer media player
-Full-screen video playback to view downloaded, streamed or recorded video clips
-Supported video formats: MPEG-4, H.264/AVC, H.263/3GPP, Real Video 8/9/10
The Nokia N95
The N95 is a Dual mode WCDMA and Quadband GSM (EGSM900, GSM850/1800/1900 MHz (EGPRS)+ WCDMA2100 (HSDPA)networks) smartphone sporting the Symbian OS with the S60 3rd edition Feature Pack 1 UI. Its form factor can be considered a slider, but there’s a twist. When the display slides down hiding the keypad it can continue sliding revealing music controls above the display. When in this position the N95 is held horizontally, this way it looks like it has two flaps or wings on each side of the display, I call this variant of the slider the “Winged” or “Angel ” Slider.” The N95 is considered the spiritual successor to the N80, but at the same time it follows the N93 and N93i as Nokia’s new flagship multimedia device. But by now you may be asking what happened to the N94? Well, there never was a N94 and there never will be. You see most tech companies shy away from the number “4” as in Japan and China, the word for “4″ sounds a lot like the word for “death,” so using it would bring misfortune, so they believe. It can be compared to how the number “13” is seen as bad luck in Western countries. Seeing that Asia is a big market for Nokia they decided not to have any N74, N84 or N94 in the line-up. After leaked pictures of the N95 which back then was known as the N83, it was unveiled in September 2006 with its real “N95” name and was finally released in mid-March 2007. The N95 is available in just two official colors: Plum and Sand. There’s also a “Warm Graphite” color that seems to be only available from certain sellers and providers. Both N95’s used in this review used the N95 v11.0.026 firmware, even though the updated v12 firmware was available on Nokia Software Updater, it was unavailable for both product codes.
From the a historic point of view both the N95 and its spiritual predecessor the N80 are unique in Nokia’s portfolio of high-end multimedia devices as they are the only two real sliders, the N91 which does have a sliding action cannot be considered a real slider, it is in fact a monoblock with a sliding key pad cover. Of a total of 13 Nseries devices only two sliders have been made, this makes sliders in the Nseries and Nokia’s smartphones very uncommon. Typically Nokia uses model in the N9x family as flagship phones to pioneer new features. This was case the of the N90 (2 megapixels,autofocus, flip-twist design), N91(multi-gigabyte hard drive, high music quality,3.5mm audio jack), N92 (DVB-H mobile TV standard, flip-swivel design) and the N93/i (flip-swivel design, VGA video quality, 3.3 megapixel, optical zooming). It’s only later on that they pass this technology to more mainstream phones with the N7X designation. The exception to this rule is the N80 that was aimed as an all-in-one flagship solution pioneering some new features like UPnP but yet the N9x designation was not used. So, after the leaked pictures of a new high-end slider people automatically assumed a N8X name would be used. The N95 is the first slider in the N9x family.
Unboxing: The Package
Nokia makes it a habit of releasing mobile phone packages for different regions, with not only the content of the package varying from region to region, but it seems the design of the package itself is changed quite a lot. The N95 is the clearest example of this so far. The APAC (Asia-Pacific) (Made by Nokia) version comes in a box that’s typical Nseries: white/grey box with squares on the front showing someone using the phone in different scenarios and the back is adorned with features, logos and product shots. There is one small but noteworthy exception: a purple-ish pink is now used on the box décor and all marketing material. Even the guy on the package is wearing pink. The phone itself is available in a purple (plum) color and most of the included themes on the phone are either pink or purple. What’s up with Nokia with pink/purple all of the sudden? As for the content of the APAC version I have to say this is the most complete packages in the Nseries line so far. Normally Nseries devices have well equipped packages, but in the case of the N95 they have not only included everything normally found in other Nseries phones (which is quite complete), but have also included a generous 1Gb microSD card, a screen protector and even a nice (and matching) Nseries leather case. I must say this is one of the best cases I have come across so far and it’s not one of those freebies that finds it way back in the package and never gets used again. I have since getting the N95 been using it as my main cases and haven’t found a better one so far. It provides access to all side controls, has opening for the stereo speakers and both the 3.5mm jack and microSD port are accessible. Just as easily the phone can be recharged and miniUSB port can be connected with the case on. Nokia should include these types of cases in all future Nseries devices and not just for one version specific to a single region. What else can we find in the package?
