The N78 tears me in two. On the one hand, it does everything. It’s packed from the bottom of its shiny black chassis to the top of its gorgeous screen with features like HSDPA, FM Transmitter, GPS and a really solid 3.2 megapixel camera. It even looks the goods – the shiny black is as fingerprint-worthy as the iPhone in every sense.
But when it comes to actually came to using the N78 – well, in a nutshell I hated it. The controls felt more awkward than my high school formal – the three raised ridges that replaced the traditional numeric buttons were like pressing against the back of a knife, which may suit some people, but did nothing for me.
The buttons themselves were fairly responsive, although there were several times the cancel button took an age to actually take me back to the home screen. And the select button, stuck inside a smaller-than-usual 4-way navigation button – almost always scrolled down one place in a list before selecting. I don’t have the fattest thumbs on earth either – I ended up countering this (seriously) by navigating to the option above the one I wanted before trying to select it.
Looking past the control issues, the N78 is actually a really impressive handset – it’s loaded with pretty much everything you need. Battery life is decent, even with Wi-Fi on, and the GPS chip lets you not only navigate using Nokia Maps, but also geotags your photos. As standard with Nokia Maps, voice navigation is an optional extra, which isn’t really worth the cash.
The lonely looking button to the right of the D-pad is the multimedia shortcut button, which worked quite well. Sound quality from the N78 is on par with an iPod, although the system for synchronising music isn’t up to the same standard as iTunes. In fact, because I use a Mac, I was forced to go and manually search for an iSync plugin to get my information onto the phone. This wasn’t very well explained in any of the documentation that accompanied the phone either, mind you.
The FM transmitter worked, although like most FM transmitter’s I’ve used, is still frequently subjected to interference. The GPS didn’t take too long to connect to the satellites, but it wasn’t the fastest I’ve used either.
On the whole, I did enjoy using the N78 – there’s a blend of simplicity and functionality in Nokia phones that’s hard not to like. But those controls were terrible – I’ve decided that phones either need proper keys or a touchscreen, not some in between sort-of solution that feels awkward.