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Review of GSM/UMTS-handset Nokia N86
Live images of the Nokia N86
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
While the N86's performance has increased a tad, it's no record-breaker.
USB. You pick one of these 3 connection modes in the USB settings of the N86:
Data transfer speeds top out at around 2 Mb/s. Once you plug the N86 into a PC it starts recharging automatically via the USB cable.
Bluetooth. The phone comes with Bluetooth v2.0, with support for EDR. The following profiles are supported
The top speed you can get with the N86's Bluetooth connection is around 100 Kb/s. We also tested its A2DP profile in pair with the Sony Ericsson DS970 headset, which worked just fine - we managed our play list, skipped within tracks and adjusted volume seamlessly, however we couldn't make current track's title show up on the N86's display.
Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi. This handset comes armed with Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11 g) support. All security standards are supported: WEP , WPA , WPA 2, with other advanced settings available. The device supports Universal PnP standard (UPnP), which is the successor to the wired standard PnP. With its help, along with Wi-Fi, you can send slides to a TV, music to a stereo system, and photos to a printer. In a certain sense UPnP is like an add-on to the infrastructure (Wi-Fi, for example) in the form of Bluetooth-esque services, so this looks more like a software upgrade. The sales package includes Home Media Server, which allows connecting the N86 through your home Wi-Fi network to a desktop PC.
There is also a Wi-Fi wizard available in the N86 - it can keep looking for enabled networks in the background mode and tap into them.
While this phone is Nokia's imaging-savvy flagship and all, we probably should put it differently - this handset boasts the highest megapixel count in the company's portfolio. And the reason is that no phone maker has managed to impress us with stunning picture quality after jumping straight to 8 MP camera units from 5 MP. The N86 is no exception on this front.
The N86 utilizes an 8 MP CMOS camera module, similar to those used by other phone makers. Also, it features a two-section LED flash that can make some difference when taking a picture from 1-2 meters away. While the N86's flash does better at shooting sceneries rather than people, it's still debatable which kind of flash is superior - Xenon or LED. Perhaps the Sony Ericsson K850i answers this question in a certain way, utilizing both the Xenon and LED flash types.
The N86 camera's specs are as follows:
The N86's top resolution is Print 8M - large, which stands for 3264x2448 pixels and image size of 700Kb-2Mb. The user can also make use of the following resolution settings:
It takes the N86 around 3-4 seconds to save a shot in any of the above resolutions if you have enabled the after-shoot view. Or 1-2 seconds in case you are ready to take another snap right after that (in the latter case all images are saved from the buffer).
Color tones. Since these overlays can be applied to any snap in a standard graphics editor, it won't be wise of you to enable them for taking a snap on the N86. There are four effects available - Sepia, Black & White, Vivid, Negative.
Exposure compensation. This parameter is adjusted at a 0.33 step here; it will prove useful for shooting objects with dominating light or dark tones.
White balance. The N86's camera does very well in the auto mode, though you can manually adjust the white balance and choose one of the following settings - Sunny, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent.
Nokia N86 vs Samsung INNO8 i8510:
Nokia N86 vs LG Viewty II:
Nokia N86 vs Nokia N85 (5 MP resolution used for all snaps):
Video recording. When recording video with N86, there are considerably fewer settings, than in the still image mode. There is a software image stabilizer that was first introduced in the Nokia N80. You can adjust the white balance, choosing from Automatic, Sun, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent. The overlay pool includes Sepia, Black&White, Negative. There are only two shooting modes - auto or night mode. Maximum resolution - 640x480 pixels (mpeg4), you can also mute sound, although there is no way you can adjust the N86's FPS, which is locked at 30. The handset allows recording videos until you run out of free memory.
The major update to this department is the new version of Nokia Maps 2.0, which you can learn more about in our review of the FP2. Also, we would like to note that the application has become even speedier, the cold start time makes around 4-5 minutes, and we felt that the gears were spinning faster, so to speak. To my mind, the N86 is a tidy navigation-savvy solution, it does the job hands down. But, unfortunately, as far as battery life goes, the N86 doesn't improve over the predecessors.
