On the face of it, not much has been added to the Nokia N96 to distinguish it from its predecessor, the N95 8GB (which beefed up the memory and changed the colour of the original, silver-clad N95).
This time the sleek black livery's the same, but the memory has been expanded again to 16GB – and you also get microSD card expansion for bumping that up further (something the last one was painfully missing).
TV on your phone
Plenty of memory is is pretty much essential on a multimedia phone like this, and it has a DVB-H mobile TV tuner that you probably won't be able to use yet, unless you happen to visit somewhere like Italy, where they actually have DVB-H TV services in operation. The UK currently has no similar DVB-H services available or imminent, mainly due to a number of technical and regulatory issues.
It looks very similar to the N95 too but closer inspection reveals that it's slightly longer and wider, but also thinner and lighter than its predecessor; it's still on the chunky side, but not quite as much.
While the original N95 was hailed as a superphone on its arrival, it quickly gained a reputation for buggyness, slow operation and a tendency to crash. Since then, software upgrades with the N95 and N95 8GB have solved these issues, and on our brief acquaintance with the new N96 model, its seems to be fine as far as reliability is concerned.
The case slides up to reveal the keypad, and slides down to reveal a set of dedicated media player controls, flipping into landscape mode as it does so. But while this feature was present on the N95, the N96 has added