Sometimes I wonder what the mobile phone industry would be like if each manufacturer was limited to, say, five new releases per year. Ideally they'd be forced to divvy up their wares into clearly defined segments and make one exemplary model per segment. For instance, a company might make one excellent smartphone, one super high-end multimedia phone, one slim/fashion phone, one solid mid-range phone, and one inexpensive or specialty phone. And that's it. That way if you wanted a high-end multimedia phone you'd only have to choose which company's version you prefer ... and not from the four or five models offered by each company, each with a slightly different feature set, form factor, and design.
Alas, we live in a free market economy and as such are subject to the good and the bad that comes with almost unlimited choice in the marketplace. So rather than offering us a single ultimate multimedia phone, Nokia gives us the entire N-series, a range of mobile devices that includes the "cameraphone" N93, the "everything phone" N80, the "music phone" N91, and the subject of this review, the "also everything phone" N73.
Huh? While the N93 and N91 are easily enough defined as Nokia's top of the line cameraphone and music phone, the N80 and N73 are a bit harder to distinguish from one another - at least on paper. The N80 features a 3MP camera and Nokia's Series 60 interface running on Symbian OS 9.1. The N73 features a 3MP camera and Nokia's Series 60 interface running on Symbian OS 9.1.
So what's the difference? The N80 is a slider, includes WiFi, and packs a standard 3MP camera. The N73 is a candybar, lacks WiFI, and features a 3MP camera with Carl Zeiss optics. You see what I'm saying - it'd be so much easier if Nokia was limited to five models per year. That way there'd be one phone with a Carl Zeiss camera and WiFi, and your buying decision would be that much easier.
But since we've got the entire N-Series to consider, I got to play with an N73 for a few weeks. It's a great phone. But - you guessed it - it's not quite perfect.
The N73 is a large candybar phone that has a solid, luxurious feel to it. After using the device every day for two weeks, I switched back to my Sony Ericsson w800i and only then did I realize how much larger the N73 really is. That's just to say that Nokia did a great job of making the N73 feel good, despite its size. Measuring 110 x 49 x 19 mm and weighing 116g, the N73 is more or less the same size and weight as the SE K790a - it's most direct competitor in the US.
I received a silver and plum N73, and the front panel is finished in a sharp matte silver plastic with both chrome and matte silver buttons. A glorious 2.4" TFT LCD display takes up a little more than half of the panel, and is flanked by the speaker, LED status light, and secondary camera on top and control buttons below. The LED light is actually a minor sore point for me, as it flashes blue when the phone is in "sleep" mode (i.e. on but not in use) and I often had to turn the handset face down on my nightstand when going to sleep lest the flashing light bother the peaceful darkness of my slumber.
I really like the look of the front panel buttons, though some are a bit wonky to use. A standard 12-key dialing layout finished in matte silver is topped by four keys (call, cancel, two softkeys) surrounding a clickable joystick, all of which have a chrome finish. Bordering all of this are four more chrome buttons: Menu, Input Mode, Clear, and a Multimedia Key. All of the buttons look great and give good tactile feedback, though the numeric keys are just a tad cramped and the joystick has something of a stiff feel to it.
The sides and back of the phone are finished in a textured plastic that's easy to grip and feels nice in hand. This is the plum portion of the silver/plum housing, and the color is a really nice, rich shade that looks almost black until light hits it. Almost all of the buttons and accents on this part of the housing are finished in chrome, lends some "snazz" to the feel. The overall look is sleek and luxurious, as befits a $500 cell phone.
A single button on the top panel of the N73 controls power and profiles and is centered in a chrome speaker grille - the device features top and bottom mounted stereo speakers. The bottom panel speaker grille is much smaller, to make room for the AC adapter and Pop Port accessory jacks. I was surprised not to find any sort of tethered cover for the Pop Port jack.
The left side of the phone is bare save for an infrared port while the right side features three chrome plastic buttons. A rocker switch is well-positioned for dual use as volume control during calls and zoom control in photo mode, while the placement of dedicated media player and camera keys is also well thought-out. Seeing as the N73's camera is a big draw to this device, Nokia did well to make the handset comfortable to hold and use vertically (as a phone) as well as horizontally (as a camera).
Flipping the N73 over reveals a clever rear-panel design that provides a clean, seamless look as well as a functional sliding lens cover for the camera. Chrome accents tip the user off to a panel release button - for accessing the battery and SIM card slots hidden beneath - as well as the camera behind its sliding protector. Sliding the lens cover open activates the phone's camera mode while also revealing the silver-accented 3.2MP Carl Zeiss lens and accompanying LED flash.
