You know the drill, Nokia comes out with a lovely new NSeries smartphone, and we wait about 6 months to see a North American version with US 3G, if we see it at all. What a pleasant surprise that the Nokia N78-3 US edition popped out near the launch of the Eurasian version.
The Nokia N78-3 is a quad band GSM unlocked phone with US 3G HSDPA on the 850/1900MHz bands. The N78 (N78-1) Euro version lacks US 3G, so be careful which you buy. It's the successor to the well-loved (including by us) and long-lived Nokia N73 and shares the same candybar design and 3.2 megapixel autofocus camera spec. The N78 brings a lot more to the table though, with an internal GPS, Nokia Maps, FM radio, FM transmitter and WiFi. There's considerable feature overlap among Nokia NSeries phones these days, but it seems that Nokia N7x phones get the 3MP camera while the N8x (like the N82) and the N9x (like the N95) get 5 megapixel cameras and the N9x series gets that special sauce of added specialty features and design.
The N78 is a medium to large candybar phone that's a little longer than the Nokia N95, and it measures 4.45 x 1.93 x 0.59 inches. At 3.9 ounces it has enough heft to feel good in hand but never drag your pockets down. The phone has a gloss black face that attracts fingerprints just as badly as recent gloss touch screen phones and the back has a fondness for prints too. The back has a swirl pattern that reminds us of HP's Imprint notebook finish and the phone is available in blue, white and brown, always with a gloss black face. We have the brown model for review and it looks black unless placed under direct, bright light.
The N78 is one of the first NSeries "multimedia computers" as Nokia calls their S60 smartphones to run S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 2, and it has design touches like a flush display that mimics the look but not function of recent touch screen phones, an electrostatic d-pad and rather interesting number keys. Those keys strike those who've never used the phone as a hideous usability nightmare, but they're actually not so bad. We found them easier to use than the Sony Ericsson K850i's tiny eraser nubs, and were able to text quickly. Each row of number keys is actually a single narrow band of plastic rather than discrete keys. When the phone is sleeping there are no numbers or letters in sight-- wake up the phone and these illuminate from the minimalist black plane that is the phone's front face. In fact, the call send and end keys, S60 programs keys-- everything appear and disappear based on backlighting. Modernism in action, but it's not all vanity-- it works well. When a call comes in these all light up so there's no guessing where the call answer button lies.
The d-pad works both as a normal d-pad and as an electrostatic touch wheel for scrolling through icons, lists and the like. The center of the d-pad pulses white light slowly and it "breathes" as Nokia calls it: the light pulses more frequently when there's a missed call or new message. You can disable "breath" if you like (sounds creepy, no?).
The phone has stereo speakers that flank the sides, the usual S60 Nokia music player and A2DP stereo Bluetooth support. There's a standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack up top so you can use the included stereo headset or your favorite wired headset. Nokia includes a 2 gig microSD card in the box to get you started with your music collection and the phone is compatible with high capacity SDHC cards.
Feature Pack 2 focuses on user interface and performance improvements. The 369MHz N78 is a snappy S60 device, and with the likes of demand paging under its belt, it boots in 21 seconds from the moment the power button is pressed until the device is ready to use. Opening folders, scrolling menus and launching most applications is quite fast with only the video player and Maps taking a few seconds to load. As with all Nokia S60 smartphones, the phone syncs to Outlook under Windows via the included USB cable or Bluetooth, and it can sync multimedia items as well. There is no Mac OS X iSync plugin yet, but Nokia may yet release one since the phone is still so new.
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