It’s no doubt that clam-shell handsets are ‘what’s hot’ at the moment – nearly everyone has one, and if they don’t have one, then they definitely want one! The next best thing to the regular clam-shells has got to be super-thin clam-shells. One only has to look at the success of the Motorola V3 RAZR, released early this year to see that. The NEC N412i is one of NEC’s newest mobile phones, which stands at the thinnest on the market, at 11.9mm total – 1mm thinner than the V3.
The NEC N412i is exclusive to Telstra here in Australia on the i-mode service. In other countries the N412i is also known as the L1: but they are almost exactly the same phones with some minor differences.
The N412i has features that keep up with the current trends and won’t leave the user behind in the bustling technological world. There’s a 1.3mpx digital camera for starters, Bluetooth, infrared, MMS, 26MB internal memory, external mini-LCD, and MP3 player.
The thin profile of the N412i is also another great feature of the handset. As handsets have become smaller, at some times they have become almost unusable by most; however the N412i is not ridiculously thin, and is still very usable and around the same width and length as your regular clam-shell. At only 94grams it’s also very light and will fit snugly into any pocket of your clothes or bag.
The N412i has a 1.3mpx digital camera which is capable of 1280 x 1024 pixel resolution images. This is a great change from the other super-thin mobile on the market (the Motorola V3) which only has a VGA camera. The 1.3mpx digital camera shoots images good enough to print and frame in the lounge room! It is also capable of video recording. A 5x zoom is also offered with the N412i, so be sure to checkout the Camera Performance page for more information!
The N412i only has a 65k colour display, which was a bit of a disappointment given the camera quality on the handset. The display measures the usual Smartphone resolution at 176 x 220 pixels. There is an addition mini-LCD on the front of the handset, which displays incoming caller ID, the time and date, and other icon-based indicators in monochrome.
There is no external memory support on the N412i, but there is 26MB of shared internal memory available to be used for whatever you wish. With USB, Bluetooth, and infrared connectivity transferring files to your home computer or laptop is a breeze and will easily free up some memory.
Physical aspects & Build quality
The N412i looks just like any regular clam-shell from the front; but flip it to the side and it’s a totally different story! Being one of the smallest clam-shell handsets with a camera that we’ve ever seen, the N412i has made some changes in terms of its physical aspects.
Just a little note: I keep saying how thin the N412i is, and before I had even seen the handset for the first time I was told how amazingly thin it is. It’s very hard to imagine exactly how thin it is, it’s not until you get it into your hands do you realise what it’s actually like! Next time you’re near your local mobile phone shop, see if you can grab a hold of the tester model; you’ll be amazed! Either that or whip out a ruler and measure 11.9mm!
The first big change that you will notice is when you take it out of the box and look for the battery… it’s not there! That’s because the battery of the N412i isn’t removable, it’s internally placed. This, for one, reduces the thickness of the handset but also keeps the back of the N412i smooth and it therefore looks very sleek.
The next change is the SIM card slot. Almost every phone has a SIM card slot underneath the battery – then what happens when the battery isn’t removable anymore? Well NEC has incorporated a very subtle SIM card slot on the right hand side of the handset, which resembles a memory card slot. Just flick the plastic section off (it’s attached to the handset and cannot be fully removed) and slide the SIM card in. If the SIM card is removed when the phone is off the phone simply will not allow you to do anything, it locks up.
The top face of the N412i is mainly a charcoal black colour, except for the lower section under the NEC logo, where the material is reflective – it’s a mirror! In the centre of this ‘mirror’ is the small monochrome LCD display. Below this in the centre is a small LED light, which is capable of several different colours: for example, it will display static red when connected to a charger. The top centre of the N412i houses the 1.3mpx digital camera.
The back of the N412i is silver with device information about the handset in the lower portion.
When open, a small section of the top of the N412i (mainly the camera lens) fits on top of a gap in the bottom section of the handset. This allows the camera to be unblocked when in use, but also has a bad side effect – the shadow it casts in particular lighting situations (see Problems and Issues for more on that).
Because of how thin the N412i actually is, it feels very strong in hand and has been built very well. The hinge is very strong and locks into place when both open and shut. The N412i weighs in at 94 grams and the final measurements are 102mm x 47.5mm x 11.9mm; so although thin, it is not unusually small in the other dimensions.
