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June 22, 2009

Apple iPhone 3G S vs. Nokia N97: The Definitive Head-To-Head!

by Ernest Doku

The cinematic blockbusters of 2009 might have seen Megan Fox in hot pants and James T. Kirk Jr. saving the galaxy, but a huge scale war has been raging in the world of mobile phones - the Nokia N97 versus the 'new' Apple iPhone 3GS.

Both were released on the 19th of June, both are seen as the flagship device for the respective manufacturers, and both are touchscreen superphones which will allegedly make our lives infinitely easier!

With over 1 million iPhone 3G S handsets sold in the first three days of launch, does Nokia's latest have what it takes to maintain the Finnish manufacturer's hold on the top spot?

This comparison starts with a tale of the tape, then we will have a closer look at the box office potential of these two superstars.


The Nokia N97 measures 117.2mm (H) x 55.3mm (W) x 15.9mm (D) whilst the 3G S is 115.5mm (H) x 62.1mm (W) x 12.3mm (D). 

As weight goes, the Nokia N97 weighs a hearty 150g compared to the iPhone 3GS' weight of 135g, two grams more than the 3G model. Granted, a lot of that is due to the QWERTY keyboard that slides out of the former's ample rear, making for a full physical and touch combination. A fair concession, but added to the narrower and longer layout of the N97, it makes for a slightly more unwieldy device as pockets go...


Whilst both handsets have a 3.5" screen, the Nokia N97 opts for a widescreen (16:9) display, which makes it a joy for watching movies. The 3:2, 320 x 480 display on the iPhone makes for a wider, yet shallower screen, a nicer form factor as the expense of a native screen for media.


The N97 trumps the iPhone 3G S in both quality and quantity, with a 5 megapixel Carl Zeiss lens and LED flash, for both great stills and video recording. Apple finally acknowledges that people might want to take pictures with their iPhone 3G S, giving a 3MP autofocus camera, 30fps VGA video recording, and a mini edit-suite for trimming movies before uploading them.

Operating System

Symbian S60 version 5 gives touchscreen functionality to the N97, whilst the iPhone's Mac based OS is still as slick, intuitive and gorgeous as ever. The N97 definitely feels a little last-gen with the Symbian interface, a system in dire lacking in features like multitouch (a staple on the iPhone and Palm Pre), and need of modernisation to compete with impressive 3D displays like LG's S-Class on the Arena or the Touch Wiz 2.0 on the forthcoming Samsung Jet.


The iPhone 3G S has memory has a massive premium as the 16GB is somewhat cheaper than the hefty 32GB model. With no memory expansion apart from buying a larger model, the N97 is awesome by taking 32GB and lets you beef it up by 16GB via a microSD slot.


The App Store is 50,000 applications deep, full of programs, tools and games offering functionality far beyond the original iPhone days. Manufacturers are already in the process of making third party controllers to enhance functionality of the gaming side of things, and the new, faster CPU inside the 3G S makes things all the more sweet.

The Nokia equivalent is the Ovi Store, almost 1,000 deep with a wide array of apps from Star Trek trailers and Java games to social networking software. It's still relatively embryonic, but the iPhone still trumps it as far as finding useful apps that are competitively priced goes.

With the addition of support for movie and music video downloads, iTunes cements itself as the platform of choice to enhance your phone. Time will tell if Ovi Store can catch up!


Another feature stepped up in the iPhone 3G S is the support for a digital compass, allowing the Google Maps functionality to expand in the region of providing orientation as well as location, allowing to see which direction you are facing as well as where you are. An impressive improvement on the existing GPS/A-GPS features.

Nokia's internal GPS architecture can be used with a variety of third party solutions in addition to Nokia Maps, including turn-by-turn navigation software which is something the iPhone cannot claim...yet. More driving navigation apps are very much on the way for both handsets though!


HSDPA is stepped up on the 3G S, 7.2 Mbps immediately translates into much faster web browsing and faster download speeds! The N97 is no slouch with a 3.6 Mbps speed, but with a more robust browser supporting Java and Flash it makes websites take a little bit to load them up. Do you want most of the internet, really fast, or all of the net but in a little bit more time?

