Nokia’s response to the iPhone?
Although I’ve picked up an iPhone for research purposes, being in Canada it is not realistic or practical for me to use an iPhone as my everyday phone quite yet. Further, as a traditional PDA/smartphone power user, I’ve found the current feature set on the iPhone to be somewhat limiting compared to the sort of features that I traditionally require as part of my day job.
Once the iPhone becomes available for use in Canada, I will definitely also be using one as a secondary phone for non-business use (to replace the Moto RAZR V3i that I currently use for this purpose), but for my actual business use, the iPhone unfortunately falls quite short of my requirements.
So, last week I went out and picked up the new Nokia E90 Communicator for use as my primary smartphone/PDA device—a direct upgrade for me from the Nokia E62 that I was previously using.
While I did not buy this phone with any intention of using it as a multimedia device, one thing that particularly surprised me when I started looking at the software options available was Nokia’s Media Transfer Suite for Mac. Although primarily targeted at Nokia’s N-series multimedia phones, such as their flagship N95, this also supports the E90. This piqued my curiosity enough to check it out.
What I found was a surprisingly well-thought out application, with very tight integration into iTunes and iPhoto. The phone can be configured to show up as a digital camera in iPhoto or Aperture (so pictures taken with the device’s built-in camera can be quickly and easily transferred), iPhoto albums can be transferred back to the phone for viewing, and iTunes playlists are synced from a playlist folder directly to the phone.
As an added bonus, it even offers an “iTunes Fill-Up” mode, which will fill up a user-defined percentage of the phone’s memory card with random music from the iTunes library.
Configuring content to sync from iTunes or iPhoto is as simple as creating new playlists or albums under the device-named folder that gets created in iTunes:
Playlists and contents located within this folder are automatically transferred to the device—possibly the first time we’ve seen an actual application make practical use of the playlist folders in iTunes.
Once configured, the tool itself simply runs up in the menu bar, with a drop-down menu providing configuration and transfer/sync options. Clicking on the menu bar item and choosing “Connect and Start Transfers” will offer the option to either connect the phone over a USB connection, or even connect via Bluetooth for wireless (albeit very slow) data transfers:
The manual menu option is really only required to start a sync over Bluetooth. Syncing via USB is actually just a matter of connecting the device itself.
Once the transfer process starts, the menu updates to show the actual transfer status:
When the transfer completes, a nice shaded notification overlay even pops up.
There is not any kind of reverse syncing provided, nor are things like ratings and playcounts updated back in the iTunes library. Further, there is naturally no support for traditional DRM-protected iTunes Store tracks, although the transfer software is intelligent enough to not even try to copy these tracks to the device. “iTunes Plus” 256kbps AAC tracks do transfer and play on the device with no issues, however.
The media player on the device itself is nothing particularly special, and it’s certainly no iPhone interface, but it does a respectable job, including support for displaying album artwork (from tracks that have it embedded), and browsing based on the internal tag information.
Sound quality on the E90 itself is not quite on par with any current-generation iPod (or the iPhone), but is more than respectable for casual use. On the other hand, from my brief experience with it in the store I found that the N95 produces excellent sound quality to rival that of the iPhone or any current-generation iPod.
Further, since the E90 and N95 phones do in fact support the A2DP profile, stereo Bluetooth headsets can also be used directly with these devices.
Obviously, this isn’t about to make me replace any of my iPods, and for me the more media-focused N95 will never win me over compared to the iPhone. However this does provide the useful option to keep a few tracks with me on my phone for casual listening when I may not have my iPod with me, or may not want to be bothered taking it out.
While the E90 is definitely not a phone for the average user, nor is it particularly media-focused, Nokia’s more media-oriented N95 device is a very well-rounded multimedia phone that provides a realistic alternative for users who find the iPhone feature set coming up a bit short. When combined with the more robust feature-set on the N95, this additional integration with iTunes makes it an interesting consideration for those looking for a phone that provides features the iPhone currently lacks. This latest media transfer software would seem to indicate that Nokia realizes this and is trying to raise the bar to compete with the iPhone by significantly enhancing their Mac and iTunes support.
With Nokia’s dramatically stronger presence in Europe, it is going to be very interesting to see how the European iPhone release fares in comparison to the options that are already available in that market.
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