If you're a fan of exchangeable covers, the Nokia N79 might just be the phone for you. Boasting similar features to the Nokia N95, the N79 uses an intelligent-casing system that adds a little extra to an otherwise mundane accessory. The Nokia N79 will be made available soon for free on a monthly contract.
At first sight, there's nothing particularly shocking or innovative about the N79's design. Open its box and you'll find a candybar phone that looks similar to a many of Nokia's other phones, but the N79 has a few features that did catch our attention.
There's a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top of the N79 so that you can plug in a standard pair of headphones. Next to that there's a toggle switch for easily locking or unlocking the N79. The lens cover that protects the N79's 5-megapixel camera is easy to slide open, but won't move in your pocket.
Lens cover aside, it's the N79's battery cover that we were most intrigued by. In the N79's box, you get three differently coloured battery covers. Depending on which cover you choose, the N79 recognises it via a set of metal contacts and changes its theme accordingly. If you put on the blue cover, for example, you a blue theme is displayed on the screen. It's not a particularly complicated feature, but it works and it does look good. We would, however, like to be able to change the front cover too.
We would also like to see more metal cases on Nokia phones. The N79 doesn't feel flimsy, but it doesn't boast the metal finish of the E71, for example, which feels and looks like a higher-quality product. The N79's keypad could also do with some attention, because it's a little too flat and ill-defined for our liking, but you get used to it after a while. That said, the size and shape of the phone works well -- it feels right against the side of your face and fits easily in a pocket.
Having fiddled around with the battery covers for a few minutes, we were glad to find out that there's much more going on in the N79 than an intelligent-casing system.
The phone runs on S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 2, and it runs quickly -- there's little or no lag when going into menus or apps.
The navigation keys on the N79 are large and easy to press, making navigating the N79's easy-to-understand menu even easier. Should you wish, you can use the four-way navigation key as an iPod-like click wheel, but we preferred to just click it.
Depending on which way you hold the N79, its display will automatically change to portrait or landscape. We found the motion sensor to be a little over-sensitive at times and ended up turning the feature off, but it is useful when viewing pictures.
On the subject of pictures, the N79's 5-megapixel camera allows you to take still pictures and video. Pictures in daylight came out well, but in low light, its meagre dual LED photo lights meant pictures weren't illuminated as well as is possible with a xenon flash.
The N79's camera interface keeps thing fairly straightforward. You can set it to various modes, such as night mode or sports mode, adjust the flash and set a timer, among other options, but there aren't any extras such as face detection or panorama mode.
Using the GPS, you can geotag your pictures so you can see exactly where you've taken them, but this will only work outside. Once you've taken a picture, you can send it to friends via MMS or email, or use services such as ShoZu to upload it to Flickr or Facebook.
Because the N79 runs on S60 3rd Edition, there's tonnes of cool software you can download for it, including third-party maps, as we've already mentioned, and apps such as Opera Mini. Quickoffice, which comes pre-installed, lets you view Microsoft documents, although you have to buy an additional licence if you want to edit documents.
As we mentioned earlier, the N79 has a 3.5mm headphone jack, and, as a media player, it performs very well. The music player is straightforward, allowing you to create playlists, search artists and albums, and shuffle tracks, among other options.
The N79 supports a variety of music and video formats, which you can check in the specs section of this review. There's also an FM radio, and you can watch YouTube. Nokia has included an FM transmitter in the N79, so you can use your car radio to listen to music from your phone.
If you like playing games on your mobile, you'll be glad to hear that the N79 supports Nokia's N-Gage gaming platform, which gives you access to a variety of fun games. That said, the N79 doesn't come with the same kind of gaming keys you get on the N96, for example, so you have to use the standard navigation keys to play all the games. The N96 has keys on either side of the phone, as you would on a games-console controller, which makes for a much more enjoyable experience.
Audio quality during calls was loud and clear, as was the loudspeaker, but if you want to make hands-free calls, you're best off using a Bluetooth headset or hands-free kit. Battery life is quoted at 3.5 hours talk time using 3G, and 406 hours on standby. We found that, with moderate use, the battery lasted for over a day, but this will vary depending on your usage of HSDPA, Wi-Fi and other battery-intensive features.
The Nokia N79 isn't a ground-breaking phone, but we do like the intelligent-casing system and, as far as features go, we were satisfied with what was on offer, particularly the 3.5mm headphone jack and access to HSDPA and Wi-Fi.
Overall, the N79 is a solid phone with a casing concept that we hope gets taken much further in future models. We think that being able to customise a handset is a great idea and one that should come back with a bang.
If you prefer something with a little more oomph, we recommend the Nokia N82 -- if you can find it that is -- for some reason, few vendors stock it these days.
Edited by Charles Kloet