When we reviewed the Nokia N95 back in April 2007, we were mightily impressed. Indeed that N95 went on to be one of the most impressive phones of 2007, high on everyone's wish list. A true US version wasn't to be found-- yes, Nokia sold the N95 in its Flagship stores in NYC and Chicago, but the hardware was no different from those sold in Europe and Asia (the N95's primary markets). Fast forward to October 2007 and the new Nokia N95-3 for the US market. This isn't just a US label or reboxing, the N95-3 deletes the Euro 3G band and replaces it with 850/1900MHz HSDPA 3G for the US. That change alone would make a lot of unlocked GSM phone fans happy, but Nokia tweaked and tuned the original N95, improving on all the nits and shortcomings we mentioned in our original review. When we first heard rumors of this new and improved N95, we thought it was too good to be true-- happily we were wrong!
If you're a fan of the N95, you've likely read our first review here. If not, please check out that complete review as we're not going to cover all the unchanged bits here in detail. Instead we'll provide an overview and cover the N95-3's enhancements in detail. And yes, we wish Nokia had come up with a better name than "N95-3"!
The N95-3 in Brief
The N95-3 is an unlocked quad band GSM world phone that will work anywhere GSM service is available (and will accept any GSM carrier's SIM). It supports the 850/1900MHz US 3G and 3.5G bands (UMTS and HSDPA) but not the 2100MHz 3G band used in Europe and Asia (the original N95 had only the 2100MHz band). Note that in the US, AT&T is the only GSM carrier offering 3G, and when T-Mobile does in the coming years, they will use yet another band. In a phone so chock full of features it's still clear that the 5 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss autofocus lens is the N95's most impressive feature. The N95 family leads all phones with its imaging capabilities which also include shooting VGA video at 30fps.
The smartphone runs Symbian S60 3.1 (a neater way of saying 3rd Edition feature pack 1), and can sync to Mac and Windows computers. S60 3rd Edition offers full PIM applications (contacts, calendar, tasks and notes), as well as email and one of the best full HTML web browsers on a mobile phone (the iPhone is the only one that can compete). The phone comes with PC Suite for syncing under Windows and enhancements to aid in multimedia file transfer. Mac OS X users can download iSync drivers from Nokia's site here.
Nokia describes the N95 as a "multimedia computer", and to that end it has a music player, video player and a streaming Internet player that handles Nokia's free programming (Sony Pictures trailers, RoofTop Comedy, FreeBeTV, YouTube mobile and more). Slide the display up to reveal a numeric keypad, and slide it down to reveal the multimedia playback controls.
Slider open to reveal the multimedia playback controls.
The N95 also features WiFi 802.11b/g, Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR with Bluetooth stereo A2DP and a microSD card compatible with cards up to 2 gigs. The smartphone has an integrated GPS and comes with Nokia Maps software with nearly world-wide map coverage. The QVGA 240 x 320 16 million color display measures 2.6 inches, and it's got an light sensor with automatic brightness control. This is one of the brightest and sharpest displays on a phone. The numeric keypad's numbers are backlit in white as are the multimedia controls, same as the original N95.
The phone is available in two colors: black with a soft-touch finish (which we received) and bronze. The front face is silver, regardless of back cover color.
In the Box
The Nokia comes with a mini USB to USB sync cable, compact world travel charger with US prongs (AC-5), Lithium Ion rechargeable battery BP-6F, a remote with detachable 3.5mm earbud stereo headphones (the remote controls music playback and has a mic for calls), 3.5mm to AV cables (RCA connectors for video, left and right audio), a software CD with PC Suite and LifeBlog and a manual.
What's new and improved?
We'll cover each of these in detail, but here's the short list: double the memory for running programs, faster camera shots, better photo color balance, soft touch finish on the black model, improved GPS, US 3G and a higher capacity battery. And Sling fans will be happy to hear that Sling Player is available for the N95 now (you can get it for free using the Download application on the phone), and FlashLite 3 will be coming in the next few months for the N95.
The camera LED flash has moved from the right side of the lens to the bottom of the lens and the lens cover is gone. Nokia revised the back cover to accommodate the larger battery and we assume that required those changes. The black N95-3 has a soft touch texture, similar to the Samsung BlackJack, T-Mobile Wing and T-Mobile Dash (we haven't seen or touched the bronze colored version, so we don't know if that has the soft touch finish). Though this is the US version, the front video conferencing camera is still there, despite the fact no US carrier supports 2-way video conferencing. The slider mechanism is unchanged (no more or less wobbly than the N95-1). We've never had problems with the slider or the little bit a play it has when open, but some folks are bothered by it.
