Here it is, my long overdue full review of the Nokia N86, but you might want to check out the earlier 4 parts before that:
Nokia N86: Mighty Machine with a Lil Achilles’ Heel
A brief intro
What is possibly the greatest asset of the Nokia N86 8MP? Well, the name tells it all; yes, it’s the mighty 8 Megapixel camera. It might not sound so great now in 2010 with the coming of Samsung M8910 Pixon12 and subsequently the SE Satio, but this time last year, the Nokia N86 was the pack leader (the Samsung Omnia HD wasn’t doing so well). With a dual slider mechanism similar to the Nokia N85 and N96 earlier, it was indeed one of the best buys, for the camera alone. But what if you’re looking for an all-rounded Nseries? Is this phone worthy of considering, or is it just another flawed Nokia with potent photography capabilities?
I like the Nokia N86 for many reasons, but also dislike it for many specific reasons likewise. It has a balance of pro’s and con’s, but in my opinion, the N86 is quite an all-rounded device, albeit with minor and yet tolerable problems. Read my review below, and you’ll know why. Side note: Thanks to WOMWorld/Nokia for sending me the phone for trial!
- - Model: Nokia N86 8MP (UK)
- - Camera: 8MP for images and 640 X 480 px at 30fps for videos (f/2.4, focus: 10 cm to infinity, focal length: 4.61 mm, digital zoom: 20x, 28mm wide angle lens) and 0.3MP secondary camera – with autofocus, assist light, mechanical shutter, Carl Zeiss optics, face detection and LED flash.
- - Dimensions: 103.4 x 51.4 x 16.5 mm, weight: 149g
- - Screen: 240 X 320 px, 2.6 inches, AMOLED display with 24 bit colour depth (16.7 million colours)
- - CPU: 434Mhz ARM11 (with 220 MHz C64x DSP & no dedicated GPU)
- - RAM: 128MB and ROM: 250 MB (~74 MB Free Executable RAM),
- - OS: Symbian OS v9.3 with S60 3.2.2 UI
- - Input: Grid Key Mat Keyboard, Nokia Dpad
- - Connectivity: WLAN Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g, Integrated & Assisted GPS, digital compass, Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR, microUSB, 3.5 mm audio jack, HSDPA up to 3.6 Mbps, UPnP, USB Mass Storage
- - Media: MP3, AMR, WAV, RealAudio, AAC and WMA (audio); H.263, Flash Video, H.264/AVC, MP4, RealVideo, WMV (video)
- - Sensors: Accelerometer Sensor, Ambient Light Sensor
- - Browser: OSS Browser with Flash Lite 3.0 and Java
- - Email Solutions: Mail for Exchange, Ovi Mail
- - Messaging: MMS, SMS
- - Battery and power: BL-5K 1200 mAh Li-Ion battery; USB Charging only (USB travel charger incl.)
Power Management (my tests – maximum): GSM Talk Time: 5 hours, WCDMA: 3.25 hours, Music Playback Time: ~19 hours. [Take note that this is an used device; over 6 months old]
Other distinct features:
- - Hot-swappable SD card extension up to 16GB
- - Support for Nokia Mobile VPN
- - Dual slider for media buttons
- - TV tuning via the optional DVB-H Nokia Mobile TV Receiver
- - Multiple aperture settings and a mechanical shutter for the camera (uncommon for mobile phones)
- - Configurable kickback stand for multiple functions
I spent almost two weeks with this phone, and so here goes my take:
12 Reasons to like the N86
- 1) The built quality. As I’ve mentioned in my previous part of this review series (refer to Part 4), the built quality of this device is almost as good as the N97’s, despite being made in China. I’m highlighting the place of manufacturing here simply because I’ve seen really poor built quality on other Chinese made devices (hint: Nokia X6!), and fortunately, nothing of that sort seems to exist here; except for a few general problems found on Nokia phones (cross reference to Shaky USB Port and Slider point below). The steel band adds to the strength, and the phone feels really solid and good in the hands; yet chunky sometimes, thanks to the thickness. It is probably one of the least damageable models within the range, save for the camera (and the Carl Zeiss lens) which generally is an expensive component to be taken care of, on any phone as a matter of fact. Even the tear-to-open rear cover felt solid, notwithstanding my dislike towards the whole idea.
