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Nokia N93

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Nokia N93 Camera Phone Review

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The N93 is Nokia's latest video-orientated handset, complete with Carl Zeiss* optics and a big bright flippy-roundy screen with three stable positions - one for calls, one for camera and one for organiser/games. The phone comes with a load of software pre-installed, and there's plenty of useful Series 60 software out there to add onto it. The handset can connect to any nearby wifi networks for doing data transfer or sharing files, and even claims to be able to make calls using SIP/VOIP (not Skype, although I think there's an S60 version of Skype somewhere). Despite reading the manual twice, and spending a number of hours tinkering, I couldn't get it to do any of this. I suspect there may be early firmware which still has a few bugs, or my slightly dodgy wireless hub to blame.

Software includes a mini-Office-a-like suite (seriously, if you're that busy/important, get a real pda/laptop) and a couple of not-bad games, including a beefed-up Snake, with multiplayer over wifi or bluetooth. Another of the games appears to revolve around videoing your friends swinging golf clubs. Not having any golf clubs, or knowing how to swing one, I didn't get far with that, but golfers might have fun there. There's a pretty good web browser installed, and the screen is just-about usable in widescreen mode, but Opera Mini is still your best bet for browsing on a phone. The media player I couldn't test, because for whatever reason, you can't just copy music or video onto it's memory card and Nokia don't make a Linux PC Suite. The manual says it plays most stuff, and how wrong can anyone get playing music? Direct image printing is supported by bluetooth, wifi or usb connection to the printer, which is pretty cool. There's a TV out cable for it too, for showing video or photos on your telly. Obviously, this being a series 60 phone, putting href="http://shozu.com" target="_blank">Shozu onto it makes moblogging plenty much easier, and gets you all of their other groovy features too.

Nokia and interfaces are very much a love 'em or hate 'em thing, as far as I can tell. Me and everyone else I showed it to found the interface confusing, complicated and illogical. Soft buttons move around apparently randomly, things you want are hidden several layers below where they should be; things you rarely need are up on the top level. Apart from the dedicated, configurable, five-way shortcut button, shortcuts are apparently non-existent - holding down keys or using keystrokes to shortcut through menus will get you nowhere here, Sony Ericsson users. There is one exception to this, the keylock shortcut, which is one of the four buttons located on the outside of the phone. Several times, I sat on this button, then later the camera button, so when I opened the phone I was staring back at myself through the display-mounted video camera (for video calls). Of course, if you're a fan of how Nokia lay out their phones, you'll probably love this handset - my lifelong use of Sony Ericsson phones has biased me somewhat in this area. :)

Overall, the camera is not bad. Not great, but certainly the best Nokia I've seen to date. Startup time is about 3-4 seconds and the camera handling is a bit but not too clunky - I found it quite tricky to hold the handset and press some of the buttons at the same time, and the lens and light are placed almost exactly where your fingers naturally want to be when holding it. The usual set of options is available: white balance adjustment, EV compensation, negative, sepia, black and white and so on. The camera won't remember settings, which would get quite annoying if I was having a 'black and white' day. Sharpening seems to be turned up quite high by default, some images are eye-achingly edgy in places, and jaggies abound on diagonal lines. Colour seems a little flat to me, but then I'm a saturation freak - I love slow Fuji Superia film in my Lomo, and my Nikon is always set for maximum colour saturation too (Colour Mode IIIa, Saturation +)

Autofocus is a bit slow, prone to hunting in anything less than good conditions, and is just about the only thing on the phone that doesn't provide audible feedback - less than useful when you can't see the screen because of the angle you're shooting at. "Close-up" mode has no autofocus, is fixed focus for about 15-60cm and as such is completely pointless - the non-macro-mode autofocus will focus down to 15cm! Low light performance is dreadful, as you can see later on. It has a reasonable led 'flash', but being an led, it's harsh and on the blue side of white - not a colour that will do skintones any good. If I didn't know the zoom was optical from the grinding sounds coming out of the handset when you zoom, I would have said it was digital zoom. If you need to zoom, move closer or crop later - expecting a thing this small to have a worthwhile zoom in it is a bit much. They shouldn't have bothered with it and saved a load of weight/cost.

However, slightly disappointing still camera is one thing, but it's the video that makes this handset - it can record video at up to 640x480 at 30fps, and it's not too bad at it too, and although it still suffers in low light, that's less surprising given the nature of shooting video. I didn't manage to get any framerates quite as fast as 30fps, but it says it will. The 640x480 files are huge, so for the purposes of most of this review, I've used it at 320x240@30fps - the files are still pretty big, but it's a nice quality/size tradeoff. Played back on a TV, the video looks great, on a PC screen though, you can see some problems. But, even after that, it's still fantastic for what it is. Much like you shouldn't expect D50 performance from your cameraphone, neither should you expect XL2 performance from your videophone.

There is a little photo editing tool, which is perfectly good but for missing a colour levels adjustment. It does have sharpening, desaturation and sepia toning tools though, which are a nice addition. There are two video editors, one for making little toy "Muvees" and a more serious one for more traditional editing. Both of those are very intense on the battery life (which is otherwise excellent), and rendering even short movies can take upwards of ten minutes, during which time the phone is unusable. The video editors both crashed a lot when I tried them, often managing to lose the whole project after a render crash, which is frustrating. If I were doing anything more than a quick hack job, I'd use a desktop computer for the job. That's true of any media capture device, to be fair - the onboard software is usually good for a quick and dirty touch-up, but for serious editing, you need a proper computer.

Why not to buy this phone:

- The lens cap. It's tiny, it's plastic, it only fits on one way round (making it fiddly to replace) and it's completely detachable and you will lose it almost instantly. Same goes for the usb cable connection cover.
- It's big and heavy. Like, 1996 big. During a call, when the speaker is in the right place to be heard, my chin barely reaches the top of the keypad. Using it makes me feel like a tiny person in a land of giants. Heavy like I had to tighten my belt to stop my jeans falling down when it was in my pocket.


Why to buy this phone:

- Video. The one thing that makes this handset stand out is it's awesome (by phone standards to date) video recording capabilities. If you're a video fan and if you don't already have a pocket sized digital camcorder, or you want to be a video fan and don't have a camcorder - maybe you should consider this phone. Consider it quite hard, and do go and test it out in person, because it does one thing well, and a lot of other things not quite as well as it should.



* you know that kitchenware "designed by F.A.Porsche"? This lens owes as much to Carl Zeiss as my toaster owes to a 911 turbo.

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OJ says:

Very useful Mat.

I'm looking for some good video recording phones for a project and this might fit the bill.

30th Nov 2006, 19:30

sam123 says:

fab phone some says it stops working but i found it fine you should buy

5th Aug 2007, 16:47

ben says:

good phone best phone ive ever had in my 18 years of living

5th Aug 2007, 16:49

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