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?”

  1. Odd as it is for a gadget-geek like me, I just caught the i-phone fever last week. It suddenly made sense for me to have a device that is optimized for music, pictures, and surfing. Then I saw your excellent article.
    The Nokia wins the breadth-of-features contest (although I have doubts about it’s usability (UI)).

    But isn’t the i-phone best compared with another $400-ish device? (my quick search turned up an average on-line price of $750 for the N95)
    If you do (against the AT&T Tilt, for ex.) the question is really if you want the breadth of features, or the optimized performance on media and UI.
    (and it looks like the i-phone will need a bit of (installation) work to correct some annoying shortcomings: no quick name search (?!), no MMS, no draw application)

    Coming from Windows Mobile 5, my transition to the i-phone might become a love/hate relationship.

  2. @Rob – While they don’t compete on price they are the respective uber-phones from each manufacturer which is why people are comparing them… my point was to show who could best benefit from each one and how they are different.

  3. And that you did well!

    We are also off for the Halloween thing with the kids.
    See you there!

  4. a few quick N95 questions…

    1) is the N95 3 the 8GB version?
    2) can you call and surf at the same time?
    3) what us carriers support it? any recs?

    thanks – mark

  5. @Mark – I am using the US 95 which is not an 8GB model but supports 8GB MicroSDHC cards. I’m currently using a 6GB card.

    You can call and surf at the same time if you are connected to 3G or over wifi for data. The only US carrier that offers a compatible 3G network is ATT. The phone will work (as will almost all Nokia’s) on TMO, but not with 3G.

  6. Happy new year to all , i wish everyone a wonderfull new year, i have been using nokia 1100 for long but i just read about the apple iphone 8gb on the net and i decided to go for it , i cant just believe my eyes oh my goodness this phone is awesome and amazing i have not seen anything like this before the functions and features are wonderfull i am really enjoying using it i bought it for just $390 us dollars and if you are in need of one then contact me
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  7. i am from cambodia.. but still not have iPhone use full access in cambodia.. also we must unlock code just we can use.. but i have interest on iPhone.. so should i buy iPhone or no?

  8. when it come to iphone vs n95 8gb, 2 words = iphone sux!
    why? No 3g, No video recording, No multiple sms,cant installa 3rd party apps unless u hack it(void warranty) etc…

  9. Good review. I admit I am a tech geek and a convergence demander. The N95 is simply the best all in one device. Full Stop. Its not for the feint hearted or people who have diffiuclty grasping technology and multiple concepts. Apart from its factory features, of which all of them I use, it can also play Quake ! and many other early PC games ! A revival to a new platform has begun. Add in custom software for the N95 accelerometer plus TV out and you’ve got a great handheld gaming platform, plus phone, plus music player, plus internet browser, plus camera, plus mobile TV, plus FM radio, plus pocket office, plus GPS navigator, etc etc etc.

    I lalso ove the large amount of free and cheap software available for it, including software that wakes me up each morning with a female voice telling me about the weather forecast for my city for that day…

    The iphone is for those who seek simplicity with a bit of eye candy. The N95 is for those who like to tweak and seek ultimate convergence. Two completely different markets, and those that complain about the N95 are usually those who are a bit slow and can’t comprehend the hidden power of this device.

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  12. My N95-1 (v20)’s battery life was pretty bad compared to the iPhone… Nevertheless, these phones are quite competitive but its all up to the consumer.

  13. [sorry for doubloepost]
    @mark // Dec 3, 2007 at 7:22 am

    1) is the N95 3 the 8GB version?
    The N95-1 is the European verison
    The N95-2 is the European 8gb version
    The N95-3 is the US version
    The N95-4 is the US 8gb version

    2) can you call and surf at the same time?
    Yeah, I was surfing one time and received a call and everything was fine.

    3) what us carriers support it? any recs?
    I believe all carriers support the N95s since their unlocked and ready for any SIM card.


