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Nokia N79 (unlocked) review: Nokia N79 (unlocked)

Nokia N79 (unlocked)

Bonnie Cha
Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
9 min read


Nokia N79 (unlocked)

The Good

The Nokia N79 offers a slim and attractive design and packs in a load of multimedia features, including a 5-megapixel camera that takes excellent photos. The Symbian smartphone also features integrated Wi-Fi, U.S. 3G support, Bluetooth, and GPS.

The Bad

The N79's navigation controls and dialpad are a little cramped, and call quality was a bit mixed.

The Bottom Line

The Nokia N79 might not be the star of the N series devices, but it still shines as a great multimedia smartphone with plenty of features and fast performance.

Editors' note: Portions of the Features section were taken from our review of the Nokia N96, since both smartphones share a number of similar features.

The Nokia N79 might get overshadowed by some of its flashier N series siblings like the Nokia N96 but it should not be ignored. Admittedly, there are some minor design flaws, but the pros outweigh the cons on this handset. Like the rest of the N series, multimedia is the star and the N79 stands out as an excellent camera phone, boasting high-quality images and advanced features. The Symbian smartphone also offers the full gamut of wireless options as well as a productivity suite and e-mail. It's a device that can keep up with multimedia mavens and mobile professionals alike. While not cheap, the Nokia N79 is more affordable than some of the newer N series models (while offering many of the same features) and is one of our favorites from that family. The Nokia N79 is available unlocked through Nokia's flagship stores and through online retailers for around $429.

The Nokia N79 might have a simple candy-bar shape, but it's quite a good-looking phone. The handset is nice and slim at 4.3 inches tall by 1.9 inches wide by 0.5 inch deep and 3.4 ounces, so it feels comfortable and light in the hand and will easily slip into a pants pocket. The attractiveness comes from the white face and chrome edges that gives the N79 a very modern and fresh look. The smartphone also ships with three interchangeable back plates (called XpressOn smart covers) in varying colors (white, red, and brown) so you can switch up the look of the phone depending on your style or mood. Even cooler, the phone's theme will change with the cover. For example, the background color will match whatever smart cover you choose.

The Nokia N79 ships with three XpressOn smart covers that you can swap out depending on your style; each cover will also change the phone's theme.

The N79's QVGA display measures 2.4 inches diagonally and supports 16 million colors and a 320x240-pixel resolution. There's a built-in accelerometer, but it's not a touch screen so you'll have to use the controls below the display to navigate the phone, which include two soft keys, Talk and End buttons, a Menu shortcut, a multimedia key, a back button, and a touch-sensitive navigation toggle with a center select key. Navigation wheel aside, we're not huge fans of the controls, since they're small and cramped. For example, the soft keys and Talk and End buttons are tiny slivers (similar to those on the Nokia N82) so they're not very comfortable to press, and the menu and clear buttons are crammed in between them so they're a little awkward to access.

We weren't huge fans of the N79's navigation controls and dialpad since they were a bit cramped.

The alphanumeric keypad offers a slightly better user experience, though not ideal, either. You get four rows of buttons but there's no spacing between them to create individual keys. This didn't pose a problem to us, however, since the numbers were far enough from each other. What is a bit troublesome is that the rows are pretty narrow so users with larger thumbs might find themselves hitting the number above or below the intended button. That said, we do prefer the N79's styling over its predecessor, the Nokia N78.

Along the left spine, you'll find a microSD expansion slot and a micro USB port--which are both protected by an attached cover--and the power connector. Meanwhile, the right side has a volume rocker, a camera activation/capture button, and dual speakers. On top of the unit, there's a lock switch, a 3.5mm headphone/AV jack, and a power button. The camera and flash are located on the back, and the lens is protected by a sliding cover.

The Nokia N79 comes packaged with a wide variety of accessories, including the aforementioned back plates, a travel charger, a USB cable, a wired headset, a 4GB microSD card, video-out cables, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.

As with all Nokia N series models, the Nokia N79 is about multimedia and being able to access and share content right from your phone. The N79 doesn't offer anything the other N series handsets don't, but that's not a bad thing since these smartphones are fully stocked and offer some advanced multimedia capabilities.

The built-in media player supports MP3, AAC, eACC, eACC+, and WMA files as well as podcasts. You can create playlists on the fly, and there's support for album art, repeat, and shuffle modes. Audiophiles will appreciate the fact that there's an equalizer to tweak sound, and we're sure everyone will be pleased that the smartphone is equipped with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and 3D stereo sound speakers. As we noted earlier, the N79 includes a wired headset, which isn't very comfortable, but it features a built-in tuner so you can use the headphones to listen to FM radio.

There are several ways to get music onto your device. When you connect your N79 to your computer via USB cable, you can choose from several modes, including mass storage, media transfer, PC Suite, and image transfer. In most of those modes, it's just a matter of drag-and-drop. There's always the option to load music via microSD card as well. While the Nokia N79 is built to support the Nokia Music Store where you can browse and purchase tracks over the air, it hasn't fully launched in the United States. We've been waiting for the U.S. store to open its virtual doors for a long time, and when asked about it at CES 2009, Nokia said it still has plans to do so but couldn't give an exact date. Too bad, since we think it'd add much more value to the N series phones.

