Nokia N76 mobile phone
Not a poster child for Nokia's sense of originality
Review Out of the box the first thing that struck us about the N76 was how much it looked like the Motorola Razr flip. The similarity to the Razr isn't limited to the looks department - it's about the same size and weight too. Many things it may be, but Nokia's 3G flip smartphone isn't much of a poster child for the Finnish company's sense of originality.
Like the Motorola, the Nokia handset has two screens - a rather fine 2.4in, 240 x 320 resolution, 16m-colour job with adjustable brightness as the main screen, and a one-third size 262,144-colour, 128 x 160 display on the 'back' of the flip. When the phone is closed the smaller screen displays time, network, battery power and details of any music playing. When open it displays the time and date. Visibility of the smaller screen is pretty poor in direct light, and it really only justifies its existence by virtue of the phone's ability to operate as a music player and camera with the flip closed.
Nokia's N76: opinion is divided on the looks
Opinion on the phone's looks have been divided, though the silver panel at the front that frames the secondary screen certainly looks like a bit of an afterthought. Also, the 'piano' black example we have is a fingerprint magnet - so much time is being spent trying to polish smudges off it with t-shirts and handkerchiefs that some of the Register Hardware hacks are beginning to look like they have OCD.
Build quality is generally fine; the flip opens with a rather stiff action - it's a two-hand job - and shows no sign of play when open. The “chrome” cover for the micro-SD slot gives us concern, and the battery/SIM card cover is not the easiest to remove, especially if your hands are a little greasy. One rather annoying physical feature is that when the 3.5mm jack headset or USB cable is plugged in, the flip won't open all the way, and when it does it obscures the on/off button. Insertion of the SIM card is a little strange - it rests in a fully-removable small yellow plastic tray that slides under some electrical bits to the left of the battery. Lose or break the little yellow thing and you may well be up a creek without a paddle, as there's no way to slide the SIM into the correct space without it - nor indeed to get it back out once it's in.
The N76's operating system is the by now familiar Symbian OS 9.2 S60 Release 3.1, as seen on the N95. When the phone is closed you can access the play/pause, skip forward, skip back, volume up and volume down controls for the MP3 player and radio. You can also use the camera, the image appearing in the small outside screen. When open you have to deal with a Razr-esque etched keyboard. We found this example of the genre to be reasonably tactile and no hindrance to text input. The main screen menu allows direct access to the phone book, messenger application, calendar, internet browser, music player and Bluetooth application. Hit the familiar Symbian menu button and you access the main menu.
Across the keypad from the Symbian menu key is one giving direct access to the four media and interactive functions; music player, radio, picture slide show and web browser. Text input is helped by the presence of the Symbian 'pencil' key, which lets you toggle the T9 predictive dictionary on and off, select symbols and change language - all functions some of us forget where to find on our phones. A small 'c' key allows you to delete text without running the risk of accidentally binning your entire message.
Video on the small screen
The camera is a two-megapixel example, which in today's market can best be described as an adequate specification, with a maximum resolution of 1600 x 1200 pixels. Also on board is a reasonably powerful LED flash. Like the majority of phone cameras, in strong natural light images are acceptable but are rather poor in weak light. Similarly, the flash is pointless if the subject is more than a metre away. The digital zoom will go up to 20x, but as you approach that maximum magnification your image quality drops off a cliff. The camera will also record MP4 video with sound at a maximum resolution of 320 x 240 pixels, video length being limited only by available memory. The inside of the flip contains a small secondary CIF camera for 3G video calling.
Music playback is one of the N76's strong points. Storage capacity is restricted only by the size of your microSD card and sound quality via the supplied headset was very impressive. Our handset came supplied with a single track, Moby's In My Heart, but we won't hold that against Nokia. Sticking the supplied Micro SD card into a laptop and copying across Bruce Springsteen's Ghost of Tom Joad was the work of moments, and with decent quality fare the N76 produced a clear sound with solid bass, taut treble and a nicely defined vocal line. Unplug the headset and playback is via a speaker in the 'chin' at the bottom of the phone. Sound via this is better than you would perhaps expect, and is more than good enough for playing the back voice recordings. Format-wise the N76 supports MP3, AAC, eAAC(+) and WMA.
Other functionality? You get a PDF viewer, a Flash player, FM radio, Real Player for audio and video playback, an IM application, support for SMTP, POP3 and IMAP4 email, a voice recorder good for 60 minutes, one game, a universal converter and support for a wireless keyboard. The on-board web browser is the standard Symbian 9.1 S60 3rd Edition affair. Usable in portrait or landscape layouts it does a good job, though getting used to moving the cursor about with the etched keyboard four-way pressure pad takes some getting used to. Images and other downloaded data can be stored on the phone's 26MB of on-board shared memory.
Nokia has seen fit to give the N76 something called LifeBlog, an application that puts your pictures, music, notes and other multimedia guff in chronological order. Better perhaps if they had included an application to open word processor files and spreadsheets - after all, the N76 is billed as a “multimedia computer” by Nokia. You can download MobiSystems OfficeSuite 4 from Nokia, but they will lighten your wallet by $50 (£25)for the privilege. On the other side of the coin, the Nokia website does include over 30 free downloadable applications for the N76, including the ever-handy Nokia Maps.
A similar size to Motorola's Razr
Loading up the software on the supplied CD and plugging the N76 into a PC allows you to synch your contacts via PC Suite, transfer data via Mass Storage, manage images via PictBridge and use the media player to synch music content to Windows Media Player. Also in the box with the N76 you get a 256MB Micro SD card, a mini-USB cable, a charger, a rather decent headset with a sort of neck strap that stops your earphones dangling to the floor when taken out, a quick start guide and a comprehensive manual.
Connectivity on the N76 is a bit weak for a multimedia computer. As it's a 3G handset, download times and net access are all fine at a nominal 384kbps; but while the handset works as a modem via either Bluetooth or the USB cable this is handicapped by the absence of HSDPA. The Bluetooth application does not support the A2DP profile needed for wireless headphones, a shame considering the strength of the MP3 player.
One other slight issue with the N76 is that in poor signal areas it seems to struggle to find network reception. In a familiar Reg signal black spot we picked up a decent signal on an HTC TyTn, but got a very intermittent signal on the N76. Both had T-Mobile SIM cards in them. Nokia quote a 200 hour standby time and talk time of up to two hours 45 minutes, while a final interesting feature is the phone's ability to speak the name of the person calling you, so long as their name is in the phone book. We found that quite handy after a while.
Fashion accessory or smart phone? The N76 is easy to use, comes with a reasonable suite of functions and - in red at least - doesn't look half bad. The music player is top drawer, while the web browser isn't too shabby either. Avoid the black, unless you really like polishing things.