Video: Nokia's N95 costs more ($749) than the iPhone. But does it do more?

Video: Nokia's N95 costs more ($749) than the iPhone. But does it do more?

Summary: Among the digerati, Nokia's N95 cell phone is probably the most talked about alternative to Apple's iPhone which goes on sale tomorrow tonight. So much so that N95 owners are posting their own videos about it on YouTube.

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Among the digerati, Nokia's N95 cell phone is probably the most talked about alternative to Apple's iPhone which goes on sale tomorrow tonight. So much so that N95 owners are posting their own videos about it on YouTube. Wrote Robert Scoble of his plans to get an iPhone for his wife:

I’m still getting an iPhone, though, for Maryam. I’ll probably keep my N95. We’ll see on Saturday, though, after I get a chance to put the iPhone through its paces.

Can his wife's phone convince him to switch? Perhaps the better question for Nokia is whether the N95 is positioned well-enough in the market to win against the likes of an iPhone or Helio's Ocean (see my video of the Ocean).

By all accounts, the N95 when it first shipped was revolutionary for a cell phone. It's most talked about feature by far is its 5 megapixel camera. Whereas most camera phones come in at around 1.3 or 2 megapixels (the iPhone and Helio's Ocean are the latter), coupling a 5 MP camera (and good optics) with wireless Internet and telephony capabilities is unquestionably a harbinger of things to come.

Will phones become hi-end cameras or will cameras become phones? Probably both. It would be awfully cool if, with the press of one button, my Nikon D70 could dump pictures to Flickr, disintermediating the PC altogether. Nokia is definitely onto something and others will follow.

Like Helio's Ocean, the N95 doesn't stop there in terms of features lacking in the iPhone. As you can in my video interview of Nokia spokesperson Kimberly Schram from Digital Experience in New York City, the N95, like Helio's Ocean, has a microSD slot for memory expansion. But, also like Helio's Ocean (as ZDNet's readers were very quick to tell me), relative to the iPhone, memory expansion capabilities in smartphones are of little consolation if the phone's starting point memory-wise is measure in megabytes and not gigabytes (the N95 has 160MB of built-in memory). I think there's more to removable storage than just the capacity issue (see my short treatise on this).

Mabye we can argue the merits of removable storage. But I'll stand firm on the issue of removable batteries. I've been using cell phones and smart phones for more than 15 years now and if there's one thing that I can't do without (particularly with smartphones that like to eat lithium ion while they're constantly fetching mail), it's a removable battery: another feature of the N95.

But, as you'll see in the video, the N95 has its faults. Getting one for example. It supports the same 2.5G-rated flavor of GSM that the iPhone supports. So, unlike the Ocean which supports the 3G-rated and faster flavor, the N95 is not a connectivity stand-out compared to the iPhone. Another oddity is that you can't buy one from AT&T or T-Mobile (the two GSM carriers in the US). Instead, you have to get an AT&T or T-Mobile SIM card (take it out of an existing phone or buy one directly) and put it into an N95 which you must then purchase separately from Nokia's Web site (www.nseries.com). My first question then is, what if something goes wrong? Who do you call? Surely, AT&T isn't going to offer you much help if you're having connectivity problems with your N95 (and the carrier is the one you need the help from, not the manufacturer).

One of the other major criticisms of the iPhone is it's lack of any hardware based keyboard. There isn't a QWERTY keyboard for messaging nor is there a numeric keypad like the one found on most cell phones. For all that it does have, the one thing the N95 doesn't have is a QWERTY keyboard (like what the Ocean has). It does have a hide-away numeric keypad. But for rabid messagers, this may be less than ideal (unless you're a teenager and then who cares). Schram talks about some of the N95's other interesting features. For example, a GPS feature that sounds a bit like what Helio's Ocean is capable of.

But the big question in my mind is price. At $749, the N95 is outrageously expensive. Perhaps the inclusion of the 5 megpixel camera justifies that sort of expenditure. I doubt I'd drop that sort of coin for a "merged" device and now that the iPhone is out, my sense is that there are several entries on the market that may have to consider repricing in order to stay competitive. The N95 is one of them.

Topics: iPhone, Hardware, Mobility

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13 comments
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  • 2.5G?

    I'm not sure whether there's a difference, but overhere in europe it's fully 3G capable...

