Editor's note: Portions of this review were taken from our original evaluation of the unlocked Nokia N95, as both devices share many of the same features and design.
When it comes to cool Nokia cell phones and smart phones, we here in the United States are often left in the cold, as our friends in Europe and Asia get all the goods. Well, it seems Nokia has heard our cries; the cell phone manufacturer has opened two U.S. retail stores and started selling more of its hard-to-get mobiles from the company's Web site. One model in particular has attracted a lot of attention, and that would be the Nokia N95. An unlocked version, which we reviewed back in April, is already available, but the demand for this smart phone has been so great that Nokia decided to release a North American Edition of the Nokia N95. For the most part, it's very similar to the original version, but there are some major additions that make it a better buy, namely 3G support, more memory, longer battery life, and faster performance. The price tag is still appalling at $699 for an unlocked version, but hopefully a U.S. carrier will pick it up soon (ahem, AT&T).
For the most part, the Nokia N95 North American Edition is very similar in design to the original N95, but there are some minor changes to color and camera that we'll discuss throughout this section.
Considering all the features that are packed into the Nokia N95, you'd think it would be a pretty hefty phone, but not so, my friends. The N95 measures a compact 3.8 inches long by 2.1 inches wide by 0.8 inch thick and weighs only 4.2 ounces. It feels comfortable to hold, and the soft-touch finish on the back of the device makes it easier to grip. That said, we couldn't help but think that the phone felt, well, kind of cheap. In particular, the front cover felt plasticky and rickety (more on this below). From an aesthetic standpoint, the N95 certainly falls more into the short-and-stocky category rather than svelte and sexy, but we think it's still a good-looking phone. The North American version is available in black and silver or tan and silver.
Of course, another attraction of the N95 is its innovative two-way slider design. Not only can you slide the front cover up to reveal the alphanumeric keypad, you can also slide it down to expose the media player controls. The dual functionality is nice, but we had a couple of concerns. First, the cover, which houses the screen and navigation buttons, felt loose and rattled around a bit. It just didn't feel like it was securely locked into place, thus leading to our next complaint. When putting the phone into a pants pocket or even when thrown into a bag, it was too easy to slide open the phone. There is a keypad lock, but we would prefer that the N95 just had a stronger mechanism for locking the position of the front flap.
Moving onto the display, the Nokia N95 features a gorgeous 2.6-inch QVGA TFT screen with a 16 million-color output and 320x240 pixel resolution. Be aware, however, that it isn't a touch screen. Images and text looked great, with deep color saturation and sharp definition. You can change the theme of the home screen, backlighting time, and font size. There's also an ambient light detector to adjust the backlighting depending on your environment, which helped keep the display readable in various lighting conditions. However, we noticed the N95's screen had a nasty habit of holding fingerprints and smudges, so keep some kind of wipe cloth close by. We should also note that when you slide open the phone to access the media player controls, the screen automatically switches to Landscape mode, but once you close the phone, it doesn't automatically switch back. You have to open the dial pad to get back to portrait mode, which is annoying.
Beneath the display are the N95's navigation controls, which consist of two soft keys, the Talk and End buttons, shortcuts to the main menu and the multimedia menu, a Clear key, an Edit key that lets you choose the text input type, and a four-way toggle with a center select button. For the most part, the controls are easy to use, though they're a bit slick and the toggle and outer ring of buttons (see image above) could have been bigger. Still, it's an improvement over the Nokia E65's minuscule keys. The N95's numeric keypad features large, tactile buttons with bright backlighting, and they're raised above the phone's surface so it's easier to dial by feel. Unfortunately, the media player controls are less tactile and require a bit more pressure to register the command.
Since the N95 is a multimedia-centric device, Nokia smartly equipped the phone with a 3.5-millimeter headset jack so you can plug in your favorite pair of earbuds or headphones for a better listening experience. It's located on the left side, in addition to an infrared port and the microSD expansion slot. On the right side, you will find the volume rocker, a shortcut to your photo gallery, and the camera activation button. The latter is in a position so that when you're holding the phone horizontally, it actually mimics the look and feel of a digital camera. The N95's camera lens itself (and flash) is located on the back, but unlike the first version, the protective lens has been removed. Now, you may be scratching your head wondering why Nokia would have gone and done such a silly thing, but it's actually for a good reason. Believe it or not, by removing the lens, it created more space to fit in a larger capacity battery, one that promises 30 percent longer battery life (see Performance for more). We do still worry about scratching the camera lens since there's no cover, but Nokia does include a soft protective pouch for carrying the phone. Finally, there's a power connector and mini USB port on the bottom, and the power button on top of the handset.
The North American version of the Nokia N95 comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a TV-out cable, a 2GB microSD card with an SD adapter, a pair of earbud headphones, a headphone adapter with antenna and audio playback controls, a desktop software CD (which includes Nokia PC Suite), and reference material. For more add-ons for the N95, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
It's hard to decide where to begin with the feature-packed Nokia N95, but since imaging is one of its biggest draws, we'll start there. The N95 is equipped with an impressive 5-megapixel camera--unheard of in the cell phone and smart phone world--with a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens. (Carl Zeiss was an optician who first started manufacturing lenses for microscopes and then used his expertise for camera lenses.) The breadth of customization and editing options available on this phone is astounding--almost like an actual digital camera. You can choose from seven shooting modes, ranging from close-up to sports to night portrait, and five quality settings. You can adjust the brightness, contrast, white balance, color tone, ISO light sensitivity, and exposure value to get the best picture possible. The flash even has a red-eye reduction option. Plus, there's also a self-timer and a sequence mode for multiple shots.
The N95 can record video at a maximum VGA resolution (640x480) at 30 frames per second, though you also have a choice of four other quality settings. The N95 can record video with sound in MP4 or 3GP (for multimedia messages) format, and length is only limited by the available memory. There's a handy timer that shows you how much video time you have based on the memory and the quality setting (this feature is available in camera mode as well). Editing options are a little more limited in video mode; you only get two shooting modes (automatic and night) and white balance and color tone settings. In addition, there's a video stabilization feature to help reduce camera shake as you're recording video.