Back of the N95-3
Back of the N95-1
25% more battery power is just what the doc ordered for the power-hungry N95. The N95-3 comes with the 1200 mAh Nokia BL-6F Lithium Ion battery, which is an appropriate capacity for a smartphone with several wireless radios and multimedia features. If you've used the N95-1 on AT&T and upgrade to the N95-3, your battery life will be the same if you're in an HSDPA coverage area. Why? Because 3G uses more power than GSM and EDGE, that 25% additional will merely compensate for 3G. If you're a T-Mobile user on EDGE, you'll definitely notice improved runtimes. AT&T users who want to extend runtimes when not using the data connection can use the phone settings to put the phone in GSM-only mode.
The biggie here is US 3G support, which is useful for AT&T customers (T-Mobile doesn't yet have a 3G network in the US, and when they do, they'll use yet another band for service not currently supported by any phone). The UMTS/HSDPA radio works on the US 850/1900MHz bands and has an indicator for UMTS under the signal strength bars ("3G") and one for HSDPA ("3.5G"). When not connected for data, the phone merely shows "3G", but it changes to "3.5G" when a data connection is active.
Data speeds on AT&T's HSDPA network are excellent, with an average download speed of 800k on DSL Reports mobile speed test. Nokia's best-in-the-business web browser downloads and renders web pages more quickly than Windows Mobile's IE and Palm's web browser. For web browsing, HSDPA on the N95-3 is quite close in speed to WiFi 802.11g. Excellent! Nokia includes their usual email client, unchanged from the original N95 that handles POP3 and IMAP email. Nokia offers Mail for Exchange as a free download for those who wish to use the N95 with an MS Exchange server. There is no BlackBerry Connect software for the N95.
Nokia has updated the N95-3 with search, both device search and web search (you can select Yahoo or MS Live Search as your defaults). When in contacts, you can search for any name in an entry, e.g.: search for "store" brings up the "Apple Store SF" from contacts (we wish the Nokia 6120 Classic did this). The Search application has options for web search and for searching content on the phone. You search everything, or limit the search to contacts, notes and etcetera. The other new addition is Sling Player which worked well in our tests.
Other than a collection of demo games, little else has changed in the software bundle from the N95-1. There's an FM radio, Gallery, media player, Real Player, LifeBlog, Downloads (download mostly free apps and themes from Nokia's web site directly to the phone), Adobe Reader, QuickOffice (reads MS Office docs), a voice recorder, bar code reader, wireless keyboard driver, file un-zipper, converter, notes and more.
The N95-1 didn't have the speediest GPS. It often took up to 2 minutes for the GPS to lock on to our location even on a clear day. The N95-3 manages a cold fix in under 30 seconds and a hot fix in 10 seconds or less thanks to assisted GPS which downloads ephemeris data to speed up location acquisition. Nokia Maps isn't our favorite among mobile solutions when it comes to good directions and POIs. For routing there are still 2 options: fastest or shortest, and while generally less roundabout than the N95-1's. We weren't taken on odd paths to our desired destination as we sometimes were with the N95-1, though we still found a few bits of bad map data (an address was shown approximately 1 mile down the road from its correct location). But 95% of the time the map data was correct and the routing was good. Oddly, the POI database seems a bit less extensive than the Nokia E90's, which uses Nokia Maps as well. We didn't purchase the optional city guides (~$11.28), which likely give a better set of POIs.
One thing that threw us for a loop were discrepancies between what the phone showed us when we selected "show route" or "route simulation" and what we got when we then selected "Start navigation". We'd expect these 2 to be the same, but often the voice guidance told us to take a different route (and a less ideal one). It also occasionally repeated an instruction up to 3x in quick succession for no apparent reason. Routing is free with Nokia Maps, and navigation with voice guidance for the US (including Puerto Rico) requires a fee of $12.69/month, $98.78/year or the bargain-priced 3 years for $112.89. If you switch phones, you'll need to contact Nokia to activate the service on your new phone. The male voice is the clearest we've heard on a mobile GPS and the N95-3's speakers are loud enough to be heard in a noisy pickup or sports car.
Not a lot has changed here from a firmware-updated N95-1. Compared to the original release of the N95-1 the N95-3 has improved color balance, handles low-light shots significantly better (low light shots are usually a weak spot for Nokia camera phones) and image save times are a bit quicker (thought it still takes several seconds to save a max resolution image). The N95 family of phones are among the best, if not these best camera phones on the market. The images are better than the 3MP point-and-shoot cameras of old, though still not as good as today's 5MP dedicated camera. They're good enough for high quality printing at 4x6 and 5x7 resolution, and well-lit photos even make for decent 8x10 prints. The camera offers a wealth of settings, which you can read about in detail in our N95-1 review.
