There's no denying that the Nokia N97 is one feature-packed smartphone. It comes with a whopping 32GB of internal flash memory, which can be expanded to 48GB via the expansion slot, and Nokia preloads the device with a number of extra apps, including a dedicated YouTube player, Qik (for sharing videos from your phone), Boingo Wi-Fi service, Psiloc World Traveler, AP News, and Guitar Rock Tour. The N97 also supports the recently launched Nokia Ovi Store where users can peruse the large catalog of Symbian apps and download them to the device. This is, of course, on top of S60 platform staples like QuickOffice for viewing Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, Adobe PDF, a file manager, and other PIM tools, such as a Zip manager, a calculator, a notepad, a measurement converter, a clock, and a voice recorder.
The N97 doesn't come with the new Nokia Messaging app like the Nokia E75, but there's still plenty of e-mail support. The smartphone can synchronize with Microsoft Exchange and it works with Lotus Notes, IMAP4, POP3, and SMTP accounts and comes with a full attachment viewer. Unfortunately, there aren't any instant messaging clients on the phone, which is too bad given the full QWERTY keyboard and all.
As a phone, the N97 offers quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, speed dial, conference calling, voice-command support, a vibrate mode, and text and multimedia messaging. The phone's address book is only limited by the available memory, and the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts. There's room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, work and home addresses, e-mail addresses, birthday, and more vitals. For caller ID purposes, you can assign each contact a photo, a group ID, or a custom ringtone. Bluetooth 2.0 is also onboard, with support for mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets, hands-free kits, audio/video remote control, object push, dial-up networking, file transfer, and more. To get online, you can use either the phone's integrated Wi-Fi or tri-band HSDPA (850/1900/2100MHz) support over AT&T's network. Nokia's HTML Web browser is quite decent, offering various page views, keyword search, and Flash Lite 3.0 support, but navigation and zooming in/out of pages definitely feels clunkier than the iPhone and Pre, which benefit from a multitouch screen.
For navigating the streets, the Nokia N97 has standalone and assisted GPS, so it uses both satellites and cellular triangulation to find your position. The smartphone also comes preloaded with the Nokia Maps application and has a built-in compass so the map will automatically orient itself to the direction you are heading in. For real-time, turn-by-turn voice-guided directions, you'll have to upgrade the application, but Nokia is now offering a complimentary three-month trial of the walk and drive turn-by-turn service. Afterward, you'll have several purchase options, which you can check out here.
The N97 keeps the same camera and the N96: a 5-megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens with dual-LED flash, auto focus, and up to 4x digital zoom. There are numerous advanced camera options, such as color tone, light sensitivity, exposure, and geotagging. In addition, the camera can record MPEG-4 videos at a maximum VGA resolution (640x480) at 30fps.
Picture quality was crisp and clear. Objects were sharply defined in the image, and we were happy colors were vibrant and rich instead of washed out. Recorded videos looked better than other smartphones we've tested, though it was still slightly murky. Once done with your photos, you can add tags, save them as a contact image, share them with friends and family via multimedia message or e-mail. In addition, you can view them in a slide show or upload to a service like Flickr or Ovi.
As with Nokia's other N series devices, the N97 is also equipped with a built-in media player that supports MP3, WMA, AAC, AAC+, and eAAC+ files. The music library categorizes tracks by artists, albums, genres, and composers; you can also create playlists right on the phone and adjust the sound with the built-in equalizer. There's also support for podcasts and the phone offers Internet radio and an FM tuner. (Note that you need to use the included headset for the latter.) If you'd like to watch other videos, you can use RealPlayer to check out 3GPP and MPEG-4 files.
While all these features are great, the biggest downfall of the N97 might be the Symbian operating system. The OS might have been passable when the smartphone was first announced in December 2008, but it feels completely outdated now, especially in light of the progress made with Google Android and the iPhone OS 3.0 and the introduction of Palm WebOS, and it's not optimized for a touch interface. We're not saying Symbian is a lost cause, and we know there are many fans of the OS and the N97 out there, but we just expected more.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; tri-band HSDPA 850/1900/2100) in San Francisco using AT&T service and call quality was excellent. We enjoyed clear audio on our end with good volume and very little to no background noise. Our friends were also impressed and said we sounded great (why, thank you!). We also used an airline's voice-automated response system with no problem and didn't experience any dropped calls during our review period. Unfortunately, we didn't have quite the same praises for the speakerphone. Even at the highest level, volume was weak, we had to hold the speaker close to our ear to hear our friends, and our callers said we also sounded soft. In addition, audio would occasionally cut out.
On a more positive note, we successfully and easily paired the smartphone with the Samsung WEP350 Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones. Finally, the smartphone has a M3 hearing aid compatibility rating.
The N97's general performance was decent. The smartphone was mostly responsive with minimal lag or delay. However, there were a couple of occasions where we got a warning that memory was low and that we had to close other application in order to launch another one. Even so, performance was much improved over the Nokia N96, and we had no major system meltdowns during our testing period and never had to reboot the device.
Given that the speakerphone didn't produce the best results, we weren't surprised when songs sounded soft and hollow when played through the speakers. Fortunately, the N97 is equipped with a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack so we were able to plug in our Bose On-Ear Headphones and enjoy better sound quality. We also watched several YouTube and MPEG-4 video clips, and playback was smooth with synchronized audio and picture. However, the aspect ratio was never right despite options to change it.
The smartphone's GPS capabilities were decent. From a cold start, it took the N97 about 10 minutes to find our location; however, subsequent starts were much faster, taking less then 2 minutes. Using Nokia Maps, it was able to track closely our movements and provided accurate directions.
The Nokia N97 comes with a 1500mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 95 hours (GSM)/6 hours (3G) and up to 17.9 days (GSM)/16.6 days (3G) of standby time. We are still conducting our battery drain tests, but we will update this section as soon as we have results. According to FCC radiation tests, the N97 has a digital SAR rating of 0.74 watt per kilogram.