In Part One of the Nokia N86 8MP Review I focused on the hardware and build quality of the handset. Today I intend to delve deep inside the N86 exploring the software aspect of the device. Just to quickly recap, the Nokia N86 8MP is Nokia’s new flagship camera-phone. The device sports 8GB of built in storage as well as a microSD card slot, and has all the now ‘standard’ features including Wifi, Bluetooth, GPS and a Digital Compass. The N86 has a built in FM transmitter too, along with the extraordinary 8 megapixel, Carl Zeiss wide-angle lens, setting itself way above it’s competition.
This review is written with the latest firmware v11.043 installed on the device. New Nokia devices tend to have software bugs soon after their release (I still can’t understand why) and a firmware is generally needed within months to fix these issues. Therefore I have chosen to update the device before writing up the review, to provide a fair coverage of the software.
The Nokia N86 8MP runs Symbian S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 2 which is now a very mature platform. S60 is much loved by the majority of smartphone users as it allows the user to completely personalise the layout of the system and allows the installation of many third party applications. The OS is fairly easy to get used to and for existing S60 users there are many welcomed improvements.
When you first start-up the N86, the onboard setting wizard kicks in to help set up the device and get you going within minutes. It will help make your operator selection, access points and will allow you to transfer any data from your old handset if you wish. It also allows you to choose your Bluetooth name and the theme you would like to use. You are given the option to set up email on the device at this point too, simply enter your email and password and the wizard takes care of the rest. Nokia Messaging will automatically start to install on the device, allowing you to manage multiple accounts all through one application. Only one mailbox can be set to appear on the home screen though so you’ll need to manually check the others for new emails.
The home screen has not changed much, the clock and operator logo are at the top of the screen and you have the option of placing six application shortcuts, either across the top in the traditional S60 manner, or down the left hand side of the screen. The home screen also displays your calendar entries, to-do notes and Ovi Share notifications.
The menu is accessibly with the new S60 Menu Key and can be customised using four different layouts: a grid, a horseshoe layout, in a V-shape or a list.
You can move any icon into any folder and also rename the default folders. An issue I have with the current folder icons is that although they have been improved, they are a little misleading, as they do not have the folder image with the icon. This can leave you searching for some time when trying to locate certain features. You can always create new folders which will give you a blank folder image that you can rename and add applications to.
The transition effects add a nice touch to the overall feel of the OS, covering up all those screen glitches and blank flashes we were getting very annoyed with. The setting for this is slightly hidden, so to enable the effects you will need to go through the following: Menu > Tools > Settings > General > Personalisation > Themes > General > Options > Theme effects. Talk about easy access.
Some of the applications pre-installed on the device include the dictionary, which is a handy tool that lets you translate words from one language to another. You can install two additional languages from a wide selection here and change them as and when you wish.
The SW Update application connects to the internet and displays available updates for any installed application. This is a great feature and keeps even your basic user up to date.
There are also two widgets in the application folder, one for Facebook and the other for YouTube, both taking you to the mobile friendly version of their website. Although the mobile version of the Facebook website does its job well, the lack of full flash support restricts the user to the basics. It is still very much in need of a complete solution and Adobe has mentioned that by the end of 2009 they could have support for Full Flash on mobile phones. The YouTube widget gives the user the option to download the S60 application or to continue using the browser. The videos are a pleasure to watch in both in the browser and through the application, and with great transition effects, the video playback is fluent and loads up very quickly without the need to buffer once it has started. The video plays in landscape mode and all controls are automatically hidden. On the downside, you still cannot upload videos directly from your device, or login to your own account using the application.
The Ovi Store is now here, replacing the download application, however it has a long way to go until it can compete with the likes of the Apple App Store. There is only a limited number of useful applications and the freeware section is pretty dire. Nokia will need to introduce more incentives to persuade developers, as Samsung have also joined LG and Sony Ericsson in the race to create a successful app store.
Browsing the internet, either through 3G or W-LAN, is a comfortable experience on the Nokia N86. The 240 by 320 resolution and 2.6″ screen makes it irritating at times, however the pan and zoom abilities have been improved drastically allowing you a much larger range than the previous percentage levels.
The multimedia keys on the device also allow you to zoom in and out of a webpage and the full screen is actually full screen in landscape mode, unlike on the N95, which left the status bars at the top and bottom of the screen.
The annoying default bookmark folders standard on previous devices have been removed and the browser supports all website formats from WAP, WEB, HTML, XHTML and Flash Lite. You can also subscribe to RSS feeds and have the reader automatically update your feeds at set intervals. When typing in a web address a list of possible domains come up allowing you to pick whichever you require.
