Hands-on with the Nokia N93

Chris Ziegler
C. Ziegler|12.02.06

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Hands-on with the Nokia N93
In the mobile world, there are phones... and then there are phones. Those who have seen the N93 from Nokia in person know that it falls squarely in the latter category. In fact, we'd go so far as to say that the term "phone" really doesn't do it justice; its generous dimensions come close to that of a small camcorder. It's no surprise, then, that that's pretty much how Nokia's selling it: as a video camcorder that (oh, by the way) just happens to have a phone built in. That's all well and good -- after all, video recording is the next logical step now that cameras have infiltrated virtually every cellphone, right? -- but can it pull off the dual personality without serving either role poorly? Now that the US has been getting a pretty good stream of these bad boys filtering in, we thought it was a question we had to ask.

Your first thought is, "Oh, it's no bigger than an E70. That's not so bad." But wait!

Opened, the N93 dwarfs the E70, which itself is no small phone. Yeah, it's big; it leaves an impression on the people around you when you're talking on it. Ultimately, though, it wasn't the size of the N93 that got to us -- after all, when closed, it's no more difficult to pocket than, say, a Wizard -- instead, it was the execution of the device's dual hinge that was driving us bananas. When opening the phone normally (like the picture above), the presence of two distinct detents prevents it from being opened with one hand, as one might do with a typical clamshell. Not a big deal, but once you hold the phone to your head, you may also find (as we did) that the central hinge / camera area hits your cheek in a way the prevents you from pressing the phone as closely to your face as you'd like.

This photo illustrates another minor niggle we had with the phone's design -- the secondary hinge, while detented, still had a tendency to move on us during use. It's particularly difficult to use for folks who talk on their left ear, since the screen freely rotates on that side and any attempt to open the phone with the left thumb will probably not produce the desired result (though, as we mentioned above, attempting to open the phone one-handed probably isn't worth it, anyway). All that being said, this photo does shine light on one of the N93's positive... nay, very positive attributes: its simply beautiful display. We slathered the E62's screen with compliments during our hands-on of that device, and the N93 earns similar praise for brightness and clarity.

Unlike the N90 it essentially replaces, the N93 lacks a large external display. We're not sure what the reasoning was here (battery life, maybe?) but for a phone unquestionably sitting atop Nokia's impressive product lineup, we'd expect something a little beefier. To its credit, it is color, but its meager 36 pixels of vertical resolution prevent it from being used for anything but caller ID -- which in turn renders the camera useless unless the phone is open.

When the N93 does its origami thing to become a full-fledged cam, it's in its element. This is simply where the device shines. While handling it like this seems just a bit unnatural at first (due largely to the lack of thickness in the phone's bottom half when compared to a camcorder), you quickly warm up to it and realize that this is what shooting pics and videos from your phone should be all about. The capture button and zoom rocker are logically placed under the thumb, while a secondary d-pad directly below allows you to interact normally with the user interface. We found the optical zoom to be a bit noisy and chintzy sounding, but seeing how "optical zoom" and "phone" are not typically in the same sentence, we're going to let that bit slide. Picture quality was very good, and the N93 could probably take the place of a low-end point-and-shoot camera for most folks -- if you stuff the phone with enough storage via its miniSD slot, that is. We weren't in love with the protective cover on the lens, which we found nearly impossible to get off the first time (and still difficult on subsequent attempts) and was not attached to the phone in any way. We'd lose it in a week or less of ownership, guaranteed.

So do we recommend the behemoth N93? It's hard to argue with its impressive spec sheet, and S60 3rd Edition has proven itself as a smartphone platform that can run with the best of 'em, but let's put it this way: the N93 is a phone you need to use before you buy. Any one of the N93's bizarre physical characteristics could be enough to ruin an otherwise dreamy love affair with its owner, be it the hinge, the lackluster external display, or the sheer size of the beast. And with the N93i seemingly around the corner, the pricey N93 might have a short run at the top of the food chain. Needless to say, we suggest interested parties do their homework before plunking down their cash this time around.
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