Flagship N-Series handset.
- 2.8in display, 5-megapixel camera, HSDPA capable, built-in GPS, two-way slider, 16GB internal memory with microSD card slot, 3.5mm headphone jack
- Sluggish user interface, plastic build, DVB-H capabilities currently useless in Australia, overpriced
Unlike its predecessor, the N96 isn't revolutionary but it remains a reasonable upgrade to the N95. It’s expensive and the DVB-H feature is useless in Australia, but as a multimedia device it is one of the better mobile phones on the market.
Price$ 1,349.00 (AUD)
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Nokia’s most anticipated release of 2008, the N96 replaces the popular N95 as Nokia’s flagship N-Series model. A multimedia beast boasting almost every feature under the sun, the N96 is a fair handset on the whole. However, it still suffers from a slightly sluggish interface.
Aesthetically, the N96 feels looks more polished and smoother than the N95 8GB. The biggest change apart from the glossy casing is the display. The 2.8in TFT screen is stunning, displaying both basic text and multimedia content with outstanding sharpness. Aside from the screen, the design concept of the N96 continues where the N95 left off — this is once again a dual-slider handset. Sliding up reveals the keypad, while sliding reveals four multimedia keys which morph depending on the application you are using. The keys in both instances are flat and glossy, but they provide reasonable tactility and are comfortable to press. An excellent feature not seen on the N95 is the keypad lock slider at the top of the unit; the handset also boasts an accelerometer that rotates the orientation of the display when the phone it tilted.
The N96 has a largely plastic build. While this isn’t a huge issue the phone doesn’t feel as solid as we would have liked. The slider is an improvement over its predecessor, but this just doesn’t feel like a +$1000 handset should. In addition, the rear battery cover feels flimsy, especially when removed.
It's hard not to admire what the N96 has under the hood. Perhaps the biggest step forward over its predecessor is the whopping 16GB of internal flash memory. There is also a microSD card slot which is capable of supporting cards of up to 8GB in capacity, meaning memory can be boosted to 24GB — a sizeable chunk of memory for a mobile phone.
Using the handset is generally a hassle-free experience, though like its predecessor, the N96 does suffer from lag at times. While this isn’t as much of an issue as it was when the original N95 was released, the Symbian Series 60 3rd edition still isn’t as smooth or quick as it could be, especially when opening and closing applications. This will most likely be improved in the near future by software updates.
Like most new Nokia handsets, the N96 includes a built-in GPS receiver with A-GPS. The Nokia Maps application is preinstalled on the handset, which enables users to search for addresses and locate POIs. Users receive a three month free trial of full turn-by-turn navigation before a subscription fee is required. Be warned, though: A-GPS is a network feature that requires a data plan, so watch your additional charges if you are a frequent GPS user. Conveniently, an in-car charger is included in the sales package.
A 5-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics is once again present, but this is let down by the lack of Xenon flash. Instead the camera has a dual LED flash. Regardless, photos are reasonable for a camera phone and it remains one of the better models on the market. It’s not without its issues — including colour reproduction, image noise and a general lack of sharpness; photos taken at night are passable, however.
The multimedia capabilities of the N96 are excellent. The external speakers produce reasonable sound, while a 3.5mm headphone jack allows any set of headphones to be connected for the best possible sound. There is also an FM radio present, though you’ll need to use the standard headphones as they include the FM antenna. A particularly clever feature is the built-in kick-stand: flip it out and the N96 can be rested upright on a desk or table, making it ideal for watching video content.
Unfortunately, one of the best features of the N96 is currently useless in Australia. The handset is DVB-H capable, meaning it is theoretically capable of receiving live television broadcasts. Australians are still waiting for the government to release the spectrum required to establish this service.
Nokia Australia has certainly put plenty of its eggs in the services market of late, and the N96 is a perfect example of this push. In addition to a three-month free subscription to turn-by-turn navigation, Nokia bundles a $20 Nokia Music Store voucher and a free N-Gage game, and allows users to download one series of a choice of four BBC programs: Walking with Dinosaurs, Little Britain, The Catherine Tate Show and Yes, Minister. These DRM-protected files are downloaded to a PC and can then be synchronised to the N96 using Windows Media Player.
Connectivity is excellent, with the N96 boasting Wi-Fi 802.11g/b, Bluetooth with A2DP, USB with a standard micro-USB interface and HSDPA capabilities. The N96 doesn’t operate on the 850MHz HSDPA band though, which means the phone won’t work on Telstra’s Next G network. Call quality is excellent and the hands-free speakerphone is also loud and clear, though the handset's battery life is questionable. We found ourselves charging the handset every night to ensure a full day's use (although this was during abnormally heavy use).
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