Nokia N97 vs the iPhone 3Gs and a few other thoughts

The N97 really seems to have had a rocky reception in the USA in particular. I just read a particularly vitriolic review in Gizmodo where Matt Buchanan declared that the N97’s UI is a “crappy half-assed UI, it’s a steaming pile of suck on a slab of garbage toast”. This was fairly typical of the tone of the rest of the post. I’ve had numerous debates with people about the N97 and how it compares to the iPhone which has become the gold standard in many people’s eyes. The discussion inevitably involves me agreeing that Nokia devices really don’t have the same great UI that the iPhone has or even the range of great applications you can find in the iTunes App Store. I don’t think there is any denying that. It is simply an area where Apple excels and the S60 UI doesn’t.

That being said I have been wondering lately about the Symbian operating system itself. I listened to a great interview with Scott Weiss, the User Interface Technology Manager at the Symbian Foundation which is now tasked with developing Symbian and there are clearly some changes coming which bode well for Symbian. Whether they come too late is another question. What I have been wondering about is this: if you look beneath the UI at the operating system itself, is Nokia using a robust, powerful and modern operating system or is it as dated as the UI? The N97 seems to be running a slower processor and have less RAM but if the operating system is lightweight enough to thrive on those more limited resources then users shouldn’t see too much of a problem with performance. Buchanan commented that the N97 begins to slow down when running multiple processes but he neglects to mention that the iPhone, for one, doesn’t run multiple processes at all and all the power of its processor is dedicated to running single processes.

As far as the N97 and the iPhone 3Gs is concerned, I found two helpful comparative reviews in the last few days. Alec Saunders took the N97 and the iPhone 3Gs for a walk around San Francisco and tested a number of features of both devices. I think his post is pretty helpful if you are deciding between the N97 and the iPhone 3Gs so be sure to read it. Another helpful comparative review is this video review comparing the two devices literally side by side:

Also take a look at Michael’s profile page on YouTube, he has also compared the two browsers on the two devices.

The N97 is taking a lot of heat for its UI and given its competitors the criticism isn’t unwarranted. At the same time it will be some time before we see any major changes to the Symbian UI (Scott Weiss spoke in terms of 2011 or so). Hopefully that won’t be too late for Nokia which is losing ground in the smartphone market and will continue to lose ground, especially to Apple which has priced its iPhone 3G at $99 (on contract) in the US. I imagine we will see the price reduction filter through here eventually and the iPhone pick up more fanatics in SA too.

I was chatting to Craig Nicholson and Chris Onderstall at the end of alt.conference the other day about the iPhone 3Gs and the N97. Craig is in the market for a new device and was debating the relative merits of both devices as platforms and in their own right with me. I told him that if I was faced with a choice which device to buy (on contract or cash), I would be very tempted by the iPhone 3Gs. It is the iPhone I have been waiting for Apple to produce for some time now. It still has a couple limitations when compared to the N97 which has quite a bit going for it too. With this kind of competition, Nokia has its work cut out for it going forward.

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