Most phones would kill to have a feature set as complete as the Nokia N96, so why has its belated arrival left us feeling a little underwhelmed? Well, one reason is that since it was announced we’ve seen rivals like the 8MP-toting Samsung i8510 muscle in on its Symbian turf.
But the real reason is that the N96 hasn’t moved on enough from the N95 8GB to get us hopping like a mad fool in anticipation.
It may just be us, but a double dose of storage, microSD card slot, built in DVB-H receiver and a modest design revamp doesn’t really get the blood pressure racing, especially when DVB-H mobile TV has yet to be switched on in Blighty and won’t be in the near future.
Comparing vital stats, the N96 is slightly taller and wider than its N95 8GB amigo, but a trimmer 18mm profile gives it a more streamlined edge. Its new look flushed design helps but, make no mistake, this Symbian smartie is still a pocket-sweller.
Nokia’s penchant for finishing its Nseries phones in glossy veneers is something of a bugbear for some and unfortunately the N96 gives out open invitation to finger smears and pocket grime. Its overly plasticky casing is also puzzling and not the top quality we expect from a flagship handset.
That said, the N96’s new design is slicker than its more rigid stablemates with a new added dimension to its dual slider action.
Skid down the front and those signature dedicated music controls say hello but fire up the N-Gage and they transform into gaming controls for two-handed operation. The N96 has now pipped the N81 as the best N-Gage gaming phone.
With DVB-H out of commission for us Brits, Nokia has countered by embedding a BBC iPlayer app so you can stream the latest TV programmes over Wi-Fi.
Picture quality was definitely watchable over the sizeable vibrant 2.8-inch display, only interrupted by occasional traces of digital blocking and buffering. Nokia has also factored in a fold out TV table stand just below the camera lens for the more hardcore TV watchers.
It’s a shame Nokia couldn’t stretch to fitting the N96 with an 8MP lens, but the 5MP Carl Zeiss lens still produces sharp vibrantly coloured photos. Again, disappointingly, there’s no Xenon flash, but the dual LED photo variety is the next best option.
Elsewhere, the N96’s feature set and performance is similar to the N95 8GB, so web browsing is nippy over HSDPA or built-in Wi-Fi, while the Nokia Maps 2.0 and A-GPS combo is great for free basic navigation and more dynamic routing for a little extra dosh. The addition of a microSD card slot also means storage capacity can reach a whopping 24GB with an 8GB card.
Nokia fans should rest easy because despite the initial disappointments, over time, the N96 reveals itself to still be a vintage smartphone, ironing out the quirks of its N95 predecessors and still managing to deliver mobile TV to us gogglebox addicts, regardless of the DVB-H switch off.