Should I Buy the Apple 3G iPhone or Nokia N95?

I’m in the market for a new phone. And I’m pretty damn easy.

Apple has now released the next version of its phone, the 3G iPhone. With all the buzz around it, it’s hard not to consider buying one. But before taking the plunge, I wanted to understand what I’m getting myself into. I also wanted to consider what many people claim is a superior phone on the market, the Nokia N95.

But first, about my being pretty damn easy…

I’m a Mobile Phone Luddite

When I bought my current mobile phone, I really didn’t want all the fancy stuff. Just the ability to talk to someone. And that’s just what I got with my Nokia Sprint phone, pictured below:

Not much “smart” about that phone. Just cheap and functional. Any phone that does the things I list in the picture above will be a quantum leap forward for me. Obviously, I’m no early adopter.

Hence, I’m easy when it comes to smart phones.

Apple iPhone vs. Nokia N95

The crux of the argument seems to boil down to this:

  • 3G iPhone offers a superior web browsing experience
  • N95 offers superior camera and actually has video

Oh, there are other things…

Apps for the iPhone are supposed to be really cool. But I’m really not interested in Tap Tap Revenge. One thing I learned from Facebook is that most of these little apps grow boring quite quickly. However, there’s always the possibility that some interesting app will be developed.

There’s also Apple’s closed platform and restrictive DRM, which means all development requires approval of Apple. But considering that I’ve been using a phone without anything that would cause such concern, I’m mostly unconcerned about this as well.

The Knocks Against the iPhone

Here are the the biggest knocks I’ve seen on the iPhone. Gotta know what could ruin my day if I buy one.

Short battery life. This consistently comes up as a negative for the iPhone. It sounds awful, especially in comparison to my current lowly Nokia phone. The battery on that phone can last for days. But it sounds like any 3G smart phone may suffer a similar battery life issue. Here’s what GigaOm said about the Nokia N95:

The battery on this device [Nokia N95] simply sucks. It doesn’t even last the whole day, and that is when you are using it in GSM mode, WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS turned off.

Apple does provide tips for preserving battery life. In addition, Cyndy Aleo-Carreira reports that a simple change to one feature – push email – can dramatically improve battery life.

Crappy camera, no video. There’s no getting around this one. The iPhone’s 2 mega pixel camera is woeful compared to the N95’s 5 mega pixel. Here’s a picture that Fred Wilson took with the N95:

Look at that quality! And with two young children, I think great pictures would be nice. Not to mention the ability to do easy video.

Forced to go with AT&T. This is a big one for many folks. They don’t like AT&T for whatever reason. AT&T appears to have good 3G coverage in the San Francisco Bay Area. But outside the region, coverage gets dicey. As Robert Scoble tweeted about his drive from southern California back to the Bay Area:

Out of the past 7.5 hours of driving we have had 3G for less than an hour. AT&T needs to do a much better job at coverage.

My Sprint phone actually has pretty bad coverage inside my house. So I’m not sure AT&T can get much worse, unless I was unable to get any signal. I did ask about what happens when 3G isn’t available on FriendFeed (comment on Scoble’s tweet). Here’s what Zach Flauaus said:

The iPhone’s priority is 3G, then EDGE, then GPRS. Aka: Fast, ehh… And “Oh hell no!”

So even if I can’t surf the web, I get a phone signal. OK…I probably can live with that.

The new apps crash the iPhone. Let me repeat that: NEW APPS CRASH THE iPHONE! Tim O’Reilly describes the laments of iPhone users and their crashing phones. He includes a Summize Twitter search for iPhone crash. The search reults are frightening:

  • “so it seems writing mobile applications is not such a trivial task. On the iPhone they crash like crazy”
  • “first iPhone crash since I restored it 4 days ago, I guess my strategy has worked, and coincidently it crashed on a newly installed app”
  • “Experienced my first iPhone app crash tonight. Screen turned black. After a few tries the phone came back to life but I deleted the app.”
  • “Just had my first iPhone app crash. Facebook!”

