Most importantly, though, the N86 8MP delivered in picture quality. We took multiple shots: indoors, outdoors, and at night, and the N86 always delivered with sharp images and vibrant colors. The camera did fine with macro shots as well as landscape and portraits. The only instance where there was a slight hint of a problem was with nighttime shots when there was just a bit of graininess to the photo, but even so, it's very impressive for a camera phone. Video quality was also good with very smooth picture and playback.
Once you've captured images, you can enhance the pictures with the built-in photo editor where you can add various effects, text, clip art, and more. There are numerous options for sharing your photos with others. You can, of course, send them via e-mail or multimedia message. You can upload them to the Nokia Ovi Service, Flickr, or Vox, and if you enabled the geotagging function, you can plot your photos on a map. In addition, you can view the photos in a slideshow or send them to a networked printer. And don't worry, the N86 offers plenty of storage with 8GB of internal memory and a microSD expansion slot that can accept up to 16GB cards.
Of course, the bonus of the Nokia N86 8MP is that it's not just a camera; it's a smartphone that includes voice capabilities, the mobile Web, productivity tools, and more. The N86 8MP runs Symbian OS version 9.3 using S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 2. The user interface is fairly intuitive, though as we've said in the past, it looks pretty outdated compared with some of the smartphones on the market today. You can choose from four menu options (grid, list, horseshoe, and V-shaped) and create new folders. You can also view and toggle between open apps, but its multitasking in this way isn't very sophisticated or smooth.
For personal organization and productivity, there's a calendar, a zip manager, a measurement converter, a PDF reader, a calendar, a clock, a calculator, and a text-to-speech message reader. The Quick Office Suite lets you view Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, and it optimizes the pages for the phone's screen, so you don't have to scroll all over the place to read text. There are some nice shortcuts to jump to the top or bottom of the page to reduce the up-and-down scrolling, and there's also a search function. However, if you want any editing capabilities, you'll have to upgrade the preloaded copy of QuickOffice. You can purchase more apps through the Nokia Ovi Store, though we had problems accessing the catalog.
For messaging, the N96 can access IMAP4, POP3, and SMTP e-mail accounts and comes with a full attachment viewer. It also supports a number of push e-mail solutions, as well as Microsoft Exchange Server synchronization. There's a wizard that can help you with setting up your e-mail and in-box synchronization.
As a phone, the N86 offers quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, conference calling, voice dialing, and text and multimedia messaging. The address book is only limited by the available memory and the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts. Each entry can store multiple phone numbers, work and home addresses, e-mail addresses, a birthday, and more vitals. For caller ID purposes, you can assign each contact a photo, a ringtone, or a group ID. Bluetooth 2.0 is also onboard, with support for mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets, hands-free kits, dial-up networking, file transfer, object push, phone book access, and more.
Connectivity options include Wi-Fi and 3G, though the N86 only supports AT&T's 850/900MHz HSDPA bands, and not T-Mobile's 3G network, which operates on the 1700/2100MHz bands. The Nokia Web browser features a mini map option that helps you navigate pages by providing a page overview and the capability to point on a site and zoom into the specific spot, instead of having to tediously scroll up or down. Aside from navigating the Web, you can navigate the streets thanks to the phone's integrated GPS/A-GPS and preloaded Nokia Maps application and a built-in digital compass.
Finally, if you're craving more entertainment, the built-in media player supports MP3, AAC, eACC, eACC+, and WMA files and offers repeat and shuffle modes and a built-in equalizer. You can create playlists on the fly, and the smartphone will display album art if available. In addition to your personal library of tunes, the N86 offers podcast support and an FM radio, provided that you use the included earbuds since the tuner is built into them. You can also play a variety of games with Nokia's N-Gage gaming service. There are a number of trial titles included on the phone, such as FIFA 09, Tetris, and Asphalt, and with the purchase of the N86, you get an activation code that will allow you to download the full version of one game for free. The N-Gage platform also has a community component to it, and you can create a profile, build up points and status, and interact and play with other N-Gage members.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Nokia N86 8MP in San Francisco using AT&T service and call quality was OK. Voices sounded just a bit hollow on our end and the audio cut out a couple of times, but the latter wasn't a constant problem. We also never had to hang up on a call because the sound was so bad. Meanwhile, our friends reported excellent call quality and had no complaints. They also said they could barely tell the difference between speakerphone calls and regular voice calls. Unfortunately, we thought the audio was a bit high-pitched on our side and the speaker wasn't very strong. We were able to pair the N86 with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
The N86 8MP is powered by an ARM 11 434MHz. Overall, the smartphone was responsive with minimal delays. We played a trial version of Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D and the gaming experience was clean and quite fun. We watched a couple of video clips and playback was smooth with synchronized audio and picture, but again, the N86 could benefit from a higher-resolution screen, which became particularly evident when watching videos. We also used our Bose On-Ear Headphones and enjoyed rich-sounding music with a nice balance of treble and bass.
The phone's GPS capabilities were quite impressive. The phone consistently found our location within 2 minutes or less and accurately tracked our position as we drove around San Francisco. We plotted a course from the Golden Gate Bridge to CNET's downtown headquarters, and while Nokia Maps provided an accurate route, its route recalculation capabilities were slightly annoying. Though it was fast to come up with a new route, the new directions were a bit circuitous and often instructed us to make a U-turn to get back to the original itinerary instead of coming up with new directions based on the current location. In some cases, making a U-turn might be the only option but we knew of several alternative methods that we could have taken, so the repetitive commands to make a U-turn got to be annoying.
The Nokia N86 features a 1200mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 6.3 hours (GSM)/3.9 hours (3G) and up to 13 days (GSM)/11 days of standby time. We are still conducting our battery drain tests but will update this section as soon as we have final results. According to FCC radiation tests, the N86 has a digital SAR rating of 1.01 watts per kilogram.