Nokia N86 8MP Review – Part 1 – Hardware

21. July 2009 at 00:18

Nokia is finally catching up in the megapixel race and have released an 8 megapixel smartphone, proudly crowned, the Nokia N86 8MP. When the N86 first surfaced at Mobile World Congress it arrived as the Nokia N85 8MP and for good reason in fact. It is pretty much an N85 with a few tweaks here and there, and of course, an 8 megapixel Carl Zeiss wide-angle lens with variable aperture. Nokia were quick to rename the device and the Nokia N86 8MP saw it’s release alongside the Nokia N97 earlier last month.

I would just like to mention that this is the first ever review I have done, so please be patient with me and leave some feedback in the comment section below to let me know what you think. I intend to split the review into three parts; taking a detailed look at Hardware, Software and the Camera of the Nokia N86 8MP. I have decided to leave the camera review till the end as I believe this handset deserves a lot more respect than just an 8MP title. At the end of each review I will give my verdict on the relative topic. Furthermore I will try to follow up with some coverage, as soon as possible, of my experiences with this device. So make sure you don’t miss out, as some of this stuff may be worth knowing if you’re in the market for a new handset.

Introduction

The dual slider revolution began with the infamous N95 which brought along a host of new features in it’s time, including GPS, N-Gage gaming, a 5 megapixel camera and the new convergence title of “Mobile Computer”. The N95 then soon became one of the best selling mobile phones of all time with over 1 million sales in the UK alone in less than a year.

Two years on and we have seen nothing but a bunch of feeble copycats bringing nothing new but minor upgrades. First came along the N96 closely followed by the N85, the latter bringing AMOLED screens to Nokia handsets. Nevertheless both devices didn’t quite cut it and the N96 received a lot of criticism. During this time however, Symbian S60 3rd Edition has matured into a solid platform, and the combination of this OS and the hardware of the N86, we could actually have amongst us the long awaited successor of the legendary Nokia N95…

Specifications

  • 2.6″ Display, 16M Colours, AMOLED Display, QVGA Resolution, Scratch-Resistant Hardened Glass Surface
  • 8 Megapixel Autofocus Camera With Dual-LED Flash, AF Assist Light And VGA Video Recording @ 30fps
  • 28mm Wide Angle Carl Zeis Lens With Variable Aperture, Mechanical Shutter, Geotagging, Time-Lapse, Lens cover, VGA Video Recording At 30fps
  • Front Facing Camera For Video Recording At 15fps With Up To 2x Digital Zoom
  • SymbianOS 9.3 With S60 3.2 UI
  • ARM 11 434 MHz CPU, 128MB RAM
  • Quad-Band GSM Support And 3G With HSDPA 3.6Mbps Support
  • DLNA-Certified Wi-Fi With UPnP Technology
  • Built-In GPS With A-GPS Functionality, Digital Compass
  • Dual Slide Design With Dedicated Gaming/Audio/Gallery Keys
  • MicroSDCard Slot With MicroSDHC Support
  • 8GB Built-In Internal Storage
  • Built-In Accelerometer For Multiple Functions
  • 3.5mm Audio Jack With TV Out Support
  • Stereo FM Radio With RDS And Built-In FM Transmitter
  • Standard MicroUSB Port For Sync/Charge And Stereo Bluetooth v2.0 With A2DP
  • Web Browser With Flash And Java Support
  • WMV/RV/MP4/3GP Video Player
  • Active Kickstand
  • Available In Indigo Black And White

Size

The Nokia N86 8MP measures in at an acceptable 103.4 x 51.4 x 16.5mm, with a volume of 69cc. This is a very compact size for an 8 megapixel shooter when compared to the likes of the Sony Ericsson C905 and Samsung iNNOV8. It is slightly thinner than the Nokia N95 8GB pictured above, however the curved edges do manage to get rid of the bulk factor. At 149 grams the Nokia N86 8MP is however the heaviest of the bunch, although I personally found this weight ideal for a handset this size, as it feels really solid in the hands. I would advise you though that if you are thinking about purchasing this device do try and experience a hands on with it in order to make sure it’s something you can live with.

Construction

When buying a high end device the customer expects high quality. In recent years N-Series user’s have been disappointed on many occasions, especially with regards to the notorious wobbly slider on th N95, which caused a massive uproar in forums all over the web. However now it seems that Nokia have learned their lesson and put a lot of effort in creating a solid sliding mechanism for the N86. The slider is snappy and gives a good locking feel in both directions. There is an ever so slight wobble when the device is in the closed position, which is only noticeable when rubbing the device on your jacket or what not to remove smears off the screen.

The N86 is made mostly of plastic, however with the glass front and metal details around the edge of the housing makes the device feel a lot more robust. There are no moans and groans coming from the device nor is there any light seeping through around the buttons. The device seems to be built to perfection. The backcover is smooth with a matte finish giving it a good grippy feel in the hands. This is probably the first device I’ve had where fingerprints haven’t been a major problem. This is indeed a great accomplishment by Nokia.

Also on the back covering the camera is the lens cover which is as snappy as the slider itself, with no such problems as reported on the N97’s. Around the side of the lens cover is the Active Kickstand which is very solid and stable. I expected a week bit of plastic however it does seem to be pretty durable, only time will tell. Flicking the stand out will launch any application you desire as it has an active sensor.

