N95 Report: Why I had to give up

NOTE: I posted the article below about 10 minutes too soon. After completing the Nokia firmware upgrade as instructed, using their software on a Windows laptop, my lovely N95 morphed into an expensive brick. It won’t start.

It’s surprising how upset I am about this. I’ve held off for years on getting a serious cell phone because I don’t really want or need a phone, I need a moblogging tool. I hate talking on the phone, it’s a low priority for me.

Last Sunday, when I decided to take the plunge and get the N95, I was so excited. And believe me, right now I really needed something positive to be excited about. I’ve been vastly overworked and very stressed.

I really WANT to be moblogging. I’m so ready for it. I’ve been wanting to do it for ages. But the tools weren’t where I needed them to be. They still aren’t. I can’t be bothered with carrying 3 or 4 different pieces of gear and lugging a laptop about. I was willing to pay top dollar for a serious integrated moblogging tool.

Yeah, I know the iPhone 3G *might* be coming out soon. But no word whether it would have a Bluetooth keyboard option, and I really really really really hate iPhone’s touchscreen keyboard.

And, yeah, I know the Nokia N96 *might* be coming out soon too — but after this experience I’d only want to go with a Nokia again if I could get it from a local retail store where I could exchange it fast if it bricks out again. Right now, their only store are in NYC and Chicago.

I’m not ashamed to tell you this experienced has reduced me to tears on this lovely spring day…

I got so close, everything was working right, I just needed the firmware upgrade to support the Share on Ovi software that’s supposed to be so cool for moblogging… and then, a brick, and an unhelpful Nokia rep saying to send it back and maybe they’ll fix it for free. Seriously, they wouldn’t guarantee that they’d fix it for free.


So I’m leaving my original post up for the historical record, in case it helps other people get past bumps on their Nokia N95. But at this point, I’d say beware of those firmware upgrades. If you get an N95, before you put time into using it, upgrade the firmware FIRST. If it survives that, then proceed.
…And now that my energy is so drained, I have to put more time and energy into returning the phone and associated gear, canceling the Bluetooth headset I ordered this morning, shipping everything back to Amazon, and canceling my phone contract.

This sucks. I think I’m going to take a wine break before dealing with the techno-funeral arrangements.



I’ve had my Nokia N95, my first real moblogging tool, for a few days now. It’s a very sweet tool, although I’ve hit several bumps getting it set up and learning to use it.

Here are the bumps I hit and how I’ve dealt with them, in case anyone else hits them too.

  • GPS didn’t work at first. Turns out that the first time you get a GPS position on the phone you need to be connected to a data network. I don’t know why. After I got my data plan, I was able to get a fix easily.
  • iSync didn’t work immediately. I don’t know why, but I had to reinstall iSync a couple of times, and remove and add the phone as a bluetooth device a couple of times, before it worked. But since then, syncing has worked fine.
  • Bluetooth keyboard software installation. I got Nokia’s SU-8W wireless keyboard, since I’m really going to need to type on this thing and I detest the iPhone touchscreen keyboard. The software for the Nokia keyboard came on a memory card too large for the slot on the phone. So I had to download that software separately. When I installed it, I was puzzled not to find it in “Applications,” but it was in the “Office” folder. No worries.
  • Software updates. As a Mac user, this is my major complaint with the N95 so far. My phone came with very outdated firmware, and Nokia’s software update application is Windows only. Although I have an Intel-based Macbook Pro and I could install Windows, I don’t have Windows install discs and I don’t want to install it anyway. Fortunately, Tom Vilot has an old Windows laptop. I installed the updater software on that. We were stumped when the application wouldn’t see my phone, but eventually Tom figured out that the phone needs to be set to USB mode before the software will see it. It’s upgrading right now, we’ll see how that goes.
  • Not much choice in providers yet. In the US, our dinosaur cell carriers are protecting their turf. So far, only T-Mobile and AT&T are supporting unlocked phones. So I ended up going with AT&T — the same provider I would have gone with had I gotten an iPhone. However, unlike the iPhone, the N95 is 3G compatible — which makes the difference for me, since coverage for AT&T’s regular network is crappy at my house. But with the 3G plan, my voice calls come through fine. (I got the unlimited data plan, of course.)

Here’s the good stuff:

  • Sound quality on the phone is surprisingly good.
  • The 5 megapixel still/video camera is easy to use, great quality images, lots of functions and even allows some in-camera editing of videos
  • The wireless keyboard is simple and easy to use, and makes navigating easier.
  • The voice recorder works easily and is good quality
  • Multimedia messaging is a breeze and a lot of fun
  • The Symbian mobile OS seems pretty stable and supports third-party applications. I’ve installed the OperaMini browser and really like that.