On the whole I much prefer the look and feel of the N73 to the N80. While I found the N80 to be an oddly thick, stubby handset, the N73 feels large but powerful to me. I've used this analogy before, but using the N73 is akin to driving a Mercedes S-Class or BMW 7-Series sedan. Yeah, you're in a large car, but that's the point - you've got power and comfort to spare. While the N73's keypad fails ever so slightly in this regard, its shortcomings are more than made up for by the spaciousness of the QVGA display it makes room for.
The N73 is one of Nokia's most feature-packed handsets, though it lacks the WiFi connectivity offered by the N80, N91, and N93. Still, the Series 60 platform offers a variety of multimedia applications. Nokia also recently released a special Music Edition N73 with an upgraded music player.
A dedicated multimedia button provides quick access to five user-configurable applications, including Nokia's music player, Web browser, FM Radio, and slideshow. The music player can handle mp3, AAC/eAAC+, and WMA files, though it suffers from an oddly cumbersome interface. The N73 Music Edition is said to remedy this issue, though, and current N73 owners can actually upgrade their phones with a little Googling and some basic technical know-how.
Real Player handles playback of video and Flash animations, and photos and videos alike look absolutely gorgeous in landscape orientation on the QVGA screen. What you give up in bulk on the N73, you get back in the way of a brilliant screen that's suitable for on the go viewing of short video clips.
My qualms with its interface aside, the music player performed excellently, and the included Pop Port adapter lets you connect standard 3.5mm stereo headphones to the N73 (a decent stereo headset with in-line microphone is also included). Music quality was on par with Sony Walkman phones - and rivaled that of my iPod - when quality earphones are used and the built-in graphic equalizer is adjusted to suit. Built-in dual speakers are capable of playing music aloud in stereo, though the audio quality is better suited for impromptu sharing than serious listening.
The N73 includes Nokia's standard install of productivity tools, which is easily extended by downloading and installing any number of Symbian applications from the Web. Personal Information Management (PIM) features on the N73 are extensive, and the Calendar and Messaging apps particularly benefit from the Series 60 UI's Active Standby feature. A row of application shortcut icons is displayed on the standby screen above a list of timely alerts (appointments, new messages, etc.). Both sets of information are, of course, customizable.
I was surprised, however, that the N73 was a bit sluggish when switching applications. Multimedia apps in particular had a tendency to boot up a bit more slowly than I would have expected. This wasn't at all a deal breaker for me, but did detract some from that initial feeling of "Oooh, this is one sexy beast" that I had when I first turned the handset on.
Megapixels do not tell the entire story when it comes to the quality of a digital camera. Sure, a five megapixel camera is going yield larger photo prints than a two megapixel shooter, but I'd rather have a sharp, vibrant 3x5" photo than a fuzzy, oddly tinted 8x10" any day. As such, a camera with a quality 1.3 or 2MP camera may be more useful in the long run than a poorly built 3MP model.
The Nokia N73 does away with any worries about megapixels or quality with it's 3.2 MP camera with Carl Zeiss optics. This autofocus shooter is on par with SE's K790/800 series - and Nokia's own N93 - when it comes to image quality. Photos taken in good lighting conditions came out crisp, clear, and with a high degree of color accuracy. The auto-focus system works well, shutter lag is kept to a reasonable minimum, and the camera software offers myriad settings in one of the best designed, most user-friendly menus I've see on a cameraphone to date.
Photos look spectacular on the N73's display, and can be saved to internal or removable memory, transferred to a computer via USB or Bluetooth, or attached to Email or MMS messages. Pictbridge support also allows for computer-less printing with compatible printers. And the Series 60/Symbian OS platform supports multiple applications for mobile photo blogging.
The one negative with the N73's camera is that the built-in LED photo light is not a true flash, and as such pictures taken indoors or at night do suffer from some of the graininess still associated with cameraphone pics. Sony Ericsson's Cyber-Shot line gets a slight nod here by virtue of building a Xenon flash into the K790/800 handsets.
The N73 also features a second, front-mounted camera. This sensor maxes out at VGA resolution, and while it can be used for self-portraits and other photos, it was intended for video calling on European 3G networks
While the N73's 2.4" TFT display is not Nokia's highest resolution display, it's still one of the best screen's you'll find on a mobile handset. Displaying 262,000 colors over 320 x 240 pixels (QVGA resolution), the screen exhibits amazing depth of color and benefits from higher contrast than the N80 (which boasts a higher resolution).
Nokia's Series 60 interface is clean and easy to navigate, offering a more PC-like experience than most mobile phones. Menus are viewable as lists or grids, and submenus are intuitive and logically laid-out. Themes, wallpapers, and text are all user-customizable, as is the previously mentioned Active Standby screen. The phone also features an ambient light sensor which automatically adjusts the screen's brightness to suit external conditions.
