Nokia N97 Review

Introduction and Design
This is a global GSM phone. It can be used with AT&T and T-Mobile USA. The American version supports AT&T's 3G network.


The Nokia N97 is the flagship device of the manufacturer at the moment and Nokia vaunts it as being not only a top of the range device, but a “mobile computer” as well. This certainly gets things rather too far, since computers should be able to cope with wide variety of tasks these days. The Nokia N97 sports quite nice specifications indeed like 3.5-inch touch sensitive screen, full QWERTY keyboard, Wi-Fi, 3G (HSDPA 3.6Mbps), A-GPS, 5-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss Tessar optics, 434 MHz ARM11 processor and 32GB built-in memory plus support for up to 16GB microSDHC expansion cards. Will all this be enough for the Nokia N97 to win over its rivals? This is what we are going to find out on the next several pages. Before we get down to the thorough review, let´s first see what is inside the black box, made all from recycled materials (it´s nothing to do with the one on airplanes):

  • Nokia N97
  • Stylus
  • Charger
  • microUSB adapter to other Nokia chargers
  • microUSB cable
  • 3.5mm jack earphones with wired remote
  • Small duster
  • Software DVD with Nokia Ovi Suite
  • User guide

There is no dedicated stylus slot on the phone as on the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic and the thingy is attachable to the phone body with a small strap that has metal cover which looks pretty cool. The phone case is missing from our set, but we know there is one sold along with the N97 on other markets. You better enquire about this at your local dealership.


The minute you get the Nokia N97 into your hands you will find out you are dealing with a heavy player. There is nothing amusing about weight such as 5.29 oz (150 g) and the N97 strikes as bigger, yet better made device alongside of the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic. As a whole, it looks pretty stylish – our unit came in white color, but a classical black variety is also on offer. We don’t really like that the phone is predominantly made of plastic parts, rather than metal, so it simply doesn’t create all the same luxurious feel, like the one you get while holding in hand any top of the range makes belonging to the business lineup of the same manufacturer, say the Nokia E66, E71 and E75. The phone doesn’t feel cheap of anything, it´s just we expected much more than a simple, chrome plated edging that is slightly protruding over the screen. It does help towards easier dragging of the scroll throughout the phone menus though.

You can compare the Nokia N97 with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

The Nokia N97 sports a 3.5-inch display with 16 mln colors and resolution of 360x640 pixels. Sounds familiar? These are the very same screen specs as the ones on devices like the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic, Samsung OMNIA HD i8910 and Sony Ericsson Satio. Unlike the Samsung´s handset, the screen of the Nokia N97 is TFT and not AMOLED. The main difference between the two technologies is that despite the fact they both deliver 16 mln color support, colors are much more saturated and pleasing on phones utilizing the second. It doesn’t really come as a surprise that the Samsung OMNIA HD i8910 offers much better image quality in artificial lighting conditions. Situation is reversed when you take them in direct sunlight though. Similarly to other makes of the same manufacturer, the Nokia N97 remains fully usable even if colors tend to get slightly dim, while the screen of the OMNIA HD turns itself into an almost perfect mirror. The Finnish company flagship just loves fingerprints, although they are not that irritating, since screen visibility is not affected. Moreover, we need to point out the resistive touch screen of the Nokia N97 offers better sensitivity than the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic, i.e. causes no troubles.

Proximity sensor is clearly visible on the left of the earpiece and both video call camera and light sensor that controls screen brightness are on its right.

The Nokia team seems to have made a definite step towards modern ideas with regard to the buttons below the screen. Both send and end keys are touch sensitive and feature resistive technology. We didn’t encounter any issues using them, meaning there were no unregistered touches and every time they were pressed they gave slight vibration feedback. They are properly lit and easy to find in the dark. There is an ordinary looking button along with them that allows access to the main menu and task manager. It is also easy to use plus its white backlighting acts as indicator that notifies you of missed events.

The Nokia N97 is a side slider and to open the keyboard you need to … slide it. The mechanism is pretty robust and opens sharply, but closes smoothly and slowly. While open, display remains tilted at an angle of 40-45 degrees towards the keyboard, but unlike on the HTC Touch Pro2, this is default position and cannot be changed.

