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Nokia N96 – a worthy flagship?

I really want to like the Nokia N96 – I really do! After all, it is Nokia’s flagship device, and based on its groundbreaking predecessors, it was supposed to be something special. And therein lies the rub – as much as the original N95 was revolutionary, the N96 is just evolutionary.

Take the N95 8 GB, add another 8 GB of built-in flash storage for a total of 16 GB, add a micro-SDHC card slot for external storage, add hi-speed USB support, add a DVB-H digital TV tuner, replace the single LED flash with a dual LED flash, upgrade the OS to Symbian S60v3 Feature Pack 2, and make it a bit thinner, using Nokia’s tasty new Nseries design language… That’s the N96.

On the hardware front, it’s a sexy phone. The design is miles ahead of the N95. It reminds me of the N81 and this is a good thing. It’s well put together, too – the slider feels very nice. Contrary to James Whatley, I don’t have a problem with the key layout.

I really like the “hold” switch (to lock the keys), and the placement of the 3.5 mm audio connector (on top). The 2.8″ screen is gorgeous, and storage is beyond generous – being able to copy files from a micro-SD card to the built-in flash storage is definitely useful. Sound quality is much improved when listening to music vs. the N95.

So what’s the problem, then?

Battery life is stunted. The N96 uses the BL-5F (950 mAh) battery from the original N95 instead of the upgraded BL-6F (1200 mAh) battery from the N95-3 and N95 8 GB – why?

There is a US version of the phone (N96-3, with 1900/850 MHz 3G bands), and a European version (with 2100/900 MHz 3G bands), yet both versions feature the same DVB-H digital TV tuner, which is completely useless in the US, where ATSC is the norm. How about a tri-band 3G version (2100/1900/850 MHz) without the digital TV tuner?

The camera is downgraded from its predecessors, especially in terms of low-light performance. Also, the lack of lens cover is unacceptable on a flagship device.

But it’s with the firmware that things really fall apart. Sure, Feature Pack 2 adds some nice improvements to Symbian S60v3, but what good is it when the phone is constantly crashing? I’m not exaggerating – this is the buggiest Nseries device I’ve ever used! Nokia, please fix this.

So, is the Nokia N96 a worthy flagship? I don’t think so… If you already own an N95, it’s probably not worth the upgrade. If you don’t have an N95, you’ll either want to get one now or wait for the N97, depending on your budget.

If you still can’t resist the N96, just wait for Nokia to fix the firmware – you’ve been warned :)

10 thoughts on “Nokia N96 – a worthy flagship? Leave a comment

  1. I got a N96 with a 3 italy contract. After having another flagship device (the buggy Sony Ericsson K850i) I though things couldn’t be that bad. Unfortunately, they are. While the N96 doesn’t have the easily damageable sensor keys of the K850i, it has a worst (in low light conditions) camera, something that must have been hard to do. It crashes frequently. The battery lasts less than one day if you use the 3g to access the net (via a IM like fring, the internal browser, whatever, the battery doesn’t last).
    Ah, and did I say that the back cover is extra flimsy, ready to fall apart if you stare at it too hard?
    Or that the slider mechanism soon starts to wooble?
    Or that it is so riddled with DRM crap that you can’t even play .ogg files unless you buy a app, because you can’t add a “filter” to let it’s internal player recognise ogg?
    Or that if you unbrand it, which is very easy, just change a product id using nss, and then upgrade the firmware using nokia’s firmware upgrade application, you lose your warranty for good, as nokia keeps a list of IM/Product codes pairs that it checks at every upgrade, and for which a deviation means they won’t honour the warranty?

    I was pissed with the k850, pissed enough to change from SE back to nokia. But the N96 is pissing me off even more. And the worst, is that some of these problems are not N96 specific. Which means that my next phone won’t probably be a nokia.

  2. @norcalbarney

    Matt, I think this was v11 – it was the N96 US version we both got from WOM World, and I was unable to update the firmware despite the upgrade released by Nokia – I think that was v12.

  3. @norcalbarney

    I have the v12 firmware – and it still reboots on a regular basis. And the battery very seldom lasts a whole day.

  4. I have the n96-1 and it has been a great phone and no problems with it and it’s 900mhz and 2100 mhz here in oz most of the cell phone networks use 2100mhz and the other one uses 850mhz it’s great for anyone from the us and europe to roam on our networks with there n96 phones and i think we are the country that uses 850mhz 900mhz and 2100mhz for cell phone frequency’s and we also have the n96-3 for sale here in australia as well and i use a n95-3 updated with version 20 update on it using telstra prepaid and a n96-1 using optus 2100mhz and 900mhz and the n96-1 works great using 900mhz and its been unbranded and reflashed bios and software without any optus software on it and i find it works faster without screen savers if anyone wants any phone look at getting a unbranded phone like going to a nokia care center or get a cell phone shop to order one in and there things there that providers don’t want you to know what the phone can do ideal if you want to change service providers

  5. I agree with the battery issue, my friend has this phone and he has to charge it quite a lot; which can become a problem after a while.
    You would think that the improvements made would be carried through so that the battery lasts longer than in the predecessor even with more functions.

    Just need to watch what you use it for, keep power hungry stuff to a minimum I supposed until they sort it out.

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