The loaner 8GB N95 went back to WOM World today. I'll miss it but not too badly as I still have my N95-3 with the upgraded V 20.2.011 firmware that makes it essentially an 8GB with a slightly smaller screen. It was great to be able to play with the 8GB though, thank you WOM. Both N95's are very nice phones, in my opinion they are the best phones currently available in the US market, particularly for users interested in multimedia, gaming or using advanced web services.
What's so great about the N95? Most importantly, it runs Symbian S60 3rd edition, the best mobile operating system available today. S60 features an easy, intuitive, one-handed UI and the OS is fast, mature and stable with a large library of applications. Symbian, including S60, has the best video abilities of any mobile OS, it can effortlessly play full screen 320x240 videos at 30fps with no hesitation or dropouts and record 640x480 at the same frame rate. S60 3rd Edition OS is also more open and less locked down than anything else on the market today. It's not perfect, Nokia still clings to the strange idea that it and the carriers rather than users should decide what applications can be installed and what they should be allowed to do. But with a little fooling around (you may have to temporarily set the date back on your phone or sign applications using Open Symbian Signed) you can install all sorts of great free and open source games and applications on an unbranded N95. It's still a bit of a hassle though, Nokia needs to trust their users' judgement a little more when it comes to what they can install on their phones. But S60 is more open than any feature phone or other smartphone OS where stricter security models are the rule and GPS and the file system are often off-limits to unsigned applications.
The N95 is without question the best US market S60 ever. Most previous S60 devices have had too little RAM to really take advantage of the OS's multitasking capabilities. The last US spec S60s, the E62 and N75, have only about 20 MB of free RAM for running applications, It's all too easy to get low memory errors or have applications just close because of running out of memory with these phones. Even opening a large web page with nothing else running could crash the browser because it ran out of memory. The N95-3 and 8GB have a whopping 90 MB free at startup, I've never seen a low memory warning on either phone. I pretty much open what ever I want without even thinking about memory. I always have Shozu running and I can start up WebKit and open three large pages in separate browser tabs and then start Nokia Maps and the Y-Tasks memory applet and still have 73MB free!
The multimedia abilities of the N95 are second only to the newer N82 and include a 5MP autofocus camera and VGA video recording at 30fps. The GPS is the best of any phone with 30 second fixes and the best collection of location aware applications of any mobile platform.
Even the things I don't like about the N95, it's bulk and the compromises of the slider form factor, are minor annoyances. An N95 is actually no bulkier than most pre-RAZR flip phones and the keys, while small, have a domed shape that makes it pretty easy to hit the right key. They also have good travel, a light but positive touch and excellent tactile feedback. It's not hard to text fast and accurately on an N95.
Worldwide S60 devices account for about 60% of all smartphones sold, but In US, where the smartphone market is dominated by RIM, Windows Mobile, Palm and the iPhone, S60 only manages a 4% market share. Why is that? Both here and in Europe most people buy phones from their carriers at a subsidized price. The difference is that the European carriers offer the newest and best S60 phones to their contract customers at attractive prices. Vodaphone UK will give you an N95 8GB for free with a £35 ($70)/month, 18 month contract. None of the US GSM carriers even offer the N95 and it will cost you at least $600 to buy an 8GB from a third party seller. It's not just the N95 that's missing either, the US carriers apparently hate S60. T-Mobile US hasn't carried an S60 phone for at least 2 years, the last one was the N90. ATT generally keeps a single lower spec S60 in its lineup, currently it's the N75. The N75 unfortunately is nothing like the N95 with only 17MB of free memory and a screen that's hard to read outdoors. ATT doesn't promote the N75 and doesn't even have it on display in most stores. If you really want one, they will sell it to you for $99 with a two year contract or for $260 as a prepaid GoPhone. Because they aren't sold by carriers most American customers have never heard of S60 phones. In comparison, Windows Mobile, RIM and Palm are all North American companies, very familiar to US consumers and heavily promoted by the carriers. It doesn't help either that there has never been a CDMA S60 and over half of US mobile subscribers belong to the CDMA networks. In the end very few US users have experienced the fun and productivity of using a S60 handset with the best cameras on any phone, photos automatically uploaded to Flickr by Shozu, streaming live video to the world with Qik, watching any Flash video on the web full screen in the browser and making free VOIP calls from with Gizmo5 or Fring.
It's frustrating to see new high-spec S60 devices introduced in Europe and Asia and not being able to get them here. There's usually a rumor that ATT will be carrying the latest device. I heard that about the N95 for the longest time but it never happened. Right now Nokia is on the verge of releasing the E71 (image, left), a phone I think would be perfect for the US market. It's a monoblock QWERTY device similar to the hot sellig Motorola Q or Samsung Blackjack but slightly smaller in every dimension than either and also smaller than the iPhone. It's only 10mm thick which I think makes it the thinest smartphone ever. Americans love thin phones and smartphones with full keyboards so the E71 is perfect for this market. According to the Boy Genius who received an evaluation unit, the E71 has 70 MB of free RAM and the 1900/850 3G bands used by ATT. Of course, the E71 is rumored to be coming to ATT and also to T-Mobile with that carrier's 2100/1700 3G frequencies. I really hope the rumors are true. In my dreams I see the E71 promoted at an attractive price by both carriers , selling in unprecedented numbers and igniting a love affair between US users and S60.
N95 image courtesy of Nokia, E71 photo by Mohdyr20006