Buttons on the full QWERTY keyboard of the Nokia N97 are arranged in three rows and you also have a D-pad. This means you will have to get used to the position of all special symbols and the Space key in particular. This is an overused one when it comes to text entry, no matter the type of message! We definitely don’t like it being located on the right hand side of the keyboard, rather than in the middle. We were pretty prejudiced when we started our tests, but eventually came to think it is not that bad. All buttons feel discernible when pressed and are large enough for comfy use even by people with thicker fingers. Keyboard is not as good as the one on the HTC Touch Pro2 and even the Nokia E75 sports a better one. Still, the N97 fares fairly. We need to congratulate Nokia they have finally moved all letters on the lower most row with one position to your right, so we at last have the Z where it is on similar devices – below the letter S and not the A.

Stereo speakers are at both ends of the left hand side of the device, with both microUSB slot (equipped with LED indicator) and slider button to lock/unlock the screen in between. The latter, as well as camera shutter are really easy to use. This, unfortunately, doesn’t hold true for the volume rocker. Well, situation is not that bad with the button that turns volume up, because it has enough travel, the thing is you will have to apply much more force to turn sound down. The 3.5 mm earphone jack is on top of the device, so you won´t need to swivel the N97 in weird positions while carrying it around into the pocket of your trousers or jeans. Power button is on one of the sides and feels comfy to press despite it doesn’t have much travel. The only thing on the bottom side is a lonely gap, where the stylus strap is attached - but you can hook any knick-knack that is to your own taste. 

A panel takes up the entire back side and its lower part is slightly bulging not by chance. It prevents the phone from getting tilted to one side when placed onto flat surface, say table or desk. Our only gripe is the back cover is quite hard to remove and you really need to exert yourself to get to the microSD expansion slot.

As we mentioned at the beginning, the Nokia N97 sports 5-megapixel autofocus camera with Carl Zeiss Tessar optics and double LED flash. Its plastic cover slides pleasantly and clears collected dust particles while moving. Quite nice indeed! We are telling you more about the camera performance later on. Now, let´s get down to the OS interface of the Nokia N97.

Nokia N97 360 Degrees View:


Symbian S60 5th Edition is made for touch sensitive screen phones and can be found on other popular devices like the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic, Samsung OMNIA HD i8910 and Sony Ericsson Satio.

The Nokia 5800 XpressMusic is the first attempt of the manufacturer at the touch sensitive screen phones market and has been quite a success this far. In terms of interface options, the operating system has been improved and the Nokia N97 brings out several novelties and new personalization.

Home screen has gone through major changes and now features the all popular widgets (up to 5). They are arranged one below the other, can swap places and some of them may be removed. They totally replace the well known home screen themes of the operating system and can also be hidden, although not entirely removed.

There are no many available widgets and we find the Facebook, music player, Shortcuts I and II and the email more interesting than the other. You have the option to download more, but it gets you straight to the manufacturer´s online store, Ovi Store, where there is no widget section! We were stunned to find this out, but still downloaded several free apps to check if they would appear with their own widgets. Unfortunately, we didn’t luck out.

There are three static elements at the top of the home screen that cannot be moved or removed. These are the analog clock that gets you to world and alarm clock menus, date leading to the phone calendar and a ringing profile selection box. They are semi transparent just like all on screen widgets, so you are able to see the wallpaper behind them.

As a whole, the main menu doesn’t feature any changes. It can appear as either 3x4 icon grid or vertical list and in the latter case you select items with double clicks that are typical of this version of the operating system and pretty much the same as on other cell phones running it.

Contacts and Dialing screen:

In the phonebook, selecting a contact also requires a double click. You can save as many as you like, with an option for multiple numbers per contact. Moreover, each of them can be assigned dedicated ringtones, pictures, spouse names, birthdays etc., with the only restriction being the free memory of your handset. Searching contacts can be done by either dragging a finger up or downwards or through a text search box. When you select it, a keyboard pops on screen that features a layout much like the one on navigational systems (A, B, C, D, E, etc), so searching feels both logical and easy. Initially, the first letters of all entered names will appear in front of you and as you keep punching in letters, the ones you need will remain visible as if the phone thinks ahead of you and knows what you are looking for. Like we said before, searching based on this particular method is really fast and easy.

