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28th October 2006
Nokia N73 camera phone review
by Ian Burley
3039: Nokia N73 camera phone review

We've tested one of the more affordable of Nokia's new three megapixel Nseries camera phones, the N73

Prices: (retail estimates - no contract discount) UK: £300, US: $495, Europe: €450
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Featuring a CarlZeiss lens, the Nokia N73 is one of the latest batch of premium Nokia Nseries camera smartphones, or as Nokia marketing people like to say, 'multimedia computers', originally launched last year. Back then they all featured G3/UMTS wireless broadband capability and a two megapixel camera, with video calling, plus various model-specific targeted enhancements, like motion video recording, iPod-like digital music player features, etc.

This year's Nseries models, like the N73, now feature 3.2 megapixel cameras, a much-improved web browser and some models, though not the N73, include WiFi wireless networking capability. Next year's N95 has already been pre-announced and that will add another string to its bow in the form of an integrated GPS satellite tracking receiver. The N73's most obvious competitor camera phone is the Sony Ericsson K800i.

Of this year's Nseries range the N73 is more widely targeted and affordable G3/UMTS-capable phone than some. Although it's constructed to a higher than average standard it doesn't quite have that tank-like feel of the N80 or metallic precision of the N93, and it doesn't have their WiFi capability, either. But it does have the same 3.2 megapixel camera resolution, with the added bonuses of autofocus and a Carl-Zeiss branded lens that the N80 can't boast. It also has a larger screen. Another feature is its tiny pair of integrated stereo speakers, though wired headphones are included in the box and these enable the integrated FM radio tuner. Bluetooth, of course, is standard for wireless headsets and printing.

As you’d expect with such compact camera modules, the fixed focal length lens is tiny, but it does autofocus.
As you’d expect with such compact camera modules, the fixed focal length lens is tiny, but it does autofocus.

Autofocus
This review concentrates on the photographic capabilities of the N73. Carl Zeiss optics on an Nseries phone usually denote that the camera section has autofocus and this is the case with the N73. The N80, for example, makes do with manual 'normal' and close focus settings. The lens is protected both by a glass plate and a sliding plastic cover, which doubles as the on/off switch.

Image quality Downloadable N73 image samples here
As you will find with our downloadable samples, the N73 has plenty of image sharpness to offer, though in difficult lighting we did find that pictures could look a little washed out, partly because of a tendency to over-expose. Although you can compensate using the exposure bias option, the tiny camera's limited dynamic range will mean you will often have to trade dark shadows with preserved highlights or vice-versa. But as camera phones go, the N73 is clearly above average and printed image quality at 6x4 inches (15x10cm) is hard to distinguish from dedicated point and shoot digital cameras.

In the MPEG-4 video clip mode, you only get a recording rate of 15 frames per second, which doesn't deliver particularly smooth playback. Sound quality is reasonably good and we didn’t notice any AF obtrusive chatter in normal use.

One frustration was the time it took to switch to camera mode, sometimes resulting in the photographic moment of opportunity being missed because it takes several seconds for the camera software to come to life. Again, this is a common problem with camera phones, but the N73 isn't a breakthrough in that department. Switching between still and movie camera mode is a lethargic process too.

Memory cards
It's a good idea to invest in a good sized MicroSD card as the camera's modest internal memory soon fills up. Luckily you can get 1GB MicroSD cards for under £20 (US$35 or EUR€30) now. Less inspiring is the very delicate looking memory card door that is perched on an extending plastic retainer that looks like it might snap in the slightest breeze. It is stronger than it looks, but unpleasant to prize open and out at the best of times.

Applications
Being a Nokia Series 60 platform phone, running the Symbian OS, there is good third party applications support and a decent set of bundled applications. The same excellent 'minimap' Web browser first seen on the N80 and N93 is featured on the N73. This gives the most desktop-computer like of browsing experiences, complete with a small 'mouse' cursor and a 'map' view for windowing around a large Web page. For finding and viewing your photos and movie clips, there is a very slick animated gallery application. It's also possible to use your images to form the basis of a subtly animated screen saver or desktop background that fades in and out from one image to another. Nokia's PC Suite of software tools for connecting your computer to the phone and synchronising notes, calendar items and contacts, etc. is very effective. It also makes connecting your laptop to the internet via GPRS or G3 very easy.

Sound quality and battery life
On the phone side, the N73 performed impeccably, with excellent sound quality, both in terms of ring tones and voice quality when listening to a caller. Of particular note is the exceptional battery life. One battery charge lasted over a week with moderate use of the phone for calling and shooting stills and movies. Compare this to one or two days for the N90 or 3-5 days with the N80 under similar loads.

CONCLUSIONS and RATINGS


DPNow rating system explained..

Performance

– Images are sharp and relatively noise-free and colours are good in sunny blue sky conditions. Exposure can be fooled in not so ideal conditions, resulting in washed-out images. Video is only recorded at 15fps. Call audio is very good.

DPNow rated: Good


DPNow rated: Good

Ease of Use

– Anyone familiar with a Series 60 Nokia phone will soon be at home with the N73. It's quite easy to pick up even if you aren't already familiar.

DPNow rated: Excellent


DPNow rated: Excellent

Features

– G3 phones are still considered a premium, so the N73 stands out in this respect, as does the 3.MP Carl Zeiss kudos of the N73, but some might miss a protected or sliding keypad, an even thinner design and the slow video frame rate is disappointing.

DPNow rated: Good


DPNow rated: Good

Build quality

– The Nokia N73 is delightfully presented and well made, but I felt the Nokia N80 was even better.

DPNow rated: Good


DPNow rated: Good

Value for money

– Although the N73 is by no means a cheap phone, especially if you have to pay the full price for a SIM-free one, it is competitively priced for its features and is great value in a network contract bundle.

DPNow rated: Excellent


DPNow rated: Excellent

Things we liked about the Nokia N73:
  • Image sharpness
  • Image quality under good lighting conditions
  • Lens has autofocus
  • Great styling and finish
  • A good set of applications software
  • Excellent battery life
  • Superb 'minimap' web browser


  • Things we weren't so keen on:
  • Flat, sometimes overexposed images under difficult lighting conditions
  • Slow activation of camera
  • Movie clips recorded at 15fps only


  • The bottom line: The Nokia N73 is undoubtedly a very desirable and up-to-date mobile phone with a built in camera. Considering its specification, the N73 is relatively good value and available free in the UK under contract with the better known networks. There is still room for improvement in the camera department to make it cope better with less than perfect lighting conditions, but overall I'd certainly be happy to own and use an N73 and so I'm pleased to give it the stamp of approval via the DPNow Editor's Choice award.

    Overall ratings

    - At DPNow we don't much rate stars and percentages because they mean one thing to one reviewer and something else to another - this is why we use our own rating system above, but as the industry demands such devices, we reluctantly provide them, based on our concept of the product's target market, the competition and how we got on with the product while testing it.

    DPNow rated: 87%


    87percent

    DPNow rated: 4.5 stars (out of 5)


    4.5/5 stars

    DPNow is pleased to award the Nokia N73 an Editor's Choice award





     
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