The standard sales package of the N95 contains:
Nokia Video Connectivity Cable CA-75U
Nokia Connectivity Cable DKE-2
Nokia Stereo Headset HS-45, AD-43
Nokia Battery BL-5F
Nokia Travel Charger AC-5
Nokia 1 GB microSD Card MU-22
The Sand colored N95 (Made in Finland) ) I received had all these items above, except for the case and screen protector. This Made in Finland version is available for example to the EURO and US-regions. The box is also completely different having a dark grey color, product shots of the N95 and you guessed it: more pink! I have extensively used both the APAC (made by Nokia) and Euro (made in Finland) models and unlike what people are claiming both versions were solid as a rock. Saying that a certain version specific to a region has a better build quality makes no sense at all, as it is expected that all products aimed at different regions go through the same rigorous testing and quality checks. I would get the APAC version just for the extra freebies alone, but it’s advisable that US residents get the US version of the N95 to make sure they get the US warranty. To conclude this section I have to say that the package from EURO, US and APAC regions are well equipped, it is a shame though that some of the goodies, specifically the leather case and screen protector are only available to the APAC version. The APAC version is the best equipped of all the N95 packages, but again potential buyers should buy the model according to their region to make sure they get the accompanied warranty. I think Nokia should change their warranty system, making it possible that a person who buys their phone any where in the world could go to their local Nokia dealer and still be able to use their warranty.
When I first saw the N95 I thought immediately: it looks a lot like the N80, a much skinnier two-toned N80 with a larger screen! It actually also has a few design elements that are characteristic of the N73, including the shiny stereo speakers, two tone color, plasticky looking back and large screen. If you look at it this way it looks like a cross between the N80 and N73. Seen from the back and holding it in a horizontal position with the slider closed it looks a lot like a camera: people who don’t know about it most of the time confuse it with one of those point-and-shoot digital cameras: sliding it upwards and holding it in a vertical position shows it’s true nature of being a mobile phone, I mean multimedia computer (sorry Nokia). The theme used on the N95 seems to be dominated by square shapes with only the camera lens having a round shape, the N95’s silhouette is characteristically square which is completely different from the typical rounded edges found on other the Nseries devices, but yet the N95 is instantly recognizable as a Nokia. To me it is one of the most iconic Nokia’s in quite some time. Let’s take a look around the N95 and see what we can find.
The front is dominated by the large 2.6’’ display. Above it we can see the earpiece, light sensor and front mounted CIF camera for video calling. A few words have to be said about the screen; the rather large 2.6’’ display is a treat to look at and although not as high res as the one found on the N80 it looks impressive even for a 320×240 display. I think the time is right for Nokia to re-introduce those high-res screen like those found on the N80 or maybe even use VGA resolution. Now that Feature Pack 1 has the ability to natively increase font size it’s a moot point to argue against higher res screen due to the fonts being too small. Adding a larger screen with higher resolution would only be advisable if the situation of the battery could be alleviated in future devices as adding such a high res and large screen on the N95 would be adding insult to injury seeing the current situation of the battery. While we’re on the subject of the screen I have to say that since the N70 days have been asking Nokia to minimize the unused space between the screen and soft keys. This space is sitting there unused when it fact it can be used to make the buttons larger or stretch the screen out a little more. While the N95 is using the available space quite good, there’s still a lot of space left unused between the screen and soft keys.
Below the screen we can see the D-pad (5-way), on each side of it we can find the usual soft selection keys, the green call key and red end key. We can also find the multimedia key and menu (multi-tasking key). At the very bottom we can see the clear button and the edit button. I like the fact the menu and multimedia keys now are really big, but I just don’t I like the position of the multimedia key. From the N95 first impression I wrote here I asked myself whether I would use the multimedia key, and with more usage I found myself using it more and more, it’s quite handy. But in some instances I found it to be more of hindrance. This was the case when playing games or other actions that require quick finger movement. In those cases I would find myself accidentally hitting the Multimedia key brining the multimedia interface up and interrupting what I was doing. For that reason alone I much prefer it to be where the clear button is located. All keys except for the multimedia and menu keys are done in a very shiny looking material, again finger magnet alert! The same with the screen, while talking on the phone it will leave smudges that need to be cleaned fairly often to keep it looking nice. And having a larger screen means more display real estate to be smudged.
