Updated: Read our full review of the Nokia N96.
TechRadar got the chance for a hands-on with the Nokia N96 at the launch event tonight... and we were far from disappointed.
Nokia is the market leader in the mobile phone world for a reason: it churns out decent, solid mobile phones that users like.
Sure, it plays with design concepts every so often and throws us curveballs in terms of the mobile phone 'norm', but since the 5110, Nokia has been unrivalled in making decent handsets.
And, in a weird way, we're pleased to say the N96 does not disappoint as a member of the Finnish family.
First impressions were the phone was perhaps a little wide, but once we got it in our hands, it felt light and comfortable, helped by the slim frame, which holds a 950mAh battery.
The screen was large and clear, with crisp icons befitting its hi-res claim. The styling, similar to that of the recently released N81, was also very nice, and a far cry from the blocky aesthetic of the 'functional' N95.
The previous iteration in the N-series was clearly a phone too soon for Nokia, as it was buggy, slow and ate battery like its life depended on it (which I suppose you could argue it does).
But the N96 was smooth from the word go. Those of you who have used Nokias before will know the pain of the lag when pressing buttons with users sometimes being forced to enter the task manager to shut something down when things got too much for the handset.
But the inputs were processed cleanly, with almost no delay and quick loading. For instance, a quick press of the music key had tunes (albeit terrible pre-loaded ones) pumping almost immediately.
The first criticism of the handset comes when hearing the tinny stereo speakers – better than most but then again, we hate them on principle. If they could be banned by law, bus and train rides would be a lot more palatable.
So onto the media. The N96 plays a variety of file formats and has a number of ways of enjoying movies and music.
The pre-loaded video was as stunning as anything else you'd find on other handsets, and the built-in iPlayer was a cinch to use. Its inclusion on any handset has to be seen as nothing but genius, so Nokia has played an ace by getting it on the flagship device.
Sound quality was pretty good, and the viewing angles were nice. However, the screen is still a bit too small to be viewing movies for a prolonged time. The claim by the stand bunnies (SBs) of being able to fill all 32GB (16GB internal and 16GB through an extra microSD card) was a bit pointless, as you wouldn't want to be stuck watching movies on this for a long time.
This brings us on nicely to the Capsule 96 mobisode option, covered by TechRadar earlier. Short 96 second bursts of 'infotainment' seem like a much better idea – the bundled ones with Fifth Gear presenter Jonny Smith seemed good enough, but are hardly a deal-breaker.
Admit it, mobile TV ain't gonna work... it would be nice to see companies putting the development time into some other options.
One major slip from the SBs was to claim to us that it offered Freeview programming too... while we may indeed be proved wrong, TechRadar is pretty sure the in-built digital tuner is not designed to work in the UK, so despite their claims it's going to hurt Nokia if that's reported in the nation's press and is incorrect.
Where am I?
Another worry for the handset was the inability to get Nokia Maps functioning properly. The GPS chip was unable to locate us no matter where we were; a host of other handsets' GPS worked fine, so we have to just hope that's a one off.
The Maps function over a data connection was pretty fast though, but missed the 'My position' function. In fact, anything without Google Maps is hard to stomach these days, but that could just be what we're now used to. Though it's hard to see how you can beat simplicity.
The internet was the usual decent Nokia fare... it shows web pages nicely, scales as and when you want, and load-up times were fairly impressive.
However, the internet is something that benefits from a touchscreen in the absence of a mouse, and this was one of the first times we were lamenting our inability to poke the screen and make things happen.
Snap it up
After that, it comes down to preference: if you love Nokias like many seem to do, then you'll very much enjoy this handset. It does it all (thanks to the 5MP camera amongst other things, which takes some lovely snaps due to the Carl Zeiss lens and dual LED flash, by the way) and then some... in fact, it's hard to criticise anything but the Maps function, which may just be a one-off handset error.
For those devotees to other brands: well, you might feel like you're cheating on a loved one when you use this handset. You'll want to hate it, but won't be able to unless you just can't digest its size (not literally).
The N96 is nothing exciting... which may be a downside for some people. But for those who enjoy a good, solid all-rounder with immense power under the hood, you could do a lot worse than head to your local retailer and plump for this ninja of the mobile world.