The novelty feature here is an additional view mode to see any information entered on any given contact. It shows less information – a picture (if one has been previously assigned) and options to call the contact, send a message, email or video call the person. We do like the function, because it seems optimized for touch sensitive screen use, looks unsophisticated and cool, and makes working with contacts way easier.

If you are being called and screen and buttons happen to be locked, two sliders appear on screen, one on top of the other. First is used to answer the call, while the other unlocks both the screen and buttons. It´s made to help prevent you from accidentally taking a call while the phone is in your pocket. Not that we are complaining, but it would have been better if the second slider was used to just reject the incoming call.

There is nothing new to entering or dialing phone numbers. Numeric keypad is called up by tapping an icon on the home screen, looks completely ordinary and sports large buttons that allow even people with thicker fingers use it without any issues. There is a nice, useful function to mute the volume by turning the phone face down while you are being called or your alarm is going off. Actually, this is made possible by the built-in accelerometer that also allows switching screen modes automatically when you turn the phone to its side. This takes about a second and there is no visible delay or lagging involved.


Organizer is not any different from what you will find on other devices running the same operating system. Your calendar shows events in monthly, weekly or daily view and you have the option to call up all your To-Do notes at the same time. The first two now display the next four timeslot events, scheduled for any given day.

Calculator doesn’t offer added functionality and aside from it you also have unit and currency converter. If you feel like rummaging through your directories directly, you can do that using the same file manager we know well from other Symbian S60 phones. The backup option is also here and it comes in pretty useful since you don’t need to connect your device to a computer to back it up.


Office documents and PDF files are opened with QuickOffice and Adobe Reader LE 2.5 respectively, but the former is just a trial version that expires in 15 days. Reading even larger Office 2003 files is not a problem at all, the thing is you will have to get a paid software update or switch over to another program if you feel like editing documents or happen to need Office 2007 support. In real life, you won´t be able to get down to working with office files the minute you take the phone out of the box. Rather, you will have to either shell out extra cash or look for other software.

As we mentioned, the Nokia N97 comes preloaded with several applications that are equipped with their own widgets. The most interesting is Facebook. Fans of the social network service will definitely like this one, because it allows you to see your friends´ online status and change yours, send messages, poke people, add friends etc. We find it even more thrilling that you have the option to upload and tag pictures.

The other preinstalled apps are rather boring and most of them are to do with news. Here is what you get – Amazon, Bloomberg, AP News, QiK, Boingo, AccuWeather and Hi5. You will also see a YouTube app that simply takes you to the mobile version of the website. It is a good thing that other apps are easy to download from, say, the recently launched Nokia application marketplace, the Ovi Store.

There are no preloaded games on our unit, but the N97 fully supports N-Gage, so you can have fun playing games.

Messages and text entry:

The different ways of entering text on the Nokia N97 are completely the same as these on other devices running the same operating system less one. Apparently the manufacturer has decided to relieve the phone of its software QWERTY keyboard, because the device sports a fully functional hardware one. We don’t like this at the very least! Let´s just remind you that many Android users had been dreaming of a software QWERTY for quite some time before they finally got one with version 1.5. We do hope Nokia follows suit and comes up with software update to provide the option that is available on other makes.

We don’t really think working with emails feels really comfy after seeing what Nokia Messaging is capable of (please, take a look at our review of the Nokia E75). The standard Symbian client features quite many options, such as support for attached files, sorting messages by sender, date or header. But it is far from being as comfortable to use as Nokia Messaging. Still, it allows you to read HTML messages and switch between different email accounts fast. If people using the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic can have Nokia Messaging, we do believe those buying the N97 have the same right and we hope they get support for the highly acclaimed app soon.

Connectivity, Internet and GPS:

Let´s not forget the Nokia N97 is being vaunted for its internet capabilities. Let´s see how it fares against the competition.

