Nokia N95-3: a love story

Mountains cropped
The week before I left for Europe I bought an unlocked North American Nokia N95 from Mobile City Online. At the time, I bought it for two main reasons. First, having an unlocked GSM phone meant I could purchase any pay-as-you-go SIM card off the street in Europe and it would work. Secondly, it has a 5.0 megapixel camera which meant I could leave my bulky 2.1 megapixel Panasonic FZ1 at home.

Now that I’m back in the USA, I signed up for service from AT&T and want to talk about the many many other things this phone does.

First up I’ll cover the important bit: How to get 3.5G access on your Mac using the phone. You don’t have a choice in carriers since AT&T is the only one that supports the 1900MHz HSDPA band in the USA. Ignore the expensive data plans they offer; this isn’t a PDA (at least that’s how we’re justifying not paying to ourselves). Instead, when you sign up you’ll want the $19.95/mo. Media Max 200 bundle. This is essentially the data plan the iPhone uses and will give you unlimited data access. Once you have the data plan, just follow Nokia’s instructions for pairing the phone with your Mac over Bluetooth. The instructions also include how to set up the phone as a modem. The only extra information you need to know are the Username/Account: WAP@CINGULARGPRS.COM and the Password: CINGULAR1 (both are case-sensitive). After that’s set up, getting unlimited HSDPA data is as simple as setting the phone down next to the computer and clicking “connect”. This pipes everything through the WAP proxy even though tethering isn’t allowed by the TOS (let alone Bluetooth tethering). I got rid of my rarely used EVDO ExpressCard now that I have this option instead.

My next most used feature has to be the camera. 5.0 megapixel is amazing in a camera phone and it’s far better than what I’ve been using. All of the ~230 photos I’ve taken in the last two months have been with this phone. Nokia actually bundles Lifeblog to help you publish to Flickr directly from the phone. I recommend Shozu for making the process even more streamlined. In Europe, I’d come home from a day of sight-seeing, the phone would automatically connect to the WiFi, and within a few minutes all my photos would be uploaded to Flickr without needing any input from me. Flickr has online editing now, which makes this workflow is even more attractive. Now that I’m back in the states with a data plan my photos get uploaded immediately after taking them. Shozu will tag the photos with the GPS coordinates too. Uploading videos directly to YouTube is also supported (which I used for this video seconds after shooting it).

We might as well talk about video while we’re here. The camera can record 640×480 video, which is just as good as my SD based Xacti C6 (so I didn’t take that with me either). What I’m really interested in is streaming live video from the phone over 3G. ComVu was the first company to enter this space, selling batch licenses to news organizations with field reporters. The new contender though is Qik with a much more polished website and application. Robert Scoble and tnkgrl have been actively posting videos from press events using it.

The Nokia N95 is a dual slider, so if you slide it down you get the media controls. Initially I thought “meh, whatever, I’ve got an iPod” that was before I found out the Mac syncing software is simple to use and ACTUALLY WORKS, something that is rare amongst the genre of “media player transfer” software. Nokia Multimedia Transfer places a folder in iTunes and iPhoto. All you need to do is add the music, videos, and photos you want on the device to the folders and the software will sync them (even transcoding videos if necessary). You can opt to have it fill up a percentage of your storage with a random selection of music too. It also handles copying photos off the phone into iPhoto and includes a file system browser (which won’t crash if you’re patient with it). All of this is done over Bluetooth.

You can sync your contacts and calendar over Bluetooth using Nokia’s iSync plugin. I never used Address Book or iCal till I got this phone. To load my contacts on to the phone I first exported them from my phonebook on GrandCentral. I then imported them into Address Book which merged almost all the entries flawlessly with the preexisting IM contacts. I then used iSync to get them on the phone. A nice side effect was it copying all the IM avatars over too. For the calendar, I subscribed to my Google Calendar private RSS using iCal and then synced. Now my multimedia and data are synced wirelessly with just one button press each.

The WiFi is nice to have although it seems to choke a bit using WPA and I don’t usually use it away from home. Berlin had so many locked down access points I just stopped scanning. One of the pains of finding free WiFi on cellphones is navigating captive portals. FON has an app that deals with there network. I haven’t tried Devicescape‘s solution for access point negotiation though. It should help you deal with even more routers.

The web browser is fairly nice and handles full pages (not a WAP browser). Opera is an option as well. For quick software installs I added the Mobile Barcoder add-on to Firefox. I just go to the web page I want on my computer, scan the QR code with my phone, and the phone’s browser goes straight to the download page where I can easily download and install right on the phone (you’ll notice I added one to the front page of RobotSkirts).