Opening the slider reveals the keypad. The slider opens with a loud click, I like this as it gives me audible confirmation that I have reached the end of the slide and that no more force is needed. The sliding mechanism is assisted but barely, most of the movement is done by the user, it’s only at the end of the slide where the assisted mechanism kicks in to push the display upwards. The slide feels very secure on both the Plum (APAC) made by Nokia and Sand (EURO) made in Finland N95: not a single squeak or wobble. But there have been numerous reports about the slider being a bit wobbly or loose, it seems history is repeating itself with some build quality issues starting to pop-up: this was the same case with the N80. While I didn’t have any other problems with the N95 I noticed that on both the EURO and APAC version scratches started appearing right above the number 3 which would indicate that some parts are scratching against each other. There are definitely some build quality issues that Nokia should look into. This is even strange when looking at a device like Nokia’s own recently released E65 which has one pretty secure sliding mechanism. Admittedly the E65 does have a much simple and traditional slider while the N95 has a much intricate dual-sliding slider. The keys on the N95 are definitely more comfortable to use when compared to the N80, but falls short of the keypad used on N93 which has one of the best on the market. The keys could have been spread apart a bit more but it’s good enough and does the job. They also have these bumps in the middle to let you know where the center of each key is, with the keys being tightly packed these bumps help a lot identifying each row of keys, but it doesn’t help to distinguish the three keys on each key in a row. That’s why it would have been just a bit better to make individual bumps on each key.
Pushing the slider down activates the enhanced multimedia menu and also reveals the music keys. These music keys are not touch sensitive by the way.
On the left side we can find one speaker, the 3.5mm jack, IrDA port and microSD cover. On the left side we can see another speaker, volume control button that also doubles as zoom keys, the review key and 2-stage capture key. On the bottom you’ll the charger connector, miniUSB and strap hook. The back has the battery compartment latch, the 5 megapixel camera module with a very nice mechanical shutter.
The front of the N95 is done in very solid looking plastic made to look like metal, while the back is done in an exquisitely tactile rubbery material that is just a perfect choice to be used on the N95. It feels great in the hand and due to its rubbery nature it adds a surprising amount of grip to the N95. Most importantly finger prints are not visible on this material. It’s still a mystery to me why the material on the Sand colored N95 is not in the same rubbery material found on the Plum version. It makes sense to me that you’d expect only the color to change when in fact the Sand has a textured plastic material on the back that just isn’t the same as the rubbery material on the Plum. The grip provided by this plastic material is dramatically less and made the Sand N95 a lot more slippery.
From a design point-of-view the N95 is an amazing feat of hardware as there is quite a staggering amount of technology stuffed inside a relatively small package, they have managed to include most features that were included in the N93/i in a much smaller package even adding some new features like a GPS receivers and a much larger screen. I liked to think of the N95 as shrunken down N93 put into smaller slider form factor. But has there been sacrifices made? Definitely yes! While the larger N93 provided space for a just as large battery, the smaller N95 dimensions can only afford a 950Mah one. While this is much larger than the N80’s 860Mah battery which itself suffered a shortage of power, you still have to consider that the N95 has a lot more to power including it’s bigger screen, a GPS receiver and that powerful OMAP2 chip.
Features and Specs
The feature list on the N95 is long and I do mean long! It’s currently one the most feature packed mobile devices on the market and yes it has more features then the ever popular iPhone and about ties with Nokia’s own E90. Comparing the E90 with the N95 doesn’t seem justified even though the feature lists are quite close, you still have to consider that they are aimed at different markets and the E90 is considerably more bulky. In a package with a volume of a mere 90 cc they have managed to put: an Integrated GPS system, 5 Megapixel camera with auto-focus and Carl Zeis lens, VGA video recording at 30 FPS, front mounted camera for video calls, MP3 player, a 3.5mm jack, Radio, Visual Radio, stereo Bluetooth support (A2DP), stereo speakers, Wifi, HSDPA, Edge, infrared, RealPlayer media player that plays MPEG-4, H.264/AVC, H.263/3GPP, RealVideo 8/9/10, Bluetooth 2.0, Email client, Web browser etc etc. I’m sure I forgot some of the main features, but this gives you an idea of the complexity of the system and how well they have managed to organize it all. Controlling it all is a fully featured Symbian operating system with support for multi-tasking and the ability to install third part applications. At its core the N95 runs a very powerful chip, this is the same one found on the N93, N93i and the N800. The N93 and N93i have exactly the same specifications, while the N800 does have the same OMAP 2 chip, it seems that some features have been disabled. Benchmarking both the N93 and N95 results into the N93 performing slightly higher. I’m unsure what’s the cause of this is as they are both running the same core at the same frequency, but I suspect this has something to do with either the higher overhead of Feature Pack 1 or maybe it could be that the N93’s firmware is more mature and that they have had more time to get more juice out of it. With time the N95 should increase in performance.
