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Review: Nokia N97 Is Work In Progress

While its hardware mostly pleases, Nokia's flagship multimedia phone fails to deliver on seamless integration with e-mail and social networks.

Nokia N97
(click for image gallery)

Nokia is the world's foremost maker of mobile phones. It commands some 40% of the worldwide market for smartphones with its S60 operating system.

In the last 12-18 months, Nokia has been transitioning from being a hardware provider to a provider of mobile Web-based services that are (supposedly) tied together with its smartphones. It now offers a complete ecosystem of hardware, software, services, networking, support, and enterprise systems.

You'd think, then, that it could get a few key ingredients correct with its most important phone of the year.

Let's consider the competition. Apple announced the iPhone in January 2007, and it hit store shelves six months later. Since then, dozens of touch-based devices have flooded the market in response. One reason that the iPhone-- and the iPhone 3GS -- has remained successful is because Apple integrated it with its iTunes software and the iPhone App Store.

This is mandatory -- each iPhone requires an Apple ID. These components have allowed users to manage their device, their content, and their applications from one easy-to-use portal.

Google's Android platform works in similar fashion. When users first boot their Android devices, they need to sign in using their Google account (or create a new one). All of the device's systems and services are managed by a user's Google account. With Android, you're buying into the Google lifestyle, so to speak, just as iPhone users buy into the iPhone lifestyle.

Same goes for the Palm Pre. Palm has new users create a Palm identity, which, together with webOS's Synergy, ties together all of a user's e-mail and social networking systems to create what is the best personal information management tool I've ever seen. This is where Nokia fails with the N97.

What Door, Ovi?

Nokia has been pushing its new Ovi services hard the last couple of months. Ovi, Finnish for "door," is Nokia's suite of software for networking, sharing, syncing, and otherwise managing user content via the cloud. It includes messaging, maps, and music services, the Ovi Store, and much more. The Nokia N97 includes a link to Ovi, but that's all.

This is one instance where the market leader should have followed the footsteps of its competitors. Ovi should have been the core of the N97's user experience. When first booted, users should be required to create an Ovi account before they do anything else. All of the Ovi services should have been built seamlessly into the way the N97 functions. Instead, it looks as though Ovi was added as an afterthought.

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