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

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MSRP: $346.00

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.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7

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.

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