- The scratch-proof glass is evidently strong, for this particular unit from WOM/Nokia would have probably travelled across tens of reviewers before me, and even then, no single scratch was visible on the front surface. Even the buttons and Dpad were still quite strong (in fact too strong!).
- One problem I’ve encountered however, although minor, is the dust and fingerprint friendliness of the phone. Fingerprints from the glass were very difficult to remove; I had to use a micro-fibre cloth for this job. The same goes to dust which gets into the phone through the side gaps along the rear cover, which probably requires a cleaning brush often.
- 2) Screen. The 2.6-inch AMOLED display goes without saying; it’s probably among the best sub-3 inch AMOLED screens I’ve seen. With excellent colour reproduction, dedicated themes, icons, videos and images look great. Blacks are unquestionably black, and it definitely has no problem with side viewing angles as well. Vividly outstanding, the display is also a good match for the 8 Megapixel camera.
- 3) Camera. When the phone was announced in early 2009, the 8 Megapixel wonder wowed many alike. To me, it still wows today. The images are very crisp and vivid, precise likewise; although the focus could easily run off with a little shake (cross reference to Poor Image Stabilisation point below). The camera software is likewise good, similar to those on other S60 3.2 Nseries and the E72 I’ve tested. Sliding open the lens cover would automatically launch the camera app even from locked state, whereas the dedicated camera button only works when the phone is unlocked and the lens cover is open.
- As for the camera itself, I think I’ve already said enough before this (see Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). It is as good as a mid-range 8 Megapixel digital camera in the market today, and with the 28mm wide angle lens, it’s even better than some of the latter class (Note that the current market leaders, the Samsung M8910 Pixon12 only has a 30mm lens and the Satio, for worse, has a 35mm lens). With multiple aperture settings and a mechanical shutter for the camera, you get to capture your best moments at their best. Shutter lag is also reduced, and in my tests, I could even snap a picture while walking (without slowing down!) and it turned out almost perfect. The Macro mode is equally good, as you can see through the above links. The selling point for this phone is undeniably the camera, and it’s definitely a good buy if you’re inclined towards this as well. The post-processing software does a good job too, although some images appeared dimmer, as I’ve noted in the previous posts.
- 4) Energy efficient. Just like the E72 I reviewed last week, the N86 also comes with Power Saving mode, unplug charger reminder/notification, and the ambient light sensor (which doesn’t work as seamless as the former). With the above mode activated, the phone could last twice longer in fact, which is of course better since typically the phone doesn’t have a promising battery life (but remember not to switch to the battery saving mode in bright daylight; the phone becomes basically useless). The 1200 mAh Li-ion battery isn’t so much of a plus-point for this device either. However, USB charging makes life seriously easier, fortunately. I’m not saying that the phone is entirely energy efficient, but having some of the abovementioned features do help at times.
- 5) Customisable Active kickback stand. This is indeed one of the coolest and distinct features of the N86. You can set the kickstand to launch any of your favourite menu or app, limited to the ones listed within the setting menu of course. Regardless, it has never once failed to launch the pre-set instruction. I’ve mostly used this function to launch the Video Centre and subsequently use the phone as a standalone mobile display to watch videos. Saves a lot steps across the UI!
- 6) 2-way slider with spring-assistance mechanism. This feature was first seen in the N95, and has hereditarily reached here for good. The media buttons are easily accessible upon sliding open, and the Music Player could easily be launched from the Homescreen itself. The buttons are also well integrated with other apps such as the image viewer and video player. On a side note, the spring assistance mechanism makes the whole sliding experience exquisite.
- 7) 8GB internal storage. Nothing comparable to the 32GB on the X6 and N97, but truthfully, having just 8GB is more than enough, especially for a camera-oriented phone such as this. I could easily reach 1GB by snapping pictures and recording videos outdoors, and need not worry about running out of space. And I’m talking about a device that is already filled up with hundreds of songs and videos collectively. I could also record hour-long videos without relying on hot-swappable microSD cards like on many other phones (hint: Sony Ericsson!). And believe me, with the given storage, you might even get addicted to amateur photography.
