Review of the Nokia N86


The Nokia N86 is new slider model from Nokia that essentially offers a more modern alternative to the old N95. It offers pretty much the same features, but it includes a faster processor and an 8 megapixel camera.

Last Updated: 07-Jan-2010

The N86 is available on Rogers

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

RF Performance

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RF Sensitivity: During all of the tests I made to compare the N86 with the N95 I was able to no detectable difference in RF performance at 850 MHz. However, at 1900 MHz (even on 3G) the performance of the N86 was slightly less than my N95. This might just be a glitch in the exact model I tested, because overall the performance of the N86 seems virtually identical to the old N95.

Over-the-road Performance: During over-the-road tests I found the N86 to be just as capable as the N95. All of the Nokia 3G phones Iíve tested have exhibited excellent performance in this regard.

Audio Performance

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Tonal Balance: When it comes to strictly tonal balance, the N86 has a slightly deeper and richer sound than the N95, but as youíll see in the next sub-section, this comes at a price. At the highest volumes the phone exhibits very little peakiness or tininess that is common in many other phones. As usual, Nokia does an excellent job of providing good-sounding audio.

Sound Reproduction: Now for that price I mentioned. Like with many other phones Iíd tested just recently (including the iPhone 3GS) I found that the N86 is less distinct when it comes to the finer nuances of speech. Components such as ďsĒ sounds were rather muted and words were harder to distinguish from those sounding similar. In this respect the old N95 comes out way ahead.

Earpiece Volume: After comparing the N86 with the N95 in both quiet and noisy conditions I found that the earpiece volumes were virtually identical. The N86 seemed to have a slightly less picky sweet spot (the exact position you need to hold the phone to your ear to get maximum volume), but it wasnít big enough for me to declare a winner. Either way the N86 ranks as one of the louder phones on the market, especially in noisy conditions when the Nokia volume-booth feature comes into effect.

Outgoing Audio: I compared the N86 and the N95 for outgoing audio quality and ability to handle loud background noise. I found the N86 to be a slight improvement over the N95 for sound quality, but a slightly worse when it came to picking up background noise. Both phones donít do particularly well at this task, and when compared to the new Motorola Tundra (which raises the bar for noise reduction) they are both fairly poor at it. However, they do maintain fairly good audio quality even in the face of loud background noise; they just donít try very hard to get rid of it.

Speakerphone: Like the N95, the N86 has dual speakers, but it differs in where they are placed. The N95 has the speakers on either side of the phone so that you get proper stereo effect if the phone was held in portrait orientation. The N86 puts the speakers on the same side so that they are both at the top when the phone is held in landscape orientation. I didnít find either arrangement to be better than the other, but the performance of the speakers ďspokeĒ for itself.

When using the two phones in speakerphone mode I found the volume of both to be almost identical, but the N86 speakers had a tinnier more artificial sound when the volume was turned up full. Clearly the N95 speakers were of higher quality and could handle higher outputs without distorting.

Oddly, when I played media files (like MP3s or watched videos with sound) the maximum volume of the N86 was NOTICEABLY LESS than that of the N95. Even at those lower volumes, the overall quality of the sound coming from the N95 was clearly superior.

Support Features

Ringer Volume: Because all ringtones these days are just MP3 files played through the phoneís speakers, it came as no surprise that the N86 has lower ringer volume than the N95. I used my infamous Loud Ringer MP3 file on both phones and the difference in volume (and clarity) was rather shocking. Now this isnít to say that the N86 has a poor ringer, but it has been beaten soundly by its forbearer.

Keypad Design: The numeric keypad is similar to the one on the N95, but the keys are slightly smaller and you can better feel the differences between them. Sadly the keypad is otherwise horrible. The keys have very little ďthrowĒ (the distance they can be pressed) and provide extremely poor tactile feedback. They still seemed to work reliably, but that doesnít seem to make up for their feel.

The other keys (which are always accessible, even when the phone is slid closed) have been made much smaller and placed further apart. This does make them much easier to find and press accurately than the silly style-over-substance arrangement on the N95. However, the phone is missing the PENCIL key found on many other non-QWERTY Nokia models. This key was essentially used to activate cut-and-paste, which is now handled by the #  key. Unfortunately there are numerous 3rd-party applications that rely on a ďshiftĒ key, which the N86 doesnít have. The # key does work with the cursor keys and the OK pad, but it doesnít work with numeric keys.

Display: The N86 sports a 320 x 240 pixel OLED display. This type of display produces brilliant colors and sharp images. Because each pixel is it own light source the angle of view makes no difference. The screen looks great at any angle.

I was surprised to find that it was actually bright enough (if you kept it at the brightest setting) to be seen outdoors on a sunny day. The only drawback to this screen is that once it shuts off, you canít see anything. Users who maintain a clock on their LCD displays will be disappointed.

Icing on the Cake

Camera:
The 8 megapixel camera on the N86 is clearly one of the big draws. Aside from having more resolution than the 5 megapixel camera on the N95, it also sports a wider-angle lens (the equivalent to 24 mm on a 35 mm camera). However, the wider angle means you get more in each shot from the same distance away. In terms of pixel density for a given shot, there isnít much difference between the N95 and the N86.

However, the overall quality of the shots seems better on the N86 than those I took with my N95. Quality is consistent throughout the image and there seem to be fewer artifacts.

The camera lens has a sliding cover that protects it from finger smudges when you arenít using it. This is a major improvement over the N95, which had no protection for its lens. The N95 suffered from smudges almost all of the time, which of course degrades the quality of your shots unless you clean the lens before each use.

The N86 still uses only LEDs for its flash, but it has 2 LEDs compared to the 1 LED on the N95. A xenon flash would have been a great feature, but Nokia didnít take that route.

Overall however, the N86 camera is clearly the best camera ever put on a Nokia model. Iíve read that there are other 8 megapixel phones out there that have better picture quality, but without being able to compare them side-by-side I couldnít really say.

Weight: This is an odd category that Iíve never included before, but thatís because the weight (and hence the density) of the N86 was rather surprising. The N86 is a smaller phone than the N95, which would lead you to believe that it would weigh less. As it turns out the N95 (with the standard 1100 mAh battery) weighs 130 grams, while the N86 tips the scale at 148 grams (a hefty 14% increase, despite being smaller).

Conclusions

The N86 is a nice replacement for the N95, but if you already have an N95 there isnít a whole lot in the N86 to warrant the upgrade. If you are considering an N86 to replace a much less powerful phone and you donít feel a need for touch display, the N86 is hard to fault. It has just about every hardware feature there is and a great camera too. Itís also a bit of a heavyweight, and so if you plan to carry it around in your shirt pocket you might find it a bit too much for many shirt fabrics.

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