When you hold the Nokia N97 in your hand and look at that new home screen, you get your hopes up. Then you press the home button and realize that underneath, it is just another outdated Symbian S60 phone.
I had the opportunity to test the N97 for a few hours today and despite some bright spots, I came away disappointed.
The camera is great and there is a shutter button right where you expect to find it, allowing you to use it like any normal point-and-shoot camera. Apple could learn from this. The new home screen allows you to add a few tiny widgets, displaying for example your latest Facebook status - a noticeable improvement that will breath new life into this and coming Nokia phones. The touch screen works, but Symbian S60 was simply not designed for finger based touch screen navigation so the experience is not enjoyable. A slide out Qwerty keyboard sounds great - I'm a long time Nokia communicator user and just love the keyboard in my Nokia E90 - but the N97 implementation is poor. They keyboard is no where near what you have in the Nokia E90 and not necessarily any better than a Blackberry/Nokia E71 -style mini-qwerty thumb board but it takes up much more space.
The screen is in theory great but the user interface doesn't make very good use of it - often the text is either big enough to be read from the other end of the room or microscopical to the point that it can hardly be read at all. The icons and buttons often feels way oversized besides being plain uggly. With Symbian devices having all kinds of screen resolutions and sizes, designing a user interface is quite challenging and so far the result is unimpressive.
The Internet browser is perhaps the source of my biggest disappointment. It may be Webkit based just like in the iPhone, but it is nowhere near as capable. When you go to a new page, you end up looking at the top left corner of the page, often with much of the graphics missing. So you grab the page with your finger and try to slide it around on the screen, but it doesn't. There is some sort of touch screen support but it is fairly limited compared to an iPhone - and that is what the N97 constantly will be compared to.
There is so much that makes this - and every other Symbian phone - unatractive. The experience trying to get Nokia PC Suite to connect to the phone using Bluetooth (unknown error), the visual style of the GUI, the fact that settings seems to be scattered all around and not in one place, unnecessary technical pop up windows like "establishing internet connection" when you start the browser and so on.
I have been using Symbian for years in different Nokia phones and I have seen that pop-up window "establishing internet connection" every time I have started the browser and tried to load a page. I never thought much about it, it just flashes in front of your eyes for a fraction of a second, but now that I have become used to the iPhones clean user interface, that Nokia pop-up windows seems so unnecessary. It is just one of hundreds of tiny details that Apple got right and Nokia wrong, things that make the iPhone easy and fun to use and the Nokia difficult and frustrating to use. There is no one single thing that breaks Symbian - there are hundreds of tiny flaws that add up to a unpleasent user experience.
Nokia desperately needs a new operating system to replace Symbian. Here is suggestion for Nokia: buy Palm and start using the webOS on Nokia phones - it's the only way you are going to catch up with Apple. And if you buy Palm, you'll get a share of that elusive American smart phone market as well.