Nokia's N90 can be called many things, but there are several words that should never be used in its presence. Words like "petite", "small" or "thin" come to mind. With dimensions of 112 x 51 x 24mm, this is a large phone by anyone's standards. To be more precise, however, it's not the mobile phone part of the N90 that makes it a chunky beast, but instead the integrated 2.0-megapixel camera that sits on the top of the N90 when fully folded up.
When Nokia announced the N90 back in April, a 2.0-megapixel camera was something of a revelation, with most vendors still touting the incredible images available from their 1.3-megapixel camera models. Fast forward eight months, and the N90 is no longer alone in the 2.0-megapixel world, although the approach that Nokia's taken to integrating the camera -- and the quality of the supplied lens and camera apparatus -- put the N90 in a class of its own.
Most camera phones place the camera lens on the back of the camera, but the N90 takes a different approach. The lens on the N90 sits on the top of the phone, within a barrel-shaped protrusion that can be rotated to almost a full 360 degrees, allowing for self-portraits where necessary. The screen likewise is a folding affair, giving the N90 more than a slight feel of a Rubik's cube about it. The exterior screen of the N90 is a 128 x 128-pixel 65K colour display, while the interior display is a hefty 2.1 inch 352 x 416-pixel affair. The internal main screen also becomes the shooting viewfinder when twisted out.
From a pure phone functionality viewpoint, the N90 is a Symbian Series 60 platform phone capable of 3G operation as well as tri-band (GSM900/1800/1900). It's also a Bluetooth capable phone with the inevitable bundling of Nokia's Mobile Suite software for office workers. To be honest, though, absolutely nobody's going to buy the N90 for its phone capabilities; the N90 sells itself on its photographic capabilities.
The N90 features a quality 2.0-megapixel Carl Zeiss lens -- Nokia announced earlier in the year that many of its upcoming camera phones would feature Carl Zeiss lenses, with the N90 merely being the first off the factory line. Camera functionality of the phone also includes a 20x digital zoom - which, as with all digital zooms, we'd advise you to use sparingly, if at all -- and a slew of photographic shooting modes, including set modes for night and sports shooting. The N90 also houses a quite powerful flash and a large number of applications that support digital photography, from some simple in-phone image editing options as well as PictBridge printing support.
The N90 also supports video shooting, although the onboard 31MB of available memory won't allow you to shoot that much, even in reduced-size MP4 format. To overcome this, the N90 utilises RS-MMC (Reduced Size Multimedia Card) via a slot on the side of the camera. Our test phone came with a 128MB RS-MMC card, although the amount in retail packages may vary from our test sample.
As a phone, the N90 isn't honestly all that exciting. The flat button layout of the number pad, combined with a large number of selection keys around the central selection pad will take any user some time to get used to. One factor with the N90's design that we did quite like in terms of taking and making calls was that the camera barrel juts out from the back when the phone's flipped open. The advantage with this is that it's easy to rest the phone on your fingers while you're talking, which somewhat obviates the size issues of the N90.
Camera shooting, whether in video or still modes, is quite different to shooting with any other camera phone we've tested, simply because the physical design of the N90 makes it more like shooting with a very small camcorder than with a mobile phone. It's certainly easier to get better shots in terms of framing, hand judder and inadvertent placement of fingers over the lens. The controls on the side for shooting on the side are easy enough to use, although the in-camera editing software is pretty basic, and to be honest we'd suggest doing all of your editing and likewise digital zooming in an external package.
Nokia includes a USB cable and Nokia Suite software on CD to allow you to get your shots off the phone -- it's also feasible to ping them off via Bluetooth, or, depending on the size of the shot or video, they can be sent as messages to other compatible phones. The cover for the USB connector pops off -- and, in our estimation, will be lost on 99.9% of N90's the moment it's removed -- and a proprietary connector plugs into the side of the N90.
Setting up Nokia Suite and the N90's drivers is an extremely slow process, and on our initial install, we hit a scripting error with the install routine, which crashed back to the desktop. Eventually we gave up on the supplied CD copy of Nokia Suite and downloaded the latest version from Nokia's Web site. While slow to install, it eventually worked fine. Irritatingly, after all that installation, the basic copying process for moving files uses Windows Explorer - why couldn't Nokia have designed the N90 to be detected by Windows XP as a camera, exactly?
The shots and videos we took with the N90 were a mixed bunch. It's definitely capable of taking shots that leave pretty much every other camera phone in the dust, but if you're used to higher-quality digital camera shots, you may be a touch unimpressed. The rotating lens does give you good scope for some creative shots, although the lack of a tripod mounting point means that you've got to have steady hands and a small amount of luck to avoid camera shudder.
Nokia rates the 760mAh Lithium Ion battery that ships with the N90 as being good for around 3 hours of talk time, and 12 days standby. We found it tended to expire after around five days in our testing, with moderate usage of both the phone and camera capabilities.