So, I won’t pretend I haven’t experienced frustration at some points with this new tool. I was expecting that, though. And I think that now I’ve gotten most of the major hardware/software bumps out of the way, and now I can focus on learning how to use it more for moblogging. Stay tuned…

16 thoughts on N95 Report: Why I had to give up

  1. Having been part of this experience, I have to emphasize two things:

    – The firmware upgrade ran exactly as it was supposed to. The software finished the upgrade process, and exited with a message of success.

    – That Nokia said they “might” repair it for free is absolutely unacceptable and ensures that I will simply NEVER buy a product from Nokia. We ran their software, updated their firmware on their phone exactly as instructed. They turned the phone into a brick. Not us.

    It would be one thing if we’d disconnected the phone in mid-update. That didn’t happen.

  2. This is what drives me crazy about the mobile arena right now. First, why are you stuck with having to update firmware? A brand-new gadget should already have it or know how to update itself.

    Second, why is it that they can’t make these things to do what we expect them to do. It’s not like mobile tech hasn’t been around for awhile after all. So what’s the big frickin’ deal? We want a decent camera, decent video, decent throughput, a decent keyboard and browser, along with the phone. It’s not rocket science, but the carrier requirements combined with software not staying ahead of hardware makes consumers hate these things.

    Hang in there, maybe someone will get it right. Sometime. For now I’m sticking with my Blackberry and sacrificing video (mine doesn’t have it).

  3. Amy I have been eagerly reading your blog each day to see how you liked the N95. So sorry it did not turn out as hoped. Hopefully they will get it straigtened out. Hope the sun shines today !

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  5. Full disclosure – I have no affiliations with Nokia whatsoever.

    I’ve owned, and used, and over-used, and loved, my N95 since June of last year. If the iPhone had been available in the UK, back then, I would probably have bought one. As it is, a colleague at work had an N95, and raved about it, so I went with that, with T-Mobile. Within about three weeks, four other people in the Dev team at work had bought one. To the best of my knowledge, none of them has had the heartbreak that you’ve just been through – I, for one, haven’t.

    Something that we learned is that, while Nokia writes the firmware, it is up to the individual carrier to decide when to release that firmware for the phones on their network. I’m on T-Mobile (because of its awesome data plan, in the UK, and data is what I primarily use my N95 for). So are most of my colleagues, except for one, who is on 3. T-Mobile is on v12.0.013 (and has been for months) – 3 moved to version 13.something months ago. Which is teh annoying, because v13 introduced Skype as part of the firmware (instead of using an additional application on the N95, like Fring, to provide Skype).

    But that’s not the whole picture, either, because I can track the firmware releases from Nokia Software Update News – which tells me that v21.0.016, with “Flash Lite 3 support (enabling users to watch Flash video web sites such as YouTube) and Widget support… (t)he release also includes standby-time improvements and improvements to Bluetooth headset interoperability” was released on 26 March 2008. Which would be great… except I’m, still, stuck at v12.0.013

    Every day I check to see whether the update has been released for my carrier, by accessing this page, and submitting my phone’s product code – and when (or if) the result shows a new release available, then I do the firmware upgrade, *having backed up my entire phone to SD card, and PC, first*. Which doesn’t sound like it would have helped, in your case, Amy – but in my case, at least my data would be safe, and could be restored on a new phone.

    In the UK, most High Streets contain little *but* mobile phone shops – if mine went brick-like, I can walk into any T-Mobile store, and walk out with a fresh N95, in minutes (because my warranty and insurance plan includes that option). I am shocked, and saddened, that you don’t have that choice in the (I thought) technologically-superior US. I’ve used the N95 extensively – we’ve talked about it, quite a lot – and I think I have an understanding of what it is that you wished to do with it.

    And the N95 is more than up to the task.

    But not the specific brick that you have, obviously.

    I guess my point is… you may have been supplied a dud. Frustrating, upsetting and not what you wanted. I, personally, am gutted that you have had such a demoralising experience. But I’m even more saddened at the thought that, if you *hadn’t* been supplied a dud, that you would probably, by now, be moblogging up a storm.

    So, I have to ask – is it really worth “cutting off your nose, to spite your face” by not at least *trying* to get the brick replaced with a fresh one, upgrading the firmware (if necessary) before trying anything else, and seeing for yourself if the N95 is all you need? Think of the niggles you have had with Leopard on your new MacBook Pro – did you throw your hands up in defeat when Spotlight wouldn’t reindex, or Adium logs weren’t getting saved, or iCal events weren’t getting synced, or…?