- 8.) Stereo Speakers. The stereo speakers are great, although I couldn’t feel any 3D-ness to it. They are very loud and clear, discrete sounds aside. The experience may not be as good as on the N97, N900 or even the X6, but the phone could be heard across a big hall clearly without any problem. I’m a fan of TV cartoons, and series like The Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park, Cow and Chicken sounded great through the speakers (and looked great too!), in a medium-sized room. On a side note, the headphones that come with the phone (AD-54+HS-83) were equally great too.
- 9) Automatic rotation. This is very important for a multimedia oriented phone, and I’m glad they have this here (put aside the problems which is discussed below). Imagine turning your phone sideways 360 degree around just to view the hundreds of different images straight; that’s futile! And luckily also, the rotation is well integrated into everything, including the home screen, unlike on some of the S60 5th edition phones (hint: Nokia touch Xpressmusic series and X6!).
- 10) Strong GPS reception. I’m comparing this against the newer Nokia X6 and E72, both which performed equally well in a high speed train. Trains are closed compartment vicinities, so you won’t expect an A-GPS phone to respond accurately, but fortunately the N86 did, although the device I had came with the older Ovi Maps and I did not upgrade it. The speed tracking was equally good, updating as concurrent as it all happened.
- 11) Breathing menu key. This isn’t so new to Nokia phones, it is also found on many other Nseries and the Eseries, and I’m glad they decided to include it here. It may be not as visible or noticeable as many other phones with the same function; but if it’s on your table at work, it’s definitely noticeable for any unattended messages and calls.
- 12) Keypad lock switch. This is very important for a phone with a form factor such as this. I’ve seen many people view their messages/emails on the N95 and other slide models by sliding open the keypad, which to me defeats the whole purpose. And to address the problem, Nokia introduced this keypad lock switch on the N86 as well as many other models. You can practically use the phone without sliding it open, unless you’re typing something, and with that additionally, the N86 becomes a small phone in the hand indeed. I’ve found this switch particularly useful when using the phone as a standalone display for watching videos on the table.
14 Reasons not to like the N86
- 1) OS/Hardware glitches. One of the biggest problems in S60 3rd Edition phones would be the non-seamless switching between bands, and I’ve found this just as annoying on the N86 every time switching between 3G and GSM.
- Another issue I’ve encountered with the phone was the constant dropping of data connection on tethering. I’m not exactly sure if this is software related, as it could also be due to hardware issues (hint: Google Nexus One!). This happened quite frequently; the internet connection just ‘drops’ out of the blue. Just to make sure, I tried the same thing on my E72, and nothing of that sort happened. And subsequently when I returned to the N86, the same problem reoccurred numerous times; and this problem was there throughout the 2 week test period. Here, it’s worthy of noting that the phone has not been updated to the latest firmware, as this problem could have been addressed therein.
- Next, the biggest problem – memory management. With the same amount of executable memory (~71MB upon booting up), I had no problem on the E72, but here it was the other way around. Browsing heavyweight pages with images became a problem for the phone to handle, likewise on many other ‘daunting’ tasks. Read more below under the “Underpowered processing” point.
- 2) Unchanged Nseries Gallery – Videos and Photos muddled up together under “Images” folder. This one is common to numerous Nseries models (running S60 3.2) and just like in the E72 review, I’m repeating here again; I simply hate this. If it clearly says Images, why not just store Images (only!) and not jumble up with Videos? With the N86’s ability to support up to 16GB microSD cards, you could practically store hundreds or even thousands of photos and videos within, and imagine cracking your head through both, within one confusing folder. I’m really hoping to see this corrected in Symbian^3.
- 3) Shaky USB port and slider mechanism. The USB port seemed to be quite loose, and I had to be extremely careful when plugging the cable in and out to avoid any disaster (hint: N900!). As for the slider, this problem has been many a time pointed out by other users after months of usage. I think the unit I tested was already overly used, so these are just issues worthy of mentioning and not discussing any further.
