I received the Nokia N93 just in time to take it with me on vacation to Kauai, HI. As it turns out, there couldn't have been a better test scenario for Nokia's flagship "Multimedia Computer." The N93 was made for vacations - or anywhere else you might have a need for top-quality imaging and mobile communications.
More a camcorder with cell phone capabilities than a phone with a camera built-in, the N93 boasts a 3.2 megapixel Carl Zeiss camera with auto focus, optical zoom and 640 x 480 resolution video recording at a full 30 frames per second. No other mobile phone I know of can match those specs. Combine that with Wi-Fi and EDGE (and European 3G) data capabilities, and the N93 is a powerhouse mobile imaging device. Or, in my case, the perfect way to send friends and family photos and video clips of our vacation in Hawaii.
All of that imagine power comes with a price, though. The N93 is Nokia's top-of-the-line handset (at least until the N95 comes out) and priced accordingly at close to $700. The handset is also rather large and a bit unwieldy to use - at least for phone calls. Still, if you want a phone that can shoot sparkling VGA video suitable for playback on your TV or emailing to your friends, the N93 has no rivals.
At first glance the N93 looks like a very large, thick flip phone. Measuring up at 118 x 55 x 28.2mm and weighing 180g, the N93 is more than twice as thick and twice as heavy as Samsung's ultra-thin D900 slider phone. While you might not think that a fair comparison, bear in mind that the D900 also features a 3MP camera (though it's not as high quality as the N93's). At any rate, the N93 is large enough to make me wonder how many people would be willing to carry it around on a daily basis.
The handset features a dual-hinge folding design that reminds me of the ahead-of-its-time Motorola Mpx 300: The handset folds open and shut like a traditional clamshell phone, and the upper portion of the flip (the screen) also folds along one of its longer edges. As a result, the N93 can be used in any of four modes, and the phone in fact automatically switches mode depending on how its (un)folded. The main camera can only be used when the screen has been folded and rotated at a right angle to the right panel of phone, resembling a handheld camcorder with its screen flipped open. Nokia calls this "Twist and Shoot" photography.
Finished in black and silver, the N93 features internal and external displays, a standard dialing keypad with a five-way directional pad, dedicated multimedia and menu keys, and two softkeys on the lower portion of the flip, and a second directional pad for imaging controls that's mounted along the right panel (but winds up in the perfect position when the handset folded into its camcorder-esque Imaging Mode). Two more softkeys mounted along one edge of the main display provide easy access control during Viewing Mode, when the clamshell is open the "long way" to put the display in widescreen orientation.
The handset's design works very, very well when the N93 is being used to capture or view images. I particularly enjoyed the viewing mode, which takes full advantage of the QVGA display and stereo speakers for video playback. Unfortunately, the design is rather awkward for use during voice calls. The lens barrel rests along the phone's hinge, and is thick enough that it pressed uncomfortably against my face when I held the phone to my ear for calling. Nokia built the hinge with enough tension to keep the phone open at a variety of angles, so I was able to adjust things a little bit, but I really didn't enjoy using the N93 as a phone all that much.
Like the rest of Nokia's N-Series, the N93 is packed with features. The Series 60 software running on Symbian OS provides a platform capable of expansion via downloadable applications for productivity, information management, communications, and entertainment.
Nokia's music player handles audio in MP3, AAC/AAC+/eAAC+, and WMA formats and features a customizable equalizer and playlist support. The included Nokia Music Manager software for PC handles CD ripping, music transfer, and syncing with Windows Media Player music libraries. The N93 also features an FM radio with Visual Radio support.
Integrated Real Player software handles playback of video from the onboard cameras or files downloaded or transferred from a computer. A Gallery application provides easy access to photos and videos and includes a slideshow viewing mode. Included XpressShare and XpressTransfer software made it very easy to move audio and video files between the N93 and a computer, and the included starter versions of Adobe Photoshop and Premiere allowed for more powerful PC-based editing of photos and videos. All in all, the N93 is without question a serious multimedia device.
Series 60 also offers robust personal information management capabilities, including a customizable Active Standby mode with shortcuts to appointments, to-do lists, and other frequently used items. Calendar and Contact applications are excellent, and the handset can view - and even edit, to some degree - common office document formats including MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, PDFs, and graphics formats including GIF and JPEG.
A 3.2 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics and 3x optical zoom is at the heart of the N93. The lens is auto focus, the camera software includes myriad settings for shooting mode, white balance, resolution, and other settings. An LED light provides assistance in dim lighting conditions but isn't a true flash. As previously mentioned, the main camera is only available when the camera is in Imaging Mode. Otherwise the secondary camera, which is mounted along the top edge of the main display, may be used. The secondary camera captures images at up to VGA resolution.
Still photos captured with the N93 came out very, very good. I shot a ton of pictures on the beaches of Kauai and in general the N93 did well to capture the island's awesome natural beauty. Unlike most camera phones, the N93 sports optical zoom, and zoomed photos rendered very nicely. But I think the Sony K790/800 CyberShot series holds a slight edge over the N93 in terms of overall still image quality. It's close, though, and the N93 will not disappoint so long as you avoid overly-dim lighting conditions. Nokia's LifeBlog software makes it easy to post photos directly from the N93 to a Blog via WiFi or cellular data connection, and integrated PictBridge supports direct photo printing to compatible printers via USB.
Where the N93's camera really shines, though, is in video capture mode. Nokia packages the handset with a TV out cable, and with good reason: The 640x480 videos I shot on the handset looked -and sounded - great when played back on a television set or on the built-in display. Full 30 fps quality means smooth motion well-suited to capturing everything from vacation scenes to sporting events; in fact, Nokia is currently offering a special N93 Golf Edition to help you analyze your swing using a special capture mode and software.
