Last we saw Nokia’s fabled N97, the high-profile prototype was tethered to a company representative’s waist at CES, and crowds were lining up just to get a minute or two to play. This time around, we managed to get some breathing room with the yet-to-be-released phone, and it’s quite a machine.
Unlike the N96 that we couldn’t quite believe came from this typically high-quality company, the N97 feels solid and substantial in the hands, and bits of metal trim around the edges help strengthen that impression. The screen, though not the capacitive like the iPhone, Palm Pre, and now Motorola QA4, does offer plenty of resolution and physical space (it spans 3.5 inches) for browsing and other text-heavy applications. The buttons on the slide-out QWERTY keyboard felt squishier than we expected, but still delivered an acceptable typing experience – especially with the screen tilted at 30 degrees to make it easier to see.
The version of Symbian that appears on this phone felt more polished and modern than the variant from the N96, too. It would still appear to fall behind the iPhone OS, Android, and Palm WebOS in terms of graphics and intuitive design, though.
Like most of Nokia’s models, the biggest barrier to widescale adoption of the N97 will likely be price. Previous N-series models have all gone unsubsidized, and Nokia reps didn’t seem too confident that this model would be any different, despite lower-end phones like the E71x finding home on carriers. That means a full 550 Euros – or about $740 – if you want to pick one up when they’re released later this year.