- 4) Outdated S60 UI. The same old User Interface from probably 2 years ago, with no enhancement or tweaking. Coupled with the slow processor (read below), the whole experience can be devastating at times. One place where it’s obvious; the Gallery folder, where the sub-folders (Images > Captured, All, etc) load very slowly at times, especially with the transitional effects therein and the Ken Burns effect thereafter. This was really bad on the N85 and on the N86 it has not been rectified unfortunately. If Nokia knows that the processor is slow, why put in this demanding transition effect then? Or vice versa.
- 5) Active kickstand. This isn’t about the function of the kickstand, but instead the stand itself. It felt very flimsy, and troublingly looked like it could just snap with a little extra force.
- 6) Keypad. The keypad layout is all fine; the buttons are well separated, so you will never mistype anything. The problem on the other hand lies on the buttons themselves. They’re just too hard, simply too hard. Even the cover buttons (Call, Cancel, Select, etc) are extra hard, making it difficult to type/press. I compared the typing time with other similar-layout phones, and it definitely was slower, no thanks to a few misses and retyping. Secondly, the keypad buttons aren’t ‘accessible’ enough; they’re too close to the body, making the already-hard buttons even more difficult to type on. Something to get used to, I would say, but it does take some time for that obviously.
- 7) Underpowered processing – CPU and RAM. Now this could probably be the biggest and most important problem Nokia needs to address. The N86 comes with the same 434 MHz ARM11 chipset found in and across the family (Nokia X6, N97, N97 mini, etc), which is not a good thing. It is ‘just nice’ for imaging and post-processing (which is borne by the DSP alongside anyway), and apart from that, everything else is underwhelming. Not exactly disastrous, but the phone fails to provide a satisfying user experience. Just as how it was on the N85 with an even lower ARM CPU, response is varied across the UI here. Sometimes it is all right, and sometimes it is extremely slow. 128MB of RAM is definitely not enough, and Nokia still seem to be sticking with it in 2009 even. No thanks to such underpowered hardware specs, automatic rotation is seriously flawed (with patches of blank space while transitioning) and the processing times for various different functions and apps vary greatly. Luckily however, the phone only crashed once in the whole test period of 14 days.
- I also realised that the response gets worse at Landscape mode. One of the most annoying scenarios/examples; I was listening to songs (via headphones) at work, and when a colleague called me, I wanted to pause the song. So accordingly I clicked on the song status indicator on the Homescreen, and it took me over 4 seconds to get to the Music Player, and another 2 seconds to pause the song. How responsive!
- 8.) Lens cover scratching. This one isn’t as bad as on the N97, yet, it’s not negligible. The scratches leave an ugly sight indeed, and I’m glad Nokia solved this issue on the N97 mini.
- 9) Redundant unlock keys. This isn’t exactly a problem, but still worthy of ranting. I don’t find a logic behind Nokia’s traditional Unlock method being retained here, since there are already various other ways to unlock the phone (Unlock Key switch, Sliding open the phone and Sliding the lens cover for photography), so why is this necessary? Maybe it’s a core part of the OS, so it couldn’t be stripped off, who knew.
- 10) Resolution. I’ve read this complaint from many others alike, but only now I experienced it myself (see image below). The 2.6” screen shares the same 240 X 320 resolution as every other S60 phone out there now (E72 with 2.36” screen, Nokia 6120c with 2” screen, and many more); and obviously the bigger you go without increasing the resolution, the less crisper the UI will look (hint: Nokia N95 8GB!). Just see the image below to know what I mean; I can practically sit down and count the visible pixels! I know the S60 can support higher resolutions than this (hint: N90 on S60 2nd Edition!); so why use the 240 X 320 resolution here? It just looks bad on 2.4 inch screens and beyond.
- 11) Needs daily charging. The N86 I tested was a used unit, so the battery life proved to be really poor, far from Nokia’s official specifications. Even with the battery saving mode on, it didn’t help much. Regardless, generally as a user, you probably have to be careful when running background apps and other demanding tasks, and should also be reminded that there is a known bug in phones that has camera lens covers. You should always exit the camera app first before closing the lens cover. Many people have complained of this, but I did not personally test on this issue.
