Nokia N95

Just before we went on our family holiday, I went with Karen to look at new phones for me and for her. Karen liked the look of the phone, but wanted it in a specific colour and was prepared to wait to order that. I decided I liked the look of the Nokia N95. The iPhone is not an attractive prospect for me, apparently it’s a poor phone, a poor camera and there even seem to be issues with its sound. So no amount of astounding user interface makes up for that. The Samsung Omnia, coming out soon, looks really interesting but it runs Windows CE, and that’s a big minus for me. I’m very interested in the OpenMoko FreeRunner neo which can, among other things run my favourite operating system Debian, after the great work done at debconf. Apparently it’s not however a useful and reliable phone, which is definitely a minus too. Maybe next generation, and I can’t hack everything at once.

The Nokia N95 runs Symbian which is a plus. I was warned that the battery life was poor and given the choice between the conventional model with an 8 Gb card, and the N95 8Gb which has the memory totally internalised. The former also has a shutter cover for the lens, which was discarded in the latter to allow a larger battery. I wanted the cover. I got the handset from Phones4u and it’s an O2 handset, who I have my contract with. It took a while to put the order though, so they gave me £50 for waiting. So, seriously, I got the free upgrade, the memory card, a screen protector and £50 in my hand. The bundled accessories are good, a USB cable (like the much criticised N800 it doesn’t seem to do charging) a car charger, a tiny regular charger (same as the N800 actually) and the usual ear phones, with a small control panel on a cable for the sound.

Ok, so on with the review.

Build Quality is good, the phone is chunky and solid, with a good quality screen (not touch sensitive). There are a few buttons available under the screen area, and the phone slides two ways, one to reveal the phone functionality, and the other way the media functionality. It also changes from portrait to landscape as you do this. There is an accelerometer in the device, but it is not used here (yet anyway). It is used in other fun stuff like a step counter you can download for free.

Phone functions are good, intuitive and straightforward, though it always seems to beep at some point when I’m on a call, and I don’t know why. After adding a lot of audio, all of these are available as ring tones but scrolling through can be a bit of a pain, it doesn’t allow the keypad to jump through the list by letter, oddly. There is an internet telephone that I haven’t yet been able to register to a SIP account (I will probably need to configure a proxy) but at least on this phone, these are not locked out (this is the case from several suppliers).

Media functionality is excellent, it will play lots of video formats, including flash, and it can play audio formats through its exceptionally loud speakers or headphones as usual. It also has some internet radio applications and other cool stuff.

PIM functions are not too bad, with plenty of memory and a good calendar application. When I enabled “active standby” the main idle screen becomes very useful. It made me think this would be a feasible PDA if I could get synchronization running (see below).

Connectivity is flexible, via a standard mini USB, bluetooth or wifi, and it works. The USB is 1.1 and slow, and it always complains about an improper dismount for me anyway.

I found a good blog entry by Dave Hall, that helped describe how to set up synchronization with opensync, but I’d tried opensync on other devices before, generally without success or with lots of duplicates. Specifically I couldn’t manage reliably with GPE on the n800. I did hit a bug, and I found it on the Debian BTS and I submitted more information, the developer helped me fix the issue easily by upgrading one package. Success! Since then I’ve had duplicates one time, and I don’t know why. I’m guessing it happened when I tried to sync against my laptop too. I haven’t tried that since, but I’ll have to bite the bullet some stage. I did all the syncronizations against evolution, a slight pain since I don’t use it for mail, but it does integrate well with the gnome desktop calendar. My attempts to sync against lightning/iceowl in thunderbird/icedove failed.

The PIM functions have one rather irritating issue, that birthdays in the contact database do not appear in the calendar. I found someone had written a nice python script that makes calendar entries. It works, but of course I ended up importing the things to evolution on the next sync. I might tweak the script to change how it creates entries to avoid this, and I might make a similar script to try and remove duplicate calendar entries anyway. We’ll see.

In the store they said the phone was heavy on the battery. They weren’t kidding, it’s very heavy, but there is one intrepid user who has found with an external case they can fit the larger battery of the new series. The battery does seem to have improved a bit after a few discharges, and I just get into the habit of charging each night, and remember – the car charger was bundled!

Connectivity is an annoying problem. My Sony Ericsson, when I plugged it into my laptop, immediately allowed me to set up an internet connection that worked seamlessly with Network Manager on Debian. It doesn’t work with the N95. Dave Hall’s blog mentioned above has various comments that have complex setups that accomplish similar things, but I can’t help feel there’s a simpler udev hack somewhere. Connection to the device for copying data is slow (USB 1.1) and the phone always seems to complain about an improper disconnection. I find connection via bluetooth and OBEX to be an easier option.

I received a text message that there was an upgrade, and annoyingly, had to install software on Windows to look for updates. I dislike it when I buy a product and it requires me to buy a third party OS for support, I do have Vista on a partition as it came installed on my new laptop. Installing the software was slow, and a pain, with several restarts and lots of Windows updates. It reminds me why I don’t use Windows. After all that, it told me the software was up-to-date. Oh well.

So, positive initial thoughts. We’ll see how things develop.

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