Built-in software lets you edit your videos and/or reformat them for attaching to Email and MMS messages. I really had fun snapping ridiculous videos and emailing them to folks back on the mainland during my time on Kauai - and then watching them myself on the N93 back in the hotel room. Image quality was excellent across the board.
The N93 has two displays. The main (internal) display is a 2.4" active matrix LCD capable of QVGA (320 x 240) resolution and up to 262,000 colors. This is a beautiful display, second only to the newest QVGA+/16 million color models just starting to appear on mobile handsets. An ambient light sensor provides automatic brightness adjustment, and Nokia claims a 160 degree viewing angle for this display.
I found the display to be bright, crisp, and easy to read in almost all lighting conditions. As I mentioned, watching videos in widescreen Viewing Mode on the N93 was a real treat, and the display also performed quite well for text-based tasks such as Email and reading Web pages.
The secondary display is a 1.1" LCD capable of 128 x 36 resolution at 65,000 colors. This display is primarily used for basic information - time, date, phone status, caller ID, profile selection - though the nifty startup animation does show that it's capable of rendering small images as well as text.
Call quality on the N93 was very good. The handset features dual mode WCDMA/GSM and triband GSM coverage on up to five continents. In the US, the N93 uses the EDGE/GSM 900/1800/1900 bands, which are compatible with Cingular, T-Mobile, and other GSM networks. I used the phone on T-Mobile both in the San Francisco Bay Area and on the island of Kauai, HI, and calls came through loud and clear in almost all cases.
Quality was also good using the built-in speakerphone. The N93 supports multiple profiles, each of which includes settings for ringtones, system and alert tones, and vibrating alert. Profiles can be switched while the handset is folded shut by way of a top-mounted profile/power button.
Bluetooth 2.0 on the N93 includes support for headsets, and I was able to easily pair and use a mono headset for calls. Stereo over Bluetooth is not supported, though an optional wired stereo headset can be connected via the Pop Port.
SMS and MMS messaging is supported on the N93, as are video calls if you're on a European 3G network. As mentioned, the N93's imaging software features excellent support for editing and compressing photos and videos for inclusion in messaging. This makes it easy to capture high-resolution images for printing and then export smaller versions of those same images for easier sharing via MMS or Email.
The Series 60 Email client worked quite well with various of my POP3 and IMAP accounts. Email can be sent and received via EDGE/GPRS or WiFi networks, and the Settings Wizard software made configuring email accounts very easy.
Typing messages is accomplished using a standard 12-button dialing keypad and predictive text software. Nokia's predictive text system isn't my favorite, but it's not bad. A dedicated Input Mode key and well-designed contextual process helped the messaging process along. Instant Messaging is also supported.
European N93 users can take advantage of support for 3G CDMA data networks. Here in the states we'll have to make do with support for GRPS and EDGE connectivity, or hop on to an open WLAN network via the handset's integrated support for 802.11b/g WiFi. Connection manager software makes it easy to define and select multiple Net access points, and also to sniff out available WiFi networks.
Once connected to the Net, Nokia's stellar browser provides an excellent mobile Web experience. The browser works especially well in widescreen mode, though navigation can be a bit tricky since the D-Pad becomes a bit cramped when the screen is twisted into a landscape orientation. Most Web pages I visited rendered true to form on the N93, and the browser's excellent management of browsing history and auto-bookmarks made it easy to revisit pages (something I did a few times when looking for restaurants and other points of interest on vacation).
And to say it again, the N93's combination of imagining and Net connectivity makes it an ideal traveling companion. Sending 2 megabyte video files over an EDGE connection isn't ideal, but it works (hit send, stick the phone on the car seat, and drive to the next beach!). Find an open WiFi network, however, and the idea of photo and video blogging really comes to life with this device. There's no need to transfer files from camera to PC and then upload them to the Web as with a regular digital camera - the N93 can do it all. And while many other camera phones can perform the same feat, few can do it with the N93's combination of image quality and ease of use.
Nokia packed a plethora of connectivity options into the N93 to let you get the most out of those beautiful images you're bound to capture with it. USB 2.0 supports speedy file transfers and PC synching with the included data cable. Bluetooth 2.0 supports file transfers, synching, and mono audio devices. PictBridge allows for direct USB printing (I tried it with a Polaroid photo printer and it was a snap).
The N93 also features two unique connectivity options tailored to its multimedia functions. An included TV Out cable connects the handset's PopPort to a TV, monitor, or video recorder with standard RCA inputs (Video/Left/Right) for big screen viewing of movie clips including stereo audio. This was perfect for my (really exciting) vacation home movies. UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) allows for connectivity between the handset and compatible consumer electronics devices - specifically for sharing of content between your N93 and computer and home theater equipment. I did not test the UPnP functionality.
It's a sign of the times that the reigning king of Nokia's N-Series is a great device but only a so-so phone. The N93 twists and rotates and folds - literally and figuratively, functioning as an all-in-one camcorder, still camera, media center. When unfolded, as it were, into a traditional phone the N93 is at its weakest. It's just not that comfortable to talk on, thanks in large part to the massive cylinder that houses the Carl Zeiss camera optics - and juts into the side of your face when you hold the handset to your ear.
However, no device currently on the market packs as much multimedia power into a phone as the N93. Its photo and video capture capabilities, robust media software, and WiFi connectivity make it an ideal companion for vacations, birthday parties, and other special events where you might ordinarily take a full-size camcorder. Unfortunately, its awkward ergonomics and hefty size and price tag also make it a less than ideal cell phone for day-to-day use. I'm amazed by all the N93 can do, and how well it does almost all of it. So amazed that I'm all the more excited for the N95's debut - promising a better camera, the same video capture quality, and a smaller candybar form factor, the N95 might just make good on the N93's promise.