Nokia N86 8MP Review

Introduction and Design
This is a global GSM phone. It can be used with AT&T and T-Mobile USA. The American version supports AT&T's 3G network.


Well into 2009, 8-megapixel cell phones have been around for about a year now and we have already thoroughly compared them. Similarly to the slightly belated market entry of the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic, the manufacturer is now taking on the cameraphone niche with their Nokia N86 8MP. It is a double slider like the Nokia N95 and Nokia N85 and is being extolled as a device with superb camera that allows taking of excellent pictures in both natural and artificial lighting conditions. Aside from it, the N86 8MP’s camera is the first in a cell phone with variable aperture. In theory, this would allow better sensitivity to light and improved picture depth. We are getting to this later though; let´s first take a look at what´s inside the box:

  • Nokia N86
  • Charger
  • microUSB cable
  • Earphones with 3.5mm jack and wired, audio remote control
  • Software DVD with Nokia Ovi Suite
  • Manual


The weight of the Nokia N86 8MP, 5.36 oz. (149 g) did take us aback.  Although the device is as heavy as the Nokia N97, the first 8-megapixel camera phone of the manufacturer feels hefty and solid in your hand due to the numerous metal elements, something we already know from Arte models. We aren’t into heavy phones much, because they tend to be uncomfortable to carry around in your pocket. At least it is comfy to take pictures with. The handset looks quite stylish in black, although it´s also offered in elegant white, like the Nokia N97.

You can compare the Nokia N86 8MP with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

The Nokia N86 8MP sports a 2.6-inch AMOLED display that supports 16 million colors, has native resolution of 240x320 pixels, light sensitivity sensor and is protected with scratch-resistant glass. We weren’t surprised to see that screen offers extremely good image quality and vivid colors indoors. We are also really happy to find out that even if things turn worn out in direct sunlight, details still remain discernible without a problem not like the N85 that becomes virtually unusable outdoors.

Buttons below the screen might look somewhat small and thin to you, but we didn’t have any troubles using them. The same goes for the 5-directional D-Pad and speaking of it, we do like the dent in the middle, because it fits your thumb really well.

We are also pleased with the slider mechanism. Opening and closing it in both directions is easy. Keyboard buttons are large enough, easy to feel with your finger and we didn’t encounter any issues pressing them. If you push the slider downwards, you will see four multimedia buttons, much like those on the Nokia N85. They go with the overall design of the Nokia N86 8MP and aside from allowing you to control both audio and video player, they can also be used in games or to zoom in and out while taking and previewing pictures. We have a gripe though – they are located way too close to the edge, so most people would have certain troubles pressing them, because they would keep hitting their fingers against the edge.

On either side of the device you will find slider that locks/unlocks the phone keys, power on button, 3.5mm jack, microUSB port, stereo speakers, volume rocker and camera shutter. The latter is most important with this handset and unfortunately, it is the one that gives troubles – keeping it pressed in mid position so to focus is OK, but you do need to push down hard to take a picture, which causes slight vibrations that lead to blurry snapshots.

Speaking of pictures, the Nokia N86 8MP is equipped with 8-megapixel camera with wide-angle Carl Zeiss Tessar optics, variable aperture and double LED flash. The module resembles the one on the Nokia N97 and even the cover is the same with its thin layer that cleans optics from larger dust particles. There is a stand around the camera that allows you to steadily set the phone on flat surfaces and watch videos comfortably. There is a cool function that lets you choose what application is started when you open the stand.

Nokia N86 8MP 360 Degrees View:


The Nokia N86 8MP utilizes interface that we know well from other devices of the manufacturer - S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 2 and we have already reviewed it in details.

On the home screen you can choose whether the StandBy application is showed horizontally at the top of the display or vertically on its left hand side. In the first case you will have six shortcuts that can be customized to your own liking, with information on calendar events, alarms, messages etc being showed below them. Seven icons appear on screen in the second mode - once selected they unfold and provide additional options.


As we have pointed this out in other reviews of devices running the same operating system, the contacts function is excellent, entries feature quite many info fields and each of them can be assigned a really large picture that appears at incoming calls. It doesn’t matter if you enter the first of the given name of a person - the system searches by both. It is a cool thing that you can choose to assign videos to contacts rather than the standard ringtone and picture that appear when you get an incoming call.


Of course, there are no differences in the organizer function that is typical of high-end smartphones. Four types of events are supported by the calendar – meetings, notes, anniversaries and tasks, each of them with their own individual times, alarm sounds etc. You also have a calculator, unit converter, Quickoffice to open Office 2003 documents and file browser.