In terms of functionality, the N97 internet browser is similar to the version found on the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic, Samsung OMNIA HD and Sony Ericsson Satio in almost every single aspect. The only difference being it's the first time the standard Symbian S60 browser has been equipped with the so-called "active kinetic scrolling" or in simpler words - scrolling inertial momentum that remains when you have moved away your finger from the screen. Web pages and their Flash elements, including the YouTube player, load with almost no issues and navigation on such a large screen is a great experience. Double taps are used to zoom in and out on things, while keeping your finger pressed against the screen switches the handset to full screen and this is something we quite like. In case the page is too big to fit on screen, you can use the Overview function to move around faster.

As a whole, the Nokia N97 browser is notably faster than the versions found on devices running the same operating system, but there are no other new things aside from this.

The phone connects to a computer via Bluetooth 2.0 or the microUSB cable that comes in the box. It allows you to pick from several available modes that also determine data transfer speed. These are PC Suite, Mass Storage, Media and Image Transfer. Choosing the first means transfer of 31 images with total size of 30MB takes about 25 seconds and less than 4 seconds in Mass Storage, although the latter doesn’t allow for synchronization of your device and you can transfer files only. In Media Transfer, copying the same data takes about 15 seconds.

Unlike previous makes of the manufacturer, the old, well-known PC Suite software pack used to connect your phone with computers has been replaced with a new one, Nokia Ovi Suite. In fact, this is a compilation of several different applications and device drivers – Nokia Connectivity Cable Driver, PC Connectivity Software, Nokia System Utilities, Nokia Ovi Suite, Nokia Photos, Nokia Music, Home Media Server and Orb home remote access. As a whole, Ovi Suite looks pleasing and really easy to get used to. In a nutshell, you will be able to sync your contacts, pictures, messages and other multimedia content with either your computer or Ovi service account over the Internet.


As we mentioned at the beginning, the Nokia N97 sports a built-in GPS receiver (A-GPS) and comes with Nokia Maps 2.0 Touch that has been optimized for touch sensitive screens. Its interface remains pretty much the same as the standard edition, only options appear larger. The app is free to use for 3 months in certain regions, so you better enquire about the license at your local dealership when purchasing the phone.

Localizing takes about a minute after cold restart, without Internet connection and in a place surrounded with tall buildings and the module gets operational in less than 5 seconds after hot restart. Switching on the internet connection, so that the latest satellite position coordinates can be downloaded means device is operational in less than 40 seconds after cold restart and you get almost instantaneous response after a hot one.


Most top range devices feature 8-megapixel cameras these days. The Nokia N97 lags behind the pack here, coming with a 5-megapixel, equipped with Carl Zeiss Tessar optics and double LED flash. Its interface is virtually the same as on the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic, which is, in turn, not that good. Interface itself is OK, although switching options on and off doesn’t feel comfy enough and they are plenty – you can choose between eight scene setting, variety of shooting modes, 4 color effects, white balance, exposure, ISO sensitivity, contrast, sharpness and multiple snapshot sequence. After taking a picture you can share it right away over the Ovi and Vox services, but others like Facebook, Picasa and Flickr are not available.

In terms of image quality, the Nokia N97 is a passable performer, no matter whether you want to see the pictures on your phone screen or in full size on your monitor. Warm colors in outdoor snapshots, taken even in bright lighting conditions, appear somewhat burnout. Still, images look realistic as a whole. Those taken indoors look great in full screen on the 3.5-inch phone display and not that amazing in real size, i.e. on a computer monitor, where you will eventually notice they lack enough details and are somewhat blurry. We are pretty disappointed with the snapshots uploaded on Facebook. Even lower and midrange cell phones deliver better results with this respect.

Nokia N97 sample video shot at 640x480 pixels resolution

Phone gallery feels comfy to use and allows several different filtering modes. Aside from being able to see them piled up, images can also be grouped by month or relevant album name, plus they are easily tagged. All told, we do like the gallery that is far better than the one on the Nokia 5800. It also opens and is operated much faster than its cousin on the Samsung OMNIA HD.


N-series makes rarely perform badly with multimedia. Most of those that have come out before the N97 feature cool and comfortable Multimedia Shortcuts menu that seems to have vanished into this air on the N97, replaced with Music and Videos&TV menus. As the names suggest, the former allows access to your audio files, online music store, where you can purchase more and FM radio, while the latter shows available video files. Let’s gets started with the audio capabilities of the device.