Bluetooth 2.0 has finally included headset support to its roster for the 3G S, meaning wireless music - finally! It allows the iPhone to keep up with the N97, as both have Wi-Fi connectivity and support for their respective online stores.

As phones, both are still strong handsets with Voice Dialling and speed dial contact features via shortcuts. Funny how making and receiving calls has almost become a supplementary feature to these top flight devices!


The interesting thing to note is that on paper, the N97 should thrash the new iPhone. Better camera, a higher resolution screen at a better aspect ratio, more memory and a physical keyboard for those not head over heels for haptic feedback. However, the asthetic allure, the user interface and the apps make the 3G S such a strong device. It may be an incremental advancement on the iPhone 3G, but it fixes the handset in (most of) the right places! All of the shortcomings that they felt existed have been improved upon.

The Nokia N97 has the form factor and functionality to set the pace, but I fear that Symbian is holding them back ever so slightly...a flagship handset which is so similar to an entry-level device in terms of menus and navigation (5800 XpressMusic) is a very risky proposition... If we could see an update to the software to match those initial concept vids, then the N97 would be unreservedly better. As it is, it just has a few issues that keep it from taking down Apple's iconic device.


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why don´t you compare RAM and processor? those two items make the N97 look even worse


Look- however you slice it, the US market is hook line and sinker gonna go for the iPhone. Why the N97, bring the Samsung Omnia HD or the HTC Touch Diamond/Pro 2 or any other recent phone- people will still go for the iPhone.
For this reason I detest Engadget,Gizmodo and all these sites- they are so US centric and act like nothing else but the iPhone exists.

Let's see how well the N97 does in Europe/Asia- those are the main markets for Nokia, not the US.


Now Earnest, I gotta let you have it. And good. ;)

Research has shown a longer narrower device feels better in pocket than a short wide one. Maybe the thinness helps, I don't know, but which did you prefer? Your answer seemed confusing.

Why was no mention of the higher pixel density of the N97? Its higher resolution, so stuff looks better on it. That's important, especially in America's digital TV environs, with people learning what 720p and 1080i and 1080p mean. But it seemed you waffled on a choice there, too. You even called the iPhone's screen "wider", which it isn't. It is taller, but narrower. This is visually evident in side by side photos.

The camera section gave no mention of the iPhone's lack of flash or the resulting image quality, which is good for the Nokia, and bad butt horrible for the Apple. Also, the Nokias have had video editing software since 2005. You made it seem as if Apple had an advantage in that department, when they definitely don't.

On the OS front, where was the true comparison? One is pretty, the other utilitarian, but what about features and capabilities? Which one does more? Nokia, of course. Is it hard to use, or just not as easy as the flashy but simple iPhone? Consumers should know Apple's OS isn't as mature or optimized as Symbian, and they trade multitasking for transitions, so while that iPhone is zippy, the N97 can run multiples of the same type apps concurrently, proven stable with over 15-20 apps running at once, which is like having multiple iPhones without the flashiness. And multitouch isn't a "missing" feature. Symbian has alternative solutions, like dedicated zooming buttons for photos and a zoom button for web pages. The other "next generation" OSes are "missing" Symbian's "last generation" features, not the other way around. Most people don't see flashy 3D transitions as a core feature, and power users would probably prefer they be turned off to save resources.

As far as applications, you make it seem as if Symbian only has 1000 apps to Apple's 50,000. That's very misleading. There are many apps, and the Ovi Store is just one of many sources. A quick search on Google would show plenty more apps, which shows that Symbian is more like a PC OS. Did Windows have an app store? Ovi is Nokia owned, but Symbian is open source, so apps are plentiful. Even alot of the 3rd Edition apps, which far outnumber 1000, work on 5th Edition. You REALLY did the platform a disservice by not being more thorough. I believe the Symbian apps are more plentiful, useful, of better quality, and loaded with freeware to force retail apps to be compelling. Check Downloads.com, CNet.com, and Softpedia.com for proof. Consumers deserve the facts.

Also, while Apple is working on third party controllers, Nokia already is supported for the Zeemote, a Wii-like gaming controller.

