Review: Nokia N96 & N85
The N96 is a hefty smartphone measuring 4.06 x 2.17 x 0.71-inches and weighing 4.41 ounces. The front holds a 2.8-inch display, with the usual directional pad, contextual buttons, and call start and stop keys below it. Lower down, you'll find buttons for calling up a large-icon menu and for undoing a step. Since the Symbian S60-run N96 is pegged as a media phone, you'll find a button for calling up a 3D app menu just to the right of the directional pad. We like the 3D menu, which is similar to Apple's cover flow interface, but we don't like the placement of the new button. It makes the front feel too crowded.
The N96 offers a huge 16GB of onboard storage, and if that's not enough you can add a microSD card through the slot on the left side. The right side holds volume keys and a camera button, while the bottom holds a charging port and a micro USB port. The top holds power and keyboard lock buttons. On the rear you'll find the Carl Zeiss 5megapixel lens with flash, and a convenient kickstand that holds the phone at an angle when you're watching videos.
This is a slider phone, so the front slides up to reveal a standard phone keypad. This makes dialing a number easier, but entering text with it is a pain. However, the N96 knows one other slider trick that we find more useful. The screen also slides down to reveal four media playback keys. Sliding the screen down automatically puts the screen into landscape mode, and we found the media keys a handy way to control video.
Applications & Performance
The big addition for the N96 is Maps, a routing program that uses A-GPS (a type of GPS often found in cell phones, which positions the user mostly by getting data from cell towers). You'll get three months of Maps service free, but after that you'll need to purchase a subscription. We like that Maps offers different travel modes, such as driving or walking, and that it gives you the option of making a screen shot of your map, but dislike entering destinations with the keypad.
If you're in the U.S., don't be swayed by the mention of Live TV on the N96, because it doesn't work in this area. You can still use the video playback features for stored titles. The phone can also connect with Nokia's N-Gage gaming system, which lets you download new titles and play against online opponents. See our full review of N-Gage here.
The Nokia N96 isn't offered by any U.S. carriers, and the Nokia Web site isn't currently selling it in the country. Some electronics stores carry it, though, for around $800. Even an Apple iPhone with no contract sells for less than that.