Nokia N95 or Apple iPhone?

The iPhone and Nokia N95 are constantly compared these days as they represent the über device from both Nokia and Apple. Aside from this detail they really target very different audiences. The iPhone is a more mass oriented unit while the N95 goes for the higher end prosumer mobilista. The gadget lust associated with the iPhone however, has attracted plenty of geeks and potentially higher end users… Since I have both and have extended experience using them over a good amount of time, I thought I’d share my views on how they stack up.

Smartphone or Feature Phone?

As reluctant as I was perhaps initially to say this, the iPhone is not a smartphone. It is however, a truly fantastic feature phone and one that all phones and handheld devices will be measured against based on some fantastic software engineering. The browser is amazing to use and media playback is outstanding. If you are an iTunes user it does not get any easier to sync your photo, video and music content. Apple has also made it very simple and straightforward to sync your contacts, calendar and bookmarks. Bookmarks are of particular interest given how strong the browser experience really is.

The N95 is able to do all that I’ve mentioned so far with the iPhone, though configuring sync takes a bit more effort and it’s not possible on Mac to sync bookmarks… PC Users can use Nokia’s PC Suite. That said, the N95 really takes it up a notch with regard to applications. While this is a particular sore point for the iPhone community after the latest firmware release, the latest iPhone apps still did not compare to what can be done with the N95.

At the basic level of things, the iPhone can only send SMS messages to a single recipient; disables the ability to forward an SMS to another person and offers no MMS. I tend to email pics over MMS, but it’s nice to at least have the option of receiving an MMS message which has happened more than a few time with family picture sharing. The iPhone can also only use purchased tracks from iTunes as ringtones. The N95 can do it all here including using any sound file you like for a ringtone.

Marketing can really create the perception that something is more than it is and it would be hard to find fault in the Apple strategy which to date has been executed flawlessly. Because Apple is targeting a mass audience they have developed the popular perception that the iPhone is everything that you need in a beautiful simple package. They are right too — assuming you fit in the demographic set. Nokia on the other hand has taken a very different approach with their devices in general and more specifically here in the US where the carriers tend to own the relationship with the consumer. The current Open campaign has had a few bigger impressions (spreads in the NYT) but is for the most part a more targeted approach designed to appeal to the more intense mobile user. The best way I can sum this up is something quite a few of the mobile blogging community has shared:

The iPhone is for consuming content, while the N95 is for creating it.

Another way might be to say one is for passive use (predominately reading) while the other is far more active (sharing back). The N95 can of course be used to consume content and does a very good job, though when compared to the Apple ecosystem it falters a bit. This is not to slight the Nokia effort, but more to compliment the Apple one. When you control the entire flow, you can do special things not available to someone working with a number of different components from different parties. The N95 does have some very cool tricks. Using the video center application, you can browse, download and view video from a variety of sources like YouTube and beyond. The upcoming release of Flash Lite 3 will support .flv files which means we’ll be able to view video on a web page. Of course the iPhone can do this today – but only for h.264 content.

The N95’s 5MP Camera and flash shoot gorgeous still and 30fps video at a very high resolution. Nokia likes to say DVD-Quality which is a stretch in my opinion, but the results are seriously good and something that plays very well on a large screen. Out of the box, the N95 is ready to post fullsize (EXIF included) images to Flickr as well as video to Vox. With the addition of third party apps you can post content to an array of sites which enables you to live blog or lifestream as you go. The iPhones 2MP camera takes pretty good shots in well lit environments, but no video and when you choose to send a picture, the iPhone automatically forces things to scale to 640×480 and simultaneously strips the EXIF data out.

Speed baby, Speed!

While I am sure we’ve all heard the line that the cost to the battery of 3G did not make sense for the iPhone, it’s hard to ignore if you live in a covered area. Having now truly experienced 3G(UMTS) and even 3.5G(HSPDA) it’s hard to go back to EDGE which is simply pokey by comparison. Both the N95 and iPhone have 802.11 G WiFi connections, but when you download or stream content over 3G on a train or in a car,you start to expect more than what you can get from WiFi. Of course if you really just want to be able to glance down and see that the latest email is in your inbox, EDGE is just fine.

