Nokia Announces N97 Superphone, Won’t Sell It for Months

nokia_n97_white_15c_lowresMore than two years after Apple (s AAPL) launched the iPhone, and months after its rivals launched their versions of touchscreen phones, Nokia (s NOK) today started selling a touchscreen phone (5800 XpressMusic) and announced the N97 superphone, which has a touch screen and a keyboard and will be made available sometime in the second quarter of 2009. Maybe. Despite the collective oohs and aahs that can be found on the Internet, however, it would take a lot more for Nokia to beat its competitors, especially Apple and its iPhone. You can buy the Xpress device, which was first announced in October, for $314 unsubsidized, though in India and Russia the prices are higher. As for the 5800 Xpress, a friend of mine recently brought one to the U.S. and after I played around with it for an hour, my response was meh! The touch was OK, just like it’s OK on any other device, but it’s not as responsive as the iPhone. So no, it’s not an iPhone killer, not by any means.

nokia_n97_group_05_lowres The N97 however, seems, like a worthy competitor — in an Aston Martin vs. Infiniti sort of a way, at least. I am withholding further judgment until I’ve had some time to play around with it.

The N97 is a Symbian S60 touchscreen device with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, a 5-megapixel camera and 32 GB of on-board memory (the Prada II has similar touch-with-a-QWERTY keyboard approach); it also features an upgraded version of Nokia Maps LG. You can bump up the memory by adding a 16 GB microSD card. It features a large 3.5″ touch display with 640 X 480 resolution. And yes, it will be sold in the U.S., where it’s going to cost $650; it will go on sale in June 2009 (specifically June 29, 2009, according to the company). One of its more attractive features is this concept of “social location.”

With integrated A-GPS sensors and an electronic compass, the Nokia N97 mobile computer intuitively understands where it is. The Nokia N97 makes it easy to update social networks automatically with real-time information, giving approved friends the ability to update their ‘status’ and share their ‘social location’ as well as related pictures or videos.

They are taking a cue from other phone makers, like INQ Mobile, which have already released their version of Facebook phones and are finding early success with them. (Scoble has a hands on review of the phone from a social perspective.) From the looks of it, this is an impressive entry. My frustration with Nokia phones is that they are either underpowered or are hampered by the S60 OS, which is not very reliable and makes the phones crash all the time. (Well, more than my iPhone and less than Windows Mobile.) (Related post: Symbian, iPhone and the New Mobile Reality.)

The very fact that Nokia is only now getting out touchscreen phones shows that as a company it is stuck in bureaucratic quicksand, with a culture of consensus that makes it difficult to respond to new challenges. Nokia — and I have been following them for a while — has become one of those companies that, much like Microsoft, is good with announcements, not so great with the follow-up.

There is word that Nokia has a whole arsenal of touchscreen phones coming in the latter half of 2009. Let’s hope they can get their mojo back and start coming out with great devices — especially ones that will make me go back to using Nokia devices on a daily basis. Until then Apple and its iPhone has the pole position all to itself.