Like the N95 8GB, the Nokia N96 is a dual slider which has both a numeric keypad and a set of controls used to navigate the music player and the video functionality. As you’d expect from such a powerful phone, it’s quite a chunky handset, however, the real let down is the plastic battery casing on the rear which feels cheap. Overall, the look and feel is a step down from the N95 8GB.
The N96 is a techie’s delight and serves up everything you could truly expect on a mobile phone, including broadcast TV, a BBC iPlayer application, N-Gage gaming, 16GB storage, a fabulous camera and video camcorder experience, HSDPA web browsing and sat nav with A-GPS. You also get Wi-Fi, an accelerometer, TV out functionality, and a music player with dedicated controls and a 3.5mm headset port.
As with all Nokia’s Series 60 handsets, the N96 is easy to use with a multimedia key which gives you access to the main menu and a selection of soft keys which provide access to key applications like TV and video and the camera.
The camera is excellent, as is the video functionality, the web browsing experience and the music player. However, the computer-like N96 is also a little slow and prone to freeze at times.
As with the N95 8GB, it’s a case of could do better.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,12/12/2011 3:53:14 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
A mighty feature set. Arguably the strongest of 2008.
It can be slow and the finish is a little disappointing.
The Nokia N96 would have, without question, been crowned king of the mobile heap had it launched shortly after it was first announced.
As it is, we’ve witnessed the launch of some truly ground-breaking handsets since the N96 first grabbed headlines at the Mobile World Congress in February this year. And they can all give the Nseries handset a run for its money.
The N96’s five-megapixel camera, for example, is dwarfed by the eight megapixels now available on rival handsets like the Samsung i8510, Sony Ericsson’s C905 Cyber-shot, the LG Renoir and the Samsung Pixon. Even its (seemingly untouchable) 16GB of memory has since been matched by a couple
However, there has still been a genuine whiff of anticipation surrounding the N96 and, now that it is in our paws, there’s an element of relief that it justifies the hype.
Maybe it is the DVB-H digital TV receiver, or the pre-loaded BBC iPlayer application, the tremendous music and video functionality, the sat nav, or the promise of an excellent web browsing experience.
In truth, it’s probably a mixture of all of these things, because Nokia’s Nseries phones are known for their unrivalled multimedia capabilities and the N96 is the flagship Nseries device.
We were a little disappointed when we first handled the N96. It’s not so much the fact that it’s broad, because that enables a larger display, or the fact that it is on the thick side, because that’s exactly what you’d expect from a phone packing so many functions. Our problem lies with the plastic battery casing that Nokia has been clipping on to all of its new Nseries phones.
Plastic covers may keep the weight down, but when compared with the textured metal casing you find on the Nokia E71, it just feels cheap.
Everything else about the design is perfectly satisfactory. As with
the N95 range, the N96 offers a dual slider; slide one way for the phone keypad, and the other way for the dedicated music/video keys.
Incidentally, we love the way the music keys light up only a fraction of a second after the slider is opened.
There is a little resistance in the slide action, which is a good thing, as it means the handset isn’t constantly sliding in your pocket.
There’s plenty of room for all the keys to breathe and that also applies to the soft keys and menu keys that sit on the N96’s slider fascia. You will also find a set of music/video controls which can be used when the slider is shut.
To the right of the navi-pad, there is a little silver button, which provides one-touch access to the N96’s TV and video functions and, to the left, there’s a multimedia menu key.
The N96 excels at many things, but it is probably the TV and video capabilities that are the phone’s calling card. As we mentioned, the handset is DVB-H enabled, which means that you can watch live TV on your phone wherever there is
a DVB-H digital TV network. Unfortunately, there are only about half a dozen countries with DVB-H support networks at the moment and the UK is not one of them.
However, although broadcast TV is not yet unavailable in the UK, you do get the next best thing in the form of the BBC iPlayer.
The BBC iPlayer is fantastic, because it lets you access a large selection of BBC TV programmes from the past week, including BBC One, Two, Three and Four, CBBC, CBeebies, BBC News Channel and BBC Parliament, as well as a whole host of other recommended programmes categorised under headings like comedy, drama, entertainment, factual, music and sport.
The good news is that you get the complete iPlayer experience on the Nokia N96 and it looks great
on the phone’s high resolution 2.8-inch screen.
TV pictures and videos obviously render better and larger in landscape than portrait mode, because it’s better suited to a TV picture’s dimensions. You can set the phone to auto-rotate or do
it manually by sliding the phone into music/video mode while watching iPlayer.
Unlike broadcast TV, where your phone receives TV channels in the same way as your home TV does, iPlayer is streamed via the mobile network, so data charges will apply.