The N95 can also be used as bluetooth modem for your laptop or Internet Tablet if you like which is something that cannot be said for the iPhone. It’s when you start to really explore online or transfer larger files that you really want the speed.

Webkit does not equal Safari…

While both the N95 and the iPhone use webkit as the core engine for their browsers, the iPhone has pushed things much closer to a desktop experience. The focus on enabling tabbed browsing really makes the iPhone infinitely more useful. I usually leave a tab open to Gmail and another to Jaiku. Links from email (I also use POP and IMAP) open in a fresh tab which does not disturb existing sessions. Safari on the iPhone is also smart enough to restore my tabs if it should happen to crash – or even if you restart the device. The N95 cannot open a second tab or window even though the N95-3 has enough RAM to enable multiple window surfing, it is not possible – yet. Perhaps a candidate for a future beta labs release….

The Full Internet Myth

Sure you can choose to browse the full version of a sites on either device, but the best (as in most efficient use of your time) is still through the mobile web. This is my opinion of course, not a fact, but I’ve spent enough time reading on the small screen to believe that a mobilized site can deliver the meat of what you want / need without the BS associated from the larger view. Aside from vastly improved load times on EDGE, fewer system resources are used to render the page as well so it can really seem quite speedy.

The iPhone does offer some slick tricks with the screen rotation and tap zooming but I tend to only take advantage of that on a WiFi connection as it’s annoying to wait when on the go.

Open or Closed?

The iPhone was hacked to enable applications, but it seems destined to be a hack for the time being (once the latest firmware is again hacked) rather than being an open system for applications and owner freedom. While I enjoyed using AppTapp to download and play with the applications that were available to iPhones, they were in no way competitive with the current roster of applications for the S60 platform. Sure some of this can just be based on the maturity of S60 over the few months old iPhone system, but it really comes down to how both companies view their devices.

The proper path to develop for the iPhone is through the Safari browser which currently limits you to online only services without local storage, access to basic phone features like contacts or calendar let alone more advanced ideas with presence or easy access to the phone’s data connection. There is no current API for more serious development.

On the N95, it is quite easy to add applications that suit your need. I regularly snap pictures and videos and as noted above usually opt to lifestream them to flickr on the go using a variety of tools. Zonetag can access my location data which can be shared along with the EXIF data in the full scale image as it uploads. I run a version of Gmail built in Java that gives me a very similar experience to the fuller web version (archive, delete, spam, tag views and search…). Jaiku integrates with my contacts to share presence status and enables me to easily maintain contact within my social network. I use Handy Weather to download forecasts automatically every few hours and use the information as my screen saver so at a quick glance I get an idea of what tomorrow will be like. I can choose from a selection of mapping applications that can take advantage of storing content locally on a memory card and using the GPS features as I like. There are countless other examples.

Beyond applications, the N95 is sold as an unbranded unlocked device while the iPhone is sold only with a contract for ATT service. An unlocked and unbranded device means you get to choose what you do with it and what (GSM) carrier you want. If you travel, you can easily swap the SIM card for another and pay local rates or use a pre-pay if you want. You make a plan decision on the iPhone during activation and need to stick it out for the term of your contract. I was already and ATT customer so it was not a big deal, but this is something to definitely consider…

What device is for you?

I am asked frequently which is better and that’s a really hard call because it really comes down to how you think you might use the device moving forward. The iPhone’s strength is that it offers an easy way to do more than most people have ever considered on a handset. Advanced users may soon see past the UI beauty and yearn for more power and there’s only one way to go there. I’m hoping that Nokia is paying enough attention (as I believe they are) and makes a few adjustments through either the beta labs or just directly in future firmware to the browsing experience which is the only current weakness in the N95-3.

For now I am still actively using both, though with a single SIM card I have to decide daily based on what I think I need. The N95 is currently in my pocket …

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182 Replies to “Nokia N95 or Apple iPhone?”

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  4. Completely agree – it’s consumption vs. creation. How strange, as Apple as always been the choice of the creative types . . . Indeed, one of the reasons why I see the Mac platform and the N95 as perfect partners!