Sounds like it’s best to avoid putting apps on the iPhone for the time being. But I am hopeful about  downloading some good apps down the road.

No copy and paste. Honestly, this one doesn’t bother me so much…yet. The iPhone doesn’t support a clip board to copy things you find. My initial reaction is “so what?”. But I”ll probably want that. One example:’s new iPhone interface. You can post blog entries from the iPhone. As you can see in this post, I’m a huge fan of copy-n-paste. Not having this feature could chafe.

The Nokia N95 Knock: Web Surfing Is Bad

The N95 does include web surfing and email. But this is what I’ve been reading about that experience:

  • “@Jonathan – does Nokia have a decent web browser?” – Yolanda
    “@Yolanda, no, it’s crap. But there’s Opera mini ( which is somewhat decent.” – Guillermo Esteves (link)
  • Question: “If you could only take one device to a tropical island would it be a smartphone or a laptop?”
    Robert Scoble: “Assuming I am going on vacation to get away from it all? My Nokia N95. Good camera to take pics and videos of me drinking MaiTais. GPS so I can get around. But hard to use for Web and Email so I am not too tempted.”
  • “After seeing, feeling & experiencing the Web on the iPhone, I Know I need one, even though I have an N95 (hate it for browsing)” (link)
  • Yes, I borrowed a friends N95for a day and they had my Blackberry. Phone quality is important to me with a hearing aid. The web browsing sux on the N95, phone was ok. The camera and video were way cool though, nice but not necessary toys.” (link)

iPhone Gets Some Real Love Though

I’m impressed by the number of people expressing their affection for the iPhone, despite its limitations.

Ryan Spoon blogged: Confessions of a Blackberry Addict – I’ve Moved to the iPhone 3G

Yahoo EVP Jeff Weiner was raving to Tim O’Reilly about his new iPhone, urging him to write something that explains why the iPhone is such a paradigm-shifting device.

Gina Trapani of Lifehacker wrote this in a generally negative piece on the iPhone: “But Mobile Safari’s tabbed browsing convinced me to trade in my principles for convenience. This job requires me to be online everywhere I go, and as far as I could see, the iPhone was the best way to do that.”

And here’s the Twitter search for “love my iPhone“. Look at all that love!

What About You?

So I’m close to making a decision. My use case is more web browsing than picture/video taking. But there are definitely issues with the iPhone.

If you’ve got thoughts about the 3G iPhone or the Nokia N95, I’d love to hear ’em.

UPDATE: ReadWriteWeb covers the Apple vs. Nokia issue this morning as well here.


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About Hutch Carpenter
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29 Responses to Should I Buy the Apple 3G iPhone or Nokia N95?

  1. Thanks for the link to my Lifehack post! I think you know what advice I’d give you 😉

  2. A tough decision to make. Though it seems that web browsing is the only real drawback of the N95 to you.

    I have a N82 which is very similar to the N95. I use it with the Opera Mobile (not Mini) browser which is quite good, I think. Not as good as an iPhone but good.

    Also the camera is really good. For everyday pics I don’t need a digital camera anymore.

  3. Reg. battery life: It’s always a good idea to turn off 3G mode when you don’t need it.

  4. dukeoconnor says:

    I think it comes down to who you are. I mean, to me it’s really a right brain vs. left brain issue. If you try both and you’re still not sure, I’d go with the Nokia. As Louis Armstrong said when asked, “What is jazz?”, “If you gotta ask, you’ll never know.” If the iPhone is for you, you’ll know it.

  5. MrHatken says:

    Get an iPhone, you won’t regret it!

    The software quirks will be ironed out shortly and the iPhone is really a paradigm shift for mobile phones (like the original Macs was for DOC PCs).

    Truly amazing (or should I say incredibly great 😉


  6. Viswakarma says:

    iPhone!!! Main reason, it is a Pocket Unix-based Macintosh Computer with a camera, wireless internet, phone, and so on!!! Adding voice activation and recording is not that far off. Currently, you can go to iTunes App Store and get Recordifier ($4.99), SpeechCloud Voice Dialer (free) and a whole host of productivity applications.

