Retro review, Nokia N90: The Revolution Begins

an introduction

Much can be debated about phone designs these days. It’s safe to say that the design has stabilized over the years and it’s hard to tell which device you’re looking at at a glance. This scenario may change depending on how powerful flexible displays evolve allowing for the incorporation of more complex designs. The Moto Razr is just the beginning of such an advance. But overall, it’s safe to say that hardware designs will stay the same as long as width is the main determining factor. Perhaps in the future the holographic device may change the landscape again.

However, this was a long time. To go back to where I started, about 17 years back to be exact. The year is 2005. Nokia, the major phone maker, is on its way to becoming the dominant force in the mobile phone industry. The N90 has been announced for a long time along with quite a few other devices. This marks the beginning of the N era, the most powerful and advanced portable device in the world at that time.

Hardware

The N90 is not your typical mobile device. Nokia realized there was only so much you could do with texts and calls and shifted their focus to mobile photography and multimedia. This forms the basis of the evolution of mobile devices and the backbone that is driving the industry beyond just a communication device. While a 200MP sensor works and is rumored to be launched sometime this year (by other manufacturers), the ambition began with a modest 2MP sensor powered by Carl Zeiss optics.

Summing up the N90’s design as a shell is an understatement. The N90 features an intricate hinge and swivel mechanism that can put many modern devices to shame. More on that later. The 173g device sure was huge back in the days and features two screens. The 2.1-inch internal screen, while a TFT screen with up to 256K colors, was simply the best display on a mobile device at the time featuring 259 ppi. The smaller external display with 65K color function displays notifications and even as a camera viewfinder without having to unlock the device.

Symbian OS was the smart OS back in the days, allowing for great customization similar to what Android is these days. Powered by a Texas Instruments TI OMAP 1710 processor using advanced 90nm process technology operating at 220MHz, it comes with 31MB of internal storage and bundled with 64MB RS-DV-MMC. It supports Bluetooth 1.2 for file transfer and this was at a time when WLAN was not available on a mobile device yet. Although it doesn’t have a voice assistant, it does support voice recognition, which is activated with an easy-to-use one-button that doubles as a focus button for the camera.

Camera

This one allows you to use a single 2MP camera as a front or back camera, which technically allows you to take selfies before coining the term itself! The swivel mechanism allows this device to open like a phone, or just rotate the camera unit and you can carry it similar to a camcorder for added stability. The 2MP camera takes photos of different sizes but each photo is up to 500KB in size. Video is recorded in MP4 or 3GP format

Much thought has been given to the software side and Nokia has put together a variety of settings to tweak the output.

Just to show how scaling the Nokia N90 is compared to the 2MP unit of the current generation similar to the Nokia 8110 4G. Color processing and sharpness have improved over the years thanks to a modern processing algorithm. But the Nokia N90’s camera allows you to focus on things unlike the Nokia 8110 4G, which only has a fixed focus camera setup. This allows for better close-ups as shown below. More samples on photos and video recording at my YouTube link below.

Nokia N90 Horizontal
Nokia 8110 4G Landscape
Nokia N90 up close
Nokia 8110 4G telephoto

Conclusion

The N Series represents the most advanced class of mobile devices in the Nokia portfolio. He demonstrated the vision that Nokia had to be bold and take the path of the least managed. To some extent, this is the feeling that the Nokia 9 Pureview elicits. While it’s a gamble on how things will unravel later, Nokia believes that stepping out of the comfort zone and familiar in search of what’s next will eventually lead to uncharted territory one can master.

It’s definitely exciting to see foldable devices made by the major OEMs these days. But Nokia has a more radical idea with a flexible screen. The Nokia Morph concept is ultimately what foldable devices mean.

I hope this old review reminds us, fans, of the glorious days of Nokia’s past.

This is my retro review of the Nokia N90 and a brief video of how the Nokia N90’s 2-megapixel camera compares to the modern Nokia 8110 4G’s 2-megapixel camera. I wish you a wonderful weekend!