    By the way, I was super impressed with your iPhone, it certainly has a ‘magical’ quality to it.

  5. Good comparison. I agree with your point on Apple marketing. I’m not so sure the iphone is all that revolutionary. It is simple to use but it actually does less than many phones that were released last year. The great thing about the iphone is that it has alerted the general public to the smartphone world. My mom who currently has a $30 go-phone now wants an iphone. Great blog by the way, I think it is very well written.

  6. @James – The iPhone really has done a great job – especially in the browser which is the best I’ve used in a small device. I’m sure you’ll be seeing it more closely again as it rolls into the UK!

    @Jthousand – Thanks man! The iPhone is made from parts that have largely been around with the main exception being the screen technology. Apple has really killed in the UI department which show you what solid engineering can do for a product. When you see how easy it is to go online, view and share photos from your home system etc etc … it’s easy to be seduced. Apple has made it very easy for anyone.

    Now it’s time though for those who’ve been doing this a while to wake up and fix their issues and simplify the experience – while retaining the power of course!

  7. Nice article Jonathan – each phone definitely has different strengths. IMO one could definitely call the N95-3 a “jack of all trades, master of none” while the iPhone seems to have mastered a lot of it’s functionality but it doesn’t come anywhere close to covering the “all trades” part.

    One note though: You mention that you can’t open new tabs or windows on the N95, but that’s the beauty of having and open OS. I know that UCWEB browser (native) supports multiple windows and I believe the Teashark browser (J2ME) does as well.

  8. Great post.I too have both phones and agree with your conclusions – which is why I ‘m also carrying both around for the moment.

    Having had both devices for a while, the N95 is a powerhouse of functionality and saves me gobs of time through the various different applications I’ve installed, but the Nokia default apps need overhauling to include basic functionality that should have been there years ago and I don’t just mean sms-threading. The betalab boys may have their work cut out to get some of this stuff into the S60 platform roadmap in time **.

    That said, the iPhone is just so simple and fast and I agree the browsing experience is unsurpassed ** if ** you are looking at iphone optimised site (i.blogline , i.facebook etc…). The music player is also brilliant because (a) it just works and (b) is a delight to use.
    I keep coming back to the device after a couple of months use, despite its failings for power-users like me.

    ** it’s a sure bet that Nokia are working on a touch screen n-series smartphone, whilst Apple are no doubt working on the iPhone2. I agree with some of the comments, Apple has set a new user-experience / usability benchmark that all device OEM’s will now try and implement. This is great for the users.. it’s going to be an interesting next 6 months, I reckon…

  9. Hey Jon. Good job on the comparison. I have the iPhone and I had the N95 without the US 3g frequency. How is your experience with 3G? Also, are you using the same data plan that you have for your iPhone, just changing the sim?

  10. “.. though configuring sync takes a bit more effort and it’s not possible to sync bookmarks.. ” is IMHO not true.
    Nokia PC Sync V offers synchronization of bookmarks. If activated via the settings, it will synchronice IE bookmarks from a special folder “bookmarks on mobile phone” (or similar, translated this from another language)

  11. Hey Jonathan, beautiful comparison ..
    I am from India, and not yet a power user. But am kinda tech freak and so wanted to know more on this. I have also heard that changing battery is somewhat an issue with iphone. You got to return it to apple and then they would change it for you. (Also heard it may take upto 3 days for that change and battery is expensive as well). Thought am not much aware of N95, being a Nokia user, I dont think battery is of that big issue for N95. Wat do you say? And also, iphone does not have FM radio which is one more -ve. Your comments on this…..

  12. @KJ – Thanks! The battery issue for the iPhone was something that got blown way overboard by the media. Yes you have to send it back if you want, but even after it wears down it still operates at around 80% according to Apple which is far better than most devices still.

    The initial N95 battery was terrible if you used any of the features. I found it would need to be charged mid-day in order to continue. The new N95-3 uses a considerably stronger battery and can easily go a full day.

    You can stream audio on the iPhone, but no radio and streaming audio is “limited” by Quicktime… some mp3 streams kinda work, but not in the iPod portion — only through safari.

  13. iPhone’s browser closer to desktop experience? … I think you forget the total lack of Java AND Flash support.

