Reviewed May 14, 2007 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Welcome to an oddity, the distinctly Euro Nokia married to the US' beloved flip phone design with a heavy dose of Cingular customization. I've used just about every Nokia S60 (and S80) smartphone made in the past two years and it took me a day to grow accustomed the amalgamation of tastes and design considerations that are the Nokia N75. That's not to say it's a bad phone, quite the opposite. But it is different if you're accustomed to the import Nokias such as the N73, N80 and even the Cingular branded Nokia E62, which underwent only minor transformations as it morphed from the import E61.
The N75 was designed for the US market, unlike most other S60 smartphones that make their winding way here many months after their overseas release. A large segment of the American market has an ongoing love affair with the flip phone, perhaps thanks to the venerated Motorola StarTac of old that seemed to define "cell phone" in the US. We like our music controls on the front flip. And so Nokia gave us a clamshell phone with music controls on the flip and a RAZR-esque metallic flat keypad. Unlike the not so bright RAZR and other flips on the market, the N75 gives us plenty of brains: it's a smartphone running Symbian OS and Nokia S60 3rd Edition. It features a best of breed web browser (though Cingular has buried it in the Tools folder), PC syncing capabilities and it can run third party applications (not just the Java kind you buy from the carrier and download online). It provides company for the Cingular 3125 Windows Mobile Smartphone-- the only other smart flip on the market today (OK, Verizon has a Pantech clamshell MS Smartphone that hasn't exactly taken the world by storm).
We've been waiting for the N75 since December 2006, and its release went from seemingly imminent to is it ever going to happen in the months since. It's meant to be a relatively affordable smartphone (in the US, we don't like to pay a lot for our phones). At $250 ($199 after rebate) direct from Cingular, you get a lot of phone for the money. It's a smartphone, has a 2 megapixel camera, Bluetooth 2.0, a music player, 3G and great call quality. Unfortunately, it has the slower flavor of 3G, called UMTS rather than the raging HSDPA found on the Cingular 8525 and Samsung BlackJack. UMTS caps at 384k, while we regularly get 900k on our HSDPA phones (with a much higher theoretical cap). UMTS is prevalent in Europe, and thus so far Nokia has stuck with that standard. Still, it's twice as fast as EDGE and good enough for Internet use on the phone, but slow for tethering with a notebook.
Clearly, the N75's 2 megapixel camera isn't meant to compete with the flagship Nokia N95's 5 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss autofocus lens. Those of you who were thinking of opting for the N75 rather than the N95 to save many hundreds of dollars, be assured the N75 is a nice phone but no N95. The N75 isn't as responsive when navigating folders and launching programs, lacks WiFi and the internal GPS to name a few points. But then, it's not $700 either!
If you're upgrading from the aged Nokia 6682 or 7610, you'll be in heaven (unless you hate clamshells) since the N75 is superior in every way except battery life.
Design and Ergonomics
Not RAZR thin, the Nokia is a phone of substance. It's broad and long, though not much more so than the RAZR. But its 20mm (0.80 inches) thickness gives a sense of it being larger than it is. It's by no means a fat bugger, being a hair thinner than the Nokia N95, and similar to current flip phones from Verizon such as the LG VX9400 and Samsung u620. The Nokia is understated, with very clean lines and a geometric feel, and its not the kind of phone that begs attention as do the LG Shine or Moto KRZR. The matte black with a hint of deep brownish color is pleasing and the textured coating feels good in the hand. Silver and chrome accents add style and interest, and the back of the phone looks like a point and shoot camera.
The outer display is large, bright and colorful. In standby it displays signal strength, battery level, carrier name, time and date. You can set the wallpaper for both inner and outer displays. Three music playback buttons below the display handle track back, play/pause and track forward. You can start music playback with the flip closed and select tunes for playback (menus include all songs, genre, artist, album and playlists). Two tiny stereo speakers are at the top corners of the phone toward the back and they generate a fairly small sound.
As it should be (to avoid accidental powering off or profile changes), the power button is hard to press. Like all S60 Nokia phones, a quick press of the power button brings up profiles while a long press will power the phone on and off. The volume rocker is on the upper right side of the N75, and we found it a bit too hard to press. The Gallery and camera buttons are on the lower right. The Pop-Port is on the left side under a brutish rubber door, as is the MicroSD card slot and the tiny power jack sits in between, uncovered. The camera lens and LED flash are on the back of the phone with the battery door below. The SIM inserts into a spring loaded slot (there's a tiny release button next to it that will pop the SIM half way out so you can grab it).