Management

The MicroSD card slot is beneath the back cover, which I controversially really like. I feel that it gives the device a much cleaner and sleek look on the outside. There is also set of pins on the back cover that I’m not quite sure about. Some reports claim it’s an aerial. If you know what they are for, please drop a comment and let us know…

There is also no memory card included in the package, however the N86 does sport 8GB of built in storage (which is enough for anyone to begin with). If you want more then the microSD card is expandable to a maximum of 16GB (32GB coming soon). Also under the backcover is the 1200mAh BL-5K battery which offers up to 13 days standby time and over 25 hours of continuous music playback. The N86 also has a MicroUSB port alongside the 3.5mm headphone jack and power button on top of the device. The port is used for syncing and charging the device. Next to the port there is a small LED which lights up when the phone is charging. It would be nice to see this used as a notification light too.

The single CPU ARM 11 at 434 MHz and 128MB RAM, performs pretty well. I’ve had the N86 multitasking with power draining applications and no crashes to report. However the lack of hardware acceleration may have an impact on the gaming experience. But more on the software in part two of this review.

Screen

With the advent of touch sensitive devices the screens on phones have been the topic of much debate. Despite the fanatic attention from the media, touch sensitive devices are still being out sold by non-touch devices, therefore it is important to understand the context of the screen on the N86. The 2.6″ Active Matrix OLED screen is nothing far from beautiful, and with over 16M colours, the image quality gives a true representation of real life. At first glance it isn’t as noticeable, however after a little usage, the device just seems to come to life.

The downfall however is the visibility in direct sunlight and the resolution of the screen. Although it is better than the TFT screens we are so used to, the brightness is still not up to iPhone standard, and it will be pretty difficult to get any serious work done in the sun. You can see Steve Litchfield’s (AllAboutSymbian) comprehensive article regarding this issue here. The QVGA Resolution of 240 x 360 is a bad decision too, and I would have loved to see a little more as it would make browsing the Internet a much better experience. Other than that what I am a big fan of is the scratch-resistant hardened glass surface covering the screen, not only is it beautiful to look at, it actually protects your screen from getting scratch and scuffed, and as mentioned earlier it is no fingerprint magnet either.

Keys

There are 32 keys on the N86 including: the 12 on the keypad, 11 just below the screen, the 4 multimedia keys, the volume rocker, power button, camera key and keypad lock slider. The keypad uses a standard 4-row layout and is comfortable to use (I haven’t had any issues yet). The top row is not too close to the slider either and leaves enough room for even the chubbiest thumbs. Slide the screen down and you reveal the multimedia keys which are available for use with audio and video, during game play and to zoom in and out while taking or viewing photos and using Maps. The multimedia keys are however placed pretty close to the edge making it a little frustrating when playing games.

The buttons below the screen are quite small and thin. With the sleekness of the overall device, these keys would have been much better designed like the touch sensitive send and end keys on the N97. They are OK to use, but do take a little getting used to. The D-pad couldn’t be better, the buttons are easy to press and the dent in the middle fits the thumb perfectly. Just to make it clear there is no Navi Wheel which is pretty disappointing and the ambient light around the navigation keys doesn’t blink as in previous devices. It’s just the new S60 menu key, which I really like by the way, that blinks when any notifications are missed.

The volume rocker and keypad lock slider on the sides of the phone are good and comfortable to use, although I would have preferred the latter to be on the right hand side of the device. Finally the camera key, a pure disappointment. When pressed slightly down it clicks to auto-focus, so far so good, but you need to press down pretty hard to take the actual photo, which makes the phone move slightly blurring the final image.

Audio/Video

On the right hand side of the device you have two built in stereo speakers which provide an impressive sound quality with very good volume, although I did find the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic to be slightly louder. The built in FM Transmitter allows you to broadcast your music over the radio, which is pretty cool, however the signal wasn’t as strong as I expected. I tried various different channels but when I moved the device around there was light crackling. It was very clear when left sitting on the dashboard of my car though. The radio itself supports RDS and you still need to insert the headphones which is a little annoying. The 3.5mm jack is situated ideally on the top of the divice and also doubles up as a TV Out port. Sensibly Nokia is not including the TV Out cable in the box, as the average Joe found no real need for it. It is also a good point to consider in the effort to reduce waste created from unwanted accessories.

The Nokia N86 supports MP3/WMA/WAV/RA/AAC/M4A audio files and the video player supports WMV/RV/MP4/3GP. If you would like to play any other files, you will need to convert them into the supported formats, which Nokia PC Suite can kindly do for you.

Verdict

What Nokia have done is created a device that brings everything we loved in our N95’s, without the niggles that kept us moaning for the last two years. The N86 has been built very solid and hard-wearing and a lot of care has been taken into perfecting the small details. For N95 owner’s, this is by far the ultimate upgrade, in terms of features, design and build quality – a righteous successor I would have to say. The wide-angled Carl Zeiss lens with variable aperture, sets the N86 apart from all other camera-phones on the market today. The Nokia N86 8MP is the only comprehensive camera-phone that is also a superb smartphone.