By the way, you could've mentioned the N97 has a compass as well. It is new to the Nokia as on the iPhone, so why not mention it? Is this really an iPhone review? "iTunes is the platform of choice" for phone enhancement?? Says who? 10% use it. 40% use Symbian, don't use iTunes, and still modify their devices. How'd you get to your conclusion? Impression, guess, or Steve Jobs?

I like that the iPhone has A2DP profile support now, but what about BT Obex Push? Its a glaring omission from the iPhone, but not mentioned in your comparison. Its a shame stereo bluetooth was just added to the iPhone in version 3 as it is.

Now you claimed the data speed was faster via 3G. Tests prove it isn't, though it should be. So its faster on paper, but not in real life. Plus, besides Chicago, where does at&t have that high speed service? Nowhere? Lol...

I did appreciate your description of the browsers. All of the web with a short wait or some of it really fast. Good way to put it. But tell everyone Flash and Javascript can be turned off for faster web viewing. I don't think it'll be as fast as the iPhone, but who uses part of the web anyway? Oh yeah, I know.

So your verdict is since the iPhone is pretty, has nice transitions, and an App Store, its a contender? I bet not at full price. At $700, its gotta be the Nokia. I doubt anyone would buy an iPhone at full price otherwise.

All that being said, your review was good, and I appreciate your viewpoint. We're all different, with differing tastes. Nokia should refresh its transitions and UI mainly because it has TAT in its back pocket, and it could easily make a great device combining the best of both worlds. We're all waiting for that, and I suspect it'll be in 6 months, or when ROVER/N900 comes out (unless its alot better than the N97, it'll have its sales cannibalized). So I'll be awaiting Nokia's next moves...


btw, you can't compare processor and RAM on different software platforms. Look at Windows XP and Vista. XP at 1.9 GHz and 2 GB RAM is great, but for Vista, its a nightmare. See my point? The iPhone has better RAM and processing, but how many apps can it run at once? I bet it can't run 19 even when jailbroken, which I'm running now while posting this via my N95 8gb to prove my point. Its a totally different device not in the same class with a true smartphone like the N97.

Ernest Doku

Okay, that was a comprehensive response, but allow me to retort! :)

"Research has shown a longer narrower device feels better in pocket than a short wide one."

- It's longer and narrower, yes. But the N97 is also quite a bit thicker thanks to the keyboard, making for a pretty bulky device in the pocket. Remeber those metal pencil cases from school? It feels like that. Not fun in the pocket.

"Why was no mention of the higher pixel density of the N97? Its higher resolution, so stuff looks better on it."

- True, but didn't want to go into the talk of occasional laggy videos are on the N97 (especially when apps run in the background) as well as how the accelerometer only works in one direction, as opposed to being able to flip the iPhone in any direction, whilst the video continues to play in real time.

"You even called the iPhone's screen "wider", which it isn't. It is taller, but narrower. This is visually evident in side by side photos."

- Um...no? Guess this might be a mix up for not talking about portrait vs. landscape. Portrait, iPhone screen is wider. I mentioned that the N97 was 16:9, maybe wasn't clear. http://u.nu/3s6e

"The camera section gave no mention of the iPhone's lack of flash or the resulting image quality, which is good for the Nokia, and bad butt horrible for the Apple."

- Fair enough. I made mention of the advancements for the iPhone camera functionality and video, the N97 still trumps it without having to go into too much detail into how thoroughly! Plus, that's what the compare table is for!

"On the OS front, where was the true comparison? One is pretty, the other utilitarian, but what about features and capabilities? Which one does more?"

- Without even bringing up the RAM and CPU comparison in terms of having no lag when going between menus or choosing options, the Symbian interface is truly a barrier to entry unless you have used at least 2 prior S60 handsets thoroughly! It's comfortable and easy to find things...because it's the same UI you've been using for the past 3 + years! The iPhone OS manages to be pretty, utalitarian and intuitive. Symbian manages one of those...

Ask non-tech people to find specific features on a Symbian handset vs. the iPhone, the gulf of difference is most definitely palpable.

If S60 v5 is at its most optimised on the N97, that's a shame. No one in their right mind would prefer to use thin and imprecise scroll bars on the side of the side to navigate menus and web pages, when the far simpler and quicker method of 'pulling' the iPhone screen is available.