The N95 has a whopping 160 MB of Internal Dynamic Memory available to install applications; this is a lot more then the typical 50MB available on something like the N93. And for general storage it uses microSD cards. I’m happy to report that the N95 is fully microSDHC compatible working with the latest 4GB cards, early reports even indicate that it will work with upcoming 6 and 8GB cards. Next time Nokia should be a bit clearer about its specs, because it was only when these cards started appearing that users could confirm it’s compatibility with microSDHC. The amount of available RAM is about the same as with previous Nseries , which is not that good. On a phone like the N93 the situation of the RAM could be forgiven, but on a device like N95 with a lot more demanding software and hardware the situation sometimes just gets annoying. With limited RAM you are in fact limited as to what you can do with the N95: having the browser open, your music app open and firing the RAM-hungry GPS apps you will quickly find either an “out-of-ram” warning or all apps closing automatically. Nokia should have seen this coming and should have done something about this. Even the newer and lesser equipped N76 has 40MB of free RAM. Even though the N95 has a total of 64 MB of SDRAM, after boot this amount quickly comes down to just about 18MB. Now I’m pretty sure that future firmware version will free up more RAM: this was the case with the N93 going from about 19 to 25MB of free RAM, but in any case this will only alleviate the problem but not perform miracles. It’s a good thing Nokia has learned this lesson, by releasing models with plenty of RAM like the N76 and E90, but it’s just that I feel let down by the low memory on such a powerful device such as the N95. This doesn’t mean that N95 is unusable; as I’m able to multi-task just fine in a lot of circumstances, it’s just that I have to be a bit more careful as to what app I open and how many are open at once. Opening the browser and the GPS app for example is a big no no!
As stated before, the N95 also features the Texas instruments’ impressive Omap2 2420 single-chip applications processor. The OMAP2420 includes an integrated ARM1136 processor (330 MHz), a TI TMS320C55x DSP (220 MHz) and 2D/3D graphics accelerator by Imagination Technologies’ PowerVR MBX core. The OMAP2 also has added imaging and video accelerator for higher-resolution still capture applications, multi-megapixel cameras and full-motion video encode and decode with VGA resolution of 30 frames per second. An added TV video output supports connections to television displays for displaying images and video captured from the handset. 5-Mb internal SRAM also boost streaming media performance.
Dedicated 2D/3D graphics accelerator at 2 million polygons per second
Added imaging and video accelerator enables high-resolution still image capture, larger screen sizes and higher video frame rates
Supports high-end features including 4+ megapixel cameras, VGA-quality video, high-end interactive gaming functionality and analog/digital TV video output
5-Mb internal SRAM boosts streaming media performance
Software compatibility with previous OMAP™ processors
Parallel processing ensures no interruptions or degradation of service with simultaneously running applications
Optimized power management companion chip, TWL92230
12 mm x 12 mm, 325-ball MicroStar BGA, 0.5-mm pitch
Having hardware accelerated 2D/3D graphics onboard means that the N95 is capable of very impressive graphics at very fast frame rates. A good indication of this is the included SRE Demo included with the N95 that showcases the N95 graphics prowess not only with all the eye-candy but also at very high frame rates. Running the same game on the N80 which lacks hardware accelerated 2D/3D graphics will not give you the same experience as the game will run very slow. I also suspect that some 3D and light effects will be missing as the necessary OPEN GL/EShardware is lacking. Even if a phone like the N80 is able to emulate it via software it will slow down the overall frame rate even more. There’s even more reason to be happy about having a 3D accelerated 2D/3D graphics onboard as Nokia will soon (September 2007) release it’s Ngage mobile gaming platform: a Xbox live type of gaming platform with that also has online gaming, online stats, chat and online game purchase. While the more basic games will be available to all Nseries devices, it is those devices that are powered by the OMAP2 that will truly be able to take advantage of the impressive 3D titles like Creatures of the Deep, EA’s Mobile FIFA, System Rush: Evolution and the extraordinary ONE – Who’s Next? fighting game.
Below you can see an architectural overview of the OMAP2 icluding some impressive tech demos using the included PowerVR MBX, but running on a Dell Axim X50v.
