The smoke has cleared and the dust has settled; our take on the Nokia N97

Provided you don’t live under a rock, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve seen the big announcement from Nokia World this morning. That’s right folks, the N97 is upon us – Nokia’s savior – the handset that will propel the Finnish giant back to a more comfortable seat at the top of the mobile world after the intense slide it has taken in 2008. Right?

First things first; the inevitable comparisons with the iPhone. Ugh – when will it stop? Aside from the fact that both handsets have a touchscreen, they really have absolutely nothing else to do with each other. The N97 is infinitely more capable in terms of multimedia creation, multimedia consumption and versatility while the iPhone is infinitely more usable and geared toward the masses. Here in the US, the iPhone’s biggest market, the N97 will have absolutely no impact on its market share. Even if by some miracle Nokia manages to score a carrier agreement for the N97, the time frame will mean that Apple’s third generation iPhone will likely have been released (speculation) and we all know that Nokia couldn’t market a free space heater to an Eskimo here in the US.

Abroad, the N97 will do very well. Carrier agreements throughout Europe and the surrounding regions, subsidized contract pricing, advertising as far as the eye can see – it’ll sell like condoms at the Bunny Ranch… But Apple most definitely won’t be losing any sleep over it. The iPhone is a fantastically-positioned device. It’s sexy, the UI is brilliant and anyone, young or old, can pick one up and use it to its fullest extent in a matter of hours or even minutes. By comparison, S60 is dated, clunky and appeals to a much narrower range of users. Sure, for the time being it is far more capable compared to Apple’s mobile OS, but S60 Touch is hardly the revision Symbian needed to catch up in terms of appearance, usability or wow-factor. The new widget-style home screen UI is great but it’s hardly enough. In terms of appearance, S60 is to the iPhone OS as Unix is to Linux Mint.

So bloggers, please stop. The N97 has nothing to do with the iPhone and no, not every touchscreen device is a potential “iPhone killer”. There were touchscreen handsets before the iPhone and there will continue to be touchscreen handsets for decades to come. Apple’s mobile market share will continue to soar long after the N97 comes and goes. Deal with it.

On to the device itself… In a word, the N97 is sexy – there’s really no question about it. The design is fantastic and the size is perfect. Its 3.5″ 640 x 360 pixel display just begs for multimedia and the N97 can most definitely deliver in that area; after all, it is an Nseries. 32 GB of internal memory plus microSDHC support means there will hardly be a shortage on space for media files. Oh, and Slingbox on the N97? Yes, it will be glorious. As far as form factor goes, Nokia also hit this one out of the park. The tilt-up display is great and results in a much more comfortable typing position than flat sliding displays. The keyboard is sizable and the marriage of QWERTY and a touchscreen is what we will come to expect from any capable smartphone. We would like to have seen Nokia take the next step as far as the camera is concerned since its 5 megapixel Zeiss set it very old news at this point but hey, you can’t have it all. No matter though, WiFi and tri-band WCDMA seal the deal and basically guarantee that you’ll find a few of these bad boys floating around BGR HQ next year.

For clarification sake, this is not the Nseries QWERTY device we saw mock up images of almost a full year ago. At the time, our sources indicated that device was scheduled for release in late 2008 so today’s announcement is a pretty good indication that those plans were either bumped or scrapped completely. Rest assured though, the N97 is far sexier than what we saw so don’t shed any tears just yet. While the N97 is most likely the “Ivalo” referenced on the internal roadmap that was leaked not too long ago, we have a feeling the handset we spoke about might still turn up as the “Eitri”.

Lastly, congrats to Nokia on finally keeping a handset under wraps until it was officially announced. Sure, we might have had an idea that a touchscreen Nseries would be announced this year but that’s pretty much the beginning and end of it. In the end, the N97 is definitely going to be a big hit abroad and S60 fans here in the US will swoon over it as well. Is it going to single-handedly reverse Nokia’s slide? No, but it definitely represents the first stages of a good direction for Nokia to head toward. As much as it would like to think of itself as an internet company, handsets are where Nokia must continue to shine for many years to come if it hopes to remain the beast it is today. The N97 is a good first step.

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