Nokia's N91 was announced in April 2005, and we've waited and waited, but the final product is at last in our hands.
For those of you who've been living under a rock for the last 12 months, the N91 is Nokia's music phone, and its 4GB hard drive means it can store plenty of tracks. Add a 2-megapixel camera, Wi-Fi, 3G and an FM radio and this is one well-featured handset.
At the time of writing, the N91 was not available from the new Nokia online store. We did however find it available SIM free from Expansys, who supplied our review model, for £490. Check your preferred operator for contract pricing.
The N91 is many things, but a cutie-pie it most certainly is not. It is big, and it is heavy. Measuring 55 by 113 by 22mm (WHD), and weighing in at 164g, it looks like it has been beefing it up for months. Actually it does look like it has been working out, because its torso is broader than its lower half.
What you see initially isn't all of what you get. Being Nokia's music phone, there is a control panel on the front which has dedicated music control buttons. To get to the number pad you slide this downwards, at which point the N91 puts on a growth spurt and becomes 140mm tall.
The all-silver frontage with stainless steel highlights looks nice when you first take the N91 out of its box, but the shiny parts soon gather fingermarks.
If you think that the overall size should cater for a bigger, brighter screen than usual, think again. The screen's dimensions match those of the smaller and neater, and at just 176x208 pixels it disappoints. But then we suspect that the girth and heft of this handset is a result of the 4GB of internal memory rather than any other enhancements.
On the other hand, the overall size of the N91 does mean that the front buttons are nicely spaced. In between the screen and dedicated music keys sits a bank of four buttons and a large enough mini joystick. The four cover Call, End and the two soft menus, and between these and the music buttons you can do most things.
A volume rocker sits on the left edge of the casing. Interestingly there's no button dedicated to launching the built-in 2-megapixel camera. You need to press a side key on the upper-right edge to access the N91's main menu then choose the camera from there. You can shoot stills and capture video using the joystick. The N91 though, is one of those irritating 3G handsets without a front camera, so you can't make video calls.
On the top of the handset is the power switch and a connector for the headset, which comes in two pieces. A section containing music control keys, microphone and phone answer keys connects to the handset itself, with the section containing the earbuds plugging into that. We are delighted that both connectors use a standard 3.5mm jack, allowing you to substitute your favourite headset.
The top of the N91 also has a slider that can be used to lock all the keys. Cleverly, if you lock the handset then slide the music playback controls down to reveal the number pad, the N91 assumes you want to dial a call and the number pad is automatically unlocked. Moreover, if you have the number pad on display and slide the top button into its locked position, the number pad is locked.
The number keys are very small, but they are well spaced and we found hitting them accurately easy. The slider mechanism itself is smooth. An indent along its upper edge helps you to grip and pull it down, but it is all too easy to hit the music playback buttons on the outward and return journeys.
As the N91 is mostly about music, this is what we should concentrate on. But the handset does have plenty more going for it, and the more technically minded might care to know that its runs the latest third edition of Symbian Series 60.
The N91 doesn't support proprietary music formats (it is not iTunes compatible) but it does play MP3, AAC and WMA so it can cope with your own rips as well as downloads delivered via your PC and collected over the air.
Transferring files couldn't be easier. When you attach the N91 to your PC using the provided cable, you choose whether to connect in PC Suite mode (for synchronisation of Outlook data), Media Player (for synchronisation with Windows Media Player 10 -- yes, although this handset runs the Symbian operating system, Microsoft's media player is supported), or as a mass storage device. The latter is ideal if you simply want to drag and drop music files to the 4GB hard drive.
You can share playlists over Bluetooth or via MMS -- could this be the start of a whole new youth craze? And while we are on the subject of Bluetooth, the N91 outputs stereo music to a headset -- make sure your headset is compatible, of course.
Music playback stops when a call comes in, and picks right back up again when you hang up. Similarly, playback carries on while you do other things with the phone, and even if you have the music controls section slid down to get to the number pad, it carries on working.
All this counts for nothing if playback quality is a let-down. It isn't. The provided headset delivers good quality sound and plenty of volume. An 8-band graphic equaliser lets you fiddle with what you hear, but there are enough presets to be going on with.
We said earlier there is more to the N91 than just music. All the standard Series 60 diary and contact management capability, along with ability to share data with Outlook is here. The 2-megapixel camera and video recorder shoots good quality images. The FM Radio with its twenty presets supports Visual Radio, which will be useful when it eventually launches in the UK.
Rarely seen in mobiles is Wi-Fi support, and here is rare support for faster 802.11g as well as slower 'b' standard connections.
If have access to a Wi-Fi network, browsing the Web through the N91 is on the cards. The full HTML Web browser is fast and efficient. When you enter a URL the phone says it is 'searching for available access points' before offering various over the air choices or the option to 'search for WLAN'. Choose that and it finds all the available networks. The only bother is entering passwords for protected networks, which is a bit of a pain.
The Web browser isn't all sweetness, though. It insists on horizontal as well as vertical scrolling. Choose Page Overview mode and you can see a complete Web page in miniature. Use the joystick to move a small box around on this page, click and you zoom in to the area you've selected. It's good, but also fiddly.
The star attraction of the N91, music playback, is pretty much faultless. Sound quality is good, there is plenty of volume, and rooting through hundreds of tracks is fast and easy. The front controls work like a dream and doubling them onto the headset is a great bonus.
You are going to need a lot of battery life from this handset to make it worthwhile using it as a music player. Nokia says you'll get up to ten hours of music playback. We managed all the music listening we wanted during daily travel without suffering battery problems, and as long as you are not a complete music junkie we reckon you should manage a weekend away from mains power.
Call quality was fine, and again volume plentiful.
Thanks to Expansys for providing a review sample of this phone
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield