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Nokia N85 review: Nokia N85

Nokia N85

Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
Bonnie Cha
8 min read


Nokia N85

The Good

The Nokia N85 features a sleeker design and more solid construction than the N96 and N95. The smartphone also offers full wireless options as well as a 5-megapixel camera, a decent music player, and gaming support.

The Bad

The N85's can be sluggish at times, particularly when viewing photos. Some navigation controls are stiff and difficult to use. The smartphone is also expensive and the Nokia Music Store hasn't fully launched in the United States.

The Bottom Line

The Nokia N85 may not offer as much memory as the N95 or N96, but it offers just as many features and a sleeker design, making it a better value in our book.

Over the past few weeks, we've had several Nokia N series smartphones come through our office doors, including the Nokia N96, the Nokia N79, and now the Nokia N85. Like the rest, the N85 is a high-end smartphone that offers advanced multimedia capabilities, so for this review, we didn't dwell on the shared features (for more details on the N85's features, please read our full review of the Nokia N79. Instead, we focused on some of the N85's differences and standout capabilities, including music and gaming. In some ways, we found it a better device than the Nokia N96 and the Nokia N95. While you lose a bit of internal memory, you do get most of the same features; the same dual-slider design but in a slimmer, sleeker package; and snappier performance--all for about $280 less, so if you're in a dilemma of trying to decide among the three, we'd say the Nokia N85 is certainly the better value.

The Nokia N85 is like a smaller, slimmer, and sexier version of the Nokia N96. The smartphone measures 4 inches tall by 1.9 inches wide by 0.6 inch deep and weighs 4.5 ounces (compared with 4.1 inches high by 2.2 inches wide by 0.7 inch deep and 4.4 ounces); compared with some other smartphones, the N85 is still on the thick side so it'll make for a tight fit in a pants pocket, but it's definitely better than the N95 and N96. The sleek, black chassis also gives the N85 a more attractive and modern look, and the smoother edges make it more comfortable to hold in the hand. More importantly, the smartphone has a solid construction. We've complained in the past about the Nokia N95 and the N96 feeling a bit cheap and plasticky, but that's not the case with N85.

The Nokia N85 (left) shares a similar design to the Nokia N96 but is thinner and shorter.

Unlike the other N series models, the Nokia N85 features a 2.6-inch OLED display, rather than a TFT LCD. The screen supports up to 16.7 million colors at a 320x240-pixel resolution and when compared with the N96, the bump up in sharpness and brightness of color is quite noticeable. It really made photos, videos, and Web pages pop from the screen. As with most cell phone screens, however, the display was difficult to read under bright sunlight. As always, you can customize the home screen with various background images and themes.

Below the display, there are two soft keys, Talk and End buttons, a Menu shortcut, a multimedia key, a clear button, and a touch-sensitive navigation toggle. The latter can act as a jog wheel by choosing the Navi Wheel setting under Tools > Settings > General > Navi Wheel. Once on, you can simply touch the other edges of the toggle to scroll through menus, zoom in and out of pages, and so forth. However, we didn't find it particularly responsive, so we turned it off and used the toggle in the more traditional way of pressing up, down, left or right to move in those directions. As for the rest of the navigation controls, the layout was roomy but we had difficulties with the two soft keys, clear and menu buttons since they were flat and stiff to press.

While the dialpad was pretty easy to use, we had problems with some of the navigation controls.

Like the N95 and N96, the Nokia N85 features a dual-slider design. To expose the alphanumeric keypad, just push the screen up. The buttons are flat but they're not as stiff as the aforementioned keys and there's enough room between to each number to make dialing and texting easy. On the flip side, by pushing the screen down, you'll get access to the dedicated multimedia buttons. The track forward/back buttons also double as zoom in/out buttons in galleries.

On top of the unit, you'll find a power button, a 3.5mm headphone/AV jack, and a MicroUSB port. The right side has a volume rocker, a lock switch, a camera button, and 3D stereo speakers, while the left side holds a MicroSD expansion slot, which is protected by an attached cover. We should note that it was quite difficult to insert and take out cards since the slot was set pretty deep beneath the phone's surface. Finally, on back, you'll find the camera lens, which is protected by a slider cover, and a dual LED flash.

The Nokia N85 comes packaged with a travel charger, a USB cable, video-out cables, an 8GB MicroSD card, a wired headset, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check out cell phones accessories, ring tones, and help page.

While the Nokia N85 can handle all the multimedia duties of its N series siblings, Nokia particularly calls out its music, gaming, and Web experience. The built-in media player supports MP3, AAC, eACC, eACC+, and WMA files and offers repeat and shuffle modes. 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 N85 offers podcast support and an FM radio, provided that you use the included earbuds since the tuner is built into them.

The N85 is equipped with a 3.5mm jack so you can enjoy your music through your favorite pair of headphones.

There's a built-in equalizer with six settings: default, bass booster, classical, jazz, pop, and rock. We were impressed with the sound quality of the phone's speakers, which offered fuller sound than most smartphones and a pretty decent balance between treble and bass. Even at lower volume levels, there was plenty of boom and, in fact, we found that quality deteriorated at the higher levels. Most of you will probably listen to your music through headphones so it's good news that the N85 is equipped with a standard 3.5mm jack, so you can plug in your pair of earbuds or 'phones. We enjoyed our tunes with a pair of Bose On-Ear Headphones but we also used the included earbuds, as uncomfortable as they were, to try out the FM radio. We were able to tune into local radio stations with no problems and using the Visual Radio application, we were also able to see the song title and artist displayed on the screen, which was awesome.

As we noted in our Nokia N79 review, the Nokia Music Store has not fully launched in the United States and it feels as if company is no rush to get it out there, so we weren't able to purchase and download any songs over the air like our friends across the pond.

We were able to check out Nokia's N-Gage gaming service and downloaded several titles, including Tetris, Brain Challenge, FIFA 08, and System Rush Evolution. With the purchase of the N85, you get an activation code that will allow you to download the full version of one game for free; afterward, you'll have to pay for each title, but you can download a free trial to test before making the full commitment to buy. The N-Gage platform isn't just a place where you can buy games, however. There's also a community aspect to it, where you can create a profile, build up points and status, and interact and play with other N-Gage members.

Download and installation of games typically took about a two minutes, and we encountered a couple of network problems when trying to download new games from the phone. Actual game play was decent, considering that we were using a phone. As we played System Rush Evolution, we were impressed at the smooth performance as we navigated a spaceship through various levels of combat. Again, remembering the fact that we were playing on a cell phone, graphics looked sharp, partly due to the N85's OLED display. If anything, we had some difficult with the game control. You use the phone's various navigations buttons for play, which was fine in some cases but not in others. For example, in FIFA 08, we found it somewhat difficult to maneuver the player using the navigation toggle, given the stiffness of the control. Though no replacement for your Sony PSP or Nintendo DS, the N85 is pretty decent stand-in for a handheld gaming device.

The N85's 5-megapixel camera took some impressive photos.

Now as much focus is given to the features mentioned above, we also found the Nokia N85 to be a great camera phone. The device is equipped with the same 5-megapixel camera as the N79, with a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens, dual LED flash, 20x digital zoom, video recording at up to 30 frames per second, and advanced editing options. Picture quality was sharp and bright, and there wasn't much of a lag when trying to capture pictures. We weren't as thrilled with recorded video clips, but it was better and smoother than a lot of the smartphones we've seen. To store all your images and other multimedia files, the Nokia N85 offers about 74MB of user accessible memory and the MicroSD expansion slot, which can accept up to 8GB cards.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; 850/1900 HSDPA) Nokia N85 in San Francisco using AT&T service and call quality was quite good. On our end, we weren't distracted by any background noise or echo and the audio had a nice clear and rich sound to it. Our friends reported positive results as well and we had no problems using an airline's voice-automated system or dealt with any dropped calls. The speakerphone wasn't quite as sharp as calls had a hollow sound to them. We successfully paired the N85 with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.

General performance was somewhat mixed comparatively speaking. The N85 wasn't as snappy as the N79 but not as slow as the Nokia N96. The biggest delays came when trying to view photos, as it took the smartphone a few seconds to render pictures and get them into focus. However, the rest of the time, the N85 felt responsive and never crashed during our review period. The N85 was able to find and connect to our Wi-Fi network with no problem. It took about 25 seconds for the smartphone to load CNET's full site, while it took about 5 seconds to bring up CNN's and ESPN's mobile sites. The N85's Web browser is pretty easy to navigate despite the lack of a touch screen. There's an onscreen cursor that makes it easy to click on links, and the minimap mode gives you an overview of the page to help you determine what section of the site you want to check out. You can also have multiple windows open, bookmark pages, block pop-ups, and more.

The Nokia N85 comes with a 1,200mAh lithium ion battery that has rated talk time 6.9 hours (4.5 hours on 3G) and up to 15 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, the N85 was able to get 9.5 hours of continuous talk time on a single charge. According to FCC radiation tests, the N85 has a digital SAR rating of 0.91 watt per kilogram.


Nokia N85

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 6