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Nokia N86 8MP review: Nokia N86 8MP

There's a lot to like about the N86 8MP, but it's hard to fall in love with it too. While it's well made with good features, it looks and feels like a phone from several years ago.

Joseph Hanlon Special to CNET News
Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies.
Joseph Hanlon
5 min read

The world of mobile technology moves at a break-neck speed, and 2009 is an interesting year in that it represents the hand-over from older technologies to the newer designs; mobile phones to smartphones, physical input to touchscreens. Nokia's N86 8MP is a classic old-guard smartphone, packing connectivity and high-resolution shooting that reads on paper like Nokia's game-changing N95, only better. That said, it isn't 2007. Can we keep loving old-school designs with so many sleek touchscreens littered across our desks?

7.5

Nokia N86 8MP

The Good

Solid construction. Great keypad. Good 8MP camera, 8GB storage.

The Bad

2.6-inch screen is small for this price range. Earpiece speaker was muffled during tests.

The Bottom Line

Though it's well designed and solidly built, the N86 is a tough phone to get excited about. Its AU$949 price tag is a bit ritzy for what you get.

Old faithful

Looking at the N86 is an experience tinged with deja vu. It looks like the N95 8GB, but sleeker with rounder corners and a smaller screen. It tells the story of where Nokia has been over the last two or three years, but hints at nothing of the future — there isn't a hint of the iPhone in sight. In some ways this is a godsend, but the N86 is hardly the phone you tug out of your pocket at the pub to coos of awe and jealousy. It looks like a mobile phone you've seen countless times before.

Though it lacks the punch of wow-factor, the N86 is a well refined handset. Ergonomically it feels great, it fits comfortably in our hand, it slides open easily with a gentle thumb-push, and the keyboard under the slide is one of Nokia's best in a long time — the keys are individually set and raised so you'll have no trouble texting in the dark.

There's a 3.5mm headphone jack for folks who demand that the socket plugs into their Bose headphones, though this is almost a standard for Nokia now. We like that Nokia has included an unlocking switch on the side, so you don't have to slide the phone open or endure the unlocking button combo to play with it quickly, and it takes a micro USB travel charger. The volume rocker is a little bit small to use blindly during a call, but we're just nitpicking now.

Sharp shooter

On the back of the N86 8MP you find the 8-megapixel lens referred to in the title. It sits below a tiny sliding lens cover and dual-LED photolights, and features auto-focus and a large range of image settings to play with. The lens cover is a bit flimsy for our liking, and while it's cool that sliding it open unlocks the phone and activates the camera, we found the lightweight cover slid open in our pockets, activating the phone without our knowledge.

It's great outdoorsClick image to enlarge(Credit: CNET Australia)

The photos the N86 takes impressed us immediately. We always start by taking a few pics of our cluttered desks in the CNET labs, and even under these less-than-perfect conditions we saw good colour reproduction and decent focus. The shutter speed is OK for a camera phone, though steady hands are still required for truly beautiful shots. Based on the pics we took, roughly a quarter of them turned out blurry, especially low-light pics where the auto-focus struggles. Outdoor photography is stunning with the N86 and indoor pics are good too, some of the best we've seen. Night-time shots are assisted by the photolights, though the flash tends to strip colour from the photos, and the results tend to be noisy, with washed out colours.

While it's a solid shooter, the 8-megapixel camera doesn't represent an upgrade in quality or technology, it's just more pixels. The images it takes are on par with Nokia's best cameras, like the N82, but it's certainly not better, faster or easier to use. Nokia is the name we trust when it comes to camera phones, thanks to its partnership with Carl Zeiss optics, but if you were hoping for an upgraded camera we think you might be disappointed.

Speedy Symbian

If the design of the N86 shows Nokia's path of design in recent times, its interface shows its S60 platform at its pinnacle. Essentially, this is the same system Nokia has delivered time and again in its N- and E-Series smartphones, developed and refined, and what we see here is the system running fast and bug-free. In our time with the N86 we haven't seen a single quirk, glitch or lag-spike, everything has been smooth sailing. We press a button and the menu reacts, no waiting for processing. If you're the current owner of an N95 or N82, you'll feel right at home with this latest Nokia.

This platform brings with it a pretty steep learning curve for new Nokia customers, and the deep menus can take a bit of digging around before you discover all the secrets behind the icons. Nokia's Ovi Store gets a prominent position on the home screen of our review unit, and Nokia's Music Store can be accessed directly from the handset too. Nokia's new email client is also pre-installed, which makes setting up email on your handset a simple three-step task. The client is capable of viewing full HTML-style emails, but will only download text versions unless otherwise directed. Other services in Nokia's Ovi Suite, Maps and N-Gage games, are found in the main menu and are worth a look.

During our tests, the N86 lasted for two to three days between charges, with varying use. Nokia estimates its 1200mAh battery should last for about four hours talk-time and 260 hours in standby. Calls we made during the tests revealed a slightly muffled earpiece speaker, which we can live with, though we'd obviously prefer clearer audio.

Overall

There's a lot to like about the N86 8MP; it combines everything we loved about Nokia's N-Series since the N95, mixing great hardware with a solid platform and Nokia's growing suite of Ovi apps — but it's hard to fall in love with it too. Its AU$949 price tag means the N86 lives in the same price range as the iPhone, Samsung HD Icon, and the HTC Magic, and its old-school kit just doesn't have the same appeal. Those looking for a classic Nokia experience will find exactly what they are looking for, unless a sparkling piano-black touchscreen catches their eye on the way to the counter.