As well as the iPlayer, the Nokia N96 also gives you access to a vault of video content from the likes of Sky, BBC, ITV plus a section featuring Nokia handsets. These are 1MB, 2MB and 3MB videos and could be anything from a recent episode of Coronation Street or Emmerdale, or highlights from an
FA Cup match.
There is also a video services directory. From here, we downloaded the 24 mobisodes series, which consisted of five two-minute mini episodes of the drama featuring anti-terrorist agent Jack Bauer. Once downloaded, the videos are stored in the phone’s Video Feeds folder.
The cameras on the Nseries range are renowned for their image quality. In fact, the Nokia N95 8GB was highly rated by the professional photographer helping us to judge the camera phones at this year’s Mobile Choice Awards.
The Nokia N96 continues the tradition with a fantastic camera. Five megapixels may no longer be a market-leading resolution for today’s camera phones, but it is more than adequate for most people’s needs.
As usual, the components are excellent. You get Carl Zeiss optics and a Vario Tessar lens, a dual-LED flash, which is about as good as we have seen on a camera phone, auto-focus and auto-exposure plus a range of useful scene modes, including close-up, portrait, landscape, sports and night mode.
The dimensions of the phone make it perfect to be held in landscape mode as you would a digital camera. In fact, it’s a similar size to my Canon Ixus 860is.
It is also exceptionally easy to use, with the main menu settings laid out vertically down the right-hand side of the phone’s display. You simply need to scroll up and down the reliable and roomy navi-pad.
Strangely, there is no lens protection. We’re not yet sure whether the glass used for the lens will negate this being a problem in the long-term, but it’s odd that there’s no sliding lens cover.
As with all the top camera phones, the N96 also makes it very easy to make use of your photos once they are taken. You can send a saved photo via a message or Bluetooth, post it to the web, share it online, add it to an album, print it, set it as your wallpaper or assign it to a contact in just two clicks in camera mode.
Remember, this is a five-megapixel camera phone and, although you will probably want to shoot at maximum resolution for printable snaps, we would recommend shooting at the lowest 0.3-megapixel resolution if you’re looking to send a snap via email or MMS.
The same applies to your home videos. Fortunately, the N96 makes it very simple, with resolution settings for TV high quality, TV normal quality, email high and email normal quality, and recommended resolution for videos you want to send via an MMS.
With 16GB of storage capacity, there’s plenty of room on board the Nokia N96 for most people’s full music and video collections.
There’s everything you need here for a great music experience, including a set of dedicated music controls hidden beneath the dual slider, a 3.5mm headset port, plus a pre-loaded application link to Nokia’s Music Store.
The phone comes boxed with a set of stereo headphones that connect to a remote control, enabling you to answer calls, adjust audio volume and play, pause, forward and rewind tracks without touching the handset.
Although the headphones are perfectly adequate, you can improve the sound quality by plugging in your own headphones.
As well as a music player, the N96 also includes a pre-loaded podcasting application, as well as access to visual radio and internet radio, with both requiring a data connection.
Nokia is famously fond of referring to the Nseries phones as multimedia computers, which is an apt tag for the N96 for a couple of pertinent reasons. As well as serving a PC-like array of multimedia-rich applications and features, it is also prone to crash and stall.
As a result, we found ourselves regularly having to close down an application because the page had frozen. This is not a problem that most phone users will encounter.
However, you can argue that the N96 is not a phone for everyday phone users and the occasional crash is a small price to pay for such a wealth of functions, and the pros certainly outweigh the cons with this powerful beast.
It is an excellent web browsing device, for example, supporting HSDPA and Wi-Fi and boasting the Nokia Web Browser with Mini Map, visual history, flash video support and an RSS reader.
The device also offers A-GPS support for sat nav and comes with Nokia Maps, together with local maps and free voice-guided navigation for three months. You will then have to pay for the service afterwards; however, you can choose whether to subscribe for a day, a month or a year.
Obviously feeling in a generous mood, Nokia has thrown in a couple of freebies with the N96. The device comes with the N-Gage gaming application pre-loaded plus a selection of N-gage games, including Asphalt 3: Street Rules, and Nokia is also throwing in the Transformers movie, which comes pre-loaded on the device. We have to admit that we have not watched the movie in full, so we can’t critically comment on its artistic merit, but we can
say that the video and sound quality is excellent.
Whether or not you are a fan of robot movies, you’ll find the Nokia N96 to be a powerhouse of a phone and a techie’s delight; but, despite its many attributes, it does have its flaws. It’s quite chunky, the plastic rear casing feels cheap, there is no camera lens cover, it is a little slow at times and can occasionally freeze on you.
Many would argue that these glitches shouldn’t detract from an otherwise mighty handset, but we can’t help feeling that, for all its strengths, the N96 lacks the polish to make it a true great.