Once upon a time, the Nokia N95 came into our lives and swept us off our feet. It was a super smart phone with unbeatable connectivity, built-in sat-nav and the ability to install applications. The Nokia N86 8MP is a worthy contender for the N-series crown and shows off what Nokia does best, but there's been plenty of smart-phone-flavoured water under the bridge since the series was launched. There's nothing wrong with this phone -- it's a powerhouse, and the 8-megapixel camera is fantastic -- but it's something of a rehash of what's come before, and didn't send us into a gadget-lust frenzy.
The N86 8MP is available from free on a £25-per-month contract, or for £400 unlocked and SIM-free.
It's shootin' time
A rare beast only a few short months ago, 8-megapixel camera phones now roam the phone savannahs in multitudes. Mostly, they just prove how it takes more than megapixels to take a good photo, but the N86's camera is impressive. In good light, it does a solid job of capturing bright, accurate colours. But, in low light, the camera -- and its two LED photo lights -- really shine. It still doesn't provide the picture quality of a proper compact camera, but our snaps were shockingly clear even when we simulated the dark lighting and shaky hands of a shot taken on a night out on the razzle. Also, the lack of shutter lag is superb -- there's almost no delay between pressing the camera button and taking a photo.
The camera button itself could be bigger but that's a small complaint, especially considering everything else that Nokia's packed inside. There are heaps of settings, like an easy-to-use panorama mode, and plenty of editing options for cropping and tweaking photos. There's even a tiny sliding cover to keep the Carl Zeiss lens covered. It's sure to get caked with crud after months in your pocket, but at least it'll keep the lens scratch-free. Opening it launches the camera automatically.
Unfortunately, sharing snaps isn't as easy as with other phones. The on-board photo-sharing application supports Vox, Flickr and Nokia's own Ovi service, but it would have been great to see more choices, like Facebook, on there too. When we tried to upload our test shots to Flickr, it failed, providing a meaningless and unhelpful message.
The N86 is much more than a camera phone, but it's a great choice if you're looking for a fast snapper with above-average quality and plenty of extras.
As mentioned earlier, the camera's shutter button is small and hard to use. In fact, all the keys are rather fiddly. There are several keys on the front of the phone under the screen -- a five-way navigation button, call and end buttons, two context-sensitive buttons, a clear button and an angled menu button. None of them are labelled, except for the clear button, which is denoted by a tiny, cryptic 'C'. It helps the phone look cool, but there's so much room for easy-to-press buttons that we can't help thinking the N86 sacrifices way too much usability for style.
The N86 is a two-way slider phone. Sliding the screen one way reveals the number buttons, which are the size and shape of big grains of rice -- potentially a problem for those with fat fingers. Sliding the screen the other way exposes four stubby keys that can control the media player or games. It's a cool addition that doesn't make the phone any bigger, and the slider feels solid and well-made.
Time for a refresh
If you've used a Nokia phone before, you won't have any trouble with the N86, but it isn't the easiest phone to use. For example, there are tonnes of great apps out there for Nokia phones, but finding and installing them tends to be a confusing process, with numerous unclear messages to accept.