Below you can see an architectural overview of the OMAP2:
The Camera: Zeiss inside
Before the release of the N95 the Nokia N73 held together with the Sony Ericsson K800i the crown as the best imaging mobile devices. The N93/i came in at a close third with only its performance in low-light conditions being its Achilles’ heel, the N93/i shared the third spot with various other mobile phone models. The N95 now sports a rather advanced (for mobile devices at least) 5 megapixel camera (2592 x 1944 pixels) with Carl Zeiss optics, Tessar lens and autofocus. The camera uses a CMOS sensor, while it has a focal length of 5.6 mm, a focus range of 10 cm to infinity, macro focus distance: 10 to 50 cm and it has a mechanical shutter with the shutter speed that is set anywhere from 1/1000 to 1/3 seconds. The N95 is pure automatic in nature a la point-and-shoot camera, so don’t expect the ability to manually set the aperture or shutter speed, in future versions this is something that would be nice to have. I was surprised to find the presence of an orientation sensor that automatically senses the orientation of the N95 to correctly set the way the picture will be displayed in the gallery; this is not something I expect to find on these types of devices, especially since even some full blown digital cameras don’t have this.
Unlike the N93/i the N95 does not sport any optical zooming, Nokia’s flagship imaging device now only has the digital counterpart. In the process of making the N95 smaller compared to the N93/i it seems that some sacrifices had to be made and this case the optical zooming had to go. As you remember from my previous N93/i review a big contributor to the N93/i’s large size was the lens barrel which mostly housed the mechanics for the optical zooming. Without doubt the N95 would have been a bit bigger if optical zooming was implemented. With the miniaturization of technology it would come as no surprise that they could fit 3X optical or more in a device like the N95 without a lot of compromise. In the case of the N95 there isn’t really any space left, even if there was I would dedicate that to extra battery power. I can understand there decision to omit this, but I do hope that Nokia adds this feature in future phones. Some might argue against the presence of optical zooming in a mobile device, but in my opinion this is a very easy matter: optical zooming is always better then digital zooming. The only loss would be the extra room needed to house such a feature. Digital zooming is useless as it only worsens the final result and would basically have the same effect as cropping your image on the PC. In this case it would better to just get closer to your subject or take the picture without zooming in and just crop it later on a program like Adobe Photoshop.
Back when I had the N80 I complained about the fact that the lens was out in the open, just waiting to get smudge with dirty fingers or get damaged. The situation got a lot better on the N93/i as in both cases a lens cap was offered, but on neither models could the solution be called convenient as you had to hook it up to a strap or risk loosing the lens cap. Even if you would hook it up to the strap it would be dangling from the device when taking pictures/recording videos. And there were a lot of reported cases where the lens cap would break. That’s why I’m really happy with the new mechanical cover on the N95 as it serves two purposes: protect the lens and activate the camera. No chord or breaking covers here, as it is integrated well into the body and feels very secure. I also must say that I have seen to many reviews calling this mechanical cover the shutter. The shutter is actually the tiny flap mounted within the lens assembly that regulates light to pass for a determined period of time. If you look close within the lens you would see it quickly close and then open back when taking. In other word the mechanism outside that covers the lens it not the shutter.
Digital imaging is a big part of the N95 and it shows, it really does look the part looking a lot like a point and shoot camera, when taking pictures it is also held in horizontal position. With the large display and characteristic round camera module taking up much of the back real estate the N95 could easily be mistaken for a digital camera. The camera is activated by sliding the camera cover switch. At 4 seconds it takes way too much time to activate, those quick moments will surely be missed witch such a slow startup. The last two firmware upgrades have significantly lowered the start-up time so I have hope that this will get better with time. The display is used as the viewfinder and by default shows on the left the current capture mode (video or picture) and the memory being used (memory card or device memory) and the amount pictures you can take based on the amount of storage you have left.
There’s also an image resolution indicator that of course shows the image quality used. Right in the middle of the display you can find the “Focus Bracket” that by default is white. Doing a half-press on the capture key the camera will start to focus, if the image is in focus the bracket will turn green, otherwise it will turn red indicating a focus difficulty. On the right we can find the options menu or we can exit, this will allow you to exit the camera and continue using the phone in landscape mode. Due to its multitasking abilities you can hit the menu key to temporarily “minimize” the camera to perform other tasks. You could be downloading things in the background or performing similar tasks like for example play you favorite mp3 while focusing or adjusting the camera settings, try that on your digital camera! The music is paused a few minutes to let you hear the fake shutter sound.
