The Media Guru

Apr 28, 2010


After admiring the hardware in Part 1 & exploring the OS in Part 2, in the 3rd part of this review series, I'll be looking at the multimedia capabilities of the N97 & the 3rd party apps available for S60v5.




With 32GB of on-board flash memory & a battery capable of 40h of continuous playback, the N97 doesn't disappoint when it comes to playing music.


The first time you open the Music app, it'll scan the memory & update the library. This may take a while if you have copied several gigs of music.
Although you do have a Nokia Music desktop app for syncing, adding music is as simple as copying the files directly. Formats supported are mp3, aac, aac+, eaac, m4a, mp4, wav, wma.


The Music Library sorts the songs according to the usual Artist, Album, Playlists, Genres, etc.


You can either flick through the songs list slowly or use the scrollbar to move rapidly, using the alphabets as a guide.


Music playback screen. The volume controls are hidden by default & can be revealed by tapping the album art or using the volume rocker switch. There are only 10 notches of volume bar, so you can't fine-adjust the volume.


Apart from these on-screen controls, playback controls are also available as a home screen widget. Or you can use the separate controls available with the headset.


Unfortunately there are only a few equaliser settings & no custom equaliser. (there is one in the Options -> Preset). Shuffle & repeat playback options also available but I regret the lack of gapless playback.
Sound quality is great, whether through the headset or through the stereo speakers, which are quite loud, ideal for playing in the bus.
There are no problems displaying album art if you use Windows Media Player to organise your music. iTunes, I don't know. One recurring problem I was having was when the Music player tried to render an extremely large album art - the music starts & it's only after a min that the playback screen appears.


The Music player has built-in support for Podcasting.


& FM radio. A wired headset is required because it doesn't have an internal antenna.


If you're travelling in your car, & want to play some music, the N97 can double up as an FM transmitter. Max range is around 2m & I also managed to transmit through a wall. Radio hacking is awesome! ;)


Music can be purchased through Nokia's own music stores, available in many countries (except US). Each country has a different music store.


A modified version of the S60 browser allows you to search for music & then proceed to checkout. No preview available. Since there's no music store available in Mauritius, I couldn't sign in & proceed any further...



Take a look at the above photo. A 16:9 widescreen. A 640x360 resolution (most dvdrips are near that resolution). A screen tilted at 30° for the best viewing angle, on a stable base (no kick-stand). Stereo speakers on the sides directed towards you. The N97 is an almost perfect device for watching movies.
Xvid .avi, .divx, x264 .mkv, h.264/avc .mp4, xvid .mp4 with mp3 & ac3 audio... are some of the formats it CAN'T PLAY. Yes, after the RAM, internal memory & UI, video playback is officially the 4th pillar of failure of the N97.


Playing videos on the N97 is like witchcraft. Most videos are not recognised. Avi, divx, mov & mkv containers are not supported. Yeah avi, the most popular video container in the world. Among the few that launch, more than 3/4 result in error screens.
According to specs, here's what the N97 (RealPlayer) can support - 3GPP formats (H.263), Flash Video, H.264/AVC, MPEG-4, RealVideo 7,8,9/10, WMV 9.
H.263 3gp videos play without any glitch, but compression is very lossy.


Flv videos are played using Flashlite 3.1. Bigger videos (near native resolution) are played in slow motion (skipped frames). Any videos above the native resolution results in a black screen...
Wmv videos I re-encoded didn't play at all. Maybe, I wasn't using wmv9.
Rmvb videos are as pixelised as 3gp, & take an enormous amount of time to re-encode.
H.264 mp4? Despite having h.264 support, none of the re-encodes worked...


So what we're left with is xvid/divx mp4. Even here, mp4 with mp3/ac3 audio will result in a null audio video. Mp3 played by the music player, but not recognised by video player? Wow!
For all intents and purposes, it plays only 1 format - xvid/divx/mpeg4 video with aac audio in a .mp4 container.
& that is what you'd call an EPIC FAILURE!!!


