Nokia N97 v20 Firmware: A Hands-On Experience

by EverythingBlaxx on October 2, 2009

Video courtesy of The Nokia Blog

I had the privilege of getting a hands-on with a Nokia N97 running v20.0.005 firmware yesterday evening so that I could provide our faithful readers a preview of what to expect when the update is released any day now and to answer more than a few questions that you’ve sent into me over the course of the last week. Now right off the bat, I’m going to set everyone’s expectations. This update is not going to turn your N97 into an N900, nor is it supposed to. If that is what you’re expecting, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. However, if you want this update to turn this phone into what everyone thought it should have been when it launched in June though, it’s got what you’re looking for. NOTE: Let this serve as a disclaimer that I will not be commenting on any third-party apps or widgets that have been added. All I will say is that yes, there are new apps and yes, there are new widgets. Sorry if this upsets you but access comes with conditions.

Let’s start from the beginning and talk about the new firmware at startup. The device wasn’t any faster booting up than my N97 running v12 firmware, however the splash screen has changed slightly (No, we haven’t gotten the “fist pound” splash screen from that early LL Cool J-inspired N97 commercial) but Nokia added their ‘Connecting People’ slogan underneath their logo when the phone boots up. The phone starts up with ~45MB of free RAM and while this sounds very underwhelming and there are many of you who will say that they get more free RAM on boot than that on v12, most of the memory improvements are displayed after a few minutes of active use. Where free RAM would previously dip into the low teens or even single digits on previous firmwares after opening a few apps, the N97 is much more stable with the new firmware and free RAM stays consistently in the 30-35MB range while you’re actively using it. In fact, I never saw RAM dip below 20MB free even with resource hungry apps like Gravity, Photos, Music Player and the web browser running. In regards to free space on the C: drive, there were improvements to the free space but they did not make the total size of the drive any larger so I expect to still have to worry about free space on that drive going forward.

When you get to the homescreen you will find that they haven’t changed too much, there’s no second page for widgets, they haven’t added more than 2 shortcut/favorite contacts widgets and they haven’t made any changes to the existing widgets. There are 2 small additions that I’d like to highlight though. The first is that when you press on the name of the profile currently in use (which is next to the clock and underneath the date), you will see a new option there called ‘Edit active profile’. It’s pretty self-explanatory and not a jaw-dropping feature by any means but when you remember that it takes AT LEAST 6 keypresses to edit the active profile currently, it’s a nice addition. To the delight of many of our readers, I’m pleased to announce that this latest firmware has added letters to the dialpad on the homescreen. Run and tell a friend!

The “longpress for symbol” function of the keyboard has already been revealed and it works as advertised, this will definitely help my one-handed productivity. Theme Effects remain exactly the same and there haven’t been any added transitions, this is reason enough to leave them turned off because, as I learned last night, they severely slow down the phone. A lot of people were asking me if the new firmware adds the Email client that can be found on the N86 8MP and E75, I can say that it does not at this time (remember that this is a very early version of the firmware) but Ovi Contacts is now installed after updating. While the version number is the same as the one you can download right now from Nokia Beta Labs, they have added a homescreen notification (similar to the envelope that appears in the top right of your screen when you receive a text message) that makes the app a lot more useful and pleasant to use. Remember that Call Log bug that has been bitched about by S60 users since….well forever. That has also been fixed so when you open up the Log, you will see the icon corresponding to the detail of the number that you called/called you. Symbianites rejoice!

As for the existing apps on the phone, I can tell you that the Web browser got a small update from v7.1.13841 -> v7.1.17475, I assume that this was just a stability update because I didn’t notice anything different. The Camera app remains unchanged, no face detection, automatic red-eye removal or panoramic mode. It doesn’t load any faster but images processing is slightly faster. I didn’t have a laptop with me during the hands on so I couldn’t test quality improvements if any. No, there is still no Internet Radio app to be found on the N97 after the update to the new firmware. The Facebook app saw a small update as well but can’t comment on any changes. Skype hasn’t been added either but even if you have been itching for your SIP fix, this might not be the end of the world to you. We’ve all seen that they added Album Art throughout the Music Player but something else that they did that is crucial is add the Artist names to the list view when you’re scrolling through Albums in your Music Library. After you select an Album, the name of the Artist and Album remains at the top of the screen while you scroll through songs. Similar to the demo we’ve seen of the Contacts app where the letter you’re currently at pops up in the middle of the screen as you’re scrolling through them, this is also the case with scrolling through Artists or Albums in the Music Player.