The keypad is very large with depressions on each key that help with blind-diaing. The backlight is blue and it's triggered by a light sensor. Both the keypad and d-pad have too little travel, so you get that bottoming-out feeling when pressing them. That's the price we pay for the RAZR derivative design. Surrounding the d-pad you'll find the usual S60 keys: pencil key (switches between input methods such as numbers vs. letters), clear key, programs launcher, two softkeys directly below the display and a button that launches the music player.
If you've used the Samsung BlackJack, you'll recognize Cingular's loud "3G fireball" sound effect at boot and shutdown that seems better suited to a Nintendo DS.
The Nokia Pop-Port makes us feel as if this were last year's phone. More recently, Nokia has joined the 21st century and the Nokia E62 and N95 have standard 2.5mm stereo headset jacks. Why, especially in a music phone, are we going back to this pain the rump connector? Given that Pop-Port headsets aren't on every store shelf in the US, at least throw in the $2.99 Pop-Port to 2.5mm headset adapter in the box. The only consolation is Cingular customers upgrading from the old Nokia 6682 will be able to use their wired headsets with the N75.
Phone Features, Reception and Data
The N75 is a quad band GSM world phone operating on the GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz bands and it's locked to Cingular (this means you must use a Cingular/"New AT&T" SIM and not T-Mobile, Vodaphone or etc. SIM). It has UMTS 3G on the US 850/1900MHz bands (Europe uses the 2100MHz band) with fallback to EDGE if you're not in a 3G coverage area. Unlike most S60 Nokia phones, there's no manual network selection and no option to set the phone to GPRS only, 3G only or automatically switching between the two. You'll have to let the phone do it automatically, which it does well. However, if you're in a marginal 3G coverage area where the phone frequently flips between 3G and GSM, battery life will suffer. Cingular likely blocked manual network selection, as they often do on their phones, and not Nokia.
As we've come to expect from Nokia, reception on both GSM and 3G networks is very strong and voice quality is excellent with good volume (it's louder than recent S60 import phones). The speakerphone quality and volume are also excellent. Sound quality through a stereo Pop-Port wired headset is also excellent and quite loud, and these sell for $20 to $25. Data transfer speeds using the full web browser rather than the WAP browser were good by UMTS standards and we averaged 350k on DSL Reports' mobile speed test. Still, that's less than half of what we get on the HSDA-equipped Samsung BlackJack, Cingular 8525 and Treo 750 (with hack to enable HSDPA since Palm and Cingular haven't released that update yet). That said web pages downloaded and rendered quickly enough and we didn't find ourselves staring blankly while waiting for emails to download. UMTS is certainly pleasant for on-phone browsing, but those who tether and use the phone as a wireless modem for a notebook will want an HSDPA phone.
The email client is Nokia's usual Massaging which handles text messages, MMS and email. It uses a mailbox paradigm, where you define a mailbox for each email account you set up. It works with POP3 and IMAP email, but does not support MS Direct Push or BlackBerry Connect. Cingular bundles their client for web-based email accounts such as Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, AT&T Yahoo and Bellsouth accounts. An IM client is included and it handles AIM, MSN and Yahoo instant messaging with support for setting status, auto or manual sign-in, showing online and offline contacts and audible incoming message alert tones.
Nokia doesn't disclose the CPU model or speed (we asked, they said "nope"). Our test utilities pegged it as a ARM family CPU running at 206MHz which feels reasonably close given the N75's performance, though it's probably 220MHz like the Nokia 6682. While not as fast as the Nokia N95 and N73, the phone is no dog. If you've used Windows Mobile 5 devices or most other S60 phones, you'll be right at home, but be aware that the phone isn't as fast to open folders and launch programs as the average feature phone (this is generally true of PDA and smartphones). The phone has 21 megs of RAM free at boot to run programs, and that's average for S60 phones. Running memory hungry programs like Gallery and the web browser didn't trigger low memory errors for us in two weeks of testing, but add in a 3rd demanding program or forget to exit a 3D game and the phone will starting closing down apps to free up memory or will show an insufficient memory error. Thankfully, S60 applications have an exit/quit program menu option so you can manage running programs yourself, much as you do on a PC and unlike Windows Mobile devices which generally have only a minimize program option.
The Motorola RAZR V3 and Nokia N75 thickness comparison.