3rd party apps


Can 3rd apps save the reputation of the N97? S60v5 can run most S60v3 apps, not without any glitch (due to API changes). However, since most of the apps were built with hardware control, you have to control them with the keyboard, sometimes with no left/right key inputs in fullscreen mode. That's why I'll be looking at only those apps that were developed for S60v5.



Smartmovie attempts to fill the void left by the RealPlayer by allowing avi playback.


& unlike the default player, Smartmovie has more video control settings, including zoom level, brightness, contrast, saturation & A/V sync (essential for avi).


It has subtitle support (although limited to 1 format of subtitles, .sub MicroDVD). Volume control can be fine-tuned instead of the default 10 notches.
Great app then? No, because it's just as bad as RealPlayer. Of all the avi dvdrips I have in my collection, half of them doesn't play. TV rips like Top Gear are fine as long they don't contain ac3 audio (all HQ releases have ac3). Any movie above 25fps doesn't play. More recent divx codecs are not supported. Mp4 support is exactly as on RealPlayer, but the videos recorded by the N97 at 30fps play at 5fps!
Verdict: video playback, still an epic failure…



A powerful file manager with built-in text editor, hex editor, unzip/unrar capabilities, access to hidden files/folders & attributes control. The only app I've used showing an circular menu on a long hold. Free version has a 3s nag screen.

Opera Mobile


In terms of UI, rendering, page load speed & just about everything else, it completely blows the S60 browser out of water. This is the closest you'll come to replicating a desktop experience.


#WIN 1 - it has a Search bar. (No choice of Search providers though).


#WIN 2 - the UI is fantastic, well-thought, blending text & icons for intuitive navigation.


#WIN 3 - it has its own on-screen keyboard... 1745x better than the default ones.


#WIN 4 - Shortcuts


#WIN 5 - Tabbed browsing (I once managed 8 tabs before it closed down due to lack of memory)


#WIN 6 - Speed Dial, bookmarks & history - everything designed to make accessing your favourite websites easily.

Scr000232 Scr000195

#WIN 7 - Downloads, pause & resume.

Opera Turbo Link

#WIN 8 - Opera Turbo - loads pages from Opera's cache server. & Opera Link - cloud sync with your desktop Opera browser.


#WIN 9 - Select text in the browser, copy & paste.


The only fails - no flash support & no zoom controls. Double-tap only zooms to the pre-configured level in the Settings. Have to go back into Settings to change it. Otherwise, it's the perfect browser. :D



Since the S60 browser can't render Flash 9/10, there's a dedicated YouTube browser & player.


I suspect an optimized mp4 video is streamed since playback is smooth, but quite pixelised. On-screen playback controls are similar to the original YouTube ones.



A dedicated Facebook client, which compared to its iPhone counterpart, is very basic. No notifications, but it comes with a home screen widget. & the fonts appear to have no aliasing.



I know only 2 Twitter clients for S60v5 – TweetS60 & Gravity. But the best one of them is the most complete mobile client you can ever have.
The beta version of Gravity I was using has support for Facebook, Google Reader & Linked-In. However updating of statuses was disabled.


The interface is aesthetically pleasing with the use of kinetic scrolling & multi-screens. Tapping a tweet reveals the usual options - Reply, Retweet, Fav, etc. Updates are also displayed on the home screen widget. What it lacks - a large refresh button & threaded conversations.

Google Maps

Google Maps

Similar to the web version, although stripped of some of the extra features. Makes up for this by providing more accurate maps with recent photos for Mauritius.

Google Maps_2

Had problems using GPS at home, while I managed a perfect lock at RĂ©duit. Overall, it’s a better app than Ovi Maps, thanks to uber-powerful Google Search.

JBakTaskMan & Best TaskMan


Sometimes when an app hangs & you need to kill off the process, these task managers come in very handy. Both can be used as substitutes to the basic app switcher.