Speaking of scrolling, I guess the addition of kinetic scrolling throughout the UI was the main focal point of this firmware update isn’t it? Well you’re going to fall in love, they added kinetic scrolling EVERYWHERE. Don’t believe me? Quick, go into Messaging, open a New Message and click Options. This menu now has kinetic scrolling. Now scroll down and go to Font size and open the submenu. Yup, this menu has kinetic scrolling too. Who cares if there are only 4 items in the list and there’s nowhere to scroll, there’s kinetic scrolling there now. EVERYWHERE. The scrolling is very smooth throughout the UI, you can actually scroll from A to Z in Contacts with one flick, regardless of how many contacts you have saved. Throughout the hands-on experience, this was my favorite feature. It wasn’t without its bugs though, particularly in the Ovi Store which already had kinetic scrolling but now when you flick the screen, it selects the item you happened to touch when you initiated the flick. I’m sure this will be fixed before the firmware becomes public.

Let me get to some other questions that I was asked. Are there battery life improvements? No, not really. It’s about the same. Are there stability improvements? Other than the kinetic scrolling, this was the main aim of the firmware update and I can safely say that this update brings the N97 up to par with the E71 in terms of stability. It’s not quite there in terms of speed though, although it is much much faster than the v12 firmware. In terms of which bugs have been fixed specifically, I already mentioned the Call log bug, but in addition to that, I was told that the phone no longer freezes during phone calls and your custom ringtone no longer randomly switches back to ‘Nokia Tune’. Any improvements to GPS stability? We did a quick test to see if there was any difference in both time it takes to get a GPS lock and how well that lock is held. We launched the camera app on both devices at the same time with geotagging enabled from inside the coffee shop where the meeting took place (we were sitting next to the window if it matters to you). The v20 firmware was able to get a GPS lock faster than the v12 firmware (which after 3 minutes, never actually got a lock) but it lost it within a minute. Google Maps was getting a GPS lock instantly on v20 from inside the coffee house however. Take that however you wish. Latest version of QuickOffice included in the firmware? No, there is a small update to the Quickoffice suite that’s on the phone but it’s still v4.2 and you still can’t edit documents without a license. Is Ovi Maps updated to the new Beta version? No, it’s updated to the latest version of v3.0 though. Anything else new? Well if you sync your N97 with Exchange, you’ll find that if you use Categories for your Contacts in Outlook, those Categories will be added to your phone as Groups in the Contacts app. It’s not perfect however, as it works a little too well and grabs sub-categories and creates multiple groups. For example, if you have your business category sorted by Company, then you’ll end up with a separate group for each company called ‘Business, Company A’, Business, Company B’ and so on. However, if you sort them by even more parameters than that, that’s where it gets messy. You may end up with 10 groups for the same company with 1 contact in each group because of the way the sync works.

That’s not it but that’s about it for me. I know that there will be a lot of questions about the things I didn’t cover here but that’s what the Comments section below is for right? Since Mark at takes such awesome video, here’s another one

Video courtesy of The Nokia Blog

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  • Nick

    Wowww… N900 lack music equalizers? Thats just sad.

  • EverythingBlaxx

    Portrait mode will be available in 3rd party apps and in firmware updates before the end of 2009 according to Nokia. MMS will be added in the future as well. I don't find it that big of a drawback considering I don't use my N97 in portrait mode much at all. Honestly, I don't know what to expect from whatever Symbian Foundation has planned because they are playing their cards very close to the chest

  • EverythingBlaxx

    Let me ask a general question. How many of you use the EQ on the N97? And of those users, how many of you notice a real difference? IMHO, the equalizer on S60 phones is a joke and its effect is negligible.

  • colin97

    Hi I'm in Australia on the optus network and still only have software V11.0.021 with no updates listed apart from nokia messaging, ovi contacts + n gage games on my phone via applications. I have also Connected through pc suite and ran nokia software updater V1.7.3en but still no updates. Does anyone know when V12. will be avalible in Australia and do you need this update installed prior to V20. ? Model N97 Type RM-505

  • dansharpy

    Hi Blaxx, i use the EQ all the time! I have different settings for everything- headphones, in car, home stereo etc. I dont think it matters for standard headphones or if the recording quality is crap, but using good headphones/speakers and quality recording i find the difference is very noticeable! Although the built-in EQ settings are all crap! :)

  • Name

    Hey Colin…

    I'm in exactly the same boat. From what I've heard is that v12 will be bypassed as v20 is around the corner….this is a reasonable explanation and what i'm really hoping is the case! I tried calling Optus but got no explanation. Hope this helps mate.

  • dansharpy

    Oh and whilst we're on the subject of media and the N900 i noticed that it will support the .avi file type. Is there any way to get the N97 to play this video file type? I.e. another media player than the default maybe?? If so any recommendations?

