Long-term test: 18 months with a Nokia N95 8GB

Eighteen months have passed since one CNET employee sold his soul to get a Nokia N95. How has he found it, and was it worth the price?

A couple of years ago, had you told me I'd be buying a Nokia, I would have shaken my Sony Ericsson in your face and told you to sod right off. I was, you see, an Ericsson fanboy. I started my mobile phone life with a couple of Motorola phones, including the 7500 -- a phone that could only receive text messages, not send them. My last Motorola was a StarTac 80 that kept breaking. Its replacement, the Ericsson T18, made me an Ericsson devotee.

My T18 was brilliant. It would still be alive and well today if a friend hadn't dropped it down the toilet. As much as I loved Ericsson -- and later, Sony Ericsson -- I got sick of it announcing a phone and then making me wait a year to buy it. Enough, I said, and decided to take the plunge and get a Nokia N95 8GB . It wasn't easy to make the change. For a start, Vodafone made me sell my soul. I had to sign up for an 18-month contract, a first for me, and not something I'd rush to do again.

So how has my Nokia treated me over the months we've been together?

The good

I love the styling of the N95 8GB. It's a massive aesthetic improvement over the vanilla N95 . The fractionally larger screen and sleek black paint-job make it a smarter-looking handset, and it has more built-in capacity -- albeit at the cost of the microSD slot.

Nokia does build phones with plenty of potential, and that's realised through third-party applications . I have a bunch of cool programs on my N95 that enable me to do things such as SSH into my Linux-based machines and stream video to the Internet. Not to mention all the GPS mapping and email and Web functionality. Apps are terrific, but finding them can be a challenge -- happily, the Nokia Ovi app store is launching with the aim of making this much easier.

Because I hate Vodafone , and want to punish it for its ludicrous data tariffs , I make regular use of the N95's ability to easily tether itself to my PC. Recently, I've used the new Ovi PC suite to connect my Windows 7 laptop to my phone via Bluetooth. This means I can hop online when there's no Wi-Fi available and test Vodafone's claim that I have 'unlimited' data transfer.

Podcast downloads on this phone are nothing but brilliant. Downloading new shows can be done over the air or via Wi-Fi, and standard RSS feeds work fine. This is probably the single feature I use most on my N95. The music player is pretty good too, and although I use it less, it does pretty much everything I need. My only wish with the podcast app was that it could remember where you listened up to in a long episode.

N95 camera image

The bad

Even since Sony's interference, Ericsson handsets are still brilliantly built. The iPhone feels like it might last a good few years and even BlackBerrys have a certain standard of construction that's enviable. Nokia, sadly, doesn't seem to care. Much of the paint is wearing off my N95. The keys are losing their letters and the writing on the back is worn down. The screen too, scratches far more easily than on my old K800i . Screen covers are essential with the Nokia, it seems -- a lesson I learnt too late.

N95 keys

The two-way slider is also idiotic. Firstly, the media keys on the top are just useless. They aren't easy to press and I don't think I've ever really used them. The slider itself is hideous too -- mine was loose within a month, and I hate stuff like that. I want things to stay taut for the lifespan of the phone.

Battery life is truly abysmal if you do anything involving the Internet. I can get a full day out of it, but downloading a podcast or two will knock it down substantially. Using it as a modem can knock a full charge down to nothing in less than the time it takes my laptop to discharge. Not surprising really, but a pain if you're nowhere near a power socket.

N95 rear

The decision to do without a lens cover on the 8GB N95 is really irritating. Within about two weeks, one of the coatings on the lens had totally worn off. I'm not sure what it did in the first place, but it's gone now. It's a shame, because the N95 still has one of the best cameras I've ever used on a phone, as you can see: 

N95 camera image

Last on my list of complaints is the OS stability. Recently I've suffered a huge number of crashes on the N95. I'll be listening to a podcast or twittering something, and suddenly the screen will go white and the phone will reboot. No reason is ever given, and no one thing seems to set it off.

Conclusion

Horrible build quality and awful battery-life aside, I've had good use out of my N95. There are, of course, many improvements that could be made to the software that would make it a better mobile. But it's been with me all day, every day and it's never let me down. It's really quite a remarkable device, and one I've throughly enjoyed owning, even if I did have to auction my eternal being to obtain it.

What's next then? Well, for me, the N97 isn't what I'm looking for. Nokia can't compete in the touchscreen market unless it gets capacitive screens working. At this stage, it looks like my next phone will be the Palm Pre -- but that requires it lives up to the hype and comes out here soon. Until then, my trusty N95 and I will continue our journey together.

 

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