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Review of GSM/UMTS-smartphone Nokia N78
Live photos of Nokia N78
The Nokia N78 comes in to replace the Nokia N73, but it is not a simple and clear-cut substitution as it may seem at a glance. It wouldn’t be right to think that the maker strives to withdraw the Nokia N73 from the market, where it is one of the most popular S60-based devices. This model will keep its place on the shelves for a while longer; however the Nokia N78 already has the positioning the Nokia N73 had when it only debuted. What is more, some details about this phone that are not all that striking and eye-catching at first have a paramount importance in the context of Nokia’s S60 line-up.
The first and foremost thing we need to put down here is the updated S60 3rd edition platform – the N78 sports the Feature Pack 2 onboard. There is a ton of changes as far as functionality is concerned, but what if we compare what it has gained with what its predecessor had? That’s where the twist is: the N78’s camera is not up to the top-of-the-line solutions and hasn’t gone too far from the level the Nokia N73 was it. Packing in an FM-transmitter, a hardware GPS receiver, the N78 is still equal to the N73 in the imaging department. So what does this mean, if we ask our common sense? That’s right, the megapixel race, if not over, is at a halt. The centre stage in 2008 is taken up by GPS and online services, while camera no longer plays such a vital role, that’s why the mid-range will be totally dominated by the Nokia N82 as the benchmark in imaging. This device was brought about to raise the bar for photo-savvy solutions, and it will not be moving anywhere from this position up until mid 2009. So another question pops up – if the Nokia N82 is designed to have such a long live span, then what of the Nokia N78, as in effect it copies the former, barring its less potent camera, yet benefits from the FP2 and new abilities under its hood? That’s where it gets even more twisted.
Banking on the Nokia N82 as the bestseller in its segment, Nokia has produced more units of the N82 than the market can take. The recommended price of 450 Euro is observed even for the Russian market, where the premium normally amounts to 25-30 percent. This is all another proof that there are more N82s collecting dust in warehouses than N82 units going off the shelves. Some may get an impression that the device enjoys very poor sales, but that’s not the case. It is a wild success both in its price bracket and compared to the competition. But still, Nokia was more optimistic about the N82’s sales, which is why they are overstocked now.
The Nokia N78’s price tag upon the launch should be in the neighborhood of 350 Euro, turns out that by that time the gap between it and the Nokia N82 will come down to a mere 50 Euro. That’s when Nokia’s line-up will experience sort of sales cannibalism between these two. Is there a way-out? Good news, there are two. Either they roll out new color swatches for the Nokia N82 to keep the market excited about it, or, probably, launch a music-minded edition of this handset. The other way sort of complements these measures – they can try to withhold the Nokia N78's sales at the abovementioned price point, yet be ready for price cuts. All up, the pricing policy for these two models should aim at maintaining a 70-80 Euro difference between them, which would be next to perfect. Should it dip below this level – the sales of either phone will start going down; and if it jumps above it – neither solution will benefit.
Another factor that hasn’t been accounted for (which neither we nor Nokia’s marketers can predict) is whether the FP2 will be the drive behind purchases. Over at Nokia they believe that this update will attract many with its advanced feats, especially the current owners of the Nokia N73. And it doesn’t really matter whether they will go for the N78 or the N82. In the former case they will deliberately go for software, whereas in the latter – for the camera. But as I see it, a consumer consciously picking the FP2 with their new phones is more of wishful thinking. The reality is less complex than they imagine – very few users are actually aware of what they are really buying, of what’s inside. The share of well thought out purchasing decisions is relatively slim in this segment.
That’s why the problem of price cuts for the Nokia N78 will arise very soon; otherwise it will halt and won’t generate considerable sales anymore. Based on the N78’s being so new and the way supply chains operate, Nokia will have around 2.5-3 months in reserve to adjust the N78’s price (they will need to cut off more than they usually do on quarterly basis, otherwise all this would make no sense).
Another consequence is that they won’t be able to roll out an update to the Nokia N82 with new colors and running the FP2. Such a product will become a reality only in mid fall 2008, but if only the stars are right. Nokia is now entering the stage when it churns out skin-deep updates to its products, arming them with like FP2-specific features, whereas their core functionality remains similar to original offerings. A good example of this approach is the Nokia 5710 XpressMusic.
