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Retro Review, Nokia N90 : The Revolution Begins

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Introduction

Much can be debated about designs of the phones these days. It is safe to say that the design has plateaued over the years that it is hard to tell which device you are looking at a glance. This scenario may change depending on how robust flexible screens evolved allowing more complex designs to be incorporated. The Moto Razr is just the beginning of such progress. But in general, it is safe to say that designs of devices will remain the same as long as display is the key determining factor. Maybe a holographic device in the future may change the landscape once again.

With that said, this has been a long time coming. To go back to where it started, about 17 years back to be exact. The year is 2005. Nokia , a major phone maker is on track to become the dominant force of the mobile industry. The N90 was announced a long with a few other device. This marks the beginning of the N era, the most powerful and advance mobile device in the planet at that time.

The Hardware

The N90 isn’t the typical mobile device. Nokia realized that there is only so much you could do with text and calls and they shifted their focus to mobile imaging and multimedia. This forms the basis of mobile device evolution and the backbone that drives the industry way beyond just as a communication device. While a 200MP sensor is on the works and rumored to launched some time this year(by other manfacturers), the ambition started with a modest 2MP sensor backed with Carl Zeiss Optics.

Summarizing the N90’s design as a clamshell is an understatement. The N90 features complex hinge and swivel mechanism that can put many modern devices to shame. More on that later. The 173g device is certainly hefty back in the days and features 2 screens. The 2.1 inch internal screen , while being a TFT  display with up to 256K color was simply the best display on a mobile device back then featuring  259 ppi. The smaller external display with 65K colors function displays notifications and even as the camera viewfinder without the need to unfold the device.

The Symbian operating system was the smart operating system back in the days, allowing great customization akin to what Android is these days. Powered up by a TI OMAP 1710 processor made by Texas Instruments using advance 90nanometer processing technology  running at 220MHz, it comes with a 31MB internal storage and bundled with a 64MB RS-DV-MMC. It supports Bluetooth 1.2 for file transfer and this was at a time when WLAN wasn’t available on a mobile device yet. While it doesn’t have a voice assistant , it does support voice recognition, activated by the press of a single handy button which doubles as the focus button for the camera.

The Camera

This device allows you to use its single 2MP as a front or rear camera, technically allowing you to take selfies way before the term itself was coined! The rotating mechanism allows this device to open up as a phone , or just rotate the camera module and you can hold it similar to a camcorder for the extra stability. The 2MP camera captures images in different sizes but each images sizes up to 500KB each. Video is recorded in MP4 or in 3GP format

Much thought has went into the software side as well as Nokia has bundled in a variety of settings to tweak the output.

Just to show how the Nokia N90 fares compared to similar current generation 2MP module of the Nokia 8110 4G. The color processing and sharpness has improved over the years , thanks to modern processing algorithm. But the Nokia N90 camera allows focusing on subjects unlike the Nokia 8110 4G, which only has fixed focus camera setup. This allows for better close up shots as shown below. More samples on the images and video recording in my YouTube link below.

Nokia N90 Landscape
Nokia 8110 4G Landscape
Nokia N90 Close-up
Nokia 8110 4G Close-up

Conclusion

The N series represents the most advance category of mobile devices in Nokia’s portfolio. It showed the vision that Nokia had, to be bold and to take the path less travelled. To certain extent, this is the feeling that the Nokia 9 Pureview evokes . While it is a gamble on how things pans out later, Nokia believed that moving out of comfort and familiar zone in search of whats next will ultimately lead to uncharted territories that one can dominate.

It is certainly exciting to see foldable devices made by major OEM these days. But Nokia had a more radical idea with flexible display. The concept of Nokia Morph is ultimately what foldable devices are meant for.

I hope this retro review reminds us ,the fans, of the glorious days Nokia had in the past.  

This is my Nokia N90 retro review and a brief video on how the 2MP Nokia N90 camera compares to that of the modern Nokia 8110 4G also sporting a 2MP camera. Have a splendid weekend!