Nokia announced the N78 last February 2008 along with two other new phone models — the Nokia 6220 classic and the Nokia N96. It’s not yet available in the Philippines though I got a first hand review unit which I’ve been tinkering with for over two weeks now.
At first, I thought the N78 would be just a slight improvement over its N77 predecessor (see my review of the Nokia N77 here) but turns out these two have very little things alike and the former isn’t a digital TV phone.
Let’s look at the specifications:
3.5G / HSDPA
802.11 b/g WiFi
3.2 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics, 2048×1536 pixels (autofocus)
FM Radio Tuner & Transmitter
Bluetooth v2.0 with A2DP
2.4 inch screen at 240 x 320 pixels
76 MB internal memory, 96 MB SDRAM memory, up to 8GB via microSD
ARM 11 369 MHz processor
We’ll look into three main components of the phone and see how the Nokia N78 fairs in these departments — connectivity, entertainment and usability.
Connectivity. The Nokia N78 ranks high on connectivity with up to 3.6Mbps on HSDPA, 11 to 54 Mbit/s on WiFi networks and 3 Mbit/s on Bluetooth. There’s also the microUSB 2.0 if you want high speed data transfer into the phone’s storage (it comes with a 2GB microSD card but is upgradable to 8GB). You will always be prompted which access point to use when connecting to the Internet but sometimes it defaults to 3G even if there are wireless networks available.
The Assisted GPS works well enough combined with the Nokia Maps though most of Metro Manila areas aren’t that detailed. You’ll see the major thoroughfares but not the regular city streets.
Entertainment. The phone plays stereo music via speakers found on the top right and bottom left sideÂ of the unit but I didn’t find the sound quality any good. The audio quality degrades at top volume and sounds a bit broken. After playing two similar songs at the same time, I noticed that my Nokia 6210 has a much better bass compared to the N78 (though not as loud). The Podcast player is simple but does the job well. Just do a search for your favorite show and click on subscribe.
There are Mobile Video Services you can install (Flash apps) so you can subscribe and watch to mobile-version specific videos like YouTube, RocketBoom, Reuters, and CNN which makes video streaming/playback optimized and fast. This is similar to the iPhone/iPod Touch YouTube player. I love that “24″ Mobisodes Series — a 1 to 2 minutes mobile version of the popular TV series “24″. Video playback is sharp and crisp with minimal graining/pixelation.
There are two options for the built-in radio — Internet Radio and the Visual Radio (for tuning to local FM stations). You will need to connect the headphones to receive over-the-air FM transmisions. Alternatively, you can also hook up the Nokia MD-4 Mini Speakers (via the 3.5mm jack) which also serves as an external antenna.
A new feature, the FM Transmitter, is a nice addition. Just activate it, set the desired frequency and all of the music and videos you played will be broadcasted on all radio receivers nearby. It could be another FM supported phone, an FM stereo or even your car radio pumping out surround sound music from your Nokia N78. Reception is good up to 10 meters but can extend up to around 15-20m at LOS.
Usability. The Nokia N78 features a prominent directional pad at the center called the Navi-Wheel which was initially introduced in the N81 (see my review of the Nokia N81 here). It’s basically similar to the scroll wheel of the earlier iPods but is only usable on limited applications — Image Gallery and the Music Player. Feels great with “flicking” across your photo gallery. Oftentimes though, I find it too sensitive and becomes annoying. There’s an option to turn it off but I prefer they’d just added a sensitivity control.
The keypads are similar to the Nokia N82 but in the N78′s case, they’re in a continuous thin line so typing in them will take some getting used to and most of the time you’ll end up using your fingernails in order not to hit the other neighboring keys. The remaining buttons are embedded into the pad so you won’t notice them until you see the back-lit markings. One kink I noticed is the positioning of the “c” (cancel) button at the bottom right which is hard to get to during texting mode.
For most of the media applications, you can also switch screen orientation from diagonal to horizontal. The 3D UI animations, while a nice improvement, sometimes slows down the response time of the menus.
In Focus – the Camera. I never fancied the camera in camera-phones but the N78 (just like the N82 and the N95) with its Carl Zeiss optics changes all that. The Nokia N78 has very decent 3.2 MP auto-focus camera that can slug it out with most dedicated point-and-shoot digital cameras around. Lens design is Zeiss Tessar with aperture range between f/2.8 – f/4.6.
Did a couple of shots below as sample pictures I took (no image manipulation in Photoshop except for resize and JPEG compression).
Output may need some exposure corrections and for most shots, graining and pixelation is minimal in the background (click on the thumbnails to see bigger version of the pictures).
There’s more than enough camera features to tinker around — scene modes, flash modes, timer (2-20 secs), sequence mode (single shot, burst, or intervals of 10 secs. to 10 mins.), and colour tones. There are options for white balance, exposure compensation, contrast, brightness and ISO. Built-in lighting is only Flash LED though, not Xenon. At 3.2 megapixel, you can print up to 3M – Large format (8×10″). Photos can also be immediately uploaded and shared online via mobile accounts in Ovi, Flickr and Vox.
All-in-all, it’s a solid phone and could very well be a lightweight version of the N82. I just have this aversion to black shiny finishes that tend to get grimy and smothered with fingerprints all the time.