Nokia N97 Value vs iPhone 3GS

On June 10, I sold my beloved Nokia N96 and the N79 abandoned by my daughter for the E71; the proceeds paid for the N97, which I purchased from Nokia USA. For the price of one N97, I could have bought two iPhone 3GS smartphones with some money left over. My N97 arrived on June 12, seven days before Apple and AT&T started selling the iPhone 3GS.

Why spend so much? As I’ll explain in the next post, on first impressions, the N97 is a mix of well-balanced capabilities.

I chose the black N97, even though I pined for white. Two reasons for black: White wasn’t available, and I worried about it not being masculine enough. Dumb, huh? Until Friday, Amazon listed both colors for $603, but unavailable. Price jumped to $699 yesterday, but down to $682.94 today. Amazon partner MobileCityOnline wants $799.95 for either N97.

Is the N97 worth so much when the comparable iPhone 3GS, the one with 32GB of RAM, will sell for $299? That lower iPhone pricing is subsidized by AT&T. In the United States, Nokia doesn’t have a carrier for the N97, which means no subsidy. But that’s not true in international markets, where major carriers will offer the smartphone for much less. Something else: The iPhone’s unsubsidized price is about the same as what the N97 sells for. Still, 700 bucks is big money for a cell phone.

But the N97 is more than a cell phone. It’s a pocket computer, GPS, high-quality digital and video camera, media player and much more. Does that sound like iPhone to you? It’s not. Apple and Nokia have made decidedly different design decisions.

For example, Apple chose to use a capacitive touchscreen that responds to electrical pulses, whereas Nokia chose a resistive touchscreen that responds more to pressure. Capacitive touchscreen is highly responsive and made it easier for Apple to offer multitouch capabilities. Apple’s more tactile approach makes the iPhone seemingly magical. By comparison, resistive touchscreen isn’t as sensitive or sexy. But it’s much better suited to using a stylus, which shows more global thinking on Nokia’s part. In countries like China, a stylus will be more useful for inputting characters from the local language. Apple’s approach is great for marketing; Nokia is being more pragmatic.

Many reviewers go bonkers over iPhone because it’s sexy, sleek and seemingly magical. Then there’s Apple’s App Store, which is hugely appealing. Apple’s smartphone is a sports car, and like a sports car there are sacrifices made for form over function. Apple’s sport is fast, but the gas tank (battery) isn’t as big, the engine has more horsepower (600MHz ARM processor) and the interior isn’t as roomy (no keyboard, lesser digicam, etc.).

I would compare the N97 to a Volvo. The smartphone looks and feels solid. Construction is of highest quality. The design isn’t sexy but sensible. Like a Volvo, the N97 oozes good engineering. Features aren’t just plentiful, they’re sensible. In my early testing, Nokia has found better balance of how the features work together than did Apple. For example, I have yet to find a feature that overtaxes the battery or performance. Some people drive sports cars, others Volvos. Others prefer cheaper cars (free cell phones).