The N78 may not be the priciest example in Nokia's N-series of 'multimedia computers', but this Symbian S60-powered smartphone manages to cram in a serious amount of functionality, including a 3.2 megapixel camera, quality music player and GPS sat-nav technology, all in a compact case that is a serious looker.
That case probably owes part of its minimalist look to the success of LG's Chocolate series with its hidden touch-sensitive buttons. But while the N78 features a plain black surround to its part-hidden keypad which lights up when pressed, it isn't touch sensitive.
You actually have to press the plastic case inwards at the sides to access some genuine buttons underneath. This does have a more reassuringly tactile response than many touch-sensitive varieties, though pressing the call end and cancel buttons on the far right of the handset (if you're right-handed) can be a bit uncomfortable.
It's thinner and lighter than its immediate predecessor, the N73, and the 16m colour screen is an improvement on the older phone's 262,000-colour display, while the numeric keypad is also radically different, comprised of four raised plastic strips running beneath the illuminated numbers.
This looks lovely and fits in very neatly with the phone's minimalist aesthetic, but it takes a bit of getting used to in practice, and isn't ideal for extended texting.
The square D-pad conceals a secret that only becomes apparent in use.
It doubles as a touch-sensitive 'Navi-wheel', and running your thumb around the outside acts like the scroll wheel on an iPod, sending the cursor flying around the menus. It's a subtly brilliant piece of engineering that enhances your use of the phone without getting in the way.
Just to the right of the D-pad is a dedicated applications button (the traditional Symbian apps button is also on the keypad) which allows you to flick through the phone's features using a carousel interface that's very like the iPod Touch's one for viewing album covers. Very nice, in other words.
But while the front of the phone is very classy, the back reveals it as the entry-level model in the N-series range by feeling cheap and wobbly – it creaks when you press it, undermining the phone's high build standard elsewhere.
Speedy web browsing
Much of the N78's appeal is focused on the internet. It's 3G of course (plus quad-band GSM) and includes a 3.6Mbps HSDPA connection.
If you need to do some serious downloading there's also built-in Wi-Fi for full broadband access.
The browser is a joy to use on the large screen, allowing you to switch between landscape and portrait views. There's a zoom option and you can flick through previously viewed pages with ease.
Nokia's competent camera
The 3.2 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss lens may be a few pixels short of the 5 megapixel model found on the higher-specced N95 and otherwise similar N82, but it produces some more than decent snaps.
It's quick to get into via a long press on the side-mounted shutter button and includes the N-series' standard raft of shooting and editing options, including timer, burst mode, brightness settings and an onscreen grid designed to help you to compose your pictures.
After you've taken your pic, you can add effects or text, as well as crop or rotate them as well as reduce red eye.
The built-in A-GPS transmitter can be used as a traditional sat-nav device, plotting routes using the well-integrated Nokia Maps feature (including a library of world maps with street and landmark details on a supplied 2GB microSD memory card).
Voice navigation is available for an additional upgrade fee, though Nokia promises to provide the first three months free of charge.
It also automatically adds location metadata to any pictures taken with the camera – very useful if you can't remember where you were when you took them, and for uploading direct to the web to share sites like Flickr, YouTube or Nokia's own Share On Ovi online sharing service.
Music player goodies
The N-series music player is one of the best currently available on mobile phones and is really only bettered by the iPhone and Sony Ericsson's Walkman range.
Even so, it's got a few extra tricks up its sleeve since as well as its FM radio receiver, it also has an FM transmitter so you can do an iTrip and send your music through your car radio.
There's also an internet radio function, offering access to hundreds of additional radio stations around the world. This soon racks up the data charges though, so it's best to use this with a Wi-Fi to broadband connection.
The supplied headphones are better than many out of the box numbers but there's a 3.5mm mini jack plug so you can add your own if you feel the need. The loudspeaker is also better than average with twin speakers placed on either side and at either end of the phone for an improved stereo image.
Incidentally, that memory card also comes with ten super-cool summer tracks including Matthew Corbett, Sarah Howells and the James Taylor Quartet.
Stacked with features
Elsewhere there's a PDF viewer and QuickOffice for viewing Microsoft Office docs (though you'll need to pay for the full Office suite if you want to create them yourself). As a Symbian phone there are also plenty more third party apps you can add.
Battery life isn't stunning but it's decent enough and we easily got three days of moderate use out of it, though heavy browsing reduced this dramatically.
With its above-average camera, high quality music player, sat-nav and maps combined with a fast, fun-to-use browser, the N78 packs a lot into a great looking and extremely pocketable package.
Ease of use: 8
Call quality: 10