Nokia's N-Series is their high-end line of ?multimedia computers,? which are generally sold as unlocked handsets and marketed more in Europe than here in the states. With their giant N-Series pavilion at CES 2007 in Las Vegas, the Finnish handset maker stated their intention to turn American consumers on to the ways of multimedia computing. Along with opening Flagship stores in Chicago and New York City and a dozen or so ?Experience Centers? across the land, Nokia also brought one of their N-Series handsets to a major US carrier.
The N75 brings the power of Nokia's Series 60 platform to AT&T's handset lineup, which means N-Series phones for American consumers used to heavily subsidized pricing (i.e. folks entirely unwilling to shell out $350 - 750 for an unlocked phone). While the N75 is a multimedia powerhouse backed by the expandability of Series 60 running on Symbian OS, and the speed of AT&T's 3G network, it's also pretty big and plain looking for a flip phone. And that 3G support is UMTS, not the faster HSDPA supported by other of AT&T's newest handsets.
As happy as I was to see the N-Series come to a US carrier, I have to say that the experience didn't quite measure up the ones I had on the N73, N93, and N95. Save for semi-disappointing battery life (my tests were generally fine, but prolonged 3G data use did drain the battery - changing the packet data settings helped tremendously), the N75 is by no means a bad phone - it's quite good in many ways; I just don't think it's going to win many people over to the N-Series way of life. And why no stereo Bluetooth support on a ?music phone??
Slim may be in, but Nokia's built a big business making 'sturdy? phones that are comfortable, easy to use, and - in the case of the N-Series - packed with features. Sturdy definitely came to mind when I first unboxed the N75 - this is no ultra-thin handset. 20mm thick and weighing 124g, this clamshell smartphone is more luxury sedan than sporty Mini Cooper.
Finished in a black soft-touch plastic with silver accents, the N75 is easy to hold so long as you don't have small hands. An external display and three music player buttons grace the front of the device, while the cover-less sensor and LED assist light for the 2MP camera can be found on the back along with the sliding battery cover. The right panel of the phone houses a volume rocker switch along with camera and media shortcut keys, while the left panel shows Pop-Port and AC charger jacks along with a microSD memory card slot. My review model ?featured? a rather stubborn plastic cover tethered to the Pop-Port.
Opening the flip reveals a big, gorgeous 2.4? LCD display on the top half, and one of the roomiest keypads you?ll ever see on the bottom half. A standard 12 button dialing layout is augmented by the Nokia Series 60 treatment: A 5-way directional pad is flanked by two softkeys, call, cancel, clear, and edit keys, and dedicated buttons for main menu and music. The controls are finished in a nice two-tone silver.
The phone's size, color scheme, and rubbery surfaces give it a sort of old-school look that's enhanced by the oversized camera housing on the back. I was mostly neutral on the N75's look but gave it a relatively low score for design based on its blandness and lack of pocketability - it's big and thick enough that, again, I can't really see it catching on in today's market.
While the N75 is more or less marketed as a music phone, it is in fact a full on smartphone running Nokia's Series 60 interface on top of the Symbian OS. Being an official AT&T handset (my review model has the now-old Cingular branding), the menus and applications differ slightly from what you?ll find on unlocked S60 Nokias -- the most notable change being an entire submenu devoted to Music. N75 supports a wide variety of media file formats as well as some online music services, but over the air downloads aren't possible - you?ll have to sideload your music files to the phone from a computer. CV - AT&T's new name for ?Cingular Video? - is also supported on the phone, allowing access to mobile TV, news, weather, sports, entertainment, and HBO Mobile content in 3G-supported areas. RealPlayer is also included for playback of video files stored in onboard memory or on microSD cards.
S60 features pretty comprehensive personal information features, and of course is expandable via thousands of user-installable applications. The onboard contacts manager supports an unlimited number of contacts limited only by available memory. Contacts may be assigned photo and ringtone IDs. The phone also ships with a PDF reader and QuickOffice, an MS Office-compatible document viewer; full-on document editors are available as upgrades. Other productivity tools include a calendar, measurement converter, voice recorder and an application to manage Zip downloads.
