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Review of GSM/UMTS-handset Nokia N86

Live images of the Nokia N86

Table of Contents:

  1. Positioning
  2. Design, size, controls
  3. Display
  4. Keypad
  5. Battery
  6. Memory
  7. Hardware
  8. Performance
  9. USB, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
  10. Camera
  11. GPS-navigation
  12. Music Department
  13. N-Gage and gaming department
  14. Preinstalled appliactions
  15. Impressions

Sales package:

  • Nokia N86 8MP
  • Nokia Battery (BL-5K)
  • Charger (AC-10)
  • Nokia Video Connectivity Cable (CA-75U) Ц availability varies by region
  • USB data cable (CA-101)
  • Wired stereo-headset with a remote control (AD-54+HS-83)
  • User Guide
  • Ovi Suite DVD 1.1

Positioning

Originally Nokia were planning to call this phone "Nokia N85 8MP", similarly to their best-selling N95 and its 8Gb version. Back at MWC 2009, all samples had the "N85 8MP" labels on their casings, however the next day they boasted the model's present name. Why did Nokia change it? As I see it, they were worried by the negative feedback on the original phone's build quality they had received from users. While our review claimed that the unit we got from Nokia was more than sturdy, most commercially available phones suffered from squeaky plastic and other similar problems. However, I'm not going to chastise myself, since the review of our unit didn't have any inaccuracies whatsoever. But with this in mind, even though we had a chance to run the N86 through its paces much earlier, we opted to wait for retail units to arrive, where nothing was subject to change. At the same time, to all those who are seriously considering the N86 I strongly recommend to playing around with it before purchase - it's always good to get a feel forhow the phone is built for yourself.

Essentially, the Nokia N86 is the refurbished version of the N85 both in terms of build quality and camera. All things considered, it's Nokia's imaging-savvy flagship, although the company doesn't believe that the megapixel race is worth getting into, and rather prefers to focus on image processing algorithms and lens quality. So, on balance, for Nokia the release of an 8MP cameraphone is rather a forced response to the recent activity of Samsung, LG and, to a lesser extent, Sony Ericsson.

At the same time they have solved the problem with the N85's lifecycle - the new phone comes preinstalled with 8 Gb of storage, revamped camera, but its price tag hasn't changed. In fact, the original phone retails for mere 45-50 Euros less, which means two things, Firstly, Nokia have made it clear that they are not going to play around, launching their brand-new N86 at a very low price point. And secondly, they see no reason to withdraw the N85 from the market right now, allowing it to stick around for a couple of months more instead. In my opinion, the Nokia N86 should be viewed more as an improved version of the original phone with a handful of new features thrown in for good measure. On the other hand, the N86 packs in enough enhancements to tip the scales not in the favor of the Nokia N85.

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Design, Size, Controls

Style-wise, there is little to no difference between the N85 and N86, and in truth, there was no goal to make them feel different. However the N86's outfit has been changed big time, as it sports new buttons, fresh casing color and a slightly reworked controls layout. But at the end of the day, I don't think that those who came to like the original model won't become fond of the newcomer as well - they might seem different, but at the core not much has changed.

Although only when you put them head to head, do you realize that the Nokia N86 appears to be a tiny bit wider; and at first you might even think that it's due to the new casing color. But a couple of simple measurements will tell you that at 103.4x51.4x16.5 mm, the N86 is indeed wider than the N85 (103x50x16 mm). On top of that, it has become substantially heavier (149 g, against the N85's 128 g), although its weight won't bother you at all.

Nokia N86 vs Nokia N85:

In general, the N86's style is very similar to that of the Nokia N97, both in terms of plastic quality and casing construction. That is, its back cover is designed as a sold plastic slab, which eliminates even the slightest chance that it'll loosen up with time. Plus its matte plastic feels great in the hand; although going back to the N86's increased weight, the main contributing factor here is not its new battery cover, but rather the metal display frame.

Nokia N86 vs Samsung INNO8 i8510:

Nokia N86 vs Nokia N97:

While initially the N86 was showcased in two colors - dark-grey and white, all retail units will come only in Indigo Black (the official name for the former trim). Although in truth, I like its white variation too, so maybe they'll release it at some point in time. Actually, one of the most possible reasons why they have opted to keep the white edition off the market, to my mind, is that in this outfit the N86 looks very similar to their ultimate flagship device, the N97 (in white), so probably they have thought better of it and decided to avoid needless confusion. But don't put too much stock in this theory, as it fails to explain why the N86's grey version hasn't been altered as well (since it looks more or less like a grey N97).

Housed on the left-hand side is the keypad lock switch. Beneath the battery cover is the memory card slot; the reason why it's found there is pretty simple - the N86 already comes bundled with 8 Gb of onboard memory, so its users probably won't need to swap memory cards too often, if at all.

