The Nokia N95 - More Converged and more Convenient?

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Guest writer Abbas Reza proposes that the Nokia N95 is more converged and more convenient than the much vaunted new E90 Communicator. Steve Litchfield replies in the E90's defense, but concedes that Abbas makes some excellent points along the way...

Abbas RezaSteve L


N95 vs E90

[Abbas]:Hey Steve, you've had a go at both the Nokia N95 and E90 lately, and they definitely are 2 different beasts.

The N95 looks far superior in multimedia capabilities. The 3.5mm jack for audio, as well as Video-out, is superb, and unique releative to the E90. And if we look at convergence, and which device can actually get you the most mileage as an all-in-one unit, from everything I've read and seen so far, would not the N95 beat the E90?

[Steve:] It's true that the 3.5mm TV-enabled jack is a huge bonus in the N95 - you'll remember my video demo of its music playing adaptability last week? - but in all honesty, in a year of owning an N93, I only ever used its TV out facility a handful of times. I'm not convinced it's a mass market feature. And remember that the E90 has a nice large screen built-in, so there's less need to use a separate TV to show something in a 'big' way.

I know the build quality of the E90 is far better, and it has the second large screen with keyboard, but how far does that take you? Talking in terms of the mobile office, you're not going to write your next book on that thing (well, YOU might, I dont know.. you seem quite adventurous in this regard ;-] ), and you wont spend hours creating a complex spreadsheet on that keyboard and screen either. That what laptops are for, and quite frankly anything less than 12" or 13" in screen size is a pain to use even in laptops. But you could very well be writing up an expense report, or fixing numbers in a spreadsheet someone emails you, for example.

But could that not be done almost as easily on the N95? I find Nokia's keypads and pencil key highly intuitive and easy to use for editing documents. And fast too, with T9 input. It allows fewer key presses than a QWERTY board. If you're going to be cramped, is there really that much difference. I would love your opinion here.

You're right that any really adventurous documents are going to need a laptop, with fast processor, full Office compatibility and big screen, but it's still very handy to jot down ideas, work on some figures, and so on, on the move. Another factor is that the E90 comes with the full editing version of Quickoffice rather than the view-only version in the N95, so there's a bit of cost saving there that can be deducted from the E90's price. In terms of speed, you just wouldn't believe how fast I can type on the E90's keyboard (relative to my speed with T9). And not having to stop and check/redo every fourth word (because T9 has picked the wrong one) saves a lot of time! 

And if we look at truly mobilizing the N95 as an office, how about connecting it to a large screen TV, and a Bluetooth keyboard? Is that not far more comfortable than looking and typing on an E90? Especially if you're travelling, all you would need to bring with you is the foldable keyboard and the TV cable, since you can find TVs just about anywhere you would stay. 

Well, yes, it's more comfortable, but that's quite a bit of setting up. The Bluetooth keyboard is a given, of course, and will work well just about anywhere, but not every TV has the right composite inputs, especially in hotels, where TVs are often 'locked down'. Having a useable laptop-width (well, almost) display built into the device itself is going to win out in most situations.

Incidentally, there's no reason why you can't use a Bluetooth keyboard with the E90, should you want maximum input speed - this feels a little inelegant but certainly gets the job done and works well.

N95 vs E90

But what about camera and video recording? The N95 is the hands-down best camera, surely? You can't argue with 5 megapixels!

Arguably yes. But I'd also argue that the E90 isn't far behind. Look at the samples and comments in the relevant part of my review of the E90. The camera in the E90 is surprisingly good, at both stills and video, and competes with the N95 every step of the way. And, not really noticed in plain spec sheets, the extra RAM (80MB free at boot-up) means that you'll never, ever get an 'Out of memory' error in Gallery when trying to zoom into a photo or play a video.

Yeah, yeah! Still, my N95 is half the size and weight and when you carry it round all day then that's a huge deal...

...But of course.... just don't forget to pack your pockets with the Bluetooth keyboard and TV cable! 8-)

Seriously, I love my N95 too - or at least I will once it's been through a few more firmware iterations (better RAM use, camera bugs fixed, etc). The E90 is a classic niche device, while the N95 is genuinely mass market and will outsell it 20 to 1. Think of the N95 vs E90 debate as comparing a Ford Escort XR3i to a Rolls Royce Shadow!

[Abbas]: Huh. You always have to have the last word! But not this time....

Rafe: Last word?... I think that's my job.

In the last few years there has been a focus on adding new features or improving existing ones and I don't doubt that trend will continue. But with the arrival of the current generation of smartphones (e.g. the N95), the convergence war is all but over. The new device war is about experience and usability. And this explains why Steve and Abbas have such a good debate above. Each one of these devices is super converged, with the potential to replace multiple existing devices. However, each offers a different user experience and different usability points; in short, each has its own niche.

Everyone has different requirements and different needs, and as such there is no one "ring device to rule them all". While much of the core functionality (e.g. the ability to take photos, or to listen to music, browse the web, make phone calls) will be common across devices, the experience and usability will be different. Each attribute will generally be a trade off with another, and many of these differences are generated at the human computer interface (HCI).

For example, the E90 web browsing experience is superior because is has a wide screen, while the N95 media playback experience is superior because of the top slide keys and 3.5mm jack compatibilities. The E90 has superior data entry thanks to its full keyboard, but this comes at the price of a larger and heavier device. General physical attributes are also particularly important with mobile devices; many will be put off the E90 because of its extra weight and size. However, others will be reassured by the E90's build quality and 'presence'. And there's also a style/prestige factor (seemingly important in driving converged device sales). The N95 may be more stylish (or it may not, depending on your opinion!), but the Communicator family has traditionally had a very high prestigue value, especially amongst businessmen.

As always, you'll never find THE perfect converged device, you can only find YOUR perfect device!

Rafe Blandford, 30 May 2007