  14. When comparing to N95 and i phone which one is best in music players and in browsing…which one is faster…

  15. @Nohea – I don’t need (or really want) flash and java for 90% of what I want to do while on the go. Page rendering and multiple simultaneous pages are the key for me.

  16. @VJ – The iPhone is the better media player IF you live within the iTunes system. You can’t play formats not supported by iTunes… where you can on the N95.

    Speed is relative. The network speed capabilities are far greater on the N95… UI speed may be a tie. Since you can install things that run in the background on the N95, you can slow it down, though it’s very peppy! The iPhone is also very fast to navigate through…

  17. @Nohea Please show me a major site which uses Java Applets? I’d love to see it.

    Java can be used server side, but client-side, it’s slow and ugly and has been for most of the 90s.

    You have a point with Flash, but many sites use just plain JS and HTML, and many Flash sites provide an XHTML alternative.

    Don’t forget Flash is a proprietary technology, so would require Adobe to write a plugin for iPhone.

    Is it in Adobe’s best interests when they are trying to sell phones and other devices using Flash Lite interfaces.

  18. Sorry —


    Java can be used server side, but client-side, it’s slow and ugly and has been for most of the 90s.

    Should read:

    Java can be used server side, but client-side, it’s slow, ugly and no-go, and has been for most of the 00s.

    Of course you can disagree, but that is the impression I get looking at the state of play today.

  19. I am waiting to buy a new phone iphone or n95 but I have been burn on many phone because most phone can not be used in daylight I have seen the iphone in bright daylight and it is unreal the best I have ever seen but I really like the n95 but do not know how it is in bright daylight. I will never agian buy a phone that can only be used inside or have to hide to read a contact can any one give me the answer if n95 can be read in daylight with out finding shade.

  20. @wayne – they are both fine outside. If you wear polarized sunglasses it can be harder to find an easy to read screen … I’d say the iPhone has the best screen, but both are readable outside.

  21. In the interests of comparison it may be worth mentioning the disparity in Bluetooth connectivity between these two devices? I use bluetooth regularly and would really struggle with iPhone’s limited bluetooth abilities.

  22. @NZtechfreak an excellent point! Aside from lacking A2DP, which is not crucial for me, the iPhone seems to be more finicky with bluetooth.

    The N95 (and all Nokia phones) reconnect to paired devices more aggressively while the iPhone has required some re-pairing with the car as well as my headset.

  23. @Matthew The pending release of Flash Lite 3 should enhance the abilities of the Nokia browsing platform… I’m waiting to get my test file next week and hope it really works.

    The jury is still out on whether Apple and Adobe are going to work together. If Apple caved to the pressure they would give up some excellent growth potential for h.264 given the popularity of the iPhone, but of course would appease everyone who’s already working in flash.

  24. The N95 display is extremely good in normal sunlight. I cannot compare it to an iphone as I haven’t seen one but modern Nokia display always get good scores in comparison reviews.

    By the way, for those who care about such things, Nokia S60 (the sw platform behind the N95) is the only mobile platform that allows the user to stream the BBC’s radio on demand service.

  25. Oh, ok, um… it looked like more of a professional review, but then I just take it as a personal one.

    Still, I don’t think this device is for any real “higher-end user”… without not even 3G but MMS as well??? In 2007??? Give me a break. Apple has a very agressive marketing policy considering this thing, acting as if they had invented the question mark – well, hello, they didn’t. The only thing that really sells iPhone is its outlook and the UI – but those things alone won’t make a device good, as a whole. With a very serious lack of features, and a just as serious heap of deficiencies, while its price would predestine it into the same category as (if not higher than) the N95, I’d rather say it’s the joke of the year. And no, it isn’t near as exclusive as would be required to be a fashion phone of this price.

    Had I been for Steve Jobs, I’d rather have only released it as the first of a wifi-compatible new generation of iPods, without any phone-feature; and would have spent another year developing those, coming to the market immediately with a sort of 2nd edition.

    To make it clear: I’m not sayin it can’t be good, I’m just saying its existence, in 2007, in this form and for this price, is simply far from being justified.

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