- 12) Poor Image stabilisation. I’ve praised the camera enough, so now it’s time to criticise it a bit (don’t call me hypocritical!). On general terms, the camera (on Image mode) is very sensitive, whereby even a little shake could alter the quality of the image. For a perfect image, in my personal experience, I had to snap up to 3 pictures for luck, and later on pick the best. Not something so difficult, but could have been avoided with a better image stabilisation. Even macro images were affected, albeit not so bad.
- 13) Nokia Video Connectivity Cable not standard. Not a very big complaint, but could have been an extra selling point for a media-oriented phone such as this. It’s true many people would not be needing the cable in general, but truth be told, more than three-quarter buyers of the N86 are media-inclined users, so it’s definitely a good option to include the cable within the sales packaging all over the world (listening Nokia?)
- 14) AMOLED screen usage under sunlight. Now this is very general, which explains why it’s down at the bottom of this list. I took the phone out for a spin on a bright sunny day, and on full-brightness, basic functions could still be done (calling, answering calls, checking dates and time, etc). On half the brightness, I had to play guessing games. And finally on battery saving mode, the phone was just a dummy. I’m glad Samsung had recently revealed the Super AMOLED, and since Nokia uses some components from Samsung Electronics (displays, cameras, etc), I’m hoping for this technology to get across to Espoo as well.
The title of the review reveals it all. The Nokia N86, or Nokia N86 8MP as how Nokia calls it, is a mighty powerful device, with its unsurpassed imaging and video-recording capabilities in particular; but is hindered by several minor problems towards becoming the ultimate device, one of such stumbling blocks being the underpowered processing capabilities.
You would have noticed that I keep mentioning it as Nokia N86 and not Nokia N86 8MP. The reason is very simple: there is only ONE variant of Nokia N86 with the 8MP camera, and not multiple versions with different specs. So why should we be calling it the N86 8MP? It’s not like there is N86 5MP, N86 3MP or whatsoever. Sometimes, Nokia’s naming convention can go really awkward. Such convention is justified on the N85 8GB, simply because there’s another model without the 8GB, and the same with the X6, found in two variants of X6 16GB and X6 32GB. But here, I think not.
The SAR value (radiation) is also a bit healthier on the N86 compared to its predecessor N85, as well as many other outgoing Nokia models. This is good news for those concerned of radiation and members of the Greenpeace.
Let’s go to some basic functionality before I round up. You are not expected to type long emails or messages on this phone. The Nseries, except for the N900, N97 and its younger brother the Mini, were never meant for this purpose. Multitasking? Well, it could handle some basic to average heavyweight apps, as well as some background-running ones, but don’t expect the same performance you’d get from other higher-end phones (hint: E72!). Talking about the built quality again, it’s among the best I’ve seen, doesn’t feel all-plastic, thanks to the surrounding metal band and the scratch proof glass front. Even the Teflon rear feels much firmer than many other phones in the market, which makes the N86 a good buy for long term usage.
4 Responses to “Nokia N86 Review: Part 5 – Full Review”
Take one N86… « WOMWorld/Nokia Says:
March 17th, 2010 at 4:09 am
[...] There can’t possibly be any questions left to ask about the N86 after that review, but if you have found one, jump over and ask away. [...]
Nokia N86 8MP Test « S60inside Says:
March 17th, 2010 at 5:16 pm
[...] Link [...]
March 18th, 2010 at 4:21 am
I agree with your opinion about the keypad buttons that “They’re just too hard, simply too hard.” I tried this phone out in the Nokia Store and could not believe how hard and unyielding the keys felt: it was if you weren’t successfully pressing them. In fact, it put me off buying the phone because I use keys a lot, and prefer the feel of my Nokia E51.
Garret Blattner Says:
September 3rd, 2010 at 7:56 am
Hi i love your blog, found it while randomly surving a couple days ago, will keep checking up. Btw yesterday i was having troubles reaching the site. Bye…
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