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 :)