Video is still simply superb: the N95 family can shoot video in VGA resolution at 30fps-- considerably better than youtube video and it looks great when played back on a computer. The N95 has a 5 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss autofocus lens and an LED flash.
These sample photos were taken at the highest resolution. Unedited other than resizing for use here. Click on a photo to see the original version (~2592 x 1944pixels, 300k) in a new window.
Sadly, several Nokia NSeries phones have come up a bit short in the memory department. Though these are Nokia's highest-end S60 smartphones, they've averaged only 20 megs free to run programs. The original N95 suffered the same problem, and the OS would shut down apps when too many were taking up memory, but the phone sometimes slowed down or gave out of memory error messages on the route to managing memory for the user. The N95-3, like the recently announced Nokia N95 8 gig smartphone have 128 megs of SDRAM, with ~81 megs available to run programs. To be clear here, we're talking about RAM that's used in the same way as a computer: to run programs, not to store them. Like the Nokia E90, the N95-3 leaps ahead of other Nokia S60 phone and quadruples average free memory. This makes the N95-3 even more responsive, pretty much kills the chance of seeing an out of memory error and reduces chances of slowdowns and crashes. Excellent!
Flash memory for storage remains the same at 256 megs, with 160 free for your use. The phone has a hot-swappable microSD card slot on the side and Nokia states it accepts cards up to 2 gigs in capacity (though our 4 gig SanDisk SDHC card worked fine).
Wow! Not just a US re-hash, the N95-3 is the phone we wished Nokia had released in April 2007 when the N95-1 came out. Not that the N95 is a bad phone, au contraire, it's very impressive, but the N95-3 tweaks and twiddles the original model to excellence. If you're an AT&T customer, US HSDPA support is wonderful, especially when used with Sling Player and Nokia's recently released free mobile video content, the camera still can't be beat for still shots and video and the GPS is better (though voice navigation could use even further improvement). Truly, one of the best phones of the year.
Display and Graphics:16 million color
TFT color LCD. Screen size diagonally: 2.6 ". Resolution:
240 x 320, supports both portrait and landscape modes. 3D graphics accelerator hardware.
Battery:Nokia BL-6F Lithium
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
1200 mA. Claimed GSM talk time: up to 5 hours (claimed 3G talk time is 3.4 hours). Claimed standby: 10.4 days.
Performance:Texas Instruments OMAP ARM 11 processor running at 332 MHz. 128 MB built-in RAM
and 256 megs flash ROM. 82 megs RAM free at boot, 160 megs flash storage available for your use.
Size:99 x 53 x 21mm (3.9
x 2.08 x .83 inches). Weight: 120 grams (4.23 ounces).
GPS: Internal GPS. Comes with Nokia Maps software (works worldwide). Mapping and location info is free, turn-by-turn voice navigation requires a fee.
Phone:GSM quad band 850/900/1800/1900 MHz unlocked world phone. Has GPRS, EDGE and US 3G/3.5G UMTS and HSDPA on the 850/1900MHz bands.
Camera: 5 MP with digital zoom, CMOS sensor and LED flash. Carl Zeiss autofocus lens.
Photo: 2592 x 1944 pixels max resolution with several smaller sizes available including MMS-friendly. Images are saved in JPEG format with EXIF data. Focus range: 10cm to infinity (10-50 cm in macro mode). 20x digital zoom (6x in 5MP mode). Mechanical shutter, speeds from 1/3s to 1/1000. Has several scene settings including auto, center weight metering, adjustable EV, sharpening, color balance.
Video: VGA 640 x 480 max resolution at 30fps and AAC audio. Zoom up to 10x. H.263, MPEG-4 format and 3GP for MMS.
Secondary front-facing video conferencing camera: 240 x 320 and 176 x 144 pixel resolutions, video frame rate 15 fps, 2x digital zoom, H.263 format.
in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Voice recorder, music and video players included. Music player supports MP3/AAC/AAC+/eAAC+/WMA/M4A formats and OMA DRM 2.0 and WMDRM. Stereo FM radio included (use earbuds or headphones as the antenna). Includes RCA out cable to plug the N95 into a TV.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR. Bluetooth profiles: A2DP, AVRCP, BIP, BPP, DUN, FTP, GAVDP, GOEP, HFP, HSP, OPP, SAP.
Software:Symbian OS 9.2 with S60 3.1. Java MIDP 2.0.
microSD slot (hot swappable), 1 gig card included. Nokia specs state it's compatible with cards up to 2 gigs, but SDHC high capacity cards work fine too.
Place of Manufacture:South Korea. Nokia RM-160, firmware 11.2.009.