Perched on the top is the power button, 3.5mm audio jack, microUSB socket for chargers and data cables and right next to it - charging indicator. On the right are two loudspeakers, which is a proven setup that we've already come to expect from Nokia-branded phones. Also there is the volume rocker along with a dedicated camera key. Located on the back are the camera lens and LED flash.

Topping the display is the forward-facing VGA camera, along with the ambient light sensor that adjusts the brightness level of display and keypad automatically.

Running around the camera lens is so-called kickstand that can be flipped to prop the phone up when you put it on some flat surface. While the N96 was the first phone to enjoy this feature, the new N86 takes the idea one step further, allowing the user to program any application to launch whenever the kickstand is used.

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Display

Much like the Nokia N85, the new phone comes armed with an AMOLED 2.6-inch display (39x43 mm) capable of 240x320 pixel resolution and 16 million colors. I've come across a bunch of posts and articles, where the N86's display is claimed to be brighter and more vibrant than the N97, but the real reason why it feels superior is that by default the N86's brightness bar is set to one level above that of the N97. And since 97 percent of users never bother to adjust display brightness, it's easy to see why such opinion exists.

The cover glass here is slightly tinted, which allows for better legibility in the sun. All in all, the N86's diagonal/resolution ratio is just right to provide for decent picture quality - should they have installed a bigger display and kept the QVGA resolution intact, the N86's quality would have been far from what it is now, especially in the way of fonts. Speaking of which, the Nokia N86 offers mid-sized fonts, that remain visible at all angles, so that you won't have to stare at the screen to read them. This display accommodates up to 8 text and 3 service lines, although in certain modes you can cram in as many as 14 lines of text. The bundled motion sensor makes sure that the screen rotates depending on how you hold the phone.

In our Nokia N85 review you can find a comparison between the N85, N95 and N96 displays.

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Keypad

The navigation cluster has been thoroughly reworked and is now significantly easier to work with. Even though the keys themselves are relatively small, they are clearly outlined and easy to tap. Built into the Menu key is a service LED that starts flashing whenever some user-specified event occurs.

The numberpad is another thing that has been revamped - while in the N85 it was a solid plastic slab, the N86 features a totally different design with mid-sized, sort, separate buttons. All buttons are lit in moderately bright white. All in all, I found that the N86's keypad was way more comfortable to use than that of the N85.

Nevertheless, its multimedia controls placed on the other end of the slider are almost no different from those found in the N85. By default, they call up the music player, but can also be used to zoom in/out on pictures in the gallery, double as controls in games and so on. Don't worry, you'll see each button's function right on it.

Another thing of note about the N86 is that it doesn't employ the N85's famous Navy Wheel and touch-based scrolling, which is a reasonable move, given that very few actually use these features.

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Battery

The handset utilizes a 1200 mAh Li-Ion battery (BL-5K), similar to that employed in the Nokia N79. The N86 is rated for 7 hours of talk time (GSM) and 363 hours of standby. Music time - up to 30 hours, video recording time (top resolution and quality settings) - up to 180 minutes, video playback time - up to 7 hours.

The handset's battery life averaged 3 days in our tests, when we used the N86 for about two hours of calls, a dozen or two snaps, several minutes of video, and around an hour of music/radio. It takes the N86 around one hour to charge from empty to full.

Below is our chart of battery times we managed to squeeze out of the N86:

    • GPS-navigation Ц 4-4.5 hours
    • Video playback Ц 6 hours 15 minutes
    • WEB-surfing (EDGE) Ц 4 hours
    • Wi-Fi (non-stop data upload) Ц 5 hours
    • Music (in earphones) Ц 29 hours 20 minutes
    • Radio Ц 19.5 hours
    • Internet radio (over Wi-Fi) Ц 8 hours
    • Games Ц 6 hours

    Back to the table of contents >>>

    Memory

    The device comes equipped with 128 Mb of RAM, after first launch you will get around 70 Mb of free memory at your disposal. Also you will have around 72 Mb for storing personal data. The N86 deals with microSD memory cards (hot-swappable), the phone comes packaged with a 8Gb unit. There are no restrictions as far as memory card's size is concerned - our handset easily identified a 32Gb card.

    Back to the table of contents >>>

    Hardware

    The N86 doesn't bring anything new to the table, except for its increased CPU speed, now running at 434 Mhz, against the N85's 369 Mhz. While it might not seem like much, this enhancement makes all the difference when it comes to the phone's performance - we found that it was around 20 percent faster than its predecessor.

    Back to the table of contents >>>

    Performance

    While the N86's performance has increased a tad, it's no record-breaker.

    Back to the table of contents >>>

    USB, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi

    USB. You pick one of these 3 connection modes in the USB settings of the N86:

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