After the picture is taken the music resumes. On the right side we can also find the Active toolbar; this is very similar to what is found on current digital cameras and I must say that Nokia really has managed to get the menu right, reminding me a lot of my Canon Powershot digital camera. The active toolbar is comprehensive and serves as a way to quickly change the most used options before taking a picture. The first option on the active toolbar is to switch between video or camera mode. There’s also the scene mode to select predefined scenes that automatically adjust the settings to get the best shot in a preset scene, there’s: auto, user defined, close-up mode (macro), portrait, landscape, sports, night and night portrait. Going back to the active toolbar you can adjust the flash accordingly to automatic, on, red-eye reduction and off. The self-timer can be set either to 2, 10 and 20 seconds. There’s also a sequence mode that you can set to burst which takes 5 shots at a rate of about 1.1 frames per second. It can also be set to take images at an interval of 10secs, 30secs, 1,5, 10 or 15 minutes. Just like a camera both exposure compensation and white balance can be adjusted. The white balance can be set to Auto, sunny, cloudy, incandescent and fluorescent. What other options can we find on the active toolbar? The color tone can be adjusted (normal, sepia, b&w, vivid and negative), contrast and sharpness. I’m also happy to find the ability to set the ISO, something I asked for when using the N80 and N93/i. Just like the N73 it has found its way on the N95, interestingly they don’t give you the ISO values, but just let you choose between high, medium, low or automatic. Besides the user selectable options on the active toolbar you can go into the option and then settings to find the image settings. In here you can adjust the image quality anywhere from 5 megapixel to 0.3 Megapixel, add image to album, set if captured images are displayed after they are taken, set the default image name by date or text, change the camera shutter sound, select the memory to be used to store images, rotate images and finally restore camera settings to factory defaults. As you can see the camera settings are really comprehensive and are similar to cameras available on the market.
What about picture quality? Basically the N95 has taken the crown as the best mobile imaging device, well that’s at least until we can compare it to Sony Ericsson’s upcoming 5megapixel K850i Sophia. If we compare it to the N93 we can say that even during the day the N95 has the upper hand producing better looking pictures. While The N93 is less edge enhancement and noise reduction happy, producing more natural looking pics it also produces a lot more noise. Comparing shots that were taken in low light conditions, the N95 wins hands down and the difference is dramatic to say the least; while the N95’s pictures are indeed significantly less noisy; a big part of the “clear” image is attributed to the aggressive noise reduction. While the N93i has improved the situation with less noisy pictures it looses detail due to noise reduction. The real test starts when comparing the N73 and K800i against the N95. The N73 and K800i were known for a long time as the best mobile imaging devices. The K800i produced natural detailed pictures with it’s amazing xenon flash, while the N73 produced vivid detailed pictures that were admittedly looked a bit unnatural due to the aggressive noise reduction and edge enhancement. Even so, the N73 qualified as one of the best available. The N95 captures much more details then both, yet improves on the unnatural looking pictures of the N73. Compared the K800i the N95 wins in all situation except in low light scenarios where flash is used. This comes as no surprise as a much more potent Xenon flash is used on the K800i. Below are a few sample shots of the N95.
Back when I did the N93 review I said: “Let’s get one thing straight: the Nokia N93 and N93i models have the best video recording quality on the market right now, no competitors in this area”
The same things applies to the N95 as it has together with the N93 and N93i the best video recording capability in the mobile world as they are capable of capturing VGA (640X480) video at 30 FPS.
The N95 does perform better in low-light, but the N93/i has the added optical zoom while the stereo mics on the N93 recorded much more detailed sound. The N95 sounds worse because it’s using the same earpiece used to make calls. Comparing the N95 and N93/i there is no clear winner as the N95 video is about the same as N93/i, but the low-light performance is remarkably better. On the other hand the sound captured by the N93 is amazing, bettering even the N93i. This is especially true when heard using your PC speakers. So the N95 and N93/i still qualify as the best video capture devices on the market, no competitors here. One has the better sound, the other has better low-light performance. A slight nudge goes to the N95 for it’s better performance at night and much more compact buddy. If detailed sound is much more of a priority to you and you won’t be taking night-time video I would suggest the N93 or N93i.
With the music oriented N91, Music Edition models and the XpressMusic certified models, it clearly shows that audio is a big part of the Nseries. That’s why it would not come as a surprise that the N95 was given the same treatment. While not a Music Edition, which typically come in a black color, have better headphones and larger memory cards, the N95 is still certified as an XpressMusic model. XpressMusic and Music Edition models are equivalent to Sony Ericcson’s music oriented Walkman series. So what’s the difference between the Music editions and the XpressMusic versions? Basically the Music edition models have the added extra’s I just mentioned, but also have the features of XpressMusic that make it a music phone. XpressMusic is like a certification that garantees that a phones has “music phone” features like music controls, ability to create on-the-fly playlist, pausing the music when you receive a call and auto resume after a call, 3.5mm jack, support for USB 2.0, OMA DRM, support for a wide range of audio formats etc.
