Nokia N96 16GB smartphone
Heavyweight upgrade packs in a hefty multimedia punch
Review As the muscular successor to the N95, it’s no surprise that the N96 packs in a flagship set of high-end features.
It's beefed-up spec list pushes up the on-board storage capacity to 16GB and adds Micro SDHC expansion to a formidable spread of functionality that includes Wi-Fi and HSDPA high-speed connectivity, A-GPS satnav technology, a five-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics, and a top-line set of Symbian S60 smartphone applications.
Nokia's N96: substantial
Although it has ratcheted up the feature count from the already well-endowed N95, the N96 has more heavyweight phone competition than the original N95 had when launched. With the likes of the eight-megapixel Samsung i8510 and LG Renoir, plus the iPhone 3G, it’s got its work cut out to be a first-choice top-ender.
Sadly, one feature that differentiates it in some other markets – a DVB-H digital TV receiver – is redundant in the UK, as there are no commercial DVB-H broadcasts now or on the horizon. Instead, the N96 is one of the first N-series devices to arrive with BBC iPlayer pre-loaded.
With a 2.8in, 240 x 320, 16m-colour display dominating the front, the N96 is well set up for a decent video viewing experience.
Packing its meaty gadgetry in a two-way slider design that follows the N95’s template, the N96 is a substantial handset. It’s got a marginally broader footprint than its predecessor, measuring a chunky 103 x 55 x 18-20mm, but is a fraction lighter, at 125g. This reflects the lighter plastic used on the bodywork, which is more like the glossy black plastic look and feel of the N81 than the N95 8GB. The shiny front panel attracts finger smudges, and there’s a slightly creakier feel to the buttons.
Not a helpful review.
I got lumbered with one of these recently.
Poor battery life.
Unstable - lost count of how many times I had to remove the battery!
Too big and heavy.
Screen and lens way too vulnerable for my taste.
EVERY time I used it to access a given wi-fi it asked for the wi-fi system password??? (even Windoze can handle THAT automatically!)
Lock/unlock for no good reason whenever it feels like it.
I'm not a regular Nokia user, though I have used and liked the ones I've used previously.
I gave it to a friend who is a Nokia fan - they were horrified.
It seems to me, and them, that Nokia have abandoned a reasonably user-friendly interface and replaced it with a Geekoid nightmare. Attempting to use this phone you get the distinct impression you are fighting the system!
A phone is a phone is a phone. It probably doesn't need all the gimmicks and gizmos - which other manufacturers do rather better - but if you must have an 'all singing, all dancing' multimedia gadget that also happens to make phone calls, look elsewhere.
Oh, and, did I mention? The battery life is crap.
@ JS Greenwood...
N85 long-term review of N85 is coming up in installments on AllAboutSymbian.
amen to that. the e71 rocks!!!
A real review...
...from someone who's had one for a couple of months, and had an N95 previously, along with iPhones, etc...
- Screen is big and clear
- 16GB + SDHC gives it great storage potential
- The stand is quite neat for watching videos
- 3.5mm headphone socket is a blessing
- Speakers really quite good
- Streaming media support (Internet Radio) quite nice
- Made fairly solidly, and does look the part
- Good array of software built in, and the library of stuff available for S60 is great
- The pulsing keypad background when you've got a new message waiting is a nice touch
- The media buttons on the front face of the handset are a useful touch.
- The new keypad lock is a mixed blessing - it's a nice feature, but you can't help but feel it's a little compromised. It's a bit hard to catch it in time when you close the keypad before it automatically locks. So you sometimes unlock it rather than locking it. It's just a bit fiddly, and the stiff spring doesn't help. I'd be more tempted to have a 2-position switch to avoid this. But it's better to have it than not do. Menu-* no longer works for locking the keypad. :(
- The included headset is reasonable, and the mini charger is as lovely as ever (if a little fragile). The extra Nokia charger-converter is a welcome extra as with previous N-series phones, too.
- Data transfer over USB is nice and quick, and the mass-storage mode fully appreciated.
- The battery life is still poor; it still needs a recharge every night, realistically. It certainly won't do two full days of reasonable usage. It does last till the evenings with a couple of notches rather than the last notch of the N95 with moderate texting and Internet browsing, at least. That is with bluetooth, 3G, and WiFi all disabled, though, relying solely on GPRS.
- The slide mechanism has become looser after 2 months usage. Not worryingly so, but its chances of surviving an 18 month contract of typical usage in a good state would be one I wouldn't bet on.
- The keyboard is noticeably harder to text on, and the "slits" between the keys are prone to attracting dirt over time. The central d-pad is gradually becoming noisier, too.
- Nokia has changed from the standard small USB connector on the bottom to an even narrower one - standard cables from all other devices now won't work.
- You can't charge it over a USB link, which means 2x cables while doing heavy PC-connected work (using it as a modem)/etc.
- The media playback of DIVXs is shocking - all that storage and drag-and-drop of desktop file formats still isn't an option
- It crashes. A LOT. Without any 3rd party software and being used as a "phone" it's not too bad - probably 1 random reset a day. But with any kind of 3rd party push-email service, it's every hour or two. Even Opera Mini which has been rock-solid on every other phone I've had it on crashes it consistently. The built in browser has become equally bad. It appears to be a bug in the network connectivity stack or similar.
- When it locks-up, it's really bad. A lot of the lock-ups need a battery-out reset. Only the back cover is a little trickier for those without nails to remove than most previous Nokias. And it does feel like it won't take too many remove/replace cycles. Why can't they add a reset button!?
- There is NO protection of the camera lens of the form found in many previous N-series phones - no sliding/rotating cover. And the "cover" is part of the main body, rather than the back-plate, so it's not changeable once covered in scratches.
- There's an utterly random new application-access function on pressing the silver button on the front. It's almost unusable and utterly pointless. Worse, the button doesn't seem to be reprogrammable. It's almost like a feature that never got finished.
- A lot of applications that integrate with the mail functionality on it won't work unless the piddly internal ram rather than the 16GB of flash is used for storing messages. Quite a disappointment.
- All games are now trial versions - no free version of Snake included, even. Disappointing for a flagship handset.
- Numerous applications that worked on an N95 don't work on this - remote desktop client software, etc.
- The music player STILL doesn't have proper support for adding tracks to "now playing"
Don't get me wrong - it's a really good handset overall - it packs a LOT of features in, is very capable at a whole raft of things, makes a good alternative to other media-internet-phones, with more of an applications-slant, etc. It's just not a step forward in so many areas that needed polishing - e.g. the battery life and persistent crashing (even after firmware updates). And, for that, I'd give it 72%. You're paying a lot for the privilege, and it just doesn't feel like you've got your money's worth in terms of 12-18 months of advancements over an N95 and the instability when you use it how it's designed to be used is unforgiveable. I'd also re-score most phones on El Reg down too, though.
Advice: if it's a free upgrade from an N95, go for it, it is a nicer phone to have and use (as long as texting isn't your primary function - the keypad is worse for that). If you've got to pay money, I'd consider looking elsewhere.
Paris, because I bet she runs a set of batteries down every night, too.