Apple iPhone 3G versus Nokia N95 8GB

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Updating the original comparison, Steve Litchfield looks at the new Apple iPhone 3G and wonders how the flagship smartphone balance has changed.

The original N95/iPhone battle may have moved onto new stomping grounds, but it's still a battle royal. Between strength and subtlety, between functions and form, between features and ease of use. Both devices are either aimed at totally different markets or aimed at the same market, depending on who you talk to. But the fact remains that the Nokia N95 8GB (now six months old) and the Apple iPhone 3G (available on July 11th) are still two of the most desirable smart devices anyone can own.

Let's put them head to head and try to be totally objective:


Apple iPhone 3G

Nokia N95 8GB


iPhone 3G

N95 8GB

Form factor Glass-topped tablet,  3.5" touchscreen, reasonable outdoor contrast, four physical buttons/switches Fairly robust slider phone, 2.8" screen, reasonable outdoor contrast, 25 buttons, including traditional phone keypad (hidden away when not in use)
Typical price on a £35 a month contract £99 (minimum contract with O2 = 18 months, total cost of ownership over period is £729, but this includes unlimited data) £free (on a typical 18 month contract, total cost of ownership is £630 - plus data (for some networks, though - shopping around for a good deal should end up at the same or lower price than the iPhone 3G)
Runs Version of Apple's desktop OS X S60 3rd Edition, Feature Pack 1, on Symbian OS.
Battery life Good, but integral, non-removable battery, 1400mAh, replacement is via sending away to Apple Good-ish, BL-6F battery can be removed and replaced quickly, 1200mAh.
Connectivity 3.5G. Plus Wi-Fi, also where available, seamless changeover (in theory) 3.5G, plus Wi-Fi where available, manual access point selection
Performance and RAM Very limited multitasking, but applications start and terminate so fast that you don't notice. Background applications limited to Apple built-in apps. Pretty quick, and around 90MB of free RAM after booting, thanks to a demand paged version of Symbian OS, with full multitasking (i.e. all apps at once, if necessary)
Built-in Applications A slightly restricted application set, but graphical and hyper-intuitive. The usual S60 set of apps and mini-apps, with something of a media/online bent.
Web browsing A good touch-driven experience using Safari. No Flash support though. A similarly good experience, this time limited by screen real estate and not bandwidth, with very similar browser code (both based on the same open source Web modules). Flash support, including full Flash video.
Text entry Text entry via fingers using an on-screen keyboard. Word prediction software helps to enlarge screen touch-sensitive hotspots for likely followup letters, improving typing accuracy a lot. No option for Bluetooth keyboard, at present, sadly. No way of copying and pasting text between apps or within an app.

With no touchscreen or keyboard, text entry is relatively inconvenient, using predictive text on the keypad, and mostly impossible when the N95 8GB is in 'landscape' mode (although a separate Bluetooth keyboard gets round this fairly easily). Full copy and paste support via an 'Edit' key.

Imaging/Video Acceptable (for casual snaps) 2MP camera, fixed focus, no flash, no video recording. Awesome 5MP camera with professional lens, auto-focus, multiple scene modes, effects and settings, bright flash, high quality VGA video recording at up to 30 fps. Plus secondary, front-facing VGA camera for video calling.
Music and expansion Very slick, as you'd expect, and with browsable cover art, MP3 and AAC formats supported. 8GB flash memory capacity (a 16GB version will also be available at extra cost), non-expandable. Music is loaded via iTunes from CDs or DRM-ed purchased music tracks. Very slick, with dedicated hardware controls for background playback, although cover art is often hit and miss, depending on your music source. MP3, AAC, eAAC+ and WMA formats supported. 8GB flash memory capacity, non-expandable. A2DP also supported, for wireless listening. Loading is via PC through a slow USB 1.1 link or via DRM-ed purchases over the air from Nokia's Music Store.

iPhone 3G 

N95 8GB

Durability Pouched/cased by necessity, to protect the touch-screen from damage. Pretty durable, with a hard plastic covering over the screen. The camera is not mechanically protected (as on the original N95) and picks up small day-to-day scratches which slightly impact photo quality. 
Real world experience In use, requires two hands to use most of the time, proving a little restrictive. Possible target for muggers? Almost all operations are easy to accomplish one-handed, so other activities (shopping bags, driving(!), child's hand, tube strap) can be undertaken during use. Also a possible target for muggers!! 8-)
Messaging Slick email and SMS clients, but no MMS support. Emailed photos are all downsampled to VGA. Functional email, SMS and MMS client. Attachments possible for any file with no transcoding or reduction.
Office work Word/Excel/Powerpoint/iWork/PDF viewers built into the email client. No editing options, although workarounds using Ajax applications on web sites are possible. Quickoffice 3.8 viewers (upgradable to v5.0 round-trip-perfect editing, including Office 2007 formats), plus Adobe Reader LE 1.5.
Navigation Native version of Google Maps, with cell tower and GPS location support. Native Nokia Maps with ad-hoc upgrades for voice guided navigation, with all maps pre-loadable via a PC to enable operation in areas of low data signal. Google Maps is free and a native S60 application, as an over-the-air alternative. Both use both GPS and cell tower data.
Extra applications Extensible using Widgets and Web applications in the Safari web browser, plus third party apps via a slick built-in AppStore/portal. Plenty of native S60 applications and games, plus thousands more Java apps/games and Widgets. Python, Ruby and Flash Lite applications are also supported. Download! on the device offers a similar service to AppStore, but without the same scope and consistency.
Bluetooth Just headset/mono-handsfree functions.  Full A2DP stereo support, plus object exchange, dial up networking and many other profiles. 
Extra connectivity Flush 3.5mm headphone socket. Flush 3.5mm headphone socket, also with integrated TV-out facility (sending screen feed or full res photos or videos to any TV or video equipment). There's also UPnP support via WiFi and direct printing support with Pictbridge.
Desktop integration Seamless integration with iTunes on Mac or Windows desktops, for all PIM data, settings, etc. Full functioned but messy integration with several versions of PC Suite and other tools on PC, Nokia Multimedia Transfer, iCal/iSync on Mac, etc.
Online sync/backup $100 a year 'Mobile Me' PIM data, plus email and photos. Slick and full realised, but proprietary to Apple. Free Ovi Sync (probably available at the same time as Mobile Me), plus sync offerings, both free and commercial, from the likes of GooSync, Zyb, Mobical, etc.

Apple iPhone

Nokia N95 8GB

Looking at the table above, it's clear that the iPhone 3G, despite the 2008 refresh, is still rather outgunned by the N95 8GB, but there are wins for the high profile device from Apple. It's cleaner, more elegant, has a larger screen, a great text input method and more foolproof desktop connectivity. And that shortlist of wins is probably enough for a lot of purchasers, especially those with lesser ambitions and a deep lust for shiny Apple hardware.

But the Nokia N95 8GB, as with the original N95 (on latest v21 firmware) and now also the N82, is simply awesome as a piece of technology, winning on overall data connectivity, multitasking, camera, video camera and in general as a smartphone tool for anyone with a smattering of technological knowledge. Paired with a Bluetooth keyboard, the N95 8GB can, for short periods, replace phone, camera, camcorder, music player, navigation device, laptop, games console and Blackberry, among others.

The iPhone 3G has closed the gap to the N95, taking it from a lap behind to only a few lengths. Let's see if Nokia's flagship smartphones have what it takes to put on a decisive winning burst to the finish line. 

Steve Litchfield, 11th June 2008

N95 8GB close up