Nokia N96 Review

Introduction and Design
This is an unlocked GSM phone which can operate in the
US on AT&T (without 3G) and T-Mobile (without 3G).

This review has been updated on 11 November 2008


The Nokia N96 has a pretty hefty reputation to live up to. The N95 was a true powerhouse, and the finest converged device of its time. With a 5 megapixel camera, 3G data, the powerful S60 UI and eventually 8GB of internal memory there were few devices that could compete with it, and arguably no one could do it as well. Then along came a little device out of Cupertino and the cellular landscape changed. Not one to be reactive, Nokia has stuck to its guns with the retooled N96 and delivered an upgraded device that once again aims to sit atop of the mobile industry; improvements include 16GB of internal memory with microSDHC expansion and an integrated DVB-H tuner for mobile TV. But is it enough to compete with the almighty iPhone?

Included in the box you’ll find:
  • Li-Ion Battery
  • AC adapter
  • 3.5mm headphones with microphone adapter
  • RCA TV-out cables
  • USB sync cable
  • Vehicle adapter


Though definitely inspired by the dual-sliding N95, the N96 is a much more modern and sleek device. Like the N81 everything on the device is flush with the exception of the directional pad and Multimedia key, giving the N96 a much more modern and minimalist appearance than its predecessor. The sharp corners of the N95 are now smoothly rounded, and the keys are only apparent when illuminated.

You can compare the Nokia N96 with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

The front of the phone is comprised mostly of the 2.8” QVGA display. At 16 million colors, the same as the iPhone, the display is extremely vivid and colorful. It is easily readable in any lighting conditions, though oddly enough colors tend to wash out in direct sunlight. At the top is a pinhole front-facing VGA camera and earpiece. Below is the navigational cluster, which features right and left soft keys, the five-way d-pad, send, end, menu and clear keys and a multimedia key. Also hidden are multimedia playback controls, which sit outside the four corners of the d-pad and illuminate when the keypad lights up. The menu and clear keys, which are on the corners, can be a bit cramped and awkward to press.

The phone slides up to reveal a standard 12 key dialpad. The keys are all flush, and while they offer sufficient feedback navigating without looking is all but impossible. As is often the case with sliders, the overhang can interfere with the top row of keys. The keypad is also a bit too wide for our liking, and on the whole we weren’t too crazy about tapping out messages on this thing.

A downward slide changes the screen orientation to landscape and reveals four media keys- FF, Play/Pause, Stop and RW- that can also be used for gaming controls. N-Gage is also on board, and there are a few pre-loaded demos as well as plenty of downloadable content for the user. Like the keypad, these keys are dark at rest but illuminate white when being used.

The black face of the phone is offset by the silver housing surrounding the N96. Unfortunately it is plastic, and cheep feeling plastic at that. It’s not incredibly cheap, but cheap enough that we’re ashamed to see it in such a high-end device. The right side of the phone features stereo speakers at the top and bottom corner, which sit at the top of the phone when watching TV in landscape mode. It also houses the volume rocker and camera key. On the left side is simply the covered microSDHC slot. The card sits a bit too deep in the phone for our liking, which makes it hard to both press to remove and to physically take out of the phone once it is pressed in.

On the top is a lock switch, the 3.5mm headphone/output jack and the power/profile button, and on the bottom is the microUSB data port (that can also be used to charge) and the 2mm pin charging port. The power button is too small and travel too far, and you cannot hold the phone by the sides and press it with one finger, you have to brace it at the bottom.

The back is a glossy dark plastic, with a wavy pattern “etched” into it for aesthetic purposes. The 5 megapixel Carl Zeiss camera is prominently displayed, and is ringed in silver housing that flips out to act as a stand for the phone while viewing video. The single LED flash of the N95 has been replaced by a double LED one in the N96, but unfortunately does not have the Xenon of flash of the N82.

All in all the N96 feels just ok. It is actually wider and taller than the N95, though has slimmed down considerably. That’s not to say that this isn’t a portly phone, because it most definitely is. In these svelte days of the iPhone and Touch Diamond the N96 is the fat kid doing the truffle shuffle. It feels too wide in our medium sized hands, and while that may be a good thing for those of you with big mitts it pretty much eliminates the fairer sex. The sliding mechanism is good, and we have confidence it will hold up over time. The weight has also been reduced, down to 4.4oz, but with its plastic construction the phone’s lightness leads to a cheaper (but not cheap) feeling. It could definitely do with some metal trim or a glass display (hint: touchscreen,) and while the design is a step in the right direction Nokia still has some considerable work to do.

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