ike the other big phone builders, Nokia (opens in new tab) is using the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to show off its 2008 handsets. We were given a briefing by John Barry of Nokia´s Devices division.
With the arrival of Apple's iPhone (opens in new tab) last year, we expected Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Motorola (et al) to be wheeling out slick touchscreen smartphones left, right and centre. It hasn't happened, at least not yet. Instead Nokia has given its popular N95 an upgrade to produce the new N96.
The N96 is a beast, or "the big mama" as John Barry calls it. Like the N95, the N82 and the N81 before it, it's designed as a multimedia device first and a mobile phone second.
"When we were working on the replacement for the N95, wthere was a lot of consumer feedback. Over 75 per cent were interested in video playback," says Barry. "They really liked the 8GB version [of the N95] and wanted the content more easily available. Currently you can have a 8GB expansion card. The expectation is that we'll have 16GB by Christmas."
Hands on, the N96 doesn't seem like a huge leap ahead of the old N95, especially the 8GB version. But the video playback is certainly impressive and the N96 embraces both Windows Media and Flash video.
A new kickstand flips out from the bezel around the N96's 5MP camera, but it's at a rather shallow angle - we don't think it will be used that often. Even the 16GB of RAM hasn't caused any real waves. Nokia probably thought that it was going to set a new yardstick for mobile memory. But Apple recent 16GB iPhone has beaten it to the punch.
The new N78 from Nokia is actually more interesting than the N96. It's a remarkably thin model, especially when you consider its incredible feature set, which includes A-GPS, a 3.2 megapixel camera (with 20x digital zoom), Wi-Fi and HSDPA.
Both the N78 and N96 have a media key that: "connects you to your content. Music maps, internet - things like YouTube and BBC are pre-configured. This phone really shines with music," says John Barry.
Crucially the N78 also boasts an FM transmitter. And it's easy to operate - all you have to do is select the frequency and turn it on.
One flaw of the N78 is that it doesn't boast the same quota of media keys as the other N-Series mobile phones. As the N73-replacment, the N78 isn't a slider, so there's less space for extra keys. The upshot of this is that it seems pretty hard to control music - since you have to renavigate menus when you need to pause or stop the music.
Yet, the N78 is our favourite of Nokia's new phones. The N96 is obviously the headline-grabber, while the N78 is aimed squarely at the 'cheap mobile phones' category. But the trim N78 is proof-positive that even low-end phone models are becoming considerably smarter.