For every type of English dictionary that exists. Only translation available for French.

JoikuSpot, Boingo, Qik, Vlingo


These 4 apps are installed by default by Nokia (& can’t be uninstalled). Joikuspot free version can transform the N97 into a Wifi access point so that other devices can use the data connection. Boingo is a provider of Wifi access points. Qik a live-video streaming apps & Vlingo a voice recognition service over the Internet.



The free app I've been using for taking all the screenshots.

Touch Calc S60


A Java-based scientific calculator.

Nokia Handwriting Calculator


A calculator that recognises your handwritten operations. Actually much less impressive than you'd think it is.

Scr000227 A Java-based note-taking scratch pad…



Some reviews call this Paint for S60, & that is a very capable comparison. It has all the bells & whistles of Paint (circle, line, text, pencil), including the blocky & pixelised drawings of a mouse user. Like the Nokia Drawing app, the stylus input is very crude. Fortunately, it’s not the only drawing app available…



If you're a Photoshop user, there has been countless times when you had to draw something freehand but couldn't because your mouse can never attain the amount of precision of a drawing tablet.
A high resolution resistive screen with the pin-point precision of a stylus - the N97 is made for drawing. The above pic was drawn on the N97. Yes, there exists a killer app for the N97…


XpressSketch is totally different from all previous drawing apps – it actually refines the stylus input to what you’d obtain on a drawing tablet!


First, choosing colours - no limited palette, full 16M colours. Although due to the over-bright display, the colours appear brighter on the N97 than it actually is on a monitor.


Drawing options - Pencil, Brush, Pattern, Rectangle, Ellipse.


Nothing special until you open the Brush Settings - Brush Size, Opacity!! #EPIC.


Using the pan tool, you can move around the canvas (images edited have no size limit). Save options include jpeg & png. The only let-down is that you can only undo once. 
Killer app yes, but how about the price? & what if I told you that it’s totally free. & that it was coded on Python (requires installation of Python). & that this is only version 0.2…
That’s why I’m so excited about this app. I expect future releases to include more advanced features (Selection, Layers, Effects!). It’s like bringing the power of Photoshop Paint.NET right on your phone! Great kudos to the awesome developer!

Offscreen Apps


In the category of utility apps (apps which you'll probably never use except when showing off to friends), Nokia should be very happy that there's a developer that made a whole range of such apps, most of them free.


The N97 has a built-in magnetometer for navigation & geo-tagging. However, there's no native app for using it as a real compass. Fortunately Offscreen came up with this wonderful compass app.


Every time you use the compass, you have to calibrate it by moving the phone in a figure of 8. I absolutely love doing that! :)

Metal Detector

The magnetometer detects the poles right? So it should be sensitive enough to detect ferromagnetic materials? Bingo! Note that the "compass" is located on the left side of the N97.







Voice Recorder




A “drawing” app that doesn’t mess up your stylus input.



Sticky Notes




16 million colours!



A non-offscreen utility app which allows you to use the screen & the LED flash as a torch. It's only then that you realise that the LED flash is actually very powerful. PhoneTorch also allows you to send Morse coded messages through both light sources!




With no graphics chip, gaming will never be one of the N97's main selling point. Even Nokia understand that with an empty Games folder.
No graphics chip also means you can't play any of the games made for the i8910 HD, such as the much-acclaimed Ferrari Evolution GT.
Although the N97 has a keyboard with a direction pad, not all games make use of it. Even if they do, you'll still need to use the 8-direction on-screen keypad.


Bounce was included by default on the 5800, but not on the N97. I had to download a version that was extracted from the 5800 ROM. Gameplay is interesting, the levels are vast & controls are great, but the pixelised graphics are a turn-off.


Assassin's Creed by Gameloft is so similar to previous Gameloft S60v3 games that the only difference is the screen resolution & the on-screen controls which totally suck. I've never ever "died" so much on a mobile game...


