The N95 combines satellite navigation, a cutting-edge 5-megapixel camera, a media player and PDA functions in a handset that somehow isn't the size of a brick. It's shockingly expensive, but it is a wonderful piece of kit
Every now and then a product comes along that promises to revolutionise the market. The N95 is such a beast, combining satellite navigation, a cutting-edge 5-megapixel camera, a media player and PDA functions in a handset that somehow isn't the size of a brick.
If you look hard enough (and don't mind an astronomical tariff) you can find the N95 for less than £50 on a monthly contract, but the SIM-free price is an eye-watering £630. There's also an 8GB version of the N95 that has a larger screen and comes in a black casing. For more information read our full Nokia N95 8GB review.
Nokia knows how to put a phone together. Pick up the N95 and you simply won't believe that so much technology has been squeezed into such a light, palm-friendly device.
Nokia has embraced a two-way sliding design that lets you push the screen up and let your fingers roam over a nicely textured keypad, or slide it down to reveal a fashionably touch-sensitive suite of media-player controls. This also switches the N95's stunning 66mm (2.6-inch) screen into landscape mode and activates its new 3D multimedia menu -- more of which later.
An almost-flush control pad beneath the screen lets you access menus and key functions while the phone is closed, and there's the obligatory secondary pinhole camera (352x288 pixels) for video calls. The main camera is around the back, with an LED light and protected by an excellent manual lens cover.
As the N95 is not without an element of chunkiness, there's room on the sides for stereo speakers, volume keys and two very welcome features: a standard 3.5mm headphone socket, and a TransFlash memory card slot behind a flap. Another neat touch is that N95 now uses a standard mini-USB jack instead of Nokia's proprietary Pop-Port, for syncing information with a PC but not charging. While you do get a pair of earbuds with the N95, they're ugly, tinny and should be upgraded immediately if you value either your street cred or your future hearing. The inline remote is worth hanging on to, though, as it doubles as a wired headset.
Nokia's GPS application -- which goes by the rather dull name of 'Maps' -- is very different from other portable navigators, or previous sat-nav phones from Mio and HP. Instead of storing street-level maps of the whole country, the N95 downloads local mini-maps, routes and even voice commands on the fly. Each map covers about 0.5 miles around you, so it's essential that you're on a reasonable mobile Internet tariff, and ideally an all-you-can-surf package such as T-Mobile's Web and Walk or 3's X-Series.
Like Google Earth, Maps opens on an image of our planet from space, swooping smoothly in once the GPS aerial locks on. It's a jaw-dropping animation the first time you see it, but easily skipped if there's no one around to impress. The map download can mean a minute or two's delay before you're up and running initially, but GPS sensitivity is generally good, with the N95 able to locate itself even through windows.
The N95 covers 100 countries -- the idea is that you just get off the plane and download a local map of wherever you've landed. You might want to use Wi-Fi though, to avoid crippling data charges.
The N95 offers virtually all the traditional sat-nav features, including route planning, search and local points of interest (but not speed cameras or traffic jams). Unfortunately, the search struggled to locate postcodes, street names or points of interest in our tests, although as this is all done through an online service, we're expecting this to be fixed soon. Once we'd set the GPS markers manually, however, route planning was more successful, with the N95 calculating a complex cross-country route in seconds, complete with turn-by-turn information.
To get live voice guidance from a very well-spoken young lady, you need to pay extra. It's currently £5.44 a month, or £47.68 for three years and includes recalculations for missed turns. You can also download a wide variety of local guides (available in 100 cities worldwide) for £5.44 each.
The N95 is also home to the full suite of N-series applications, so you've got an excellent Web browser (with Wi-Fi support), useful email and office software, a couple of games and full PDA functionality.
As good as the Maps application is, Nokia has been lax in integrating it with the rest of the phone. You can't navigate to a contact stored in your phone automatically by clicking the postcode, for example, nor can you tag camera snaps with GPS location data. It also has a tendency to crash the phone when you exit and re-enter the application.
Talking of the camera, 5 megapixels represents a real step up, even from Nokia's snap-happy N93i handset. The Carl Zeiss lens has autofocus but is less than sharp, although extreme JPEG compression has to share the blame for the N95's somewhat smeary detail. But colours are strong, exposure is even and night-time shots are admirably low on noise. The LED flash can't rival Sony Ericsson's Cyber-shot handsets (which have real flash units), but it's not bad for night portraits.
MPEG-4 video clips are smooth, colourful and detailed -- these really are as good as those from most digital cameras. Slide the N95 down to access the media player and the new 3D media menu is a joy to look at, if a touch sluggish to use.
Video clips look wonderful in full-screen landscape mode, but music playback disappoints. In fact, it's pretty dire, with MP3s and FM radio sounding muffled and indistinct even through high-quality headphones.
Voice calls are clear and distinct, however. Messaging is straightforward, plus you can use MMS to send your current location to other N95s. For the phone geeks out there, the file you send includes the exact longitude and longitude and can be opened by text readers -- although simply attaching a JPEG of your local map would have been much more useful.
As you might expect, using the sat-nav seriously affects battery life. In fact, leave Maps running and the N95 gets worryingly warm. Expect to have to charge it every night.
The sat-nav is better for walking than driving -- if you cover a lot of miles in the car, a dedicated sat-nav unit like the TomTom One still makes the most sense. It'll be louder, faster, able to access speed-camera info and should actually be able to search for destinations. Similarly, a neat little Fujifilm Z5 camera offers image quality and flexibility that the N95 simply can't match.
But in the realms of pure portability and ease of communication, the N95 is in a league of its own. It represents the very pinnacle of technological miniaturisation, without sacrificing usability, flexibility or style. Hopefully, the few bugs and general sluggishness will soon be ironed out, as this is a truly astonishing -- if truly expensive -- handset.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide