Nokia takes on iPhone with its N97

LONDON — Mobile handset maker Nokia unveiled its flagship N97 model smartphone at its investors conference taking place in Barcelona, Spain this week.

However, according to a report from Reuters the handset drew a lukewarm response from analysts.

Nokia expects the handset — with a large touch screen, retailing for Euros 550 ($693) before taxes and subsidies and due to reach market in the first half of 2009 — will bolster its N-Series smartphone offering.

The Finnish handset giant was the last major handset maker to introduce touch screen phones after the runaway success of Apple Inc's iPhone, and last month started to sell its first such model.

The N97 has a 3.5 inch touchscreen and features a kick-out QWERTY keyboard that is hidden behind the phone's 16:9 aspect ratio screen. It runs on Symbian's S50 5th Edition.

The impressive list of specifications includes tri-band HSDPA 3G support; 802.11b/g Wi-Fi; aGPS and standalone GPS; 32 GB of built-in memory, with support for another 16 GB with the addition of a microSD card; 5-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics, LED flash, and video capture at 30 frames per second; on-board accelerometer and compass; and support for Flash Lite 3.0 and Flash Video in the browser.

Nokia’s position in the high end of the cellphone market is said to be worrying investors and analysts as it is expected to weigh on the Finnish group's profit margins.

CCS Insight's Research Director, Ben Wood, said Nokia had faced difficult choices with the N97.

“It tried to cram in lots of different technologies such as
a touch screen, full qwerty keyboard and plenty of memory, but it had to make trade-offs in its size and features,” he is reported to have told Reuters. “It has ended up with a relatively thick device that lacks some of the benchmark features expected in flagship products in mid-2009.”

The N97 is a direct rival to Sony Ericsson's X1 and HTC's Touch Pro — both of which use Microsoft's Windows software — and analysts said by the time it goes on sale more direct rivals will likely have appeared.

“It might give Nokia a little edge, but it's six months until this reaches the market,” said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi.

Nokia introduced its last major N-series hit, the N95, in 2006 and started its sales early last year. To date it has sold more than 15 million N95s. The company continues to dominate the global market for
smartphones, but it sold less of them in the third quarter than a year ago, losing market share to Apple and Blackberry-maker RIM.

Meanwhile, the company also said it closed its acquisition of mobile software maker Symbian on Tuesday (December 2).

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