Today’s touchphone aristocracy all have one thing in common: XL frames. The likes of the Apple iPhone 3G S, HTC Touch HD2, BlackBerry Storm2, and the Motorola Milestone would struggle to fit inside the tightest of skinny jean pockets.
One of the biggest offenders is the Nokia N97. This QWERTY-packing smartphone has big features and big bones to match. So to appeal to a more mainstream crowd, Nokia has introduced a downsized version of its flagship handset – the N97 mini.
The Finnish manufacturer appears to have just zapped the original with a shrinking ray gun. It looks and feels like the well-made N97 but is a lot smaller, slimmer, lighter and pocket-friendlier. But the unavoidable result of miniaturising the phone is, you guessed it, fewer features.
This isn’t quite as severe as you might think. The touchscreen is still sizeable at 3.2in rather than 3.5in, the five-way joypad has been axed in favour of arrow keys and internal memory has been reduced from 32GB to 8GB (though you can boost this back up to 24GB with a 16GB microSD card).
Other little absentees like a lack of lens cover and no FM transmitter for streaming your music via a free radio frequency don’t matter too much in the grand scheme of things and Nokia has done a commendable job of keeping the original’s more high profile features intact.
Unfortunately, the problems that dogged the N97 also pop up on the mini, the resistive touchscreen being the main perpetrator.
It’s a fickle beast that’s fine with taps – although you still need to sometimes double tap to get a response – but a little frigid when scrolling or swiping. Aggressive contact is often needed.
The look and feel of the Symbian S60 interface is also starting to feel bit outdated compared to rivals and it comes as no shock to hear Nokia will replace the workhorse OS in its Nseries phones with its Maemo OS by 2012.
That said it’s still fine to use and the homescreen is customisable with live widget panels and a plethora of shortcuts including Facebook and email.
Drafting messages quickly is a breeze using the spacious QWERTY and certainly preferable to using the onscreen alphanumerical keypad or handwriting recognition.
Nice photos, lame features
Despite Nokia still not updating its camera interface with contemporary photo mods like Face and Smile detection, the setup and performance is still better than most of its rivals.
The 5MP Carl Zeiss lens delivers nice shots complete with lovely saturated colours. There’s no Xenon flash but at least the dual-LED is bright enough, if a little glaring, when illuminating low-level light environments.
The same goes for video capture and its VGA-quality footage at 30fps is very watchable if a tad stuttering on occasion.
With a top-loaded 3.5mm headphone jack and access to Nokia’s online Music Store, the mini’s audio arrangement is impressive. And like most of Nokia’s Nseries phones, the music player sounds full-bodied with good levels of bass.
The mini is also top-class personal navigator thanks to the fully featured Ovi Maps and speedy GPS fix. Web browsing is also slick, although we found using the keyboard cursor keys more reliable and accurate than the fitful touchscreen for moving around web pages. 3G and Wi-Fi are both on the connectivity menu.
Touchscreen issues aside, the N97 mini is a versatile and well spec’ed smartphone. But is its compact body worth sacrificing for the marginally wider display, the mammoth internal storage and long-lasting battery of its bulkier sibling? On this evidence, we would have to say yes.