In addition to now-standard features like voice command, speed dial, and conference calling, the N75 offers a view interesting goodies. Message Reader and Voice Aid use text-to-speech technologies to speak things like text messages, recent calls lists, and even contact information to you through the phone's speakers. While I put these features in the ?neat, even if I never use them again? category, I can see them being quite handy for folks who, say, drive a lot and receive a lot of SMS messages.
Nokia's approach to cameras on their high-end phones is truly baffling to me. On the one hand you've got some truly excellent implementations - the 5MP N95 and 3MP N93 and N73 are up there amongst the best cameras you can get on US-compatible phones right now. So clearly Nokia knows how to get those Carl Zeiss optics working in their handsets.
On the other hand, however, there are a whole bunch of Nokias with cameras that look good on spec sheets but disappoint in real life. Add the N75 to that list. It's 2MP camera with an LED flash assist light, and either the internal or external displays can be used as viewfinders. But there's no Carl Zeiss moniker and it produced pretty mediocre images in my testing. It kind of reminded me of the camera on the E70 - another 2MP shooter that yielded somewhat dull, off-color photos. I wonder if there really is something to the whole Carl Zeiss thing. I also wonder why Nokia doesn't just stick the best optics they have in all their high-end phones and differentiate (i.e. ?Up-sell?) based on megapixels and video capture resolution.
The N75 did fare a bit better when it came to moving images. Video clips captured with the handset were a bit sharper and generally more pleasing to the eye than still images. Videos can be captured at an impressive 352 by 288 resolution at 15 frames per second, with audio.
The N75 sports two displays and both are excellent, if a bit smudge-prone. On the outside there's a 1.3? display capable of 160 x 128 pixels of resolution across 262,000 colors. Nokia gave this display pretty comprehensive capabilities, moving beyond the standard ?external status display? to include camera viewfinder and music track and EQ information capacities. This display was bright and legible under almost all lighting conditions.
On the inside, there's a big, bold 2.4? display that's an absolute treat to look at. That's the upside of the N75 being such a large handset - there's plenty of room for the main display. While not quite state of the art, the screen's 240 x 320 pixel, 16 million color resolution is more than capable of handling text, images, and video clips with stunning results.
Display options include customizable themes and wallpapers (which AT&T is happy to provide you plenty of for a fee) and one of my favorite Series 60 features, the Active Standby screen. Active Standby displays a row of application shortcuts and reminders of upcoming appointments and tasks on the home screen along with time, network, and messaging (voice, SMS, and email) information. If you?re like me and rely on your cellphone's calendar to keep you on task and schedule, a feature like Active Standby is a huge plus.
I tested the quad-band GSM N75 on AT&T's network in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Performance was absolutely stellar on voice calls. The handset exhibited virtually no hiss during calls, and people on the other end came through loud and clear without exception. The built-in speakerphone was imminently usable, too - loud and clear, even in moderately noisy surroundings. Kudos to Nokia for remembering the ?phone? in ?cell phone.?
The N75 can also be used with wired or wireless headsets, but does not support stereo Bluetooth. Nokia's Pop-Port accessory system allows for mono or stereo headsets to be connected via a rather awkwardly placed and covered jack on the side of the handset. An adapter is necessary, however, for the use of standard 2.5 or 3.5mm headsets; I?d prefer to have seen the standard 3.5mm headphone jack that's built into the N76 and N95 models.
That being said, music playback with an adapter and a quality set of stereo headphones was excellent. Nokia's music player application is easy to use and pretty comprehensive, and after adjusting the EQ settings to my liking I had a near-iPod experience listening to my AAC and mp3 music files (WMAs are also supported). Music played back through the built-in stereo speakers was loud, if pretty tinny.
I had no trouble pairing the N75 to a Bluetooth headset (I tried several), but was disappointed by the lack of A2DP stereo Bluetooth support. Voice calls made via Bluetooth came through loud and clear, though quality of course was dependent on the earpiece being used.
