Nokia – N90 review

Symbian OS phone with Carl Zeiss camera optics
Photo of Nokia – N90
£405 (SIM-free), from £50 on contract

Nokia has come up with some kooky designs for handsets in the past, but the three-piece N90 must be in the running for the prize for the kookiest of all. It is also probably the closest a handset has come to being a digital camera first and a handset second. Let us explain.

The key point you need to know about the N90 is that its 2-megapixel camera optics come courtesy of Carl Zeiss. For those who are not in the know, Zeiss is an optics specialist, his lenses often gracing high-end digital cameras.

The clamshell N90 is a pretty competent mobile phone all round. It is a 3G handset, runs the Symbian OS and can share information with your PC, plus it has 27MB of internal memory and a RS-MMC card slot conveniently located on a side edge for you to add more.

It sports a nifty front display as well as a giant 352 x 416 pixel, 262,000-colour internal screen, and counts among its many built-in applications readers for PDF documents and Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. And yes, before you ask, of course it plays music.

But it is that camera that has driven the N90′s design. The Zeiss optics are far too good to be crammed into a standard clamshell, so instead they sit in a section of the handset designed just for them. This is located on top of the clamshell hinge, adding quite a lot of bulk.

With the N90 in standby mode you swivel the lens section round to turn the front screen into a viewfinder and can then use the side-mounted shutter button in combination with a small joystick to whiz through the main settings and shoot. It’s a very clever, intuitive system.

Open the clamshell and you have another opportunity to swivel, rotating the screen section around a central hinge. Again when you start to swivel the camera, software automatically runs and the screen becomes a viewfinder. Get the relationship between the two swivels right, and you could fool the unwary into thinking you are holding a tiny video camera.

Two soft buttons sit above the main screen, and when you are working with this screen as a viewfinder they provide access to various settings and options. It’s quite clever, but an indication that you are going to have to hold the N90 in two hands at times to get the most from it.

Nokia must have splashed out a fortune on the Zeiss lens, because the designers havent put a second camera on the inside of the clam for making video calls. This isn’t such a big problem, though; you can do the swivel thing to get your face in the frame.

If you really must use your mobile phone as a serious camera, the quality of images is pretty good. But frankly we found all that swivelling a bit unnecessary. Sure, it has a wow factor, but in the end, then N90 is a tad, well, over-designed.

Company: Nokia

Contact: 08700 555 777

There is a lot to like about the N90. It is a nicely designed if large mobile phone, and the relatively big main screen makes using it for Web browsing, streaming, video calling or anything else visual a more rewarding than usual experience. The swivel camera action might be a bit of a gimmick, but the photo quality isn't bad at all.