The browser does have a ‘find in page’ function, however two major drawbacks do ruin the whole browsing experience on this device. Firstly the inability to copy and paste text from a webpage. Although it is possible to send a URL via text message, email, etc, you cannot copy and paste any text or image directly from the webpage. Secondly you still can’t open a link in a new window even though the S60 browser supports the use of multiple tabs. Once opened randomly, switching between them is pretty simple, however there is no option to purposely open a new tab which is really disappointing. A mobile computer should allow you to multitask using multiple web pages simultaneously.
By the way, BBC iPlayer works great straight from the browser too using the full desktop site.
Nowadays all high-end devices tend to feature GPS as standard, and the Nokia N86 doesn’t fall short, as it comes with Nokia Maps 3.0 and three months of free voice guided drive navigation. The rest of the service is free to use including maps, which are available to download either straight to your N86 or via the PC, using Nokia Maps Loader or Ovi Suite. City Explorer is also part of the service, providing free unlimited walk navigation to guide you along pedestrian areas.
There is a choice of different map modes including 3D, Satellite and Hybrid views, although I still can’t get any satellite images worth talking about to show up in my area. There are different navigation views to choose from once you have chosen your route.
A digital compass is also built into the device and displays true North, allowing the map to rotate. This is extremely useful when using pedestrian navigation as the map will adjust to face the same direction in which you are travelling.
Before using the compass you will need to calibrate it, which can be quite annoying at times. According to the manual you need to draw the number eight with the device, however it can take several attempts. If you rotate your wrist quickly, flicking the device round, you may manage to calibrate the compass a lot quicker. All in all Nokia Maps is a good navigation application and provides a very useful, all-in-one, mobile solution.
If you want to get down to business, the office applications installed are very handy indeed. The fully capable calendar includes a meeting request feature, displaying the same ‘new meeting’ menu as Eseries devices.
The file manager allows you to browse through all your storage locations, being either the 74MB phone memory, the 8GB mass storage or the expandable MicroSD card. You also have the option of backing up certain content in any location.
The N86 also utilizes the same converter application, which is pretty much a breeze to use. The calculator however, is still a poor solution for such a basic application, especially when compared to third party applications like Calcium. A Zip Manager is also part of the office range, although it does not support RAR files. There is an application called FreeUnRAR which works very well indeed, allowing you to manage this compression format.
Adobe Readeer LE 1.5 PDF Viewer and Quickoffice v4.1 are there as usual and you can download and install the free update to Quickoffice 6 though the built in Quickmanager component, however the N86 is only provide with the Quickoffice Viewer, so you cannot edit or create any files directly on the device. This is really disappointing especially when all Eseries devices get the full editing suite for free. Finally the notes application and Message reader sum up the office range, the latter using the speech functionality to play emails and text messages through the loudspeaker. The speech tool can also be used in the dictionary application too and it would be great to see the support for Quickoffice documents.
If you work hard you probably like to play hard, and with the Nokia N86 you the perfect form factor, built around an excellent platform, to keep your gaming thumbs highly entertained. N-Gage has been renamed to ‘Games’ in the menu folder and on initial start-up you will see many ‘try and buy’ games ready for you to install. Despite the new firmware already installed, I was still prompted to upgrade the N-Gage application to the new version 1.21. Two of the multimedia keys are used as the ‘a’ and ‘b’ buttons when playing games and the position and feel of the keys are pretty good. The D-pad is also designed very well, enabling you to a good gaming experience.
The 8GB of internal memory means that you can install all the available N-Gage games without ever running out of storage space. One activation code included in the package will allow you to install a full version of any game and the N-Gage network also allows you to play online and compete with fellow Nseries users. One major downfall of this service is the poor graphics. Yes it only has a 2.6” screen and yes, the resolution is ridiculously low, but the constant pixilation and the juddering lag on some of the games, does become pretty annoying, especially when you compare it to the likes of the iPhone. Could this be due to the exclusion of hardware acceleration? Or is it as simple as QVGA isn’t enough? A higher resolution screen would definitely improve other aspects of the device, including browsing and navigation, it’s just a shame that our concerns continue to fall on deaf ears.
Connectivity solutions are vast on the N86 which has 3G, GPRS, Wifi with UPnP, HSDPA, WCDMA and HSCSD. The microUSB port is used to synch and charge the device and this will continue to be the new standard on all future devices. There is a small LED placed next to the port to indicate charging, however the light remains lit even when the battery is full, which kind of defeats the object of its presence. The N86 has Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP, allowing you to pair up with many supported devices such as headsets and speakers and enabling the transfer of data to and from other mobile phones. You can also choose devices that you wish to block, which is very handy. The DLNA certified handset also comes with a Home Media Application, allowing you to view, search, stream and control media files stored on your home network devices.
I tested the transfer speed of a 100MB folder containing mp3 files, photos and documents using the USB cable, and the folder took just 52 seconds to transfer across. I then transferred the same folder over to my N95 8GB which took 2 minutes and 57 seconds. This shows us that the speed of data transfer has been significantly increased, so much so that we can see a decrease in transfer time by over 70%, which is a staggering improvement. The transfer time on the N86 also beats that of the N97, which recorded a time just over a minute and a half.
In the tools folder you have your settings, through which you can change various aspects of the device. Some worth mentioning include the new ‘Destinations’ feature, which categorizes your access points and allows you to prioritize the order in which the device attempts to connect to a network. If you have a remote drive connected to a network, you can set up the device to enable access to all the files on the go palmyour device.
As the N86 is a dual slider, you have the option to decide what to do when it opens/closes. Also when you open the built in kickstand around the camera on the back, you can choose which application you would like it to launch. The built in accelerometer allows automatic screen rotation and you also have the option of using this feature to snooze alarms and silence calls.
If you need your phone to be silent at given times, there is a new ‘timed’ function in the profiles application, which lets you set a profile to activate at any given time. There is also a very useful power saver mode built in, and I’m not talking about the screen saver. Basically when the battery is on its last bar, the screen brightness automatically reduces to the lowest setting to save power, very useful indeed.
The multimedia key is no longer present on the N86, which is not a bad thing in my opinion. I personally never used the key and mapped it to access other applications instead. (If you would like to know more about key mapping please feel free to send me an email) In the main menu you will find a Photos and Music. Photos is the actual application whereas Music is a folder containing six other applications.
The new Photos application is great, much better than before, and gives you the option to choose photos with different properties, for example with tags or albums. You also have Share Online added in the application menu and the overall experience of using the service is pretty good. Navigation is easy and the longer you hold the side key the faster you can browse through the images. It would have been nice to see a Navi Wheel but I guess the give and take philosophy will be something Nokia will never give up.
We also see the return of the Photo Editor, it may be the same basic application that saw its debut years ago, but it is still a capable editor nevertheless. I would have like to see more features in this application in the future, which is something that can even be added with a new firmware.
In the Music folder you will find the Music Player and Music Store, along with the FM Radio, Internet Radio, the Podcasting application and the FM Transmitter. The music player is the same one featured on other devices with a few additional tweaks. First off, once you refresh the library you will find ten pre-installed songs, which is great to get you going before adding your own music. In the song list you can search for songs by simply typing in a word or name. This feature is still not available when choosing your ringtone which is really disappointing. You also have the standard view of album, artist, song title, etc. The player supports album art and three other animations, as seen before.
The Music Store is similar to the Ovi Store and navigating your way around isn’t an issue, however you cannot use your Ovi login, which defeats the object when trying to create a complete service. So once you’ve created an account you can search through thousands of albums and you get the options to either favourite the song, listen to a 30 second preview, or purchase the song for the stated price. The music will still be DRM protected and in a WMA format, but soon we should see a change and DRM free mp3 files will be available.
The standard FM Radio, podcasting application, and now pre-installed Internet Radio are great to use, although it would have been nice to see the radio antenna built into the device, instead of in the bundled headphones. The N86 also has a built in FM Transmitter which works pretty well. It does crackle during playback from time to time but generally does perform pretty well.
In the main applications folder you will find the Video Centre and the Gallery. The Video Centre allows you to view you stored videos or to add feeds and new services via the Ovi Store. The layout is pretty easy to navigate and you can also use the multimedia keys to rewind, play/pause, stop and fast forward. The service is very nice and also provides parental controls, however I would like to see the return of the video editor, which can be implemented through an update.
The Gallery application is somewhat pointless on this device. Well it’s either that or the last bunch of applications I talked about are pointless. The gallery lets you access all music, images and songs, which all take you to their relevant applications. I guess it can be useful as a shortcut on your home screen, and stop you from wasting three of the six space for these features. It also shows sound clips, streaming links and presentations (flash files, e.g. screen saver).
The N86 fairs pretty well when it comes to media consumption, however there are a few drawbacks in the overall picture. First of all, videos continue to show in the Photos application, even though there is a whole separate application exclusively for them. Secondly, if you want to change the volume, be it in the music player or video centre, you still only have the percentage values, giving you only ten volume settings.
To wrap up, the N86’s 434MHz CPU, matches that of the N97 and it performs extremely competently, allowing intensive multi-tasking without crashes. However some applications do continue to crash at times, including the S60 browser, although I believe this is more to do with the individual application rather than an underperformance from the CPU or RAM.
My initial thoughts about the Nokia N86 8MP were very worrying indeed, however as the days have grown into weeks, I have started to appreciate just how capable this device is. S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 2 is continuously developing and it has become a very solid platform to date. However does the user interface lack a little eye candy and have the transition effects actually represented a step forward? Leave your comments below and let us know what you think.
The third and final part of this review will be up very soon and I will be testing the capabilities of the award winning 8MP Carl Zeiss lens clinging onto the back of this device, so stay tuned.