An In-Depth Look At Nokia's N97 Smartphone

The Nokia N97 is the latest edition to the Finnish mobile device manufacturer's flagship N-line of smartphones. Announced at Nokia World in Barcelona this week, the N97 is smart -- really smart. The phone comes with an embedded GPS and A-GPS sensors that help the phone determine your location, even if you don't know where it is. The N97 will be available in European and Asian markets sometime in the first half of 2009 and retail for about $695. No word on a release date for the United States.

The N97 contains the key feature that smartphone users have come to expect since Apple's iPhone revolutionized the market. Unlike the iPhone, however, the N97 features 3G connectivity right out of the gate. Wi-Fi is also enabled in the device -- unlike the Research In Motion's BlackBerry Storm -- allowing for easy access to surf the Web.

Touch screen is the hot technology for smartphones these days, and Nokia recognizes that. The front panel of the N97 is a touch screen that doubles as a home page. Users of older Nokia phones will recognize the widgets that users can customize on the front screen. E-mail, weather or even Facebook, it's all right there on the front of the phone.

Even though touch screens seem to be the wave of the future, the N97 recognizes that you don't necessarily revolutionize everything about smartphones. After all, if it's not broken, don't fix it. To that end, there's still a full, horizontal QWERTY keyboard for users to punch up text messages, respond to an e-mail or write on a friend's wall.

Nokia is hoping to make location networking capabilities part of the common lexicon. Some location mapping social networks already exist, like Loopt, Fireball and BrightKite. With the N97's built-in GPS, it makes joining these budding communities and connecting with nearby users even easier.

Right now, there's no app store for the N97 like there is for Apple's iPhone. But Nokia is obviously trying to build communities around this smartphone, or at least to enable users to patch into the social networks that have become the backbone of online interaction for so many people. With the N97, a simple Facebook widget can get you connected and updating your status in no time.

The N97 comes with a hefty load of memory as well. You think 8 GB or 16 GB is enough? How about 32 GB of on-board memory and the capability to add a 16-GB microSD card to boost it all the way up to 48 GB of memory on the go? With that much storage space, you don't have to just stream YouTube videos; you can download entire episodes of your favorite television show and watch on the train ride to work.

The operating system the N97 is built on should look familiar to the Nokia faithful. The N97 runs on an enhanced Symbian OS, similar to the one found on the Nokia 5800. Officially, the operating system is an enhanced Symbian, S60 version 5.

The design of the N97 looks to be simple and elegant. The 3.5-inch touch-screen display is reminiscent of the iPhone, while the minimal use of buttons brings to mind RIM's BlackBerry Storm. And the pop-up touch screen with a QWERTY keyboard underneath? That's all G1 from T-Mobile.

While some lucky people, like the one pictured here, actually get to lay hands on the N97 and play around with its functionality, the rest of us will have to wait -- especially if we live on this side of the pond. Europeans and Asians can expect to see the N97 sometime in the first half of 2009. But for U.S. customers who are looking to make the jump, they'll have to wait until later in the year at the earliest.