    As far as the discussion about the memory is concerned, are you sure that the iPhone has 4Gb of available memory to it's operating system... except for storage (I don't think so...)

    As far as the price is concerned, overhere in Europe they're pretty cheap depending on the contract, if i try to find something comparable to AT&T contract and then look to the price i would have to pay, this would be below 100 euro's....

    The keyboard is what sets the N95 apart, i'm so used to one handed management of my telephone that the iPhone would be a very big change. And with T9 i can pretty quickly type messages..

    And yes you're right about the battery, they suck no matter how careful you are with it, and the iPhone will have a different usage pattern compared towards the iPod.
    tombalablomba
    • UMTS

      It's strange that UMTS 3G (GSM's "flavour" of 3G) wasn't mentioned although I think there is a reason, that being that UMTS in the USA uses a slightly different pair of frequencies to the rest of the world.

      Over here and in Japan and Australia, UMTS operates on the 2100MHz and 1900MHz bands. In North America the 2100MHz band is either still in use or just been released by the US military and the 1900MHz band is in use for North America's GSM.

      I think, although I could be wrong, that in North America UMTS uses 2100MHZ where available and [i]1700MHz[/i] bands, which the N95 doesn't support.

      Adding 2100/1700MHz support to UMTS handsets 2100/1900MHz support as well as quad-band conventional GSM would truly make a "world phone"
      GeoNorth
  • Not in Europe David

    The N95 specs (from the [url=http://www.nokia.co.uk/A4344017]Nokia UK website[/url]:
    WCDMA2100 (HSDPA), EGSM900, GSM850/1800/1900 MHz (EGPRS).

    HSDPA is regarded as 3.5G (an extension of 3G).

    Not even in the same league as EDGE...
    Scrat
  • It's probably a very good phone for business.

    The price isn't going to be that big a factor because of corporate
    discounts and as long as the IT guys are happy there will be a lot of
    (higher paid) workers happy to get one. Basic entry level employees
    will probably get a "LOL" when they ask for one.

    The camera is impressive and, hopefully, will push others to improve
    - even Apple. 5 MPs will get my attention a lot faster than 2 if I start
    traveling on business again.

    As far as the consumer market goes I believe that the iPhone will be a
    better offering, especially when the price of the two is considered and
    developers start adding apps to the standard iPhone apps.

    The main thing, for me, is that the N95, iPhone, etc. are going to be
    pushing all phone makers to ramp up development programs and
    provide significant improvements in all of their ranges. This is where
    we will all win.
    Ken_z
  • AVOID the N95 - its unreliable

    I've replaced mine twice now because it reboots itself willy nilly, the person on the other end of a call cannot hear you (at least once a day) cured by a reboot. Its a right royal pain.
    deaf_e_kate
  • Be fair with the price!

    I can't believe that you are saying it costs more to buy than an iPhone, then in your next breath say that you insert your own Sim card from your old phone to use it.... (Even a Pay as you go Sim?)

    This means that it is saving you 2 years of AT&T's higher charges doesn't it?

    By the way, in the UK, it is full 3G, and you can buy it unlocked from the start, or get it as free on many packages which are equivelent to about $50 per month. You American's really pay through the nose for your mobiles don't you?

    Cheers,

    Sean

    P.S. Good luck with your iPhone, I wouldn't touch one with a barge pole, despite being a gadget freak, and my phone of choice is the Sony Ericsson W850i. But I have looked at the N95 as a possible replacement...
    Sean_Ssss
  • No QWERTY keyboard? No Numeric keypad?

    Really? The iPhone most certainly does have both. However, they are not
    mechanical. Is it for touch typing? No. However, my Treo's mechanical keyboards
    are not for touch typing either. Perhaps that is a function of my 6'4" frame and the
    fact that the keyboards seem to have been built for people half my size. BTW?I
    touch type on a regular keyboard at nearly 90 wpm?so the concept is not new to
    me.

    As to criticizing the iPhone's virtual keyboard, why? Have any of you ever used it?
    Right. You have not. While it might be the worst thing ever, you don't know
    because you have never used it.