The music hardware
The N95’s dual-sliding form factor was made with music in mind: the slider slides further down revealing media keys that provide play/pause, stop, rewind and forward when holding the phone horizontally much like your typical media player or MP3-player. From an initial inspection you might think these are touch controls, but they’re not. These are just ultra flat keys that are surrounded by a black plastic. When on, they glow in the same blue as the keypad. A light sensor is used to determine whether the keys need to be turned on; the same light sensor is used for the keypad. At first I thought that the media keys were bit too gimmicky, especially since the D-pad could just as well be used to control your music. But after a while I really began to see the need for these keys. Let’s say you’re browsing the web. While in the browser the D-pad would only be used to move the cursor, making it necessary to minimize the browser to open the music app. But by just pressing the play button it automatically starts the music player in the background and starts playing the last accessed song. The music can be controlled from any other app without ever having to open the music player. If you press one of the media keys, information about the currently playing audio file is displayed in the background. This is a big improvement and is very useful. On the other side the media keys feels a bit cramped and due to there flat nature they are bit hard to press. In the end they are a very convenient addition to the N95 and even add to the overall look of the device.
On the left there’s even a 3.5 mm jack and unlike the iPhone the N95 does allow you to use just about any standard headphones, this means you could swap the ones included in the package for high-end models, which is exactly what I did (More on this later on). This is a huge improved over the N93/i which both needed Nokia branded audio adapters to use third part headphones. Included in the package are the Nokia Stereo Headset HS-45 and the AD-43 audio adapter. You can plug the HS-45 directly into 3.5mm jack and used them as normal earphones. If you want to make call the AD-43 audio adapter needs to be plugged, conveniently you can use these with any third party headphone. The audio quality from the included stereo headphones is just “ok” and should do the job just fine. But I would recommend getting better headphones to get the most out of the N95. Of course you could always unplug all the earphone or adapters and just use the earpiece. This feature was first introduced on the N91 and is now available on various models including the N95, E76 and E90. A loudspeaker is placed on each side of the N95; they are well protected by a very shiny speaker grille. The laws of physics obviously dictate that you won’t be getting any bass from these speakers, but honestly they sound really good especially seeing there tiny size and the small device the sound is coming from. This is probably one of the best sounding speakers I have heard so far in the Nseries (except for the N800) and compares favorable to other models from other brands. The speakers on the N800 easily beats the ones on the N95 with better clarity, reaching much lower in the audio spectrum and have better overall sound and a much higher volume. I remembered that some time ago Nokia’s smartphone tended to have very faint sounding speakers and that they were easily outdone by cheaper S40 based Nokias. This thankfully has been fixed, because it was kind of shame that a lower-in-price S40 phone like the 6230i could sound louder then their smartphone counterparts. If wireless is more your thing the N95 supports the A2DP wireless Bluetooth standard (finally)! The standard provides enough bandwidth to wirelessly push enough data to sound close and in some cases even beating wired headphones. The experience is wonderfull, but will drain the battery pretty fast.
The N95 itself looks the part with the large screen and music controls when held horizontally. The size is perfect and feels just right in the hand. The rubbery material used on the plum is perfect for sweaty hands and prevents the device from slipping, can’t say the same thing about the sand version. Making it dramatically smaller I guess would have an adverse effect on the battery life and there wouldn’t be any room for that big screen.
The music software
Being a smarthphone with the Symbian OS you can easily listen to your tunes while multi-tasking, this is only limited by the available RAM. As stated earlier the RAM situation on the N95 is not the most ideal and I found apps closing down automatically or getting “out of memory” message when there wouldn’t be any more RAM left. This would sometimes happen even when only the Music app and the browser would be open and it was accessing a very complex page. When it does work though it’s very convenient: performing all your typical tasks on the N95 like browsing, playing games and reading word documents with music being played in the background to me is very valuable. The added functionality of multi-tasking due to it being a smartphone makes it actually much more desirable then let’s say a Media player or MP3 player which mostly tend to be limited to one or two task being performed at the same time.