  7. Sebhelyesfarku says:

    The iPhone is for brainwashed Mactards and gullible fashion lemmings

  8. Rene says:

    The iPhone. I’ve had about a dozen phones before the iPhone and they were all overly complicated pices of crap. The iPhone is so easy to use and straight-forward that I can’t see myself using anything other than an iPhone or something similar. But the software has to rock my socks. The bugs that it currently has will be shaken out…quickly. You don’t have to buy the data plan in order to use the iPhone.

  9. Sam says:

    I’d recommend the iPhone if Sebhelyesfarku is indicative of the community you’ll be interacting with regarding the N95. Us Mactards may be gullible (if not fashionable in my case), but my experience is that we also tend to be pleasant and willing to help.

  10. lookmark says:

    If it’s true that your “use case is more web browsing than picture/video taking”, definitely go with the iPhone. The UI is great, the App Store is a treat. (It seems rather likely someone will release an iPhone video recording app before too long.)

    If a better camera phone is more important to you, by all means got with the N95.

  11. Aaron Smith says:

    I’d get a N95, simply because I have one and its a dream. I find it real easy to navigate the web on, but maybe thats just me. Wouldnt bother with the iPhone, a touch screen device that’ll soon be out of fashion. Knowing Apple it’ll be because Apple have some random device called the iSense phone, which controls a phone like device with your mind.

    Mind you, I’d wait a few weeks… The Nokia N96 is out soon, thats a phone and a half.

  12. PaulG says:

    Pay no attention to the Sebhelyesfarku-tards of the world. They wouldn’t know a superior product if it bit ’em on their tiny brains. Just because Apple made it (great) really bugs ’em. The whole issue is one of usability. Something Microsoft and others have NEVER figured out. Build it so normal people can easily use it and they will come. Apple’s done that with the iPhone.

  13. Roger Mercer says:

    Nokia, based on Symbian, is like a Neanderthal compared to iPhone running OSX (unix) with App Store. iPhone is constantly improving, reinvinting itself, ever-growing.

    No comparison. iPhone is the future. Nokia is out-of-date technology.

  14. Douglas Brown says:

    Nokia phones are the best phone investment that you could make. Year after year they have been providing quality phones for consumers. Unfortunately the new Nokia phones can cost you an arm and a leg, especially an unlocked Nokia N95. I found a great site to find unlocked Nokia cell phones from auctions. I bought 2 Nokia N95 cell phones for me and my wife, and we love them. Check them out at Unlocked Nokia Cell Phone Auctions. Just my 2 cents.

  15. Sandeep says:

    Remember on most phones the camera is limited not by the mega-pixels but by the optics.

    The optics on both these cameras are quite bad (compared to your average garden variety digital point and shoot).

    Having had a N95 and jumping to an iPhone, I have not noticed any real difference of the quality of the pix. Both do poorly in low light situations. If all you are looking to do is to capture the moment, the iPhone will do just fine.

    And yes, the experience is THAT much better on the iPhone. Even the software keyboard. It’s not about the technology it is about the interface. There are a lot of nice design flourishes on the iPhone to make you forget that you are interacting with a machine…. it’s really got that R2D2 factor…

    Get the iPhone, you wont regret it.


  16. Martin Hill says:

    The screen’s the thing. It’s not just viewing web pages that benefits from the huge screen of the iPhone, but viewing PDFs, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, running applications, using Web 2.0 Ajax-based web apps, viewing photos, viewing videos, etc etc. Running VNC on the iPhone to remotely control your PC or Mac is a joy on the iPhone and absolutely impossible on the Nokia for example. Screen-size is everything!

    You may be able to shot huge pixel-count photos and shoot video on the N95, but do you really want to try to view them on such a tiny screen that is half the physical size and half the resolution of the iPhone?