    One thing that keeps getting ignored in the rush to criticize the lack of a
    mechanical keyboard is the much greater thickness or overall size a device must be
    to accommodate those keyboards and the correspondingly smaller screens. You
    never hear about that. Apple's approach with the iPhone may suck in actual use,
    but since I have not tried it I don't know. However, on the surface having a mobile
    device that is smaller and lighter while giving me both a larger screen and input
    method seems pretty darn good. I am certainly up to giving it a shot.
    Unfortunately, it would seem that I am going to have to wait to get my hands on
    one to try. It looks like a few million other people want to get their hands on the
    iPhone,too. So I'll have to wait for the lines to die down before testing it myself.
    jscottaloi
  • I don't know anyone who owns a spare battery for their phone

    I hear a lot of comments about the lack of a replaceable
    battery in the iPhone, but I don't know anyone who owns
    a second battery, and I've never seen anyone swapping
    batteries. If you can't reach in your pocket right now
    and produce a charged battery for your phone, I don't
    think your argument carries much weight. What I do see
    a lot of is car chargers, and people with extra chargers
    at work and for travel. As long as your battery gets you
    through the day, or at least to were you can connect it to
    a charger, that's all that seems to be important. My
    wife's T-Mobile dash uses a regular mini-USB
    connection for the charger (and data transfer) so she can
    charge it from virtually any powered USB port as long as
    she has a cable. This is about the best solution I've seen
    so far.
    djdawson
    • Just gotta carry an extra battery.........

      Hello zdnet, Just have to carry a battery. How could you not? You know when the battery is going to fail......This is the middle of the day, always. Swap the battery and you are back up and running. I have 3 batteries, one in the phone, one in my pocket, and one charging. I would hope the iPhone would eventually support the option of a new battery. Thanks for your time.
      tlpenn
      • extra battery works for me .....

        I agree with "tipenn". I carry a spare,and it has been a life saver several times. My phone came with a cradle that charges the phone and a spare at the same time.
        toolguykarl1
    • According to apple

      the capacity of the battery will start to decrease after 300-400 loads, so after one year and a half approximately, you'll be dying to be able to easily replace the battery.

      It's not the ability to change the battery on the fly i'm interested in. It's being able to walk into the store, buy a new battery and carry on using the telephone without having to recharge it after one hour of talk time.
      tombalablomba
  • Apples and oranges.

    Comparing the N95 and iPhone is really Apples and Oranges (or whatever fruit the Nokia is ;-))

    The N95 is Nokia's top of the line smartphone, and has pretty much everything that you can cram into a cell phone these days. GPS, excellent camera which also does good video, WiFi, 3.5G, bluetooth 2.0 with stereo support, music player, video player with hardware support for H.264 and TV-out. It even has accelerated 3D. Runs S60 3rd edition and also supports J2ME so lots of 3rd party applications. It is really a phone for the gadget freaks and power users that want absolutely everything in a single device.

    Existing manufacturers like Nokia and SE know how to cram lots of features into a cell phone, feature-wise the iPhone is last year.

    The iPhone is for those who want a large screen video iPod that can surf the web and send email. And happens to also be a cell phone. What's special about the iPhone isn't the hardware features (comparing it to something like the older Nokia N70 would be less unfair in that respect). Even the web-browser isn't that special, the browser in the Nokia N- and E-series phones use the same core open source components that is in the iPhone Safari browser (webkit). What's special is the touchscreen and the UI that goes with it. Even though I can see the same pages on my N95, stuff like that 'pinch' move to quickly zoom is absolute genius.

    It is great to see Apple entering this market because UI and user experience is one area where the traditional cell phone makers have been slow. And that's what will make or break the iPhone.


    OSX could also have been a big selling point. Symbian and other smartphone OSes are more like upscaled embedded OSes than scaled down PC OSes, and they are not exactly the best platforms when it comes to write software for them. Unfortunately, Apple has decided not to open up iPhOSX for 3rd party developers yet. Which is a shame, because smartphones could really use a better OS.


    Oh, and that price comparison is Apples and Oranges too. You can't possibly compare a 2year plan price and an unlocked phone price. Looking at some AT&T prices (BB Curve, Treo 750) you can subtract 250-350$ off retail for a 2year plan. Suddenly the N95 looks on par with the iPhone. But then again two entirely different phones, N95 is a feature swiss army knife, iPhone is a UI experience.
    shoktai
    • UI experience

      Nokia S40 is a UI experience also, Nokia S60 is a UI experience that actually allows you to, like, [i]do stuff[/i].

      When I buy a phone, I want a phone, not an "experience" I want function more than form.
      GeoNorth