Nokia's N97 may be the world's most feature-packed smartphone. At least, if there's a mobile device festooned with as many radios, input options, software sources and configuration menus as Nokia has managed to cram into the N97, I've never encountered it.
Take the unit's input options, which include a touch-sensitive display, a slide-out keyboard and, for good measure, the dynamic duo of a handwriting recognition application and a tiny stylus that doesn't fit into the device anywhere. The stylus does sport a little lanyard for stringing the tool onto the side of the device-or perhaps onto your keychain.
If all of that strikes you as awkward, you have the right idea. Particularly compared with Apple's line of iPhone devices-across which Apple has resisted adopting any feature that it couldn't implement elegantly-the N97 is a conspicuously clunky device with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink design philosophy.
In Nokia's defense, the cell phone giant has managed to fit the N97's many features into a form factor that's both sturdy-the unit's slide-out keyboard mechanism feels much more solid than the one that graces T-Mobile's G1-and pleasingly portable. At 4.6 by 2.18 by 0.63 inches and 5.29 ounces, the N97 isn't much larger than Apple's iPhone 3GS.
What's more, while my getting-to-know-you period with the N97 brimmed with more dissatisfied grumbling and online help forum fumbling than I cared to endure, I came to appreciate the product's broad feature set once I began to get the hang of using the device.
I tested the N97 in and around eWEEK's San Francisco offices on AT&T's wireless network. However, the device isn't currently offered by AT&T or any U.S.-based wireless provider, so there's no option for subsidizing the unit's $700 purchase price.
Nokia's N97 ships with Version 5 of the company's S60 interface, which runs atop Symbian OS Version 9.4. This most recent version of the S60 platform added support for touch-screen interfaces and for Adobe's Flash Lite 3.0, both of which the N97 takes advantage.
While support for Flash struck me as an obvious benefit, I had a tough time coming up with a Flash application I was burning to consume in a mobile device. I tried to access the Flash-based music streaming site Pandora.com, with no success, but found that N97's Flash player did allow me to view the Flash-based slideshows (and advertisements) at eWEEK.com.
Nokia's N97 is powered by a 434MHz ARM11 processor, which delivered good performance overall during my tests, even when I ran multiple applications at once. Support in the N97 for arbitrary background applications is one of its best points of differentiation versus the iPhone, which reserves background process rights for Apple's own applications.