Dec 3, 2008

Business - Nokia Calls N97 an 'Advanced Mobile Computer'

Barry Levine

Nokia on Tuesday released its N97 smartphone, describing it as "the world's most advanced mobile computer," which will "transform the way people connect to the Internet and each other." Jonas Geust, a Nokia vice president who heads up the N series, called the N97 "the most powerful, multi-sensory mobile computer in existence."

'Social Location'

Certainly the new device from the market leader is stocked full of features, including a full QWERTY keyboard that slides out from under the screen, a large 3.5-inch, 16:9 touch display, and 32 gigabytes of onboard memory, expandable by another 16GB with a microSD card. There's also a five-megapixel camera with high-quality Carl Zeiss optics and video capture that Nokia describes as "DVD quality."

Nokia is touting "social location" features for the phone, or "So-Lo." An integrated A-GPS and an electronic compass help the device figure out where it -- and you -- are. This means the device can update your approved friends with your location.

Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, agreed that, from an international perspective, the N97 is "rather spectacular." The form factor alone, he noted, with the QWERTY keyboard and a screen that tilts toward the user, is not unique but "exceptional and feels good."

"They really nailed the form factor," he added.


And he described the long feature list as definitely "drool-worthy," including a substantial battery, Wi-Fi, 3G, a tested and stable operating system, and other features. The N97 will readily integrate with Nokia's N-gage gaming platform, its Ovi service, and its Music Store. Out of the box, Greengart said, the device is ready for Microsoft Exchange e-mail and, at a suggested retail price of 550 Euros (US$699), it isn't "insanely priced."

But Greengart downplayed Nokia's hype about the N97 being a game-changer. He described So-Lo as a "nice acronym," but, as yet, he hasn't seen an application that utilizes that feature. And, he noted, the company "basically reused the user interface they had for their N95 and N96," rather than implement major improvements.

From a U.S. perspective, Greengart described the N97 as "rather disappointing." He noted that Nokia has said it will release a U.S. variant that will only work on AT&T's 3G network, but AT&T, with Apple's iPhone among other offerings, "is the U.S. carrier that least needs this." He also noted that there is "no guarantee" that AT&T, which has made no announcement about the device, will actually offer the N97.

Ultimately, Greengart said, he doesn't expect the N97 to have much impact on the U.S. market.

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