The N79 also plays MP4, 3GP, H.263, and H.264 video codecs and formats as well as video streaming. You can also record video using the 5-megapixel camera. Like the Nokia N96, the camera features a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens and has a dual LED flash and up to 20x digital zoom. The zoom in video mode only goes up to 8x, which is still impressive, and you can record video at a maximum VGA resolution (640x480) at 30 frames per second. There are four additional quality settings, and the N79 can record video with sound in MP4 or 3GP (for multimedia messages) format. In addition, there's a video stabilization feature to help reduce camera shake as you're recording video, white balance, and color tone settings.

On back, you'll find the N79's 5-megapixel camera. The lens is protected by a sliding cover and you also get a dual LED flash.

We're always impressed with the camera options on the Nokia N multimedia phones, and the N79 is no different. You can choose from eight shooting modes, ranging from close-up to sports to landscape, and five quality settings. You can adjust the brightness, contrast, white balance, color tone, ISO light sensitivity, and exposure value to get the best picture possible. The flash even has a red-eye reduction option. Plus, there's also a self-timer and a sequence mode for multiple shots.

The N79 took some high-quality photos.

Picture quality was most impressive. The photos came out extra sharp with bright and vibrant colors, and there wasn't any of that haziness that plagued the Nokia N78. Recorded videos also looked quite good, especially for a camera phone. Once you're done snapping photos or video, you can send them via Bluetooth, multimedia message, or post them to the Web, whether it be to Nokia's Ovi service or Flickr. The N79 features up to 50MB of internal memory and the microSD expansion slot can accept up to 8GB cards.

The N79's voice features include world roaming, a speakerphone, speed dial, conference calling, voice commands, 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, a birthday, and more vitals. For caller ID purposes, you can assign each contact a photo, a ringtone, or a group ID. Bluetooth 2.0 is also onboard, with support for mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets, hands-free kits, dial-up networking, and file transfer.

The smartphone is also 3G-capable, supporting the 850/1900MHz HSDPA bands, meaning you'll get the benefit of 3.5G speeds only if you use an AT&T SIM. (T-Mobile's 3G network runs on the 1700/2100MHz bands.) Alternatively, the Nokia N79 has integrated Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) so you can also surf to the Web using a Wi-Fi connection.

For navigating the streets, the Nokia N79 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, which offers color maps, route planning, and points of interest. For real-time, turn-by-turn directions, you'll have to upgrade the application, but Nokia is now offering a complimentary three-month trial of the turn-by-turn service. Afterwards, you'll have several purchase options, including a one-year license for $125.77 or a one-month license for $13.96.

Finally, the N79 runs the third edition of the S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 2 on the Symbian operating system for your productivity needs. An app called QuickOffice lets you view Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, and it optimizes the pages for the phone's screen, so you don't have to scroll all over the place to read text. There are some nice shortcuts to jump to the top or bottom of the page to reduce the up-and-down scrolling, and there's also a search function. However, if you want any editing capabilities, you'll have to upgrade the preloaded copy of QuickOffice. For messaging, the device can access IMAP4, POP3, and SMTP e-mail accounts and comes with a full attachment viewer. It also supports a number of push e-mail solutions, as well as Microsoft Exchange Server synchronization, but this is dependent upon your service provider and company's e-mail solution, so check with your IT department if you have any questions.

There are a number of other productivity tools on the phone, including a ZIP manager, a measurement converter, a PDF reader, a calendar, a clock, a calculator, and a message reader. There is a shortcut to the N-Gage gaming platform from where you can download and interact with other gamers; but like the Nokia Music Store, it's not fully operational yet in the States. For more titles and other applications for the Nokia N79, check out Download.com.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; WCDMA 850/1900) in San Francisco using AT&T service and call quality was mixed. We made numerous calls to friends, and most of the time, we enjoyed clear sound with just some slight background hiss and volume was nice and loud, even at lower levels. However, there were a couple of instances where calls sounded fuzzy--enough be distracting, though our friends reported no major complaints. We were able to use an airline's voice-automated system with no problems and we didn't experience any dropped calls during our testing period. The speakerphone wasn't anything to write home about, since calls sounded spotty at times. We were able to pair the N79 with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.

The Nokia N79 proved to be a good little performer, keeping up with our demands. The screen's accelerometer was very sensitive and quick to change orientation whenever we rotated the phone. There was minimal to no delay when launching or using applications, even the multimedia features, which can sometimes trip up other smartphones. Speaking of multimedia, music playback through the phone's speakers was quite good. We could have used a smidge more bass, but all things considered, the N79 produced admirable sound with plenty of volume. Thanks to the 3.5mm headphone jack, we were able to plug in our Bose On-Ear Headphones and enjoyed even better sound quality. Video playback was smooth with matching audio and picture.

The Nokia N79 has a 1,200mAh lithium-ion battery with a rated talk time of 5.5 hours (3.5 hours on 3G) and up to 15.5 days of standby time (16.5 days on 3G). In our battery drain tests, the N79 provided 8.5 hours of continuous talk time on a single charge. According to FCC radiation tests, the N79 has a digital SAR rating of 1.4 watts per kilogram.


Nokia N79 (unlocked)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7
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