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.