Look, let’s stop beating around the bush with this… It should be fairly obvious from the photo above who Nokia’s after with their flagship N97. It also can’t be denied that in North America, at least, Apple’s iPhone is everywhere.
My goal with this post is to highlight the key differences between the two and let you draw your own conclusions. Along the way, I’ll be pointing out what Nokia could have done (and can still do) better.
The typical reaction I get to the N97 is something dismissive along the lines of: “So it’s like an iPhone”, at which point I flip up the screen to expose the full QWERTY keypad underneath, and all derision immediately stops.
The keypad is okay but not perfect — the space bar placement is a non-issue but putting the shift key next to the four-way D-pad makes it very awkward to select a block of text. You’re better off doing that with a free finger on the touch screen.
But there’s an additional way to input text which I find myself using more often than not, a full-screen virtual numberpad with old-school T9 built-in. It’s often a bit frustrating when I try to write something in Lolcat or enter my favourite curse, but one-handed texting is very useful when I’m on a crowded bus or train, or have bags in my other hand.
The second big revelation for anyone seeing an N97 for the first-time is the touch screen. But even then it’s not immediately apparent that pretty much every single element on the homescreen is a shortcut to something, and many of them are updating live by pulling in data from the Internet.
More on the homescreen widgets in a moment… I’ll finish my critique of the N97’s default display with the recommendation that entire folders — not just apps or bookmarks — should be an option for shortcuts from the homescreen as well.
It’s at this point that the wonders of the N97 begin to get lost on the new user. For starters, it’s not immediately apparent that the large diagonal menu will take you to into the handset’s filesystem. BlackBerries have a menu presented as a default screen, while Apple overwhelms you with screen upon screen of apps. I think Nokia would do well to eliminate an unlabelled physical button and put something that says “menu” right on the screen.
Back to the iPhone UI for a sec, the N97 has a nifty feature where you can organize individual apps into folders, like this. I really wish Nokia would include an option to sort these folders alphabetically. You can do it in the optional list view, but there’s too much wasted screen space to make me want to use that.
Widgets on the N97 are akin to many apps are to the iPhone — lightweight single-purpose tools that are often little more than mobile-friendly skins for web sites. But some of the the Nokia widgets can run on the N97’s homescreen — like the bundled one for Facebook, while others — like Dabr‘s excellent Twitter interface — cannot.
Dabr, could you kindly rectify this?
It’s actually not the full-on disaster that I was expecting, but it’s certainly no iTunes App Store, either.
In a similar vein, Nokia needs to get N-Gage working with the N97, and fast. The included games on the US version of the N97 are embarrassingly bad.
Here’s something I’ll bet you didn’t know: The N97 is actually cheaper than the newest version of Apple’s iPhone.
“But the iPhone is only $199“, you say… Well for starters, that’s the 16GB version. To match the built-in 32GB of Nokia’s N97 you’ll have to pony up an additional hundred bucks.
Oh, and you’ll also have to sign on for a contract of up to three years, whereas the N97 is sold unlocked. I’ve ranted enough about the evils of contracts that I would be repeating myself at this point, so I’ll just point out that the actual, unsubsidized price of an iPhone 3GS 32GB is actually over $800, USD or CAD — and that’s if you can even buy one legally in the country where you live!
Meanwhile, the current price of the N97 from NokiaUSA.com is almost $100 less. No contract required. No iTunes required. And no unlocking or jailbreaking required should you ever want to sell it to someone on another carrier.
But like I said when I started this, I’m not here to tell you which is better — I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on that.