The N75 has 40 megs of flash memory available for storage and you can expand that using a MicroSD card up to 2 gigs capacity. The card slot is on the side of the phone and it's hot swappable. You can store music on the card and use a card reader to copy music to the card or you can use a USB cable and connect the phone directly to your PC to transfer and sync music files. And of course you can save photos and video on the card, along with Office files and you can install programs on the card.
With a fantastic main display, outside music controls and stereo speakers, the N75 has the basics of a strong multimedia phone. Video playback using Cingular Video is smooth, despite the slower UMTS rather than HSDPA connection for streaming media and the screen shows off both video and photos beautifully. Sound through the built-in stereo speakers is adequate for video soundtracks (and not as good as some of the LG phones with stereo speakers) but you'll want something better for music-- which is true of all phones. The outer playback controls make it easy to turn the phone into a portable MP3 player, and it takes about 5 minutes to get a hang of the outside display music playback interface.
The music player handles MP3, AAC, AAC, eAAC and WMA files and OMA DRM 2.0 as well as Windows Media Player 10 DRM. With that DRM support, the phone can sync to Windows Media player on the desktop and is compatible with PlaysForSure services such as Napster and Yahoo Music. The Nokia also has an FM radio, which is uncommon in US phones. The radio uses a wired Pop-Port headset as its antenna, so once again, you'll have to buy one of those to listen to FM radio. For some reason, the FM radio application isn't in the Music folder, but rather in the Tools folder and it's simply called "Radio". Reception is decent but you'll need to use manual tuning to pick up less than super-strong stations (the same is true of many other phones with FM tuners). Sound quality is quite good and you can save up to 20 favorite stations, though the app otherwise is no frills.
Also included are Cingular Video, Music ID, MobiRadio (think MobiTV but for broadcast music) and Billboard Mobile. Cingular Video service is included with MEdiaMax data packages but the others each require a monthly subscription fee.
Expectations are naturally heightened with the recent release of the Nokia N95 with its 5 megapixel camera and autofocus lens. Now pull back those expectations: this is a much less expensive phone with a 2 megapixel camera and fixed focus lens. Phones and their cameras are evolving so quickly that we were first unimpressed with the Nokia N75's camera. Then we revisited last year's 2MP fixed focus offerings from Nokia like the N91 and E70 (neither offered by a US carrier) along with a few even more recent phones from other manufacturers. At the time, they looked pretty darned good for a phone but in comparison to the N75 their images were weaker with poorer focus and hazing. So, with a little perspective, we have to say the N75's photos are pretty decent for a 2MP camera phone. Even HTC and LG's 2MP fixed focus cameras don't do much better.
Indoor photos show noise that's easily reduced with an image editor, but they maintain unusually good color saturation. For example, many camera phones we've reviewed turn the low-light still life to the right into something nearly monochromatic. Indoors photos have a cool green cast unfortunately, but the good news is Photoshop's Auto Color feature fixes most of them easily. In contrast, outdoor shots tend to be the opposite-- a bit warm but not nearly as over pronounced as indoor shot color cast. Under good (but not strong) light, the camera whites out highlights when the background contrasts (is dark). Otherwise, metering is good.
The camera can take images up to 1600 x 1200 resolution and save them directly to a card or internal memory. It supports lower resolutions including VGA and 1024 x 768 and has an LED flash that somewhat improves indoors shots at close range. The camera uses the inner display as its viewfinder and it has quite a few settings for white balance, scene settings and color effects. Images are saved in JPEG format with EXIF data.
Video quality is quite good with no undue blockiness, pleasant color saturation and proper audio-video sync. The camera can take video at 352 x 288 and 176 x 144 resolution in MPEG4 or 3GP format with AAC audio. It has digital zoom up to 8x and takes video at 15fps up to 1 hour in length.
Cool green tint makes the white wall look green.
Outdoor photos have better color balance and unlike the indoor images, tend to be warm.
Green tint rears its head again indoors.
Here's the big hurt: battery life isn't good. Get a spare battery if you're a moderate to heavy user. Talk time in solid 3G coverage areas hovers at just under 2.5 hours which is too short. Cingular Video will eat the battery quickly and even playback of local video content taxes the battery, though not as much as streaming media. The phone managed 7.6 hours of MP3 playback (we didn't use the phone for anything else during this time, and the flip was closed). Light users and those in non-3G areas will fare better but we still recommend a second battery for moderate to heavy users.
The N75 comes with PC Suite desktop syncing software and LifeBlog, both for Windows. We hope that Nokia releases an iSync plugin for Mac OSX, as they recently did the for N95. Syncing is reliable and easy and PC Suite also installs drivers to use the phone as a modem for your computer over the included USB cable.
