Nokia kicked off Nokia World 2008 early this morning in Barcelona, Spain with the launch of their new flagship mobile phone, the N97. Due in the first half of next year, the N97 is Nokia's first N-Series device with a full QWERTY board, which is combined with a sliding, tilting resistive touchscreen and 32GB of onboard memory.
Looking something like a sleeker, shinier HTC Tilt, the N97 is a GSM phone with HSPA and WiFi connectivity and will run Nokia's Symbian-based S60 platform, albiet an updated version featuring "always open" home screen windows to display information from social networking sites and other Web destinations. The phone packs a 5MP camera with Carl Zeiss optics and DVD quality video capture, A-GPS and digital compass technology for "Sensing your So-Lo" (Social Location, in Nokia-speak), and a 3.5" TFT touch display at 640 x 360 resolution (16:9 widescreen) capable of 16 million colors. At 15.9 mm thick (18.25 mm around the camera housing), the N97 isn't too chunky for a QWERTY slider, but it's considerably thicker than Nokia's flagship business phone, the E71.
From afar, the N97 looks more evolutionary than revolutionary. Fans have been waiting for Nokia to combine their powerful hardware and software platforms with a trendy touchscreen/QWERTY combo form factor, but the N97's operating system doesn't look to be a totally redesigned touch-centric platform. Instead we seem to be getting the familiar S60 flatform with some touch-friendly functionality and Web-specific widget-like extensions. S60 has long been uber-functional if a bit user-unfriendly, so it'll be interesting to see how general consumers and iPhone refugees take to the N97. Nokia also went with a resistive touchscreen here instead of the newer, and generally more reponsive capacitive technology. Again, I'll reserve judgement until I can get my paws all over Nokia's newest device.
Viewed on paper alone, though, the N97 is a total beast in true Nokia fashion. Packing 32GB of onboard memory backed by a microSD card slot, the device is capable of storing a full 48GB of your favorite media, which is triple the current capacity of Apple's high-end iPhone 3G. With an estimated price of 550 Euros before subsidies, the N97 should slot in at an on-contract/after rebate price similar to those of flagship smartphones from its competitors. The big question for those of us in the U.S. drooling over our computer screens right now (me included, for the time being) is whether or not an American carrier will pick up Nokia's new flagship, or if the N97 will be sold unlocked as other high-end Nokias currently are Stateside. $650-700 is more than most Americans will be willing to pay for a cell phone, even a super tricked-out phone like the N97. But $299 on contract? For better or worst, that's a deal that I could see many a would-be iPhone 3G buyer at least giving a second look - especially if that QWERTY thumbboard is any good.