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Nokia N96 review

The Nokia N96 reviewed and rated. Is this flagship N-series smartphone the finished article or a work in progress?


Verdict: Impressive specifications and a dazzling screen let down by software niggles

Price: From free with contract or £494.95 handset only

Pros: Screen, dual-LED camera

Cons: Plasticky casing, unstable firmware, awkward to use keypad,
WiFi unreliable

Design: Feels plasticky

Operating System: OS Symbian interface version 3.1 with S60 software

More info: Nokia N96 website

The Nokia N96 is the successor to the globally successful N95 but despite its impressive armoury of multimedia specifications feels more like a work in progress than the finished article.

On the positive side, Nokia has upgraded the main screen to a 2.8-inch bright QVGA LED with 16.7 million colours at the standard resolution of 240 by 320 pixels. There's no touchscreen but like the iPhone there is a built-in accelerometer that detects the screen's orientation and shifts the display to match.

Unfortunately, the smooth fluidity of the iPhone's transitions is replaced by a jarring shift between landscape and portrait, which suggests that Nokia's software designers had trouble keeping up with the hardware specifications.

But there's no denying the screen's impact - particularly when viewing video. The phone has a built-in DVB-H mobile TV tuner too, which would be more exciting if we found any mobile TV services worth watching in the UK.  There isn't - yet - but it's nice to know it's there should things improve. In the meantime, we found the included BBC's iPlayer application worked well, although you can only watch programmes via WiFi rather than using 3G networks.

The N96's camera has a five-megapixel sensor and the familiar Carl Zeiss optics. It has an upgraded dual LED flash which helps in darker conditions but the lack of a Xenon flash means the unit is no longer at the front rank of cameraphones.

Smooth slider

The N96's unique two-way slider slides back to reveal the number keypad - the buttons are flat and the top three are a little cramped by the edge of the phone. When you slide it the other way the four multimedia buttons are exposed. In use the slider mechanism felt sturdy and relatively smooth.

But the build quality of the fascia - in particular the squeaky, cheap-looking silver plastic material used for the edges and buttons - was not of the same high standard.

Nokia's mysterious Ovi collection of services is also onboard. Although no one really understands what Ovi is, the simplest way to describe it is a suite of applications and services that express your lifestyle. It includes a social networking tool, remote backup and multimedia applications.

The remote backup tool is a really handy way of ensuring your contacts, email, events, to do list and notes are all saved if you lose your phone. With Share on Ovi, you can send or stream content to your personalised page on Ovi and then share with your friends. The Nokia Music Store, N-Gage and Nokia Maps applications are all also available on the N96 through Ovi.

We found it really simple to set up an Ovi account online, install the settings and backup our N96 using our data connection. In fact, this was possibly the quickest thing to happen on the device.

GPS has come a long way since the slow chipset on the Nokia N95, and this shows on the N96. Although it may not be as speedy as on the Samsung i8510 or Apple iPhone, it still manages to find a fix faster than its Nokia predecessors. Nokia Maps is an effective tool, but it's a shame you have to pay for turn-by-turn instructions because using the N96 as a SatNav would be a pleasure, thanks to that screen.

N-Gage is available on the N96, and this includes some game trials already installed. On our device, there's Snakes Subsonic, Mile High Pinball, World Series of Poker, Tetris and Asphalt 3: Street Rules, which just need to be activated to become playable. Look out soon for our N-Gage gaming special with mini video reviews of all these games and more.


Unfortunately, we now come to more disappointing features, but this time it's the design that's causing us headaches. The plasticky casing feels quite cheap, especially when you begin to put the keypad to good use. It's hard to press the top row of number buttons too, because the slide doesn't open far enough and the buttons are too close to the top half of the handset.

The central four-way navigation key isn't touch sensitive like it was on the Nokia N81, although it does flash in a heart-beat style way if you fancy it.

The Nokia menu shortcut button has been reinstated, which is a welcome comeback, giving you fast access to the menu. Hold it down and the open applications will be displayed. As all of the buttons are flush against the casing though, it's sometimes a little tricky to press them quickly.

Although our hopes of a super-charged Nokia Nseries device were sky high when the Nokia N96 was announced, firmware and hardware issues brought them down to earth with a bump. Multimedia features are among the best we've seen on a Nokia device though, with a full suite of N-Gage games, music, video, TV and camera facilities. If it's multimedia you're after, we recommend you buy the Nokia N96, but update the firmware the minute it's released.



Users Comments

lost handset/security
Posted By sierra777 1 March 24, 2011 04:02:22 PM

can the personal data stored in the n96 without be accessible or read by anyone without knowing the security code?

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Nokia N96

The Nokia N96 is the flagship Nseries smartphone - but niggling software issues remain


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