We made no bones about our disappointment with the Nokia N97 back when we reviewed it in late June, so we were wary of the N97 mini. Having played with it at Nokia World this week, it’s clear that many of the issues we had with the larger model have been addressed; still, there are some glaring frustrations that leave us more enchanted by the N900 than this new, compact device. Check out our first-impressions and a hands-on gallery and video after the cut.
Video hands-on after the cut
What’s notable is the improvement in build quality and the far more pocketable size. The N97 mini has slimmed down both in length – dropping the D-pad in the process – and thickness, partly thanks to the absence of a sliding camera cover. The screen is also smaller; several Nokia executives independently told us that they see the N97/N97 mini duo as offering people a direct choice between a larger display at the expense of size, or a smaller display in a more compact body. Considering the opinion of the other Nokia World attendees we spoke to was split between those categories, it seems the Finns may have a point.
Unfortunately the keyboard still lacks the sort of tactile responsiveness we’d like from a QWERTY smartphone, though it’s a little better than the N97. It’s still clicky and stiff, and the offset spacebar – while falling neatly under the right thumb – pushes the rest of the letter keys across and can make correctly hitting “N” and “M” a mixed bag. The screen is bright and clear, with great colors, but S60 5th edition remains a less than ideal OS for touchscreen use; still, here the N97 mini has an obvious advantage over the original N97, using version 2.0 of Nokia’s firmware which does make a difference to usability. Happily that firmware will drop for current owners sometime in October, and should not only improve touchscreen use but overall stability.
Whether it’s a matter of positioning or one of size, we’re disappointed Nokia dropped the N97 mini’s internal storage from the 32GB of its bigger brother to just 8GB. Yes, there’s a microSD card slot, but given the high standard capacity was one of the factors we most lauded about the original phone it’s a shame to see it undermined that way. We’ll reserve our final judgement until we have a finalised review unit, so until then enjoy the hands-on images (including a few comparison shots with the N97 mini and the N900) and video.