It's very clever indeed but its size and weight will be a big turn-off for some
3-megapixel AF camera with real zoom
No typewriter-style keyboard
Why you can trust TechRadar We spend hours testing every product or service we review, so you can be sure you’re buying the best. Find out more about how we test.
When some companies say they have a vision of the future, you can't help but raise your eye with suspicion. But when the manufacturer in question is Nokia, you would be foolish not to take notice.
The new dream is that people will use their mobile phones as camcorders. And we don't just mean the low-resolution clips and YouTube funnies that most of us can already shoot with their phones. No, they mean taking videos that pass muster when viewed on your plasma widescreen TV in your living room.
Today travellers around the world are more likely to take their holiday photographs of the Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty using their mobile phones than a standalone camera. Tomorrow, movies of family birthdays and school plays will be taken with a phone, rather than a standalone camcorder.
It is not a new idea, of course. Nokia itself has already produced mobiles that are designed to be proficient movie makers. But the N93i sets a new standard for such a multi-tasking device.
Essentially, this is simply an update of last year's N93. The major refit sees a number of changes to the design and specification, but the most significant is the drop in size and weight. It is significantly slimmer - and it has lost 17g in weight. The irony, however, is that this is still a huge phone compared to most mobiles; it tips the scales at a weighty 163g.
Some of the bulk can be excused. This is a Symbian S60 smartphone, fully customisable to your precise requirements. It is a fully-fledged third-generation phone, able to hook into all the latest online services. And it offers a secondary broadband link via Wi-Fi - a feature that ties in well with its video star status, as it allows you to upload your videos to a blog without the need to pay high-priced cellular data charges.
However, its proportions are accentuated by the existence of the Nokia N95. This weighs a much more manageable 120g, and does practically everything the N93i does, and more. The N95 offers the same high-standard video shooting and even offers higher resolution stills. And it has a built-in GPS antenna to provide onboard Sat Nav services.
The one big factor in the N93i's favour is its lens. This is not your usual fixed focal length affair, where the only way in which to increase image size is to either get closer to the subject, or to electronically enlarge it. No, this cameraphone, unlike practically any other has a built-in optical zoom.
This has a 3x zoom - complete with autofocus - which can enlarge the image without any picture degradation. This is great for high-resolution stills pictures, which use all of the available pixels. And then there is a 20x digital zoom, which is more useful to moviemakers (where fewer pixels are used). And this massive zoom range can actually be put to good use - thanks to a built-in anti-shake mechanism that keeps such high magnification shots wobble free.
This phone twists and turns like a Transformer, allowing you to use it in four different modes. There is the predictable flip-phone arrangement, where the main screen and numberpad are revealed by opening up the phone. And when folded up, you can still see what is going on using a low-resolution exterior screen, which cunningly remains hidden from view behind a semi-silvered surface when it is not actually needed.
However, owing to a clever piece of mechanical engineering, the screen can also be rotated through 270° along a different axis - creating a device that looks and handles like a camcorder. The screen can be twisted to the exact angle for your artistic camera shots, and a button and a lever at the end of the lens act as the record and zoom controls.
A joystick below allows you to adjust settings, while further buttons allow you to switch quickly from video to stills mode, or change the flash setting. Everything is to your fingers, although it is all too easy to accidentally place your fingers over the flash.
The fourth permutation sees the screen fold up laptop-style, so that it provides a landscape-shaped image ideal for reviewing your clips and pictures, or for watching online material, mobile TV or other downloaded video. Unfortunately, there is no Qwerty keyboard to make the most of it (although you could add this via an optional Bluetooth accessory), and the numberpad controls are not quite in the right place for easy use.
If you are buying this as a camcorder, you will be pleased to hear that it performs this task very well. It records at a full 30 frames per second, and at a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels.
In the era of high definition television, this is not staggering. But it is more than enough to give a presentable picture on your computer or TV screen. Nokia even throws in an AV lead, which connects from the standard PopPort connector to the phono sockets of your TV. The MPEG4 footage looks surprisingly good on your living room box and is backed up with stereo sound. Don't expect it to rival the far-superior quality of a £300 Mini DV camcorder, but it is miles better than anything you'd get from a normal cameraphone.
Shooting video even at this resolution eats up memory. But so as not to make a mockery out of its video-making pretensions, the N93i is supplied with a 1 gigabyte MiniSD card, which can store up to 42 minutes of video footage.
The phone also comes bundled with a copy of Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0, the highly popular video editing software program. Also the phone comes set up with Nokia's Vox application - which enables to get your videos onto the net and your blog, for the rest of us to see. With Nokia's LifeBlog utility (plus an easy Flickr link) this makes the phone ideal for those who want to the world to see what they see, wherever they happen to be.
The stills camera offers resolution of up to 3 megapixels pixels - not the 5 megapixels of the N95. But this does not mean the pictures are inferior. Not only do you have the distinct advantage of the optical zoom, but the basic image is also superior.
This is essentially because, unlike with the N95, the pictures are not over-sharpened. They are left slightly soft, in fact, allowing you to tweak them later yourself depending on how you want them. Colour accuracy is very good, and just the right amount of saturation is provided.
The autofocus system works reasonably quickly, and the 16-million-colour screen (another improvement over the N93) lets you see clearly when it has failed to hit the right distance. There is a special close-up mode, but we found you get better results without this, instead using the optical part of the zoom's range to get the best magnification from the AF's minimum focusing distance.
The rest of the phone is par for the course, for the ever-growing Nseries range of Nokia smartphones. But this does not mean that its other abilities should be taken for granted.
Even without a typewriter keyboard, this is a rather good mobile web browser, for instance, providing effortless high-speed link-ups to a 3G network or through a Wi-Fi hotspot.
The music player is also better than average. The poorly positioned speakerphone means that you are advised to use the headset. Do so and the audio quality is very pleasing, and there are equaliser adjustments to get just the timbre that you ears prefer. Music is found with the minimum of fuss, and the joystick on the side of the phone can be used to pause and shuffle through tracks without having to have the screen open. And there's an onboard FM radio to play around with too...
You don't get a full suite of office applications out of the box, although you do get a full range of document readera to handle the obvious sort of email attachments you might expect. But, of course, if you actually want to write or edit Word and Excel files on the hoof you can simply upload the right bit of software for the Symbian operating system.
The trouble is, of course, is that you can get most, or all of these features in a much smaller shell. You can talk up the advantage of the optical zoom, and the camcorder functionality.
The N93i does have an excellent set of multimedia and imaging features. And yes it does take nice pictures and tasty videos. But when it comes to the crunch, may mobile users will look at the size first and the capabilities second.
Tech.co.uk was the former name of TechRadar.com. Its staff were at the forefront of the digital publishing revolution, and spearheaded the move to bring consumer technology journalism to its natural home – online. Many of the current TechRadar staff started life a Tech.co.uk staff writer, covering everything from the emerging smartphone market to the evolving market of personal computers. Think of it as the building blocks of the TechRadar you love today.