Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Nokia N97

The Nokia N97 packs some impressive specs, but the Symbian OS feels out-of-date when faced with the competition.($579.99)
On paper, the Nokia N97 ($700; unlocked as of 6/16/09) looks as if it could rival the other big phones of this summer, the Palm Pre, the Apple iPhone 3G S, and T-Mobile's follow-up to the Android-based G1. It has more memory than the other three, supports a wide range of multimedia files, and has a large touchscreen and a full QWERTY keyboard. But the N97 falls short of its potential, largely because the operating system it uses--the Symbian S60 5th Edition--lacks the refinement of other OSs. Still, the N97 impresses in certain areas, particularly audio and video.
Note: The N97 hasn't completed battery testing at this writing, so we can't yet assign a PCW Rating. We'll update this review with that information as soon as we can.
The N97 feels good in hand with a matte backing and sturdy body. It is a bit hefty at 5.3 ounces (heavier than both the Pre and iPhone 3G S). It is also fairly pocketable for a phone with a slide-out keyboard--it measures 4.6 by 2.2 by 0.6 inches. Button placement is standard, with glowing Home and Call Send/End buttons below the display. A power button sits on top next to the 3.5-mm headphone jack (a must-have for multimedia phones). On the right spine is the volume rocker and the camera shutter button. The left spine has the screen lock switch and the mini-USB port.
The keyboard slides out easily, and the display pops out at a slight angle. While the tilt was nice for watching videos and helped reduce glare outside, I found it annoying when trying to type on the keyboard. The edge of the display is too close to the top row of keys, and you can't adjust the display's angle or make it lie flat. I also found it hard to press the keyboard's keys; they're simply not raised enough for comfortable typing. The keyboard's layout was also a bit counterintuitive, with the spacebar placed in the lower-left corner.
A navigational touch pad (right, left, down, up, and a center button to select) on the right side of the keyboard is supposed to help with navigation, but I didn't use it very often. It was so difficult to press that I accidentally selected apps when I was trying to scroll through them.
The N97's call quality over AT&T's 3G network was very good. Voices sounded loud, clear, and crisp--better than any phone I've reviewed recently. I heard no static or background hiss, either. Parties on the other end gave similar reports. Even while standing on a busy city street corner, my contacts said my voice sounded loud and clear.
The phone has a large 3.5-inch resistive touchscreen with a 360-by-640-pixel resolution. While colors looked good and the display appeared bright and crisp, I was disappointed by the touchscreen's responsiveness. Resistive touch just doesn't compare to the slickness of capacitive touch technology. Scrolling wasn't very smooth, and the two-touch action required to start an app got annoying after a while. However, I really liked the N97's haptic feedback (a slight vibration when you touch an app), which helped with the navigation.

iPhone 3GS, Apple solidifies its leadership position in a crowded smartphone landscape.
On the outside, the iPhone 3GS ($299 for 32GB, or $199 for 16GB, with a two-year AT&T contract, as of 6/22/09) looks and feels virtually identical to the existing iPhone 3G (now $99 for 8GB with a two-year AT&T contract). Yes, it's disappointing that Apple made no refinements in the external case (see our review of the iPhone 3G for more detail, but it's simply a minimalist design dominated by its display and the home button beneath that display). And yes, it's curious that the colors remain the same, black or white gloss (this from the company which made sure its audio players came in every color of the spectrum).
But inside, the iPhone 3GS has been fully redesigned, with new core components (CPU, memory, integrated compass, video recorder) in different locations, no less. And together with the iPhone OS 3.0 upgrade (which makes many compelling features available to existing iPhone customers), the iPhone 3GS stands tall. After pounding on it, I can say that at the full-subsidy prices, the 3GS is a surprisingly worthy upgrade for heavy users of the phone's Web and gaming capabilities, and for general-use apps--even if you're only jumping from the iPhone 3G.

Motorola Evoke Q4A

Slow performance hurts this otherwise sleek touchscreen phone with a useful widget-based interface.($280)

While some Motorola handsets can look a bit chintzy, the Evoke is quite eye-catching and its build seems high quality. The Evoke's rounded corners and smooth, rubberized backing feel very nice in the hand. Dominating the front face is by a 2.8-inch display with 400-by-240-pixel resolution. That screen is pretty small, however, when stacked against other phone touchscreens we've seen. For example, in comparison with the 3.2-inch, AMOLED, 240-by-400-pixel display of the Samsung Impression, the Evoke's display looks weak: Side by side, the Impression's display has brighter colors, sharper details, and crisper animations.
The Evoke has a minimalist design. A single square button functions as an OK/back/app-launcher control. A lock/unlock toggle and a dedicated camera key sit on the right edge, while a volume rocker is on the left. A microUSB charger/headset port sits on the bottom (no 3.5mm headphone jack, unfortunately), and the microSD slot is hidden (annoyingly) under the removable battery. The slide-out numeric pad is sturdy and the flat keys are easy to press. The keys are large with raised numbers and bright backlighting.
In addition to the keypad, the Evoke has a touch software keyboard. It's a bit cramped in landscape mode, though--I hit the wrong letters on more than one occasion, and I had to type pretty slowly to keep the results accurate. Its predictive-text function works pretty well. The unit performed smoothly; I didn't have to press letters multiple times to make them show up. The keyboard also has haptic feedback, so when you press a key the unit gives a slight vibration.