You might have noticed a certain touchscreen war brewing among the likes of Apple, Nokia, Samsung and so on, but hopefully you've noticed that many phones still have buttons too.
Because of this we decided to compare two non-touchscreen phones to see what's also available. We chose two entertainment behemoths from the top two mobile phone manufacturers in the world: The Samsung i8510 and the Nokia N96.
The first thing to realise is both of these run on the Symbian 9.3, with the most recent S60 interface. This means interaction with the Samsung is startlingly similar to the experience most of us will have had in our Nokia handset-owning times (should you have owned/used one before, of course), although both seem to use it in slightly different ways.
The i8510's optical mouse, which appears on a fair few Samsung handsets these days, is a question of taste... some will love the fact you can navigate on your handset like a trackpad on a laptop and some will loathe it, as it can be a mite too sensitive at times, which means you accidentally select the wrong option on a menu. However, you can alter the sensitivity of the device, which helps the problem somewhat.
Both devices have poor themes and skins out of the box for these handsets, although Nokia seems to have made its initial theme look ever so slightly more appealing.
These days a mobile phone, especially a powerful one, has to have a decent internet experience for the power user. Given that both these phones use Symbian, they have exactly the same browser. However, although Nokia's intuition is clearly there, having often had one of the best browsers around, Samsung's optical mouse is a joy to use around the net, making it by far the better experience.
However, there is one thing that will irritate the bejesus out of the i8510 user... the fact that if you don't click squarely on a link, which is easy to do with the sensitive optical mouse, then the screen's zoom will be activated, making everything 125 per cent... which is very annoying.
Entertainment - Video
This is the category where both phones really stretched their legs and got into gear, and we're happy to say that neither disappointed.
The i8510's video seemed to be slicker at running than the Nokia N96... whether that's due to the fact it has 8GB internal memory compared to the 16GB N96, we don't know. But once up and running the Nokia's video was probably the better of the two, prompting you to start from the beginning or where you stopped watching when loading up a vid, which was really nice, and the kickstand on the back made more difference to the experience than we thought possible.
The basic thing people have to remember with video on a mobile phone screen is that it's not really designed for long video watching in the same way as an Archos PMP might be, and that's certainly the case with both these phones.
However, the N96's ability to both view and download videos from the iPlayer makes it a real winner in this category, as popping on an episode of Top Gear for the train journey is very easy and the perfect length and medium for such a trip.
Also, the dedicated media keys on both ends of the phone, although a little excessive, were a very nice touch from Nokia, although those present from Samsung were more than adequate.
The Samsung handset can also handle more media types, including DivX and Xvid, so if you're into preloading movies you'll probably enjoy this feature.
However, watching videos when a text comes through means losing about five seconds of audio... sort this out Nokia!
Entertainment - Music
Given that most mobile phones carry both digital music players and speakers these days, it's hard to say anything very special about these music players.
Nokia's external speakers were louder and crisper, but having experienced the sounds of rubbish drum 'n' bass from a chav sitting next to me on the tube before, that's hardly a plus point.
If anything, they should make these speakers worse to put the scoundrels off. (Scoundrels is an under-used word.)
Nokia's visualisations were probably the prettier of the two if we're being really picky and trying to find fault, but of course we would never do such a thing...
Again, given the similarity in specs, it's hard to choose between the two handsets here. Both have aGPS, accelerometers, inbuilt memory, a memory card slot, 3.5mm headphone jacks... the list goes on.
Nokia's N96 does have an inbuilt mobile TV tuner, but that's about as useful as a dead badger given that this country doesn't support the DVB-H signal yet.
The screen auto-rotate was slicker in the N96, although it was a little too sensitive, which might be why it was disabled out of the box.
The mapping function was slightly better on the N96 as well, using Nokia Maps rather than Google's efforts on the Samsung.
Nokia Maps is more powerful than Google, although it can be slower to run, though the integration of GPS is slightly faster and more accurate than the Samsung i8510.
Some of you may have noticed that the two phones pack different internal memories, with the Nokia handset holding double that of the Samsung. We really don't feel this makes any difference in the real world, as it will take some time to fill an 8GB hard drive with movies, pics and music... and even if you do, you can easily get a 16GB memory card to expand things.
However, Nokia has got this trumped by including an 8GB card in the box... expanding things even further should you ever be worried about memory size.
Chances are you'll have heard about the 8MP snapper on the i8510, and have been waiting for this category. Well, worry no more, because it is SUPERB.
Some of the shots taken for this site were done on the handset, without any discernible loss of quality. The video camera is good too, though the Nokia version is comparable, but without the fun slow-motion mode.
Seriously, if you like having a digital camera on your phone and are thinking of upgrading soon, then this is the handset to have in this category.
We've already touched on the excellent BBC iPlayer being a masterstroke for the Nokia N96, but beyond that there's not a lot more in the box. Nokia Maps is obviously there, but it doesn't have the inbuilt Google Mail and Maps of its Samsung counterpart.
The i8510, however, manages to cram a hoard of treasure into the handset at the start, including Fring, Shozu, GyPSii, Route 66 and many more. It might not seem that important, but being able to pick up and play with the phone in such a way makes a real difference out of the box, and helps show off capabilities of the handset that you might not have known were there before.
Both phones look and feel nice and chunky, with glossy black plastic rounding things off pleasantly.
Of the two, the N96 felt the more comfortable to hold, and the i8510 was probably the more awkward to remove from the pocket when the phone was ringing, although neither handset is in any way ugly.
The i8510 leans fairly heavily towards the looks of the Nokia N95 8GB, which was probably a little too chunky for most; while the N96 has soft rounded edges that make it look just that little bit more sleek.
As you can probably guess, the two handsets are pretty well matched blow for blow. Some of you might be wondering why we compared the i8510 to the N96 rather than the N95 8GB, but the truth is the i8510 is just much closer in specs and feel to the N96.
Overall, we'd be very happy to have either of these as our day-to-day phones, but we did find ourselves leaning towards the Nokia N96 for a few reasons:
- The video player was slightly more pleasant to use with the kickstand
- BBC iPlayer, which will probably be available for the i8510 in the near future, was a real plus for getting bite-sized programming
- The interface was more intuitive
- The N96 looked a bit nicer
But, these are the reasons we liked the i8510:
- The camera is top notch
- The internet was made much easier to use with the optical mouse
- It felt sturdy and strong in the hand
Both of these phones are likely to be available free on a fair few contracts soon, so it really comes down to what you prefer in a handset when choosing which way to upgrade.