Though cutting-edge mobile displays now boast more pixels at up to 16 million colors, the N73's leaves very little to be desired, particularly if you'll be using it to view photos and videos. The roomy 2.4" screen looks great, particularly when held horizontally - or in "widescreen" view - and while a phone like the N80 or E70 might render text a bit sharper, the N73 provides a wonderful mix of resolution, color depth, and size.
I tested the N80 on T-Mobile's network in the San Francisco Bay Area. A Quad-Band GSM handset, the N73's performance was uniformly excellent. Audio was clear on both mine and the other end of calls, and the phone had volume to spare whether on standard or speakerphone mode. While the built-in dual stereo speakers didn't do much for me when it came to listening to music on the phone, they did provide a little extra oomph when it came to alert tones and speakerphone calls.
The N73 comes with a wired stereo headset with an in-line microphone that worked quite well for voice calls and also pumped out decent stereo music. The headset also serves as the antenna for the integrated FM radio. Nokia makes a Pop-Port to 3.5mm adapter with an in-line mic, which I used to plug high-quality earphones into the N73. This increased the quality of stereo audio tremendously. I'm surprised that Nokia doesn't include an adapter in the N73's retail box.
Bluetooth headsets are supported, though A2DP stereo over Bluetooth is not. The N73 paired easily with a headset and voice quality during calls was quite good.
Pre-installed applications on the N73 support for SMS, MMS, and IM messaging, while Series 60 applications can be installed to extend the handset's messaging capabilities. Use of the pre-installed IM client requires a bit more configuration than what's necessary on your standard T-Mobile or Cingular branded phone, but the third-party Agile Messenger client for S60 provides "off the shelf" support for AOL, Yahoo!, MSN, and ICQ instant messaging.
Composing SMS and MMS messages on the N73 was easy, and while not luxuriously spacious, the keypad was roomy enough for comfortable use. Nokia's predictive text input system worked well and provides a handy display of how many characters as you're composing a message.
The included Email client supports multiple POP3 and IMAP accounts, though it does not support BlackBerry Connect push email. The messaging application will, however, continuously check for and download new email headers if you leave it running in the background.
The N73 features the same spectacular Web browser found on Nokia's E70 and N80 phones. As I wrote about those phones, the browser works wonderfully on the N73's roomy display. While the N73 lacks WiFi connectivity and any US-network compatible 3G options (its UMTS 2100 band only works in Europe), Web browsing over EDGE seemed a bit faster than it has on other EDGE-compatible phones I've tried.
A quad-band GSM handset, the N80 supports the 850/900/1800/1900 bands as well as GPRS and EDGE data transfer. The N73 also features support for European 3G networks on the UMTS 2100 MHz band, but is not compatible with 3G networks in the U.S. The phone is suitable for use abroad on T-Mobile and other GSM networks, and comes with a European voltage charger that requires an adapter for use in American households.
Nokia built Bluetooth 2.0 into the N73, and file transfers were roughly twice as fast as they were on the N80 (Bluetooth 1.2). Supported profiles include mono-inly audio devices as well as file transfer, printing, and syncing. I had no trouble pairing the N80 with a mono headset or my computer. The phone features an AC adapter jack as well as a single Pop Port that's used for the included wired hands-free earpiece and USB data cable.
The phone has 42MB of internal memory available for file storage and also features a miniSD slot for expansion via removable memory cards. No memory card is included in the retail package.
The N73 is perhaps the finest all purpose, high-end mobile phone in Nokia's current lineup. That sentence is a mouthful, to be sure, but it's the best way to describe the handset: It's not Nokia's most capable smartphone, nor its most capable cameraphone, nor its most capable music phone - but it is the best device if you want the features of all three.
Though it lacks a QWERTY board and WiFi, the N73's Series 60 platform provides true smartphone functionality backed by speedy Bluetooth 2.0 data transfer speeds. Only Nokia's own N93 and Sony Ericsson's Cyber-Shot series can compete with the N73's 3.2 MP, auto-focus, Carl Zeiss camera - which is packed by full-featured software that's also quite user friendly. And the Music Edition N73 promises a more capable music player, even if it lacks the onboard storage of the N91 or SE w950 Walkman Phone.
If you're a smartphone user who loves to take photos and listen to the occasional song or watch the occasional video, the N73 may well be your dream device. Though bigger than your average candybar phone, the N73's excellent display and battery life justify its additional bulk. I'd like to see a firmware update address the handset's sometimes sluggish performance, but otherwise the N73 is a luxurious, high-end mobile phone capable of much much more than your average cell phone.