The slider chassis on the N86 MP is not what we’d describe as ‘groundbreaking’ – it is reminiscent of a number of other Nokia devices over the last few years. But it’s smooth and it works, and it has a nice AMOLED screen.
As is customary with Nokia devices, the user interface throws up little difficulty. Although, we were puzzled by the shortcuts, none of which led to the camera or the Ovi Store.
The camera is the star of the N86 MP show, with some truly excellent functions that take great pics even for the most amateur of photographers. Nokia Maps also provides a superb navigational exerience, but it does fall down on the social networking side of things.
The N86 MP is the best camera phone that the manufacturer has ever produced, performing brilliantly, but we were disappointed that we couldn’t share our pics on popular social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Battery performance was exceptional, particularly for a tech heavy smartphone.
We love the Nokia N86 MP for its brilliant camera and sat nav abilities. We weren’t bowled over by its appearance, though it is by no means ugly, and we would liked to have seen more social networking features. Overall though, we found little cause for complaint.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,12/12/2011 3:56:00 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Great landscape, portrait, action and panorama shots, Nokia Messaging, Nokia Maps.
Average macro shots, a less intuitive UI than we?re used to from Nokia, and you can?t share photos on most popular networking sites.
Nokia tends to put out good, solid handsets. But with the N86, it has blown itself away and put out a damn near incredible camera phone. The first eight-megapixel snapper from the Finnish manufacturer isn’t the all-in-one smartphone to topple you-know-what off its iThrone, but it is excellent at what it sets out to do, and then some.
A nice, bright 2.6-inch AMOLED screen is the main nod to current phone trends – for all its high-end camera specs, the N86 is a bit of a frump. It ain’t bad looking, but it is pretty dated.
It’s a slider format with a front face composed of screen, D-pad, and six other buttons (minimalist, it’s not) for call, hang up, cancel, two hot keys and a glowing button at angles to the rest. This one opens up the main menu, which is otherwise unreachable from the home screen).
The phone feels pretty heavy, though rightly so, considering all the advanced camera tech it’s packing. The sliding mechanism is smooth and controlled. Slide the screen up and you get the standard 3x4 number keypad, and like all its predecessors, the buttons are very comfortable to press and you’ll find texting (despite returning to caveman T9 style) quite the dream here. Let’s face it – though the chunky slider chassis could be on numerous Nokia handsets from the last decade, it works and it looks decent.
Now we’re onto the juicy bit. The eight-megapixel camera might be standard in a world of LG, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson camera phone monsters, but forget the megapixel count – the N86 rocks a quality Carl Zeiss lens with auto-focus and third generation dual LED flash, wide angle for those panoramic shots, as well as a variable aperture and ISO speed (affecting light sensitivity) up to 800, so that photographers with the technical know-how can further adjust light exposure, pretty important when it comes to getting a truly great shot. You’ll also be able to tweak white balance, contrast and colour tone, among others.But while the N86 offers lots for the camera geek to play with, where it really shines is its ability to allow even the most casual photographer to take a good picture in almost any setting. You can choose from a set of pre-defined Scene modes – landscape, portrait, macro, night time, action and night portrait – and these preoduced very decent snaps. Leave the phone on auto, and it’ll generally chooses the right settings (though this is less reliable in low light – we had one shot of a living room turn out green-tinged).
You’ll get some great landscape and portrait shots with the N86. In both our tests, images turned out with good clarity and true-to-life colours. Action shots are also top-notch, thanks to the variable aperture and ISO – we caught our subject mid-motion with no blur whatsoever – and the shutter snapped at the exact moment we pressed the camera button. Low light shots on night mode came out well, though you do have to hold the camera very still to avoid blur. Dark areas are very dark, but lighter parts have great clarity and definition. For close-up shots of small objects at no more than 60cm away, the N86’s macro mode is average, managing good clarity when there’s just one object to focus on, but failing in a setting with objects at different distances. We tried to take a picture of a leaf and twig on a tree, but the phone was unable to distinguish it, and instead focused on the mid-distance. Most impressive is the panorama mode – all you need to do for one of those pro landscape shots is take a picture of your view, move the phone to the next portion of the shot, and the camera will automatically snap the image when the two shots are lined up. You can keep going for as many ‘portions’ as you want, though the further along you go, the harder it is to match the shots. The only downside is that this caps the image size, and it may not be of print quality.
While still generally intuitive, the N86 is one of the less easy user interfaces (UI) we’ve had from Nokia and the accelerometer often lags, making for slow reorienting when the phone is rotated. The home screen is straightforward but crowded – you get notifications of calendar appointments, emails and texts here, although this is helpful, as well as a link to share photos. Contacts is permanently on the left key and Clock on the right. Neither is customisable, but both are useful link choices. The main menu is accessed via a hard button, though nowhere on the home screen is this indicated. Meanwhile, though the home screen has a shortcut toolbar – messaging, gallery, games, browser, Bluetooth, Nokia Maps – this isn’t customisable. And considering the camera is the main feature, why isn’t it up there? We were also surprised by the inclusion of games as a link, whereas Nokia’s Ovi Store is buried inside the applications menu. Apps are increasingly vital to the success of a phone while Nokia’s gaming platform, N-Gage, never really took off. That said, Ovi doesn’t quite stand up to other app stores such as iTunes or the Android Marketplace. While iTunes and Android specifically cater for a single operating system (OS), Ovi sells apps for Java and several different editions of Symbian (the N86 runs on Symbian S60, v3.2), and despite its ‘20,000 items’, most of these are wallpapers and ringtones. Extra services that do completely flesh out the N86 experience though – the top-notch Nokia Messaging and Nokia Maps.
The camera function isn’t a shortcut on the home screen as you might expect, but is instead also buried inside the Applications menu. Nor is there a dedicated camera app button, which is a surprising oversight for a camera phone made by one of the most user-friendly manufacturers out there. Once you’re in though, the camera interface is where you’ll notice the biggest difference in Nokia’s UI. In a move towards the swish (and away from slightly dull UIs of Nokia’s past), photos in your gallery are displayed in a carousel of thumbnails, scrolled through via the D-pad, and here you can tag photos with any text you want. You can also search for photos based on tags. After snapping a photo, a toolbar pops up with options to send the photo, share it online, add it to an album or add details (such as tags). However, you can only share the photo with your Flickr album, on the ‘Ovi by Nokia’ social network or on photo-blogging site Vox – given the noticeable exception of Facebook and Twitter sharing, the N86 pales in comparison to more social network-friendly camera phones such as the LG Viewty Smart or Sony Ericsson C905+, both of which give the option of sharing with most of the popular social sites. The video camera function has less features with only auto and night settings, but it does record video at VGA quality and features an above average zoom.
As a general camera phone, the N86 surpasses almost every other model out there, catering for casual users as well as more serious enthusiasts. Excellent extras in Nokia Maps and Nokia Messaging outweigh any UI complications caused by one of the most high-spec phones Nokia has released in a while, and N-Gage, though not promoted as a selling point, ponies up a good gaming experience. A great all-rounder.