Mobile media isn’t just the future — it’s the present, big time. Recent research from the Pew Internet and American Life project shows that mobile devices (especially cell phones) are already the can’t-do-without-it media tool of choice for many US demographics, especially among Hispanics and Latin Americans. (Read more analysis of this research, and what it can mean for community media at the Knight New Media Center.)

Mobile is becoming a key channel for all kinds of content and communication — so it should be a key focus for anyone providing news and information to almost any community.

So why am I (a fairly geeky media person) so far behind the wave of mobile technology?

I hate talking on the phone. That’s why, after all these years, I still use a cheap, pre-paid, bare-bones cell phone. But I adore mobile technology. I’m fascinated by the growth, the penetration, the flexibility, and the diversity of what’s possible these days with handheld devices that work on wifi or cell networks.

So I’m holding out — impatiently, now — for mobile technology and service to catch up with what I really need: a pro quality all-in-one mobile blogging/reporting tool. And I almost had it. It was literally in my hands, then it slipped away…

I want a mobile device that can take great photos, video, and audio; geocode/tag all my content with real GPS data, work with a high-speed network, connect and sync easily with my laptop, and not be a total pain for real writing. (I detest both thumb keyboards and the iPhone touch keyboard for anything more than a few words at a time.) Something I could use for covering live events well without having to lug around a laptop or carry multiple devices.

What would this tool look like? In addition to phone service, text messaging, and web browsing, here’s my list of must-haves:

  • Compatible with a Bluetooth keyboard
  • 3-G network compatible
  • 5 megapixel camera minimum
  • Saves photos, audio, and video directly in standard compression formats (jpeg, MP3, MP4, etc.)
  • Real GPS
  • Not the Windows mobile OS
  • Good battery life
  • A local retail vendor so that I can get immediate repair or replacement if needed.

Until a few days ago, I thought I had it all. I bought the Nokia N95-3 via — and proceeded to fall in love.

This sweet, small, versatile, high-quality device has been available for a couple of years in Europe. Only recently it became available in the US.

Last November, while in Barcelona, a UK friend introduced me to the N95’s delights. I got to play with hers, and immediately saw that this was the tool I’d been waiting for.

This gem is not easy to find in the real world. So far it’s only sold from Nokia’s two US flagship stores (in New York and Chicago), and at a few Best Buy locations. I live in Colorado, so currently my only option was to purchase my N95 online.

I spent three days learning the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of the N95. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, but it was great fun. The interface is complex, and getting some services configured was not straightforward. But I persevered, and made it through all these bumps. I knew was ready — and finally equipped — to do the kind of moblogging I’ve longed to do.

The US version of the N95 comes with a free service called Share on Ovi (formerly Twango), which several N95 users told me is excellent for multimedia blogging on the go. Unfortunately, the phone Amazon sold me came with firmware that was very outdated — about a year old. In order to use this service, I had to update the firmware.

So I went through Nokia’s firmware update process (which annoyingly, is Windows-only, but I was willing to deal with that to keep my precious N95 ready for adventure). It appeared to proceed and complete without a hitch.

After the upgrade, I tried to restart my N95 — but couldn’t. The Nokia logo flicked inanely on and off. The firmware update turned my phone into a brick.

I was heartbroken. It was like seeing a loved one suffer a stroke.

I called Nokia, and learned that the only way to get my phone fixed or replaced was to ship it to them and wait 10-14 business days for it to be returned. And since I didn’t buy it from Nokia, they wouldn’t guarantee that they’d fix or replace it for free. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking over at Amazon, which only allows refunds on cell phones within 30 days of purchase.

I struggled with the decision. I wanted to give Nokia a chance, but I didn’t trust that they wouldn’t ultimately leave me stuck with a brick, a bill, and no time to get my nearly $600 back from Amazon. And looking ahead, I knew that if I came to depend on the N95 the way I hoped to, and if it bricked out again, I couldn’t be without it for weeks, shipping it back and forth to wherever Nokia dictates.

So with heavy heart, I gave up — for now. I canceled my cell contract, packed up the phone and accessories, and shipped it all back to Amazon for a refund. I just couldn’t deal with that poor level of service from NokiaUSA. I knew I would just keep getting my heart broken.

So I’m back in mobile waiting mode. I’m hoping that either the next generation iPhone will offer more features I need, or that Nokia or carriers that support the N95 will wise up and start selling this phone locally and offering local service and replacement.

It was a painful learning experience. But I am encouraged that devices like the N95 exist. I see how useful they can be to bloggers, journalists, and anyone covering a community or events. But with mobile technology, the terms and quality of service is as important as the hardware.