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  16. Please don’t blog this way. There is no comparison of iphone and N95. iphone is a full fledged phone with an amazing platform. For a new user iphone is easy to learn and adapt. Nobody really creates content on the mobile phone. Iphone is 100 time better than n95. Amazing platform, amazing screen size, touch interface. You cant bring nokia even close. I have been using nokia N95 since its launch. Don’t blog for the sake of blogging and add revenue

  17. I don’t agree Kurrodu. I’ve owned both these phones and found out a few pros and cons for both:

    iPhone pros:
    nice looking phone,
    feels solid,
    easy interface (anyone can use),
    OKAY BATTERY (lasts little over a day for me),
    very easy to install applications (through installer),
    very fast when switching programs,
    VERY HANDY touchscreen for web-browsing,
    VERY HANDY text messaging organization (the bubbles are organized in the same way as an instant messaging program).

    iPhone cons (not concidering updates):
    incapable of recording videos,
    very distorted loudspeaker and microphone (my friend’s sony ericsson W300i is WAY clearer),
    loudspeaker not even that loud (it compares to the minimum loudspeaker volume on my nokia 6126),
    the phone crashes at random times (i had to restore twice for no intentional reasons),
    a BIG hassle to make ringtones,
    you have to buy a program to transfer ur iPhone photos to PC? (rediculous),
    i had trouble with my big fingers to use the seeking bar while listening to a song,
    touchscreen makes it harder to type without looking

    N95 pros:
    special one of its kind looking phone,
    an actual keypad (can type without looking,
    usefull in class),
    GREAT camera + FLASH,
    actual GPS,
    great applications (rotateme, shakeme, ngage games, etc etc),
    can videocall,
    VERY VERY LOUD SPEAKERS (i watched the Family Guy Star Wars Edition on a bus with the 3 people next to me on loudspeakers),
    3mm headphone jack (any headphones),
    easy to drag and drop ringtones and music (no synching required),
    call quality is VERY clear.

    N95 cons:
    bulky (couldn’t fit in some jean-pockets),
    low battery capacity (less than a day, text messages and wifi kills the battery lol),
    lags at times, the 2.6″ screen is smaller than iPhones (but still a decent size for movies 🙂 )
    BIG HASSLE to get applications signed

    I wrote what I can think of right now. But after owning both for a little more than a week, I think I’d go for the one with the better call quality. As for the battery capacity problem, the new N95-3 or N95-4 should have bigger batteries and more RAM and should give you less lag and more time with your phone.
    As for the iPhone, I enjoyed it very much. the simplicity of adding programs is amazing and the webbrowsing is awesome. If you have a internet data plan with ur phone, i suggest the iPhone :P.

    The rest is up to the buyer 🙂


  18. Hi Jonathan! Nice comparison! I’m doing a research and deciding which one to buy. The N95 8g just came out in Canada just few weeks ago (I think). And iPhone too. I read about iPhone not having MMS but that article was a year ago.. is it still the same? (I don’t really care though since I’ve never used MMS and I’d rather send it to my e-mail or send via bluetooth to my computer and post it on facebook or something but I’m just wondering sorry). Honestly, I liked the N95 at first, but after I saw the iPhone today and actually touch and just browsing it, I just love it! So yeah.. I’m not really sure.. The N95 seems to have alot of features and applications or whatever but I don’t really use most of them. Another question, does iPhone have games or can you play games with it? (lol just wondering since its a touchscreen so I’m not really sure how you play games with it).

    Thanks in advance! ^^

    – Cheng

  19. Still no native MMS and emails is limited to sending only pictures, one at a time, and the pictures are reduced to MMS size anyway.

  20. Ohh okay xD uhmm so i guess if you play games on ur iphone its like your playing on your DS right? Anyways, thanks alot. ^^

  21. Sorry again.. just out of curiousity.. iphone can’t record videos still right? (this is my last question :P). Thanks in advance!

  22. i have a question do the person who wrote this ..does nokia n95 have a full web browser like the iphone ?also another question where do you get apps for nokia like the apps you get for the iphone

  23. Yes there's a full browser. In fact the N95 runs a (now older) version of webkit which is the same engine used by Safari. The iPhone browsing experience is a bit better and of course the screen is considerably larger. That said I still prefer the Nokia experience over the iPhone.

    You can get apps from quite a few places though there is no single store on-device like the app store.

  24. “The iPhone can also only use purchased tracks from iTunes as ringtones”


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