Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
- Extremely thin and light form factor, Crisp internal screen, Convenient external screen, Good call quality
- Issues with build quality, Poorly designed keypad layout, Frustrating user interface, Only 26MB of internal memory, Useless handle adds unnecessary bulk, Battery not removable, No hands-free speakerphone
The N412i is an admirable effort by NEC to provide an extremely thin and stylish mobile handset, but it sacrifices too many features to do so.
Price$ 679.00 (AUD)
The NEC N412i is a fine piece of industrial design, being the world's thinnest mobile phone handset at the time of its release. Unfortunately, despite its sleek looks, it doesn't come up to scratch in many other areas and is let down by an extremely frustrating user interface.
The N412i really is a marvel to cup in your hand. Flipped open, it's razor-thin - even slimmer than the famous and extremely popular Motorola Razr V3.. We didn't like, nor see a logical reason for, the large handle which sticks out at the top of the phone - until we delved into the users guide. This "handle" is actually the phones antenna, but regardless, it adds unnecessary bulk to the unit and is quite ugly. We also have issues with the build quality - the flip mechanism feels flimsy and moves from side to side while the phone is flipped closed. It feels like it could break at any time which isn't something you'd want to experience when purchasing a new handset.
The N412i includes an external screen when the phone is closed, which displays the time, date and other phone information such as caller ID and new messages. For some unknown reason, the screen is actually a small screen within a large one - the surrounding space is a mirror like surface that could have been utlised as a larger external display. To be fair, this would have been quite large for an external screen, but the wasted space does seem unusual. If it's a mirror, it's a very poor one, and if its not, then we found it nothing more than a surface which attracts unwanted fingerprint smudges and marks. The internal screen however was largely impressive and was visible even in direct sunlight. Bright and clear, the only complaint we have is with the colours - 262k would have been preferable to the somewhat outdated 65k display that NEC has used.
Because of the extremely slim design, the N412i does not contain a removable battery at the rear of the phone. Instead, the battery is built into the phone and can only be removed by a specialist NEC service centre. This sounds fine in theory, but it could be quite expensive when the time comes to replace the battery. It does however allow the handset to be so thin, so NEC has sacrificed a standard feature to allow for a rare design. The SIM card interestingly sits into the side of the phone, the slot of which is covered by a small door which flips open and it manages to blend into the design of the unit well.
Unfortunately, the N412i is let down by a frustrating and difficult to grasp user interface, together with a confusing control layout and a small and cramped keypad. There's a 4-way navigational pad, with each direction button corresponding to a particular phone function, two selection buttons (which also correspond to other options), a Menu and Phonebook key and finally, Answer Call, Clear and End Call keys. This is confusing and quite difficult to grasp without delving into the instruction manual. The N412i is the first phone we've reviewed that required us to read the manual substantially to be able to operate it successfully. There are just too many buttons and too many icons in the interface for it to be deemed user-friendly. In saying this, the standard menu is fairly simple, without being too visually exciting.
The complex interface system and poor build quality also affects text messaging on the N412i. The keypad is very small and the keys don't feel solid at all. The entire control layout seems like a very thin piece of plastic stuck onto the metal backing, as the buttons aren't raised and are merely plastic cutouts. The keys also require a fairly stern press to activate, as some of our presses didn't register on the phone.
The N412i also includes a 1.3 mega pixel digital camera. The quality is below average for a camera phone, although it is good enough for a quick photo should you wish to use it regularly. It does however possess a wide variety of settings which include multiple shooting environments, Sepia, Monochrome and Negative image effects, a self-timer and adjustable shutter sounds. Our main issue with the camera was its peculiar lens placement on the handset itself. It sits on an angle and is boxed between the large handle on top of the phone, hindering light. The camera would have been better served at the rear of the device, away from handle. Unfortunately with only 26MB of internal memory and no expansion options, you won't be taking too many photos on the handset.
The N412i also features standard SMS, MMS and email messaging, i-Mode access (specifically to Telstra users only), Bluetooth and USB connectivity, PictBridge wireless printing, GPRS and WAP 2.0. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of the N412i is the lack of a hands-free speakerphone. The thin design may be one of the factors which has excluded this from the handset, but it can't be excused. It's a feature which is usually present on even the most basic of models.
Battery life on the N412i is substantially below average rated at just 140 hours of standby and talk time. The figures were close to this mark during our testing, but our main concern was with the battery life indicator on the phone. There isn't much time between when receiving a low battery warning and the battery turning itself off. Once again, this may have something to do with the size and design of the phone but it is still unacceptable.
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