Audio player comes with a boring interface. Naturally, it offers several options to filter content – by album, artist, composer etc and it is a good there are several equalizer presets and sound effects you can take your pick from. As a whole, it is really easy to use, but we would have liked to see something newer, more modern and appealing. Take a look at our review of the Samsung OMNIA HD i8910 to see the much better looking audio player the Korean manufacturer has equipped their device with.

Audio quality through the stereo speakers is high and volume is quite loud, which makes the device a good performer, although the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic fares better with this respect. The provided earphones are the same as the pair coming with the 5800 and provide good sound, although not nearly loud enough to drown out environmental noises. In its role of music phone, the N97 is slightly worse than the best devices available at the moment, like the Sony Ericsson W980 and this is the reason we are not entirely happy with it.

The Videos&TV menu allows you to take a pick from several options – see recently watched content, all available videos, the ones captured with the device camera only or those downloaded from the Internet. They are played with Real Player, which comes with the operating system. It is not that we don’t like it, but seeing it makes us again think of the Samsung OMNIA HD and its better video player that happens to support subtitles. You will have to make do with the standard one on the Nokia N97 though. Its interface is easy to use and offers several options, although is nothing to brag about as a whole.

Videos coded at the native resolution of the screen (640x360 pixels) and in MPEG4 part2 format are played well. Image quality is not exactly perfect, but watching content on the 3.5-inch screen doesn’t make for bad experience, not at all. There is TV out, but you won´t be able to play HD videos like on the Samsung OMNIA HD which still remains the best device in terms of supported video formats and its capability to allow users to watch videos without having to convert content to make it compatible.

Performance and Conclusion:

With the Nokia N97, the manufacturer brings their top range N-series into the realm of smart phone fashion that is called touch sensitive screens. The phone is also being introduced as a mobile computer, although it is far from being one. Computers should be able to cope with variety of tasks these days, because technology keeps pushing on and customer requirement follow suit. Both the 434 MHz ARM11 processor and 256 Mb ROM / 128 Mb RAM of the Nokia N97 deliver good operational speed, although the phone doesn’t feel any faster than other devices running the same operating system. The list of cons includes large 3.5-inch screen providing really good image quality in direct sunlight, fast GPS, good sound and fine sliding mechanism. The built-in internet browser is a piece of capable software as well, although you would expect to see full Flash support, especially on a phone that is claimed to be the ultimate internet device.

Don’t think the N97 doesn’t have its shortcomings. The most important is mediocre in-call quality. Despite voices are loud on both ends of the line, they are also sharp and hard to catch onto at times. Turning volume down helps, yet we can´t say things are coming up roses here. We did expect this top of the range Nokia device would deliver better in-call quality. Add to the list of gripes the freezing of the operating system every now and then, the mediocre multimedia performance alongside of the 5800 XpressMusic and the lack of full office support. Now, these are some serious drawbacks for a high-end phone.

All told, we have arrived at the conclusion the Nokia N97 is quite far from the “mobile computer” the manufacturer claims it to be. Device performs well in certain tasks, badly in others and is mediocre device as a whole. The second touch sensitive screen device of Nokia makes for a passable high ranking smart phone, but except for the hardware QWERTY, it is by no means better than its major rival - the Samsung OMNIA HD i8910. It´s hyped as the N-Series flagship device, but the title is not well earned, because the differences from the much cheaper 5800 XpressMusic are not that significant. We feel completely ready to jack the QWERTY keyboard in order to get a larger display, the same functionality and multimedia capabilities that times better and ultimately go for the Samsung OMNIA HD i8910. If the keyboard is vital to you, you better consider the HTC Touch Pro2, just keep in mind the latter runs Windows Mobile. If a Symbian smartphone isn’t the only thing that would buy, have in mind the Palm Pre and the Apple iPhone 3G S are two perfect alternatives.

The software version of the reviewed unit is 10.0.012.

Nokia N97 Video Review:


  • Large, beautiful screen with high sensitivity
  • GPS is fast and trouble free
  • Good audio quality
  • Reliable, high quality sliding mechanism


  • In-call quality is not good enough
  • Lack of full Office support
  • Limited support of video formats

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