The N95 sports the new FP1 MP3-player interface, which in turn is derived from the one found on the N91. Without any doubt this is a good thing. Why you may be asking? Well you see, previous 3rd edition devices (not FP1) like the N93 or N80 had a good MP3-player with horrible controls. They actually placed the play, pause, stop, forward and rewind buttons horizontally in the player, this way you would have to move up and down and then select the action you would want. This wasn’t intuitive and you couldn’t perform the actions as quickly. On top of that it didn’t support album art either. Even stranger was the fact that the N91 had a completely different player with easy controls and support for album art. The N95 now inherits the same player as the N91: The controls are now mapped to the D-pad which allows quick and easy audio controls and luckily album art is now supported. When you first enter the MP3-player songs are categorized by “All songs”, Artist, Album, Genres or composers. It also has a playlist with your custom created playlists or the ones it automatically created like your most played tracks, recently played tracks or new additions to your library. In these menus the songs are sorted accordingly, a search is done by automatically typing on the keypad. Playlist can be created on the fly and album art can be changed at any time.
When you start playing a track you are send to the “now playing” interface which shows you the album art and audio controls mapped to the D-pad. This has the usual set of options found on most MP3-players like shuffle and repeat functions. If you’re a fan of that sort of thing it also provides an Equalizer and three visualizations. The visualizations look cool but seem more like something to impress rather then being useful. In the audio settings the loudness didn’t make much of difference, while the stereo widening provided an interesting listening experience by literally creating phantom speaker, but the phone has to be right in front of you. The balance can also be changed.The N95 also comes with the usual radio which supports Visual Radio. Visual Radio is a standard that is supposed be an extra service that co-exists with radio broadcasts by providing over-the-air track info, radio station info and album art. On top of that it offers a slew of interactive features like audience polls, votes and competitions. It has a lot of potential but seems useless due to lack of availability. Juts as the DVB-H mobile tv standard it’s only available in a handful number of countries. The N95 needs the headset or the remote control to be plugged-in for the radio to work.
It all comes down to audio quality in this section and one thing is clear, both the N91 and N91 8GB clearly beat the N95 in terms of audio quality. This again comes as no surprise when the N91 even beat stand-alone MP3-players like that well-known white player in terms of sonic output. But I guess both the N91 and its 8GB counterpart have specialized audio DACs for added audio quality. But this doesn’t mean that the N95 gets left behind very far, as the N95 was capable of driving high-end headphones or just about any audio device that has an audio input line with good sonic quality accompanied with volume to match. As an MP3-player the N95 outperforms most dedicated players out there with only the N91 and some MP3 players like those from Creative labs manage to beat it. To get the best out of the N95 I would recommend getting the entry earphones in the 100-200 dollar range from Etymotic, Shure and Sennheiser. There have been reports about the N95 making hissing sounds that to some indicated that the audio circuitry used was not up to the task. I would like to discuss this issue based on my findings. First of all I indeed heard these hissing sounds right before the music started (then the hissing stops) or whenever I was browsing the menu with no music playing. As you know whenever you press a key a small tone is made and this is heard through the earphones when they are connected. I started noticing that whenever the key tone is played: I would hear the hissing during the tone and a few milliseconds after. After that it would become completely silent. I thought this was strange, because if the audio output is noisy and has a lot of hiss it should be heard all the time and not only when the keypad tones comes up. I found the answer to this problem when using my N800. When you press the full screen button on the N800 it should make a fake click: with fake I mean that it’s not the button that’s making the sound, but it’s actually the speakers that are playing a sampled sound recorded to act as if the keys are making a clicking sound. It seems that these samples were poorly recorded and some “hiss” has made it into the recording. So whenever I would press a button on the N800 I would hear the fake click accompanied by the hiss. When the click dies down, no more hiss is heard. This would indicate that the output signal is clean, but it’s just the recording that’s used for the click is a bit noisy. I suspect the same thing happened with the N95. Another issue is that a small faint hiss is heard at the start of each track, but is not heard during playback: pausing the music reveals no hiss. Some might argue that the loud sound is drowning out the hiss which is not true as I listened for hiss during audio playback of faint passages. So it seems the hissing caused is by poorly sampled tones and some issue at the start of the track. But luckily during playback or when paused there is no hiss. I confirmed this using high-end headphone like the Shure E4c and the Etymotic ER-4P.
All in all the N95 doubles as an excellent MP3-player with good sonic performance that outperforms most dedicated MP3 players out there, but is bested by the N91 and a handful of MP3 players like Creative Zen line. It offers all the options that you would expect from an MP3 player, plus goes another level by adding smartphone functionality including multi-tasking and internet access during music playback making it in my opinion a more desirable, albeit costly choice. With added microSDHC support it offers comparable storage to something like the iPhone or Apple iPod nano with the flexibility to change or buy multiple microSD cards.
Tune into the next part when we discuss connectivity and more!