For IM there are a couple options. You can use Fring which somehow supports everything (even Skype). I personally use Gizmo because their application integrates better with the phone. Unfortunately, Gizmo Project‘s support for other IM networks is through a clunky proxy system which makes managing contacts less than graceful. That isn’t just a phone problem, all their clients are designed this way. I assume in the future they’ll program real support.

The nice integration isn’t the only reason I use Gizmo. The N95 is also a VoIP phone and Gizmo Project gives you a free SIP number (Skype doesn’t use SIP). Using Grand Central I can forward calls to or place calls from my Gizmo SIP number. I can route any call I want over 3G or WiFi data which means I can call internationally for just pennies.

The email client on the phone supports IMAP, which was pretty painless to hook up to my Gmail account. You can also use Google’s mobile Gmail client.

A recently discovery that is starting to be exploited is the phone’s accelerometer. It’s normally used to determine camera orientation and shake… not simulating a lightsaber. I haven’t had a chance to try it yet but FlipSilent lets you silence the ringing phone by changing its orientation.

I mentioned GPS tagging before. Nokia provides a mapping app, but you can also choose from the nice Google Maps or Amaze, which has free routing (Nokia is pay).

The phone does many many many other things as well. It has a normal headphone jack with a TV-out cable. It supports A2DP stereo Bluetooth headphones. It has a built in radio and stereo speakers. You can subscribe to podcasts that download directly to the phone. Using Lifeblog you can publish blog posts. It supports streaming internet radio. I’ve got software that lets me use it as an iTunes controller. The phone will even act as a streaming UPNP media server on your home network. There are a couple small things I love about this phone too: the world time display shows four different timezones and you can click on any one of them and set it as the current time. Also, right after you set an alarm it tells you how long before it will go off.

I’m very happy with this phone and I still have many things left to explore on it. I hope this post helped you discover the full capabilities of the phone or at least find the software you’re looking for.

13 Responses to “Nokia N95-3: a love story”

  1. fbz says:

    yep that rocks! great write up. i still love my old e70 though, the full keyboard rocks when writing anything in text: emails, urls, website fields, text messages, notes, calendar stuff, etc.

  2. adam says:

    Well, this makes me want to ditch verizon and pick up one of these bad boys. Too bad the 20% discount on my account is the only thing that makes me stay with them.

  3. Carl says:

    Wow, I’m glad I found your write up. Just a question about ‘I can route any call I want over 3G or WiFi data which means I can call internationally for just pennies.’ Could you please describe how do you do this? Is it part of grand central functionality? I was thinking of getting into skype in a big way, setting up numbers in all the coutries I frequent etc… Myabe grandcentral is a better option?

    Thanks

  4. Eliot says:

    Carl, that line is in reference to Gizmo Project because it has cheap international rates and I can use it directly from the phone. As far as I know Grand Central won’t let you forward to an international number.

  5. Will says:

    Sounds pretty sweet. This round I’m going with a $50 palm centro – love that 1995 tech married with evdo. crappy camera, gets my email and cheap enough that I got one for the wife.

  6. George says:

    Hello there, I have 2 sip service providers registered at same time either through wifi or over 3.5G HSDPA …But really dont know when calling a number(internet call) to select which of those registered 2 sip service for call to be rounted through. I dont find an option to select the sip service that i want at that particular time of calling …. since multi sip service providers can be logged in at same time, I believe there should be some way to select any one of those registered or logged in sip services while making a call out …. NOKIA N95
    thanks for your attention

  7. […] I haven’t been posting much here, but I do post quite frequently to both Twitter and Flickr (thanks to my geotagging/autouploading N95). […]

  8. fahad says:

    Hi,
    I need a solution. I bought a nokia n95- 8gb from asia which is made by nokia and unlocked. now I am at USA and can I use any service plan in this phone?
    it will be helpful if you can give me a good solution here….thanks

  9. Eliot says:

    Any GSM plan should work.

  10. […] Android Dev Phone 1 arrived Monday morning. I lost my precious N95 a week earlier during SantaCon LA. This phone was announced the following day. Scott also loaned me […]

  11. […] I looked back to see if I had done any blogging last year over the course of my six week trip. Much to my delight: I had (I also found IM IN UR MANGER KILLING UR SAVIOR). Never avoid blogging because it feels narcissistic; you will write things that you’d otherwise forget and you’ll appreciate seeing it again. Reposting it, like I’m about to do, definitely is narcissism. Most of the trip was brought to you by my missing N95-3. […]

  12. mick says:

    Could you please send me instructions book for nokia n95 please I am 70 and find it hard to work without instructions as i have lost my book

  13. […] stopped using my FZ1 when I got my N95 in 2007 since it was much smaller, 5 megapixels, and always on me. When I lost the N95 I got a G1, which is […]

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