Silent Hill mobile. Stylus based game in which you progress by finding clues, solving puzzles & interacting with objects. Got stuck in the first level itself..


My favourite game - Labyrinth - using the accelerometer to guide the ball though the holes till its destination.



S60 isn't a young OS. For crying out loud, it's the most popular OS in the world! Yet, there is a lack of quality apps for S60v5. With the exception of Opera Mobile & XpressSketch (& Gravity beta), there’s nothing ground-breaking that sets the N97 apart. Unlike iPhone & Android, there is a lack of choice. No. of PDF apps available? 2. Office apps? 1. Twitter apps? 2. Unbelievable.
The reason is pretty simple - the biggest developers & software companies are located in the US where the S60 user-base is insignificant. However, this may change in the future as significant market share is being gained by Nokia in the Asian countries...

The N97 is a fine device for the audiophile, but a let-down for the movie-lover. From the few movies & TV shows I've been able to watch, the experience has been incredible. A slight slow-down when the slow CPU tries to catch up, but otherwise playback has been smooth, picture quality great & audio even better through the headsets. It comes at a cost - everything you want to watch has to be re-encoded (xvid 1000kbps & aac 128kbps at 640x360 in mp4 container).

What's missing is an app capable of playing all video/audio formats. Such an app already exists for S60v2/v3  - CorePlayer. Many will agree that CorePlayer is the killer app because it allows x264 playback! It can play mkvs on my 7610 which the N97 can't!
CoreCodec have been delaying CorePlayer 2.0 for S60v5 ever since the 5800 was launched. Maybe the CPUs are too slow for x264 playback. Until CorePlayer is released, S60v5 users have to endure their crippled devices...

In the final part of this review, I'll be looking at the 5MP camera of the N97 & wrap up this series.

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Yashvin said...

kindda disappointed...

Rwishi said...

There are plenty of apps to use for s60v5, but not the quality one like there used to be during the boom of the NSeries is no more. I remember in the time the N73 and the N95 were "the king & queen" of mobile sales. During that time there were dozens of developers that made darn good & popular apps but soon discontinued mostly due to lack of funds. Only people that have still stayed are LCG(xplore, smartmovie), JBak(there may be more but these are the biggest).
But since the AppStore it's more like there an app for and an app for this(this is aimed at offscreen, they make plenty of this this and that apps, not 1 "quality" or ground breaking app). That is why only Gravity has the support of the whole symbian community.

And are you sure there isn't a custom equalizer? It should be in the options in the equalizer screen, I'll get it confirmed tomorrow though.

Oh and Nokia do supply a game w/ the N97(atleast on my unit they did, I know some units, totally identical in market firmwares that didn't get it, mustve been put at random :P). I had got DJ Hero, somewhat like Tap Tap Revenge, just worse and biggest fail was that the songs included weren't real(forgotten the word for this :-/), I mean the songs played like how the old 3310 played it's ringtones(Mono? Help me out here :P)

carrotmadman6 said...

Maybe the Qt framework will entice developers with support for both Symbian & MeeGo...
No, there weren't any games included in my unit.
I think you mean those polyphonic tones... Wow, that's a fail! :)

- Posted using Opera Mini.

Yadhav said...

AMAZING OMG ZOMG Great review!
Thought that the N97 was a toy but it turned out to be slightly much better than the other smartphones. ;)

Rwishi said...

Maybe. Only time will tell, even though the number of hackers for MeeGo are limited they already proved their capabilities by releasing impressive apps within weeks, but MeeGo is for geeks, not the masses which most developers won't like :-/

yeah, that's the word. Polyphonic.

Looks like Opera Mini for the iPhone has some problem is storing the cache and cookies. Gonna have to confirm this...

Rwishi said...

Ok. I confirmed that it possible to create a personalized equalizer settings. In the equalizer menu you jus need to go into options and create a new preset.

carrotmadman6 said...

Ok. :)

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