You’ve probably seen pictures of the N96 plastered all over a local billboard recently. The much-hyped successor to the N95 is one of the few phones we saw that wasn’t running windows mobile. It’s also an extremely good standard media phone: video looks smooth and colourful on its 240 x 320-pixel screen, there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack so you can plug in your own headphones, and audio quality is excellent for a phone.
Its stereo speakers produce loud audio – not so useful for listening to music, but for the occasional shared video or use as a speakerphone they’re brilliant. Video cables come in the box, so you can output an SD video signal to a TV, as does a modular in-line remote, so you don’t have to sacrifice the ability to handle calls when using your own headphones. Plus, with 16GB and a microSD slot onboard, there’s plenty of storage and expansion capability for audio and video.
It has the best camera of all the phones here at 5 megapixels, with a dual-LED flash, too. And this Nokia not only has the usual array of smartphone hardware – HSDPA mobile data, Wi-Fi adapter, Bluetooth and assisted GPS – it’s also easy to get to grips with, courtesy of a straightforward, easy-to-understand interface.
But there are areas where it falls down. It’s neither the most pocketable phone nor the most attractive. And although you can use it to receive push email via Nokia’s free Mail for Exchange download, the plastic numeric keypad isn’t the greatest for fast text input, and the build quality isn’t what we’d expect of a “high end” phone. Web browsing is acceptable, but on the 240 x 320 screen it feels cramped in comparison with the higher-resolution screens of the HTC and Apple.
And these weaknesses are what let the N96 down in the end. It’s an excellent media phone, but it isn’t particularly sexy and neither is it the most practical. If you’ll take advantage of its TV features then it’s a good choice, but in this company it’s made to look mediocre.