Do you follow? Already today the Nokia N78 has almost every right to claim the title of one of the most widely adopted S60-powered smartphones. The impending price drop will boost its ratings, while the necessity to knock the price down will come along only when more new solutions start hopping on the FP2 bandwagon (Nokia 5710, Nokia N88 etc). Another question that still remains unresolved is whether Nokia will present an N6x handset, which is uncalled-for these days, in my opinion. Today its duties are being perfectly handled by models that are about to die off and therefore go for nothing (250-300 Euro). This whole twist about the Nokia N78 makes you think that this phone is doomed to get its price cut in a year’s time and thus generate some serious sales. If this won’t be the case, then the N78 will simply make a quiet exit from the market, which is a very unlikely scenario, and if you come to think of Nokia’s tactics, I would say that’s not how the N78 will end up.
In many respects the handset’s design is reminiscent of the Nokia N82, although its keypad is different and the front fascia is all glossy, but in general their similarities will strike you at a glance. The N78 in fact is a mix composed of other Nseries-branded phones – the N81-esque black finish and a patterned back cover, just like on the N82. It may look like a mixed bag, but at the end of the day it sports a very recognizable style and shape. I won’t judge it on its looks, but to me it seems a tad cheaper than the Nokia N82.
The N78 comes in a choice of three colors, although it they are not all that different – all differences come down to the rear plate, while the front fascia’s glossy black finish and silvery spines remain intact. The underside, depending on the color scheme you go for, may be brown, blue or white.
The phone measures up at 113x49x15.1 mm and weighs in at 101.9 grams. It is several millimeters skinnier than the Nokia N82, but that becomes apparent only when you put them head to head, as you won’t notice this difference in without a ruler in your hands.
The microUSB socket is probably going to be par-of-the-course element of every Nokia’s phone – the N78 is no exception, look for it on the left-hand spine. . It is used for wired data transfers, while headphones can be plugged in the 3.5 mm audio jack sitting on the top edge alongside the power button. The left side also features the 2 mm charger slot. Unlike the Nokia N82’s design, the N78’s speakers are placed on opposite sides of the casing.
As for other things of note, Nokia has ditched the dedicated Gallery button, so now the right-hand spine houses only the camera shortcut and volume rocker.
The build quality of the N78 was never an issue in our tests – no creaks, no loose-fitting details. However, its front plate is the epitome of “fingerprint-magnet”, in that grease and stains are visible even indoors, so a cleaning cloth is must have. Other than that, we were happy with the Nokia N78 on this front.
The handset comes equipped with a 2.4-inch QVGA (240x320 pixels) display, capable of showing up to 16M colors, presenting you with quite a bright picture that remains visible in various environments. On balance, the N78’s display is completely identical to that of the N82.
Facing off the N78’s display against the Nokia N95, you won’t see any real supremacy of the latter in your daily routine, but when it comes to the Nokia N95 8Gb and its 2.8-inch behemoth of a display, the 0.4-inch difference won’t pass unnoticed. Generally, the N78’s screen fares well. The display accommodates up to 8 text and up to 3 service lines. In some modes, though, you may get up to 14 text lines. All fonts are sharp and easy to read.
While the Nokia N82 employed a conventional keypad design, the one found in the N78 is very close to what’s installed on the Nokia N81 and a couple of other handsets. On top of that, it utilizes the NavyWheel, which is a touch-sensitive pad that allows paging through lists by sweeping your finger around the navigation button. But honestly, I didn’t find it a joy to use – the navigation pad is designed in the way that occasionally the sensor will trigger by accident and you will end up in the menu you didn’t want to open. Again, comparing it with other solutions out there, the N78 doesn’t have the best implementation of this control.
The navigation key is quite a breeze to handle for it is mechanical. It retains an indicator that glows in white notifying the user of various events – as the settings put it, this mode is called “breathing”, it can be disabled in case you don’t like it. As you probably have already guessed, the keypad is lit in white, contrasting with the casing’s color scheme, and thus visible in various environments. Plus there is an ambient light sensor used that adjusts the backlighting brightness for both the keypad and display.
The number pad is not exactly convenient, since it is composed of slim vertically arranged stripes. Nevertheless, the N78 is an okay performer ergonomics-wise – it could’ve been worse, the buttons do better than you expect. No point in painting the N78’s keypad in black colors, it is neither horrendous nor extremely good.
The handset utilizes a 1200 mAh Li-Ion battery (BP-6MT), as opposed to the Nokia N82’s 1050 mAh cell. The N78 is rated for 5 hours of talk time and 225 hours of standby. Music time – up to 24 hours, max quality video recording – up to 215 minutes, video playback – up to 280 minutes.
The handset’s battery life averaged 3 days in our tests, when we used the N78 for about an hour and a half of calls, a dozen or two snaps, several minutes of video, and around an hour of music/radio. It takes the N78 around 2 hours to charge from empty to full.