All applications that have something to do with the N86's music department (music player, radio, Internet radio) have been carried over from the FP2's standard suite of features and are basically nothing to out of the ordinary. The handset ships with a remote control, the same as that found in the box with the Nokia N81; the bundled earphones are nothing to shout about, so you should definitely replace them with something me capable.
The N86 also benefits from the Internet-radio, which is a worthy addition to its music department. On the downside, its FM transmitter that can beams music, didn't manage to impress us. It is a quaint feat that may even settle down on Nokia's solutions, but by and large it is of no real use. Unfortunately, this decent idea is drowned by poor technical implementation, which is not the letdown of this particular handset, but rather all devices of this type. This weakish transmitter can't make for a stable and strong signal, therefore allowing noise and static to slip into your broadcasts, that's why even audio books get pretty irritating to listen (as far as using the transmitter in the car goes).
The Nokia N86 features a full-fledged N-Gage client and comes boxed with fifteen Try&Buy games, although you can pick one of them and get a full version free of charge using the activation code the N86 ships with.
Video Center Ц enables the user to subscribe to various channels offering an assortment of video clips, including YouTube's mobile version. All videos get uploaded onto the device, so that you will be able to watch them whenever you want. You can expand clips to full screen in the landscape mode, plus there is the portrait mode available with the N95 8Gb. The best way to upload clips is via home or office Wi-Fi networks.
QuickOffice here comes in a shrunk edition. Specifically, with the version found in the Nokia N95 8Gb you won't be able to edit office documents. To go beyond the Read Only mode you will need to pay extra money.
Adobe PDF Ц - allows reading PDF-files, no complaints about the application.
ZIP Ц enables you to extract files from archives or create new archives.
Dictionary Ц no explanation required.
Firmware update Ц this application checks your current firmware version and updates it if necessary.
Mail client. The mail client here is little to no different from that installed in other Nokia's latest and greatest solutions, such as the Nokia E75, meaning that few will actually feel the need to replace it with something even more flexible and powerful.
Call quality was never an issue with the N86, as it easily lived up to our expectations of a Nokia-branded phone. Ring tones sounded quite loud; we also found the N86Тs vibro alert was average strength-wise.
I've never had any high hopes for the Nokia N86, but I do like the phone. As far as do-it-all type solutions are considered, it is one of the most appealing offerings out there (for those who don't fancy touchscreen-enabled devices, that is). It'll become available in Europe some time in June at 375 Euros a piece.
This phone probably won't suit people who take noises and level of details in their photos very seriously - I'm sure they'll like some of Samsung's phones more if this is what they are looking for. But for everyone else we carried out a quick survey, asking a handful of people to judge what images (snapped with the N86 and an equally powerful Samsung-branded device) they liked on a PC screen. As we found out, the final scores were about even - for the most part consumers don't care about noises or details, but rather about how shots look and feel in general, and in this case, there is not much difference between 8 MP shooters.
What phones will the Nokia N86 compete with? I can think of only the Sony Ericsson C905, which is a decent model, yet overly expensive and not really reliable. It'll manage to keep you amused with better-than-N86 image quality and Xenon flash, but only until the moment you run into issues with its sliding mechanism. However in general, if you don't crave smartphone functionality, you should probably consider the C905 as well. As for the Sony Ericsson W995, it doesn't qualify as a rival for the N86, since it's merely a likable music-minded flagship of Sony Ericsson that can't stand up to the Nokia N86's audio quality, plus it costs like a brand-new aircraft, which is overkill given its inferior camera quality, and its feeble fashion elements. As far as Samsung's solutions go, the INNOV8 i8510 seems to be the only real alternative, for it packs in a comparable camera module that outputs images of similar quality that trump the N86 when shooting in the dark, but can't compete with it when it comes to taking snaps in decent light conditions.
So what's the bottom line? The updated Nokia N85, which is the way I like to treat the N86, is sturdy, boasts a kickstand, 8 Gb of bundled memory and 8 MP camera. Its positioning as the company's imaging-savvy flagship is nothing but jumping on the bandwagon. In fact, it's not Nokia's top-of-the-line cameraphone by any means; rather, it sports a decent camera for an all-in-one device, but that's about it. But as far as non-toucscreen smartphones go, the N86 is as good a deal as it gets.
Published 12 June 2009
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