Messaging and Connectivity:

Here is where your text, multimedia and email messages are all stored. When you want to send an email, all settings get filled in automatically if you happen to use any leading service provider, such as Gmail or Yahoo. Things get even better, because Nokia Messaging comes preloaded on the Nokia N86 8MP and is by far, at least in our opinion, quite comfier to use than the standard Symbian S60 client. Unfortunately, this is the application that we had most of our troubles with. For some reason, the phone will sometimes fail to create email inbox, despite the message that setting up has been successfully finished. To our question regarding this issue, Nokia said it should be occurring on our unit only.

You connect to the Internet over 3G or via the built-in Wi-Fi. Either way, you will get to the standard browser that comes with the operating system and offers text panning, overview mode and partial Flash support. The latter can be illustrated with an example – YouTube player loads and starts without a hitch, but this is not the case with the web players on, etc. Still, the browser would do the trick, although as whole, it´s not as good as the best ones found on touch sensitive screen cell phones.


The Nokia N86 8MP offers GPS navigation functionality thanks to the built-in A-GPS and the Nokia Maps app. It comes preloaded on the device and is latest software version, because starting it shows the Ovi Maps logo. The software interface has not been significantly changed and the only novelty feature is the so-called Dashboard that provides information about your movement speed, altitude, coordinates and point estimation of how long it will take you to cover 1 km at the current pace. The app also features a digital compass that comes in quite handy when you navigate, because it orients the map in the direction you are moving. In some regions the Nokia N86 8MP comes with 6 months free drive navigation and lifelong global walk navigation, so you better enquire about the licenses at your local dealer when buying the handset.

Localization after cold start and with active internet connection takes about 20 seconds, which is a quite good timing indeed. Like most other cell phones with GPS that we have reviewed, getting all set is almost instantaneous after a hot restart. Unfortunately, the lack of active internet connection increases time to about 15 minutes after cold restart, which is rather mediocre, given there was no a single cloud in the sky and we were in the open with no tall buildings in the vicinity. We also noticed that sometimes the GPS would lose the satellite signal for no apparent reason, even in places we hadn’t had any troubles with other cell phones we tested.


Finally, we made it to the 8-megapixel camera that is also the first to have integrated variable aperture on a cell phone. Moreover, it is equipped with wide-angle Carl Zeiss Tessar optics and fourth generation double LED flash, so it should be up to its task. A major advantage of wide angle optics over its standard counterpart is it covers larger vision field. Logically, this leads to an increased number of smaller objects being visible, meaning you will need to zoom in more than you normally do. Greater than normal image distortion is characteristic of wide angle optics, although this is almost never an issue. And what advantage does the variable aperture offer alongside of regular cell phones? Well, camera should have better sensitivity to light and provide improved picture depth in snapshots taken in proper lighting conditions. Still, its performance is more important than theory itself.

As a whole, the interface starts fast and you are ready to go in about 3 seconds after sliding the cover open. Taking pictures is also fast – focusing in daylight takes about a second, in the dark – about 2.5 sec. and having the snapshot saved is done in 3 seconds.

We are not really captivated by the interface itself, because it´s not much different from the several year old Nokia N95. You can choose from panoramic pictures, scenes, several color effects, 3 flash modes, timer and sequence shooting. Aside from these you also have ISO sensitivity settings (low, medium and high), sharpness, white balance, exposure and contrast. All told, we are of the opinion that the interface looks dated and unfriendly. Plus, modern options like face and smile detection or similar to LG´s Intelligent Shot are not present. We did expect Nokia to equip its first 8-megapixel device with something brand new or a modern set of camera options at least. Ultimately, it´s image quality that matters, so let´s take a look at how the phone fares. 

Pictures taken outdoors have average quality alongside of other 8-megapixel camera phones. Snapshots are well exposed and with good contrast, but similarly to what you get with other devices of the manufacturer, the sky looks mauve. Our more significant gripe, however, regards the mediocre details. This is a problem that all other 8-megapixel models seem to have, although most of them deliver better results (the Samsung INNOV8, OMNIA HD, Pixon, LG Renoir)

Snapshots taken in artificial lighting conditions have lower quality, which can be expected. It´s a good thing that colors remain properly represented even in low light – you can see for yourself that the test pictures we took indoors look just fine with their resolution decreased. This makes for a significant camera advantage. The good performing double LED flash provides enough light and it´s only the Sony Ericsson C905 that comes with a more powerful module. So, the Nokia N86 8MP comes out second on our list of devices that deliver indoor pictures with decent quality. Well done!

Pictures taken with the Nokia N86 8MP at night are not impressive, but are OK. Their quality is quite similar to what the competition delivers – a lot of noise and lack of enough details.

All told, the improvement that the variable aperture brings along remains rather unnoticeable due to the lack of enough details, so the feature seems more a marketing hype than something of real advantage.

We almost forgot to tell you that you can capture videos with quite good image and sound quality at 30 frames per second and maximum resolution of 640x480. We need to point out we are pleasantly impressed by the performance of the Nokia N86 8MP as a video capture device, despite the limited resolution.

