Nokia N97 is a new touch-screen web tablet that sports a full QWERTY keyboard, a 5-megapixel digital camera (that can also record video) and an FM Transmitter (more on this later). And yes, you can use the device for making or receiving phone calls as well.

nokia n97 touch screen

I have been using the N97 for about a week now and there are lot of interesting features on the software side that are worth appreciating.

First it’s the personalized home screen. If you use iGoogle or Netvibes, you can immediately connect with the home screen of N97. They have these tiny blocks called widgets (Google uses the term Gadgets but they essentially the same stuff) that can be placed anywhere on the screen and the content of these individual widgets can be changed further.

You can add RSS feeds, your email inbox, Facebook updates, shortcuts to most frequently used applications or even links to your favorite web pages on the N97 desktop. Here’s a snapshot:

n97 personalized screen

Because the N97 has a large 3.5" screen, you can view most web pages in their original design without much scrolling. The text remains readable in regular view but you can tap anywhere on a web page to zoom-in around that area. Tap again to switch back to the previous zoom level.

For reading busy web pages that contain too much content, you can use the mini map view of your Nokia web browser. It creates an image representation of the full web page and you can quickly jump to the section, that you want to read, by simply tapping that area.

nokia web browser

And like most Nokia smartphones, N97 comes with Flash Lite so you can enjoy streaming Flash videos from YouTube or any of the popular video sharing sites on the phone.

Setting up email – both Google Apps for Gmail & Nokia’s Ovi – was a breeze though the N97 phone did freeze for a couple of minutes while it was downloading the first batch of unread emails via POP3/IMAP. The email program can handle most common Office attachments (including PDFs) but you need to buy a license for Adobe PDF Reader.

A unique feature in the email application of N97 is the text-to-speech reader that can narrate out loud both SMS text messages and email messages.

email message reader

Nokia N97 has a camera on either sides so you can shoot self-portraits while looking at the main screen itself. The device comes preloaded with Qik (and it’s free) so you can stream live video over the web by simply hitting the capture button. I tried live-streaming for a couple of minutes this morning and it was just a fantastic experience.

You hit the Qik button your screen and this activates the video camera on the phone. Now press "Share" and you’re live on the web. While streaming, the phone screen will also display the number of viewers who are currently watching your video on the Internet. Once you are done with the streaming, this recorded video clip gets saved on your mobile phone and a copy is uploaded to the Qik site as well.

qik live streaming on nokia

The N97 includes a very-handy "search as you type" feature which is like an mix of Google Desktop Search and Windows Vista’s Start menu.

You can type in a few characters and it will show a list of all installed applications, bookmarks, web browser’s history, photos, email messages, etc. that match your search terms. And the search results are a bit intelligent as they seem to give more priority to items that you use more frequently.

Or you can hit the green button on the device for an extended period of time and it will activate voice commands and you can speak the name of the application that you want to use (e.g. say "camera" to activate the camera). The device could recognize my accent and voice even in slightly noisy situations.

nokia desktop search

Other than RSS web feeds, Nokia N97 includes a podcasting applications for subscribing to both audio and video podcasts. The phone has 32 GB internal memory so there’s plenty of space to store all the episodes but the downside is that you can’t import your existing iTunes subscriptions (OPMPL) into N97 in one go. There’s an option to search podcasts on the web but I didn’t find that any useful either.

All N97 phones come pre-loaded with WaveSecure – it’s an anti-theft software that will automatically lock the same in case someone inserts another SIM inside the phone. Alternatively, you can log into the Wave Secure website and wipe out the data from your stolen phone permanently.

Another feature that you may enjoy about the phone is the built-in FM transmitter. You can play MP3 music on the phone and hear audio on any of the FM radios in your home or inside the car – there’s little need to burn CDs for your car anymore.

N97 includes custom applications for Facebook, AP news, Maps and Bloomberg but you can download more from the Ovi Store.  My personal favorite is the handwriting app that lets you sketch and paint on the screen using fingers (or a stylus if you have one). Here are some more screenshot images of the N97 interface.

NDTV on phone  CNBC TV18

The Indian edition of Nokia’s Ovi Store will be providing free applications from India Today, Rediff Money, NDTV and CNBC. You can also read popular Indian newspapers like The Indian Express or Dainik Jagran on the N97 through the Newshunt app. None of these are live yet but should be available when the phone hits the retail shelves in India.