Phone software includes the standard good suite of S60 applications including Contacts (instead called Address Book on the N75) with support for most fields used in Outlook, a full-featured calendar with repeating events support, day/week/month views and a Tasks applet. Also included are the afore mentioned web and WAP browsers, the email client, IM client, music player, RealPlayer, Cingular Video, FM radio, Cingular's usual subscription service apps like Music ID, a call log, full and demo versions of games such as Lumines, 3D Pool Hall and Tetris, the Flash Lite player, Java, notes, an un-zip utility, calculator, unit converter, voice recorder, Adobe PDF viewer and QuickOffice which allows you to view but not edit MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint files (you'll have to purchase the upgraded version to edit MS Office files). That's quite a lot of useful software to make the most of the phone.
In general, we love Nokia S60 phones. While the N75 doesn't earn our outright love, it still gets a positive nod. The good features outweigh the bad, and indeed there are many good features like the fantastic display, easy to use S60 interface and software, good music playback quality and features, Cingular Video support, excellent voice quality and good call volume, strong speakerphone and 2MP camera. It's a smartphone that's easy to use and sync and it has good multimedia skills. And it speaks to Americans' love of the flip phone, though it doesn't appeal to a high sense of fashion. But the rose has a few thorns: lack of the faster HSPDA standard which road warriors may crave, short battery life and that darned Pop Port headset connector with no headset or headset adapter in the box. I mean c'mon Cingular: folks can't even use the FM radio without that headset. Our other quibbles are smaller and have to do with Cingular's choices such as putting the WAP browser closer at hand than the real HTML web browser, disabling manual network selection and 3G vs. GSM manual selection and marketing this smartphone which competes with the Cingular 3125 as a music phone instead.
Price: $250 with a 2 year contract, $199 after Cingular $50 mail-in rebate.
Display:Main (inner) 16 million color
24 bit TFT LCD. Screen size diagonally: 2.4 ". Resolution:
240 x 320. Outer display: 262k colors, 160 x 128 pixels, 1.36 inches.
Ion rechargeable Nokia BL-5BT. Battery is user replaceable.
800 mA. Claimed talk time: 250 minutes on GSM networks and 132 on 3G UMTS. Claimed standby: 250 hours.
Performance:ARM family CPU running at approximately 220 MHz. 40 megs available memory for storage. 21 megs RAM typically free at boot to run applications.
x 2.05 x 0.8 inches. Weight: 4.36 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band 850/900/1800/1900 MHz with EDGE (class B, multi-slot class 10) and 3G UMTS on the US bands (850/1900 MHz).
Camera:2.0MP with fixed focus lens and LED flash. 1600 x 1200 max resolution. Camcorder: 352 x 288 max resolution at 15fps, also lower resolution clips suitable for MMS. Can save video in H.263 and MEG4 formats.
Audio:Built-in stereo speakers, mic and Nokia Pop-Port stereo headphone
jack (headset not included). FM radio (uses headset as the antenna), Music player supporting OMA DRM, RealPlayer and text-to-speech included. Has voice recorder, vibrate feature and speakerphone.
Networking: Bluetooth 2.0. Headset, handsfree, FTP, DUN, Bluetooth Printing (BPP), SIM Acccess, Fax and OBEX profiles.
Software:Symbian OS 9.1 with Nokia S60 3rd Edition. Java VM (MIDP 2.0), full HTML web browser and a WAP browser, e-mail client (POP3/IMAP), QuickOffice for MS Office document viewer, full PIM applications (address book, calendar, tasks Adobe Acrobat viewer, Real Player, music player, Gallery, Voice Aid, Speed Dial, Profiles, Message Reader, Zip utility, unit converter, calculator, MobiTV, Cingular Video, IM client (AIM, MSN and Yahoo), Cingular Mobile email for Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, AOL mail, AT&T and Bellsouth email, LifeBlog, 3D Pool Hall, File Manager, memory card manager, voice recorder, voice command, Flash Lite player, trial versions of Lumines, Tetris, and eBay app by Bonfire.
microSD card slot compatible with cards up to 2 gigs (card not included). Has IR port and USB 2.0 port.
In the box:Phone, battery, compact world charger AC-4U, USB sync cable CA-53, printed manual and software CD with PC Suite, LifeBlog, Windows Media Player driver and Adobe Photoshop Album Starter Edition.