    I felt for your frustration, yesterday, Amy – really, I did. What I *hope*, though, is that having slept on it, you might think about one more shot at this. Just think about it, that’s all.

    Maybe Nokia *is* a crap option in the US – I wouldn’t know, and can’t comment – but I *can* comment, from nine months of solid usage, that the N95 absolutely *rocks*.

    But not if it’s a brick.

  6. Amy,

    So sorry to hear this! Mine just arrived, but my plan is to use as a camera only and got a data plan only. So far, no bricks .. but it has made me feel incredibly stupid so far — so different from my other cell phone.

  7. Thanks, all, for your notes. I spent the night at my mountain cabin last night, which calmed me down quite a bit.

    Koan, thanks especially for your thoughtful post. It was exactly the issues you raised that brought me to tears of frustration yesterday after my N95 got bricked. You know me, I don’t give up easily, especially when I really, really wanted something.

    And I really, really wanted my N95. I only had a couple of days to start learning and configuring it, but in that time I started to fall in love with it. It did everything I wanted. Yes, I had bumps getting it up and running. I expected that. but they weren’t anything I could overcome.

    The dealbreaker for me was that Nokia would not guarantee to fix or replace the phone for free, when it was their firmware upgrade process that bricked it. Why should I have any question that I might be stuck with a bill for this fiasco?

    Plus, I have only 15 days to return the keyboard and get a refund, and 30 days to return the phone to Amazon for a refund, and 30 days to cancel my 2-year contract with AT&T.

    If I sent the phone to Nokia, who knows how long they’d have it (10-14 business days, I was told, and I never believe any estimate of turnaround time for repairs). It was possible I could end up not getting it back in time to return it to amazon for a refund. And if similar problems recurred, I’d be stuck not being able to get a refund for the keyboard.

    They don’t sell the N95 in stores here. I wish the US was as savvy about serving mobile customers as Europe appears to be. But since I don’t live in Chicago or NY (the only US Nokia stores currently) I can’t walk in and get it replaced on the spot.

    So I’ve decided, reluctantly, to go back into waiting mode for mobile tech. I’ve gotten along so far with only a crappy pre-paid cell phone, and I can hang in there a while longer. I’ve learned a lot through this experience. Eventually I will get what I want. I can be surprisingly patient.

    I’m so glad your N95 works for you, Koan. I’m envious.

    And Beth Kanter, I hope you don’t suffer the same fate I did. (If you have any doubts, upgrade your firmware first and see if it survives before you come to depend on this device or even get very attached to it.)

    One thing is clear: Nokia lost out here. Had I not been beset by these tech nightmares and their poor customer service, I could have ended up being one of their most powerful evangelists. My goal here is to find a first-class moblogging tool that also would be useful to real journalists — and I know a LOT of journalists.

    Nokia, you really screwed up this one.

    – Amy Gahran

  8. Koan wrote:

    > Think of the niggles you have had with Leopard on
    > your new MacBook Pro – did you throw your hands
    > up in defeat when Spotlight wouldn’t reindex, or
    > Adium logs weren’t getting saved, or iCal events
    > weren’t getting synced, or…?

    That’s really not a valid analogy.

    It would be more valid if Amy had a Tiger laptop and then ran the upgrade to Leopard only to discover not only would the machine not boot, but the firmware was so screwed up that she would have to send it to Apple.

    AND if Apple said “well, maybe we can fix it for free.”

    I was disheartened to see Amy go through this. I’m frustrated with mobile technology, too. That’s why I keep it simple — but I don’t have the same needs / desires that Amy has.

  9. > That’s really not a valid analogy.

    Not once Amy had outlined the commercial basis (i.e. cold, hard cash) that really cemented the need to return the brick, cancel the contract, and return the accessories.

    Thing is, though, Tom, that Amy didn’t explain that until *after* my comment. Up until that point, the analogy seemed rather more valid. To me, at least. YMMV.

  10. Koan, yes, your analogy was totally valid to me absent the financial circumstances. Were I not facing deadlines to get this resolved fast or lose a big chunk of money, I probably would have given Nokia a shot at repairing or replacing this device.

    – Amy

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  13. Oh, man! Someone else who doesn’t have a cell phone! We’re an endangered species. I feel like I’ve encountered a longlost cousin.

    I could offer my standard rant on the detrimental effect of cell phones upon our culture but I’ve done that to death. I’ll just comment on the general obliviousness and obnoxiousness of cell phone users. It might only be 50% of users but it is LOUD 50%.

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