Even on an i8910 HD, boasting a much faster CPU than the N97, S60 wheezes and splutters with even 5 or 6 apps running at once. The number of freezes in my three weeks of using it is touching three figures. The N97 doesn't fare a whole lot better, as it seems the widgets are a bit of a resource hog...something for core users to turn off perhaps?

"Even a lot of the 3rd Edition apps, which far outnumber 1000, work on 5th Edition."

- Without touch support or optimisation they KIND OF work rather than are suited to the device. Many won't work without opening the QWERTY in that case, and using the d-pad.

With Nokia's service (and Windows, for that matter) being around for so long, why not provide a better single place for users to obtain all of these wonderful applications? Should they have to trawl through a range of third party sites, when it could all be organised in one place, on your handset, for direct download? They really dropped the ball, not only in sleeping on their app goldmines whilst Apple waltzed in and destroyed them.

My major bugbear is that Nokia didn't create the N97 in a vaccuum. They saw what the iPhone was, what it could do and as their flagship device, the N97 was their response to it. To have dropped the ball on so many features (resistive screen, no Nokia messaging as standard, slow CPU, QWERTY with insanely placed space bar, S60 v5) is frustrating.

We all know Nokia could have hit a home run with that form factor, if the functionality was there to back it up. It's just a shame that it's 'only' created a solid hit.

Trust me, we ALL want to see Apple get a true contender, it will only stimuate greater competition and better phones for all of us!

All in all, brilliant points, well raised Christexaport!


I'm torn! I currently run an Ipod Touch, an HTC Tytn II and a Nokia 5500 series touch phone (I''m a bit of technophile, lo siento) and I am having enormous trouble making a decision on whether to pick up the 3G S and trump my sister or the N97 and trump my boss. I'm looking for a business class phone so N97 would be the logical choice since it comes with World Traveler but my Ipod Touch already has three Travel programs loaded already!!! Arghhh! Dear Darla, which would you pick?


Excellent rejoinder and great mature and sensible response from Ernest. I have used every single communicator from 9000/ 9000i/ 9100/ 9100i and the last one calle dthe e90 was a complete rip off.
Being a symbain user for 10 years, i recognize the advantage of keyboard based phones.
BUT in todays times the expectations have changed, multyimedia, processing speed, softwares all lead to my decision to changeover to the appleworld..
If i need a good photo, ill use a slr/ digi camera anyway.


i will admit the iphone is a nice phone. But until my phone is my phone i'll stick with my n97. if apple would change its dictatorship way of thinking I could give them a chance.

Don Camilo

First of all, both phones are great.

Where the iphone shines in cap. touch screen, nice UI, and apps the Nokia N97 only shows its stubbornness.

Now, where the N97 shines in better cam with LED flash, better bluetooth for file transfer sync etc, fm radio, external memory card, video calling, flash support, multi-tasking and GPS voice guided navigation with great new Ovi Maps 3.0 the iphone only shows its immaturity.

It really boils down to what you need your phone to do. If you just want to make phone calls, listen to some music and browse the web crippled due to lack of flash then the iphone 3gs is for you.

If you'd like to do more with your phone and maybe looking to not always having to carry your laptop everywhere then the N97 is the jack of all trades, no phone in the world has as many features as the Nokia N97 and it does them all quite well.

Don Camilo

i forgot one of the best features on the new N97= the homescreen widgets!!!! What a great feature!

Mr. Smith

Hello from Tokyo, Japan. I have a comment about the potential download speeds of these mobiles.
In Japan the iphone is on the Softbank mobile network.
The highest speed is not available nationwide. Only some areas of high population density.They also note that depending on conditions the performance may vary or slow down.

Metropolitan Tokyo: within Route 16;
Tokai Area: Nagoya, surrounding major cities and Shizuoka City(excludes Shimizu Ward)
* In areas other than above, the phone will automatically connect you
 to the Softbank 3G service network.
*1 The maximum data speed will vary depending on the area you are in.
*2 Connection speed may slow down or connection may be lost due to line congestion or bad communication environment in the best effort service.

It may cost too much to provide hi speed service everywhere here,even though Japan is about the size of California.

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