User Interface & display
The N412i uses a 65,536 colour TFT LCD display inside and a monochrome display on the outside. It was a bit disappointing not to see a 262,144 colour display, especially considering the 1.3mpx digital camera – these two would have gone hand in hand!
I found the user interface of the NEC N412i to be quite boring – it wasn’t all that visually exciting. Even though there were several colour themes to choose from, they didn’t really have any effect on the overall feel of the handset. Take a look at the example shots attached to the review and make your own decisions about it though.
The user interface is very easy to use, however. The main menu is a 9 icon display, with text labels at the bottom. The interface also uses a number system as seen on many different phones (especially LG handsets) which allows you to push the menu button and then a corresponding sequence of numbers to quickly access the feature you want. For example, pressing the menu key and then ‘1’ would open the settings menu. You can of course go much deeper with the key presses and each option on the display has a number next to it to show you which one is which function.
The N412i’s mini-display can display a digital clock or the vital information about the handset – that is, reception, battery life, and so forth. I found it really cool that when you close the handset, a little message scrolls from right to left across the display – it would have been even better if you could define this to your own personal message though…
The quality of the display was quite good and being TFT, it was very good in bright sunlight. The resolution (176 x 220 pixels) is perfect for the size of the N412i.
Making and receiving calls
There are only two ways to take your calls on the N412i – with a Bluetooth audio device, or by holding the phone to your ear and using the ear piece. There are no speakerphone capabilities on the N412i for calls, although you can play MP3’s and audio through the loudspeaker! This was a major let down.
There are dedicated volume keys on the left hand side of the N412i for changing volume during a call, and with the mini-LCD you can find out who’s calling without even opening the handset and decide then and there weather to pick up or not! The phonebook on the N412i is multi-entry (up to 500 contacts, not including those stored on the SIM card) and even supports photos, which can only be displayed on the internal LCD.
When a call comes through and no Bluetooth headset is connected, you can simply open the handset to accept the call. Inside the N412i there are hang up and pick up buttons which can be used if you activate the correct setting, which disables opening the flip to accept a call. MP3 and polyphonic ring tones are offered on the N412i, both of which are available on WAP sites including Telstra’s i-mode service.
The N412i offers SMS, MMS, and e-mail messaging all with T9 predictive text. The buttons on the N412i are quite tactile given the thickness (or should it be thinness!) of the handset, but I did have some problems when typing messages, because of the depth of the keys.
The messaging window is accessed from the icon in the centre of the top row of the main menu, and contains everything you need to access messages and create new ones. There are several folders in the messaging window, such as inbox, drafts, sent messages and two personal folders. On the bottom of the N412i’s display there is a small section which displays, when hovering over a folder how many messages (total) and how many new messages are in that folder.
The integrated camera on the N412i is perfect for capturing MMS quality video and still images to send off to friends and family. As always, MMS messages can be sent to both mobile numbers (04xxxxxxxx) and e-mail addresses. You can also include text and audio with your MMS messages.
The N412i manages to incorporate Bluetooth and USB connectivity into its super-thin design. There’s a USB data-cable and all the software you’ll need to get setup in the sales package, but for Bluetooth connectivity you’ll need a compatible accessory or other device, or USB dongle for PC connections.
The USB 2.0 protocol is used on the N412i to ensure quick file transfers to and from the handset. The NEC software suite is fully featured with synchronization, file transfer and more. You can transfer your pictures, music, and other files to and from the handset with the easy-to-use software as soon as the handset is connected.
Bluetooth functionality can connect with PC’s and laptops, audio headsets, and other compatible devices. You can send files directly from the handset to another device using Bluetooth. Configuring the Bluetooth connections is very easy and accessed from the settings menu in the top left hand corner of the main menu.
The official times for the standard battery at full charge are 140 hours of standby time, and 140 minutes of talk time. The N412i uses an internally placed, non-removable lithium ion battery at 600 mAh.
I found that the battery on the N412i was very reliable and did get quite close to these estimates, but the only problem I had were the lack of low battery life indications. I like to know when the battery life is getting close to dying so I can get to a charger as soon as possible, but I only ever heard one or two before the handset just died. If you try and turn the handset on when it only has a little bit of battery life it will not turn on and simply display a message “Low battery – powering down”.