Below is our chart of battery times we managed to squeeze out of the N78:
Thanks to the inclusion of the FP2, some modes are now less power-hungry, which adds up to a nice battery life boost. The N78 is obviously ahead of the N82 on this front, although their batteries are drained equally fast by web-browsing and Wi-Fi. At the same time, the newcomer can put up almost twice as many hours in the music playback mode.
The device comes equipped with 96 Mb of RAM, after first launch you will get around 45 Mb of free memory at your disposal, which is enough for running a dozen applications and browsing “heavy” web-pages – the word “slow-down” is definitely not in the N78’s vocabulary.
The user almost has 70 Mb of storage available, where any data can be stored.
The N78 deals with microSD memory cards (hot-swappable), the phone comes packaged with a 2Gb unit. There are no restrictions as far as memory card’s size is concerned – our handset easily identified a 8Gb card.
Using the Nokia N82’s TI OMAP 2420 platform wouldn’t be the right thing to do in a relatively cheap solution, so for the N78 they went for a single-chip platform from Freescale with the ARM11 CPU running at 369 Mhz inside. Since the N78 doesn’t pack in a motion sensor, its screen doesn’t rotate automatically.
The N78 is almost no different from the Nokia N82 performance-wise, so it is pretty much in line with other state-of-the-art S60-powered devices.
USB. You pick one of these 3 connection modes in the USB settings of the N78:
Data transfer speeds top out at around 2 Mb/s.
Bluetooth. The phone comes with Bluetooth v2.0, with support for EDR. The following profiles are supported
The top speed you can get with the N78’s Bluetooth connection is around 100 Kb/s. We also tested its A2DP profile in pair with the Sony Ericsson DS970 headset, which worked just fine – we managed our play list, skipped within tracks and adjusted volume seamlessly, however we couldn’t make current track’s title show up on the N78’s display.
Wi-Fi. This handset comes armed with Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11 g) support. All security standards are supported: WEP , WPA , WPA 2, with other advanced settings available. The device supports Universal PnP standard (UPnP), which is the successor to the wired standard PnP. With its help, along with Wi-Fi, you can send slides to a TV, music to a stereo system, and photos to a printer. In a certain sense UPnP is like an add-on to the infrastructure (Wi-Fi, for example) in the form of Bluetooth-esque services, so this looks more like a software upgrade. The sales package includes Home Media Server, which allows connecting the N78 through your home Wi-Fi network to a desktop PC.
There is also a Wi-Fi wizard available in the N78 – it can keep looking for enabled networks in the background mode and tap into them.
On the face of it, the N78 incorporates exactly the same camera module as the Nokia N73. But as you go deeper into their spec sheets, you get to realize that their units are in fact different – the former features F2.8/4.6 in contrast to the N73’s F2.8/5.6. The N78 comes armed with a 3.2 Mpix CMOS camera with autofocus. Anticipating our verdict on the camera, I shall say that the quality you get with the N78 is pretty much par for the course as far as its camera type is concerned – it is fairly decent, and we could hardly expect something more. As for the drawbacks, we feel bad about not seeing the lens cover, which is now the property only of imaging-savvy offerings.
Speaking of the new features brought about by the FP2, we can’t overlook the geo-tracking ability, which adds your current coordinates to photo tags, so that you can check them out on the map. For some services like Flikr, this feature couldn’t be more welcome. Although if you have GPS navigation disabled, getting a GPS fix on your location will take some time, so first snaps may come out with no coordinates tacked on their standard tags.
You can go for one of the following resolutions:
The maker doesn’t provide the real image resolutions, so we take this duty in our own hands. The following resolutions are utilized in the abovementioned modes: 2048x1536, 1600x1200, 1024x768, 640x480 pixels. The picture size averages 1 Mb, 600-700 Kb, 250-300 Kb and 75-100 Kb respectively. You can’t adjust the picture quality settings with the N78.
The handset utilizes the digital zoom feature topping out at x20, moreover, there are “normal” and “enhanced” zoom – the latter allows reaching the maximum magnification, yet some artifacts slip into your pictures. When using the standard digital zoom, though, these artifacts are not all that discernible. And since you can perform just the same zoom-in in any graphics editor, using it while shooting is probably not the best idea.
The shooting modes comprise a user-defined mode, auto and macro. Other options include portrait, landscape, night, night portrait, sport.
The flash can be set to trigger automatically, turned off, or work in the red-eye reduction mode. The self-timer can be programmed to go off in 2, 10 and 20 seconds. The handset can take snaps in rapid successions (three at a time), which may come in handy should you work with fast moving objects. The function is intended to be Sony Ericsson’s Best Pic counterpart, yet as it stands now, it offers less flexibility.