The extensive messaging features found on all Series 60 handsets are present on the N75. SMS and MMS messaging and email are all managed by the Messaging application, which can handle POP3 and IMAP email protocols. Cingular's proprietary Email and IM clients also came pre-installed on my review phone, and they afford easy access to Yahoo!, AOL, and Hotmail email along with AIM, MSN, and Yahoo! instant messaging.
Setting up email access via either application was relatively painless, and the Nokia application will automatically retrieve new email at preset intervals if you leave it running in the background. The Nokia app also supports Email attachments (a handy feature combined with the QuickOffice document viewer). I was also able to access my Webmail via the handset's Web browser.
Nokia's predictive text system worked pretty well on the N75, but I tend to prefer those found on Sony Ericsson and Samsung handsets a bit more. Whether it's my usage habits or actually unavoidable, I wind up needing an extra button press or two to choose from word matches or add my own words to the dictionary on Nokias. On the other hand, the N75's giant alphanumeric buttons probably raised my accuracy a good 10 or 20 percent when it came to tapping out messages.
The N75 has one of the best Web browsers you?ll find on a cellphone anywhere. My review unit actually came with two browsing applications - the standard Series 60 browser (the excellent one) and a Media Net-branded browser (a lesser browser not really worth using). I had to dig down a few levels to find the S60 browser, but it's there in all of it's Full HTML glory.
If you?re used to WAP browsers like Media Net, meant only to show mobile optimized sites, the S60 browser will blow you away. It shows real Web pages and features a nifty mini map that lets you scan a thumbnail of the active page for easier navigation on cell phone-sized displays. The browser also supports RSS feed subscriptions, a feature that more and more seems like it was custom made for cell phone-based information retrieval.
The Nokia N75 is a quad-band GSM phone that's locked to AT&T's network in the United States, and compatible with GSM networks overseas (check with AT&T for global roaming information). An unlocked version is also available direct from Nokia. The phone can connect to AT&T's GPRS, EDGE, and UTMS data networks in the US, though it's not compatible with the faster HSDPA data speeds supported by AT&T in some areas. If you?re a heavy data user, this might be a significant knock against the N75, as AT&T offers a few other flip phones with music players and HSDPA compatibility. It's really too bad that AT&T customers have to choose between the flexible power of the S60 operating system and the superior data speeds of HSDPA.
Nokia built Bluetooth v2.0 into the N75, but not the A2DP profile for stereo audio. I was able to transfer files back and forth between the handset and my computer, and also sync my contacts and calendar data. File transfer is also supported via a Pop-Port to USB cable. The N75 can also be used as a data modem for laptop tethering via Bluetooth or USB.
As a reviewer I try to remain as objective as possible, but I?ll admit that I?m a big fan of Nokia handsets, their N-Series in particular. When it comes to smartphone functionality, I prefer Symbian to Windows Mobile, and Nokia's Series 60 is a great implementation of the Symbian OS. As such, I was very excited to see the N75 bring the S60 experience to a carrier-supported handset in the US.
But I must say the Cingular (now AT&T) N75 left me a little cold. Few people likely associate Nokia with 'style,? but this handset is pretty big and blocky even for a Nokia. Compared to competing handsets in AT&T's lineup - like the Samsung Sync - the N75 looks kind of clunky and odd. Moving past its looks, the N75's performance is a mixed bag and frustrating for what it could (and really should) be: A better camera, stereo Bluetooth support, and the addition of HSDPA data would go a long way towards boosting this phone's profile. Beyond that, the suspect battery life is also bound to be a big issue with potential buyers -- even if it's an issue that's partially correctable via software settings, you really shouldn't have to think twice about battery life on a phone that's this physically big and technologically advanced.
The N75 has a lot going for it, including smartphone power, excellent Web and music player apps, and two superlative displays. But it's clumsy size and a few key issues really detract from what should have been a more noteworthy debut for a high-end Symbian handset on an American carrier. Here's hoping that Nokia comes back with another AT&T or T-Mobile backed N-Series device soon, and that they've learned from the small handful of missteps that hamper the N75.