  • Nick

    I disagree on EQ part. I use EQ, stereo widening etc on my N97 and it makes difference, especially the bass booster EQ. I love using one device that does a whole lot and Music is a big part of that.

  • Emil

    Well the reason you guys can't update is because your phones are branded. That's why I NEVER EVER buy branded phones. Explained very childishly it's like this: optus has to take the raw v12 or v20 update that any unbranded phone gets and redo it in an optusish v12 or v20 so the phone remains still branded. Best thing you can do is go to a nokia store or something and ask them to unlock or debrand the phone. There is a price but it is SO worth it.
    Cheers from Romania mate!

  • EverythingBlaxx

    When compared to anything from the Sony Ericsson Walkman line, the EQ on Nokia devices are useless.

  • VincePhotograhy

    when Nokia when?????????????
    been waiting to long to get this D*amn phone working well in some way….

  • Aardvark4Designdotcom

    how do you make nokia messaging display html tho?

  • huhuha

    me too… -.- this phone's gonna make me it frozes again..don't know why..maybe i have to do a hardreset??

    it could be the best phone of the world without this software bugs…

    so hopefully nokia will release the FW update soon..

  • EverythingBlaxx

    Well you already know that I recommend performing a hard reset. But not before reading my guide :D

  • huhuha

    just thought about that a minute ago :D … but this can't be a solution if I have to repeat this procedure twice a month, could it?
    Or how often do you a hardreset? if less it may be an option for me!?

  • VincePhotograhy

    I did hard reset, even used NSU to reload the firmware, ist still s*cks, even my 3year old 2G iPhone works better.

  • Gene

    Actually, after v12, I'm much closer to coming to grips with my N97. It's actually alot more stable than my N95-3 now – it used to crash randomly whenever I try streaming things out from the memory card.

    A couple of hints that helped me though:
    - Run the hack that changes BrowserNG's cache location to mass storage (please google N97 change browser cache location)
    - remove Facebook app and APIBridge
    - don't use Nokia Email
    After doing these few simple fixes, I haven't needed to pull the battery out or reset the phone due to wonkiness in days.
    The Facebook app seems to be the big culprit for me, as it uses that funky APIBridge module, which seems to hang once in a while, and I can't even kill it in Handy Taskman when it hangs. That's when I know things will go south.

    I've stopped using Nokia Email as I can't set the location of the mailboxes right now. They really need to fix that. I like some of the basic features on it, w/o resorting to Profimail.

    But I also see that for my phone, RAM leak mainly occurs when using Music Player over Bluetooth A2DP. So can't really isolate if it's the BT stack, the audio driver, or Music Player itself. But that combo really kills RAM.

    Figured out a funny way to recover RAM as well – Close all apps, open BrowserNG, then open a huge web page ( and Flickr full website are my favorite) that forces Symbian to close up processes and clear the RAM. After I close BrowserNG, I found that I have a little more (~5-7MB) free RAM than before opening it up.

    Hope that helps holding you guys over until V20. That firmware can't come soon enough.

  • huhuha

    thanks for that hint about the browser cache :)

    with nokia email (not nokia messaging, which is now available on software update) i hadn't any problems…

    i will try this things out! thanks a lot:)

  • yitwave

    I was at Nokia Care yesterday (to get the GPS fixed, which apparently will take 3 days) and enquired about the V20 firmware for the N97. Apparently, the original unbranded english version has been completed and distributed for localization. The localized versions however are not yet available.

    It completely makes sense for Nokia to launch the V20 firmware for the whole world (and all the different localizations) at the same time, and there's no real benefit to have this available before the Mini officially becomes available.

    I'm afraid it would probably be closer to the end of the month and a few weeks later for the branded phones.

  • CC

    omg i went to the nokia care centre and i asked about the camera lens issue and gps they couldn't even bother!! they were like”oh this is how its built” …..Where did u go to get urs fixed?

  • yitwave

    My camera glass isn't scratched so they're not willing to fix that (obviously because there really isn't a proven problem) but they're checking on the GPS and apparently they will have it fixed by replacing the “main board” of the phone.

    Obviously, if your GPS is fine (some are) then there's nothing to fix, but my N97 hardly locks at all, so i'm sure there's a problem.

    Tell them your problem and if it warrants a fix i'm sure you'd get it fixed.

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  • inspectagadgets

    Also, if you get a missed call or text the call and call end (red and green buttons at the bottom of the phone) light up when the phone is on standby.

  • inspectagadgets

    Also, if you get a missed call or text the call and call end (red and green buttons at the bottom of the phone) light up when the phone is on standby.

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  • hard disk recovery

    To enhance phone memory I used external memory card,

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