    The N95 is also twice as thick (bad for the pocket) and relies on a terrible toggle pad to navigate compared to point directly at something and click the touchscreen on the iPhone. Then there is the battery stand-by time of only 220hrs v 300hrs on the iPhone.

    It really is like comparing two totally different eras in mobile devices.


  17. dvdand says:

    Nice post. However, if you can wait, I would recommend you go for the N96 which is an upgrade to N95 slated to be out later this year. N96 is sleeker that N95 and will come with 16 GB memory, Mobile TV access, microSD card slot, improved Internet experience and sound, faster USB, WCDMA2100/900 (HSDPA) / EGSM900, GSM850/1800/1900 MHz (EGPRS) support, and automatic switching between bands and modes.

    I think it will satisfy you primary use case very well and give you something extra to keep you going.

    – Dilip

  18. Thanks everyone. Great perspectives in the comments here. The upcoming N96 gives me some pause on my purchase plans. Does it have better web surfing? I’ll look into that.

    Still leaning toward the iPhone though. I’ve had a good experience with the iPod Touch. So that helps me understand what the iPhone experience will be like.

  19. Nick Cowie says:

    The 3rd alternative is Windows Mobile, not as popular as Nokia, but currently more popular the the iPhone.

    Has the a strong developer community and like Nokia lots of apps available, like Skype etc.

    IE for WM6 is not a great browser, Opera 9.5 Mobile (currently in beta) is a good browser, almost iPhone Safari like in functionality.

    The N96 looks good, there are nice WM6 devices coming out of HTC and LG, but I am a sucker for the iPhone interface (iPod touch owner) so I probably replace my 18 month old HTC with an iPhone depending on what the carriers do in Au in the next few months.

  20. It’s so easy. iPhone
    You obviously have more good points going for the iPhone than the N95. If you want a full blown camera, might as well get a camera. The phone functionality on the phone is so much better. Being an internet person, the bigger screen is definitely going to be a plus for you.

    I had a program crash my phone once. You know what I did? I just hit the power button and had the phone back in 30 seconds. No big deal. My old nokia has crashed before. And all it has is a phone function. No bluetooth even. Just like yours.

    Applications don’t crash quite that often. And most of the times, they don’t crash your whole phone.

    My phone has wifi, 3g and push email turned off. I’m getting about 2 days life on it. If I want to get online, edge is always there. If I want 3G, It’s a matter of 3 clicks, that’s all. And turning it off only takes 3 clicks as well.

    You’d be sooo much more satisfied and happy with an iPhone. Not to mention whenever you’re with friends and trying to decide where to go; the most common question is “Does anyone have an iPhone? Please find us something.”

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  22. mickmel says:

    I just switched from an N95 to an iPhone (2G). While I certainly miss some of the features on the N95 (great video, live video using Qik, superb camera), I’m SO glad I switched. The photo and video tools are mostly toys — e-mail and web are what I need the most. When it comes to those, the difference is insanely better on the iPhone.

  23. KP says:

    It’s funny how these two phones are being compared when they are actually in different classes.

    Nokia makes 2 different smartphones, E series and N series.

    E series emphasizes connectivity and productivity, while N series is focused on multimedia.

    So if you’re looking for multimedia, definitely go with the N95 (or wait for the N96).

    Otherwise, compare the iPhone against a Nokia E series phone if web browsing and email are important.

    Either way, however, I think the iPhone will have the edge as a music device.

  24. Get a 3G iPhone, you won’t regret it!

    The software quirks will be ironed out shortly and the iPhone is really a paradigm shift for mobile phones (like the original Macs was for DOC PCs).

    Truly amazing (or should I say incredibly great )

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  26. Thanks for sharing that! Nice post. I just glanced through it.

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  28. Sarah DG says:

    Random question seven years after you wrote this…Do you remember the name of your Sprint Nokia “luddite” phone (the one you have pictured on the carpet)? I had the exact same one circa 2007 and I would like to be able to remember the name of it.

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