Nokia N86 8MP sample video at 640x480 pixels resolution

Videos and pictures are browsed in the phone Gallery that offers several options to filter content - by month, album, tags or all available content, just like the Nokia N97 and  Nokia 5630 XpressMusic. Once you choose an option, captured frames are called up on screen, turn up sorted in a cool way and spin around when you change over to another. There is a counter that shows the number of the current picture and the total number of snapshots on the device. Moreover, you have the options to see content in slideshow, assign pictures to contact entries and set any as home or call screen wallpaper.

Multimedia and Games:

Just like the Nokia N97, the multimedia menu we know well from previous N-Series models is missing. Instead, you will be using Music and Video centre to get to the phone audio and video functions.

The music menu is the same as the N97 and Nokia 5630 XpressMusic and allows access to the music library, online music store, FM radio and FM transmitter. The interface of the audio player looks rather boring and buttoned-down for a device that comes out in mid 2009, especially alongside of what competing devices deliver. Naturally, there are several ways to filter content - by album, artist, all available songs, composer etc., plus you have equalizer presets and sound effects. As a whole, the audio player is really comfy to use, but lags behind the pack in terms of overall design, doesn’t bring out any improvements and looks outdated for 2009, especially keeping in mind the prevailing trend rules motley, beautifully crafted icons and eye-catch visualizations.

The boxed earphone set is Nokia HS-83, comes with 3 rubber ear adapter pairs, wired audio remote control and microphone. Sound quality through them is high – with clearly discernible trebles and basses, plus the set is definitely up to the task of isolating environmental noises. The thing is the headset is not powerful enough. Loudspeakers perform worse than those on the cell phones, considered the best with this regard - loudness is low and overall quality is mediocre. As a whole, when it comes to listening to music, the N86 8MP performs decently for a camera phone.

Aside from the ordinary FM Radio with RDS, the N86 8MP is equipped withsomething much more interesting – a built-in FM transmitter. After youpick out a frequency, the device will start broadcasting music that isbeing played. So you will be able to listen to your songs while, say,driving your car and without the need to resort to additionalaccessories. It´s just too bad that signal quality is not good enough -there are constant crackling noises and the broadcasting radius isabout 2 meters, meaning you would be better off avoiding the function.More information on countries that allow use of personal FMtransmitters is available here.

You can choose from several options in the Video centre – view recently seen content, all available videos, only those captured with the phone camera or downloaded from the Internet. They are watched on either the standard RealPlayer that comes with the operating system or the other one that looks much better, but fails to provide functionality beyond the standard. They both play MPEG4 videos with resolution of 640x480 pixels, 30 frames per second and high bitrates (1400 Kbps) without a hitch. Personally, we would rather stick to RealPlayer, because it delivers more saturated colors. Moreover, videos and snapshots can be seen on regular TV-sets, but you would need to additionally buy the necessary cable (there isn’t one in the box).

The Nokia N86 8MP is equipped with 8GB built-in memory and N-Gage support. Unlike the N97, the 8-megapixel cameraphone comes preloaded with 15 games (trial versions). When you make up your mind which one you like best, you can get its full version using the single activation code that comes in the box.

Performance and Conclusion:

As a smart phone, the Nokia N86 8MP comes out ahead in our ranking, because it is fast and trouble-free device. There is no observable lagging when you switch between menus and applications start almost instantaneously. The accelerometer is overly sensitive and will sometimes turn the screen sideways by itself, but we can live with that. In-call quality is above the average and as a whole, OK. Voices are loud and distinct on both ends, although they tend to be a bit sharp and monotonous. However, these are petty faults that don’t negatively affect communication much, so you don’t need to worry.

All told, we believe the N86 8MP comes into play unjustifiably late. Yes, the device is a good smartphone, but by no means any better than its rivals. The phone has made it to our top 3 list in terms of pictures, taken in artificial lighting conditions. However, come to outdoor snapshots, it definitely lags behind competition. If you are looking for a capable smartphone, the first 8-megapixel camera phone of Nokia is a viable option, although it won´t wow you. In case you need improved multimedia capabilities, aside from a good performing camera, you might want to look at the Samsung´s 8-megapixel devices (OMNIA HD, INNOV8 and Pixon). Finally, if you feel like getting a handset that is more a digital camera and less a cell phone, the 12-megapixel Pixon is expected really soon – will it manage to take snapshot quality to a better level we wonder?

Software version of the reviewed unit - 10.086.

Nokia N86 8MP Video Review:


  • Pictures taken in artificial lighting conditions have really good quality
  • Pictures shared on social network websites look great
  • Beautiful display
  • Active phone stand


  • Hefty
  • Inconvenient camera shutter
  • Operating system interface is boring and unfriendly
  • GPS tends to lose signal at times for no reason in particular

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User Rating:

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