Exposure compensation – this feature is interesting in some specific environments, when it will provide for better and sharper shots. It can be modified on a -2 - +2 scale with a 0.5 step.
White balance – Auto, Sunny, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent. Overlays available are Sepia, Black&White, Negative.
The ISO settings are set to Auto by default, while other options may be selected manually; much like some cameras, here the maker allows choosing ranges, rather than specific ISO values. In other words, when you choose the Low ISO setup, it includes a range of settings from 60 to 200 etc. This is all another step towards the mass market, an attempt to isolate the user from all technical nuances.
Video recording. When recording video with the N78, there are considerably fewer settings, than in the still image mode. There is a software image stabilizer that was first introduced in the Nokia N80. You can adjust the white balance, choosing from Automatic, Sun, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent. The overlay pool includes Sepia, Black&White, Negative, Vivid. There are only two shooting modes – auto or night mode. Maximum resolution – 640x480 pixels (mpeg4), you can also mute sound, although there is no way you can adjust the N78’s FPS, which is locked at 15. The N78 allows recording videos until you run out of free memory.
The major update to this department is the new version of Nokia Maps, which you can learn more about in our review of the FP2. Also, we would like to note that the application has become even speedier, the cold start time makes around 4-5 minutes, and we felt that the gears were spinning faster, so to speak. To my mind, the N78 is a tidy navigation-savvy solution, it does the job hands down. But, unfortunately, as far as battery life goes, the N78 doesn’t improve over the predecessors.
All applications that have something to do with the N78’s music department (music player, radio, Internet radio) have been carried over from the FP2’s standard suite of features and are basically nothing to out of the ordinary. The handset ships with a remote control, the same as that found in the box with the Nokia N81; the bundled earphones are nothing to shout about, so you should definitely replace them with something me capable. The inclusion of the remote into the sales package indicates that the successor to the Nokia N73 is more of a music-centric solution than a cameraphone. But all things considered, the spirit of the Nokia N73 has been inherited rather by the Nokia N82.
In terms of sound quality, the N78 is a standard Nokia’s S60 fare and is little to no different from the Nokia N81, meaning that while it is has no serious glitches on this front, it still can’t be viewed as a full-time replacement for a dedicated music player. Although, people who tend to listen to their tunes in music-unfriendly environments (subway, trains, etc) won’t feel any real difference.
The N78 benefits from the Internet-radio, which is a worthy addition to its music department. On the downside, its FM transmitter that can beams music, didn’t manage to impress us. It is a quaint feat that may even settle down on Nokia’s solutions, but by and large it is of no real use. Unfortunately, this decent idea is drowned by poor technical implementation, which is not the letdown of this particular handset, but rather all devices of this type. This weakish transmitter can’t make for a stable and strong signal, therefore allowing for noise and static, that’s why even audio books get pretty irritating to listen (as far as using the transmitter in car goes).
RightMark Audio Analyzer test results:
General performance: Average
Alexander Dembovsky’s take:
Our RMAA tests indicate that the N78 is a very modest performer overall, but, on the other hand, all vital parameters are just fine, and on some fronts the phone even manages to show some decent figures.
As the Frequency response diagram suggests, the N78 is a little off as far as highs go, but if you are not happy with that, you can always opt to adjust the handset’s sound with equalizers; but probably the N78’s sound will appeal to you as it is, provided that you will use good earphones. Basically, the handset’s output signal strength is quite mediocre, so you should better go for a couple of earbuds.
Call quality was never an issue with the N78, as it easily lived up to our expectations of a Nokia-branded phone. Ring tones sounded quite loud thanks to the handset’s dual speakers. However, all things considered, it is more of a mixed bag – while it is the first device to pack in the FP2 and all the ensuing benefits of it, being a very well-rounded do-it-all solution with fairly decent camera, GPS and Wi-Fi. On the other hand, though, its keypad’s ergonomics could be better and the design is something you will love or hate outright. But all in all, there aren’t that many real drawbacks to the N78, for the most part it is all up to the owner’s personal preferences and taste.
When it arrives in May, the N78 has what it takes to get popular in almost no time. With it around, the sales of the Nokia N81 don’t look so optimistic anymore, also some other solutions are likely to get a slap, but that’s what we already pondered over at the beginning of this piece. On balance, the N78 has no direct competition as far as other manufacturers are concerned. Basically, the S60 platform is already at the stage when powerhouses with this operating system inside become a bargain, and the N78 is just the right example of this ongoing trend. For 350 Euro, which is what its price tag will read at first, you won’t wind any alternative boasting a bundled GPS module. In fact, Nokia is looking very strong with this duo (N78 and N82).
Published 16 March 2008
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