Smackdown: Nokia's N95 vs. Apple's iPhone

Fortune tries out Nokia's new unlocked multimedia phone to see how it stacks up against the iPhone.

By Michal Lev-Ram, Fortune reporter

SAN FRANCISCO (Fortune) -- When Apple's iPhone debuted, it seemed to have it all - sleek hardware, a revolutionary user interface, and a cult following. But flash-forward a couple of months, and it's getting flak for being chained to AT&T's slowpoke network and for blocking non-Apple software programs.

Meanwhile, Nokia has quietly introduced a North American version of its multimedia smartphone, the N95. Already a hit in Europe, the N95 is one of the first "unlocked" mobile phones to be heavily marketed in the United States.

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Nokia N95-3, priced at $700, could compete with the iPhone.

What exactly is an unlocked phone? For starters it's a device that can work on multiple GSM networks worldwide. It's also open to any mobile applications, not just those allowed by the phonemaker or the network the device happens to be running on. In fact, Nokia (Charts) is even encouraging customers to experiment with their N95 - its new ad campaign touts the phone as "open to anything."

The locked/unlocked debate aside, both the iPhone and the N95 are impressive mobile devices - true pioneers that are finally allowing us to carrying portable, multimedia computers in our pockets.

Here's how the two phones compare to one another on a feature-by-feature basis:

Size: While Nokia's N95 looks chunkier (good luck fitting it into the pocket of tight jeans), it's actually more than half an ounce lighter than the Apple (Charts, Fortune 500) iPhone. The N95 also feels sturdier than the iPhone - like it wouldn't necessarily break if you dropped it. (Neither device was crash-tested for this review.)

User interface: The iPhone's intuitive touch screen - which lets you zoom, scroll and close applications with the flick of a finger - wins, hands down. But the N95, powered by London-based Symbian's operating system, has its good points too: It allows for quick access to all the applications you need and has one of the most easy-to-use mobile Web browsers.

Texting: Both phones lose on this end. The iPhone's touch screen keyboard takes a long time to master. And while the N95 does have a real pull-out keyboard, it's not a full qwerty so you'll have to triple-tap your way through messages.

Camera: At five megapixels, the N95 is almost as much a point-and-shoot camera as it is a phone. The iPhone's camera, on the other hand, measures in at two megapixels.

Built-in GPS: The N95 has it, the iPhone doesn't.

Multimedia: Both devices are built for your viewing and listening pleasure. Flip them on their sides (for the N95, you'll also need to pull out a dedicated multimedia keypad) and they'll automatically switch to landscape mode - great for watching video clips.

But the iPhone has a bigger screen - 3.5 inches compared to the N95's 2.6 inches. Apple's device, of course, comes with built-in iTunes, while N95 owners can purchase and download songs over-the-air from Nokia's new music store.

Wi-Fi and networking: You'll find built-in Wi-Fi on both phones, but the new U.S. version of the N95 runs on the super fast 3G HSDPA network while the iPhone's stuck on AT&T's (Charts) slower 2.5G EDGE network.

Applications: Here's where the N95 really shines. As it's an unlocked phone, you can pretty much do whatever you want with it. Don't feel like using Nokia's own turn-by-turn direction service? No problem - you can download the one made by competitor Garmin (Charts). The same goes for any widget, e-mail programs or mobile Web sites.

Call Quality: Both phones offer good sound quality.

Price: At $700, the N95 makes the $399 top-of-the-line iPhone seem like a bargain. On the plus side, the N95 doesn't come with any strings attached. That means you can talk on AT&T's network one month, then take it in to get a T-Mobile account the next. You can also use it overseas on other GSM networks by renting a SIM card from local carriers.

So which to buy? Though both offer excellent features, the N95 is faster and gives you the freedom to roam. But some users might not think that freedom is worth an extra $300. Were it not for the phone's hefty price tag, Nokia just might give Apple a run for its money.  Top of page