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Review: Nokia N78

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Nokia’s N-Series is an odd amalgam of high-tech and low, melding some of the best smartphone technology with phones that haven’t changed much since the first proto-Finns heaved their bark boats onto the rocky beaches of Soumenlinna and began fashioning crude cellphones out of cork and shale.

Much has changed about the Nokia line over the years but all of the phones are refreshingly familiar. Whether they are clamshells, candybars, or sliders the buttons are always in the same place, the maddening power switch is still at the top, and the old menu-asterisk unlock code is still in force, ensuring your phone will never unlock itself under any circumstances. Nokia knows how to make good phones.

Sadly, however, the latest N-series N78 didn’t quite grab me the way its older siblings like the N95 did. Was it the form factor? The speed? The size?
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The N78 is a standard candybar with a keypad and not much else in the way of input devices. It is a quad-band G.S.M. phone with HSDPA support and has a 2.4-inch screen. It weighs 3.5 ounces and comes in piano black.

The front screen is backlit and when the phone is locked or off it is almost featureless except for a silver square on the front. When activated you see the numbers and icons lit with white LEDs and you come to understand that the odd raised bumps on the front are actually buttons. Here is our first snag.

The buttons are very small. You can get used to them, but the face is cramped when the numbers and icons are lit and hard to navigate. Nokia put the menu botton on the lower left side of the phone and the hang-up and end-call buttons are also oddly placed. Too many times did I try to answer a call and actually hit the “options” button which gave me a second menu to answer the call. It was as if I couldn’t hit the green answer button.

The 3.5-megapixel camera is excellent and the version of Symbian running on this phone is much improved over even last year’s version. Everything was very peppy and browsing was a pleasure. It has GPS and Wi-Fi built-in and along with video and music playback.

Call quality was quite odd. Either the call was too loud – some incoming calls began to hurt after the other party began talking and I had to turn them down immediately, others kind of petered out and I had to turn the volume back up. The sound was simply inconsistent. Music playback was clear through headphones and the built-in speaker. I just couldn’t figure out what was up with the call quality.

Overall the N78 is more of the same. It’s a beautiful phone and folks who enjoy T9 typing and Symbian’s very specific learning curve will probably enjoy this phone. One little perk I especially liked was the Internet radio implementation. It worked flawlessly and in minutes I was able to stream live radio from the Uzbek provinces without trouble. It also has an even cooler FM transmitter function for transmitting the audio straight to a standard radio. My problems were only with the keys and the call quality and not the rest of the phone features.

I prefer Nokia’s N95 because it has more heft and more active buttons. The slide-out keypad and media functions hide things I’d like to see hidden and reveal them at opportune times. The N78 is a high-concept phone with its heart on its sleeve. Like an emo band, the dark lines and backlights add a sense of style to the traditionally staid N-Series but the $450 price tag should give Nokia fans a pause. The N78 can be aggravating but like all Nokia products it’s still better than 98% of phones out there today.

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