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Nokia N96 Review

Nokia N96

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Homescreen - Nokia N96 Review
Homescreen - Nokia N96 Review

Homescreen

The N96 upgrades the Symbian S60 smartphone OS to the latest Feature Pack 2. The OS runs plenty snappy; animations are smooth, and there is rarely any lag. Now and again it would take a bit longer to respond to a key press, especially when opening the multimedia shortcut menu, though the lag was only a second or less and we’re really just nitpicking.

The multimedia key brings up a slick looking carousel shortcut menu for TV and Video, Music, Photos, Games, Maps, Internet and Contacts. Nokia’s OVI suite of N-Gage, Maps and Music Store are on board, but the rest is standard S60 fair. As we have covered S60 in other reviews such as the 6210 Navigator and 5320 XpressMusic we will not cover it here, as there is little new of note.

Multimedia Shortcuts Menu - Nokia N96 Review
Multimedia Shortcuts Menu - Nokia N96 Review
Multimedia Shortcuts Menu - Nokia N96 Review
Multimedia Shortcuts Menu - Nokia N96 Review

Multimedia Shortcuts Menu



Camera:

The 5 megapixel camera has a Carl Zeiss Optics Tessar lens, auto-focus and dual LED flash. The front facing, secondary camera is a simple VGA camera.

Outdoors and in good lighting picture quality turned out very well. Color representation was true and for the most part lines were sharp. The camera performed much better at close distances, as you can see in the close-up flower pictures. The further the distance got the more blurred the lines got, and the leaves of the trees would run together when viewed at full resolution.

Outdoor Samples - Nokia N96 Review
Outdoor Samples - Nokia N96 Review
Outdoor Samples - Nokia N96 Review
Outdoor Samples - Nokia N96 Review
Outdoor Samples - Nokia N96 Review
Outdoor Samples - Nokia N96 Review
Outdoor Samples - Nokia N96 Review
half digital zoom - Outdoor Samples - Nokia N96 Review
maximum digital zoom - Outdoor Samples - Nokia N96 Review
 

half digital zoom

maximum digital zoom


Indoor pictures were decidedly less crisp. Whereas outdoor pictures were closer in quality to a point and shoot digital camera, the N96 showed its cellular heritage when used indoors. Color representation was not as good, and lines were blurred from all distances. As we would expect from any camera with digital zoom, image quality degraded the closer you brought the camera in.

Strong light - Indoor Samples - Nokia N96 Review
maximum digital zoom - Indoor Samples - Nokia N96 Review
Low light - Indoor Samples - Nokia N96 Review
Darkness - Indoor Samples - Nokia N96 Review

Strong light

maximum digital zoom

Low light

Darkness

Indoor Samples


Videos can be captured in VGA resolution at up to 30fps, and the camcorder mode allows for video stabilization. We were very impressed with the results we were able to achieve on our test video. We shot out of a moving car at speeds up to 50mph near the end, and the N96 had no problem keeping up with us. Of course we’re not going to be shooting professional video, but we actually prefer the videos from the N96 to our point and shoot Canon.
Camera Interface - Nokia N96 Review

Camera Interface


Nokia N96 sample video at 640x480 pixels resolution
* Note that the video is around 38MB in size

Options are plentiful; when taking pictures you have several scene modes: auto, user defined, close-up, portrait, landscape, sports, night and night portrait. You can choose the white balance from five predefined settings, and adjust the exposure from -2 to 2. Users can also adjust the sharpness, contrast and ISO. For videos the options are decidedly less plentiful. You simply have auto and night mode, white balance and color tone adjustment and the ability to turn the light on and off.


Another very cool feature is geotagging, which embeds GPS info into pictures so the user can remember where it was taken. We were pleased with the camera, but have to mention how much we dislike the camera button. Like the power button the travel to engage it is too far, and being small you really have to press it the right way to make sure it is fully depressed.


Multimedia:

The N series has always differentiated itself with its multimedia integration, and the N96 brings this to new levels. The 2.8”, 16M color screen produce crisp, clear videos and the 5 megapixel Carl Zeiss camera produces vivid images. The integrated Nokia Music Store allows users to download tracks.

Nokia lists H.263 and H.264 codec compatibility up to VGA and 30fps (scaled to QVGA on device, SDTV max via TV out) but it was not able to play any of our H.263 files which were QVGA at 24 and 30fps. However, it handled all of our H.264 files which ranged from QVGA all the way up to 480x240 and went up to 60fps. Videos looked very good on the high resolution display, though we have to admit they weren’t as clear as on the iPhone. Either way we found the integrated stand to be very useful, and appreciate the thought that went into the design.

The music player is minimalistic and extremely well designed; though not as pretty as the iPod interface. It had no issues with any of the music we loaded, though it only recognized album art for one of our six albums. Artist and name recognition were flawless though, and it handed subfolders just fine. In addition to loaded music, the N96 offers extensive internet radio solutions and an FM tuner (with the included headphones).


Music Player - Nokia N96 Review
Music Player - Nokia N96 Review
Music Player - Nokia N96 Review

Music Player


Unlike the N95, the N96’s multimedia keys work at any time meaning that the phone does not need to be opened to control your media. Truth be told, the slide out media keys are now worthless as such, and in future devices we’d expect to see a heavier focus on their N-Gage integration as opposed to media control.

Sound quality was very good with the right headphones, but the included ones are sorely lacking. With our headphones the bass was rich and the highs crisp, definitely on par with an iPod. There is really no reason for N96 owners to carry a separate PMP, though sadly it does not support gapless output. The stereo speakers were plenty loud, much more so than the iPhone, and quality was about the same. The highs and lows aren’t there and the sound was hollow, but for watching video and TV they were just fine. Stereo widening, which is not enabled by default, has a very positive effect on the sound output.

Unfortunately we were not able to test out the DVB-H tuner for mobile digital TV, as we are testing this phone in the US.


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Nokia N96

Nokia N96

OS: Symbian 9.3
view full specs
PhoneArena rating:
8.5Excellent
Display2.8 inches, 240 x 320 pixels (143 ppi) TFT
Camera5 megapixels
Hardware
Single core, 264 MHz, ARM9 processor
0.1 GB RAM
Size4.05 x 2.16 x 0.70 inches
(103 x 55 x 18 mm)
4.40 oz  (125 g)
Battery950 mAh, 3.66 hours talk time

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