For a company that proudly holds up its Nseries range of ‘multimedia computers’ as beacons of mobile innovation, it’s hard to believe that Nokia has only just rolled out its first 8MP camera phone, the N86.
With rival manufacturers already established at this level – see the Sony Ericsson C905, Samsung Pixon and LG Viewty Smart – and even announcing 12MP models, Nokia has some serious catching up to do. But the Finns have made up being fashionably late to the megapixel party by introducing new-fangled optics.
The N86 8MP is the first ever camphone to boast a 28mm wide angled Carl Zeiss lens. Even those not au fait with photography lingo can guess it gives a broader viewing angle than normal camera phones, making it ideal for big group shots.
Another advantage is the wider automatic variable aperture that gauges the amount of light to hit the CMOS sensor, allowing more to enter in lowlight conditions to improve picture quality.
This will explain why Nokia has dropped the Xenon flash, in favour of a dual LED set up – something we’re still not entirely happy about.
Yet despite these dedicated camera chops, Nokia hasn’t opted for a lavish shutterbug styling. The N86 follows the recent Nseries design blueprint, resembling the more compact and solid N85 in size but carrying a little extra weight. Its feel and finish also recalls the N97.
It’s business as usual with the Symbian S60 OS and the N86 plays out like every other non-touchscreen Nseries smartphone – very intuitively. The raised keypad is also spot-on for texting at speed, while the front controls and five-way rocker switch are equally lucid to use.
Nokia’s signature Nseries double slider action also lives on, expanding on the N85’s context-specific music player and N-Gage gaming controls. Nudge the front down while in camera mode and two of the four mechanised buttons allow easy manipulation of the 20x digital zoom.
Meet Carl Zeiss
The 8MP Carl Zeiss optics are protected by an active sliding lens cap with a mechanised shutter flicking open quickly with a pro-like click.
Disappointingly, and somewhat surprisingly, the camera UI has a familiar ring to it and Nokia has failed to enhance the N85’s photographic features to match the spanking new 8MP lens.
Stock settings like ISO modes up to 800, contrast, sharpness, white balance, colour, brightness and nice set of sequencing modes are all onboard – but where are the cool features likes face detection and smile and blink technology? The Nseries camera setup desperately needs a refresh.
Luckily, the N86’s 8MP camera delivers where it matters most and takes some cracking photos. Admittedly, detail at times is compromised by the wide-angle lens but doesn’t spoil the overall results, with pictures displaying vivid, saturated colours and strong definition and contrast.
Flash in the pan
That said, the lack of Xenon flash is still a major issue and although Nokia can counter with the wider aperture argument in low-light environments, the dual LED just doesn’t quite cut it. After the N82’s blindingly good Xenon, we’re stumped at Nokia’s decision.
While all the focus is on the 8MP camera, Nokia has still made sure the N86 is well stocked with other top features. High-speed connectivity is covered by HSDPA and Wi-Fi, so web surfing using the slick Mini Map browser and downloading apps, N-Gage titles and full tracks from the music store is snappy.
The generous helping of onboard 8GB memory to stockpile your photos and other multimedia clobber is also expandable to 32GB via 16GB microSD card. And elsewhere the integrated top-side 3.5mm jack lets you easily plug in your own headphones to enhance the already dynamic-sounding music player.
The N86 also boasts a built-in compass, which works with the latest Ovi Maps to show the direction you’re moving. Combine this with the onboard GPS and camera and the N86 is poised to use future augmented reality apps.
In terms of picture quality, Nokia’s first 8MP camphone is up there with the leaders. As a Symbian smartphone, it’s got all the right moves. But the groundbreaking wide-angle lens aside, Nokia’s unwillingness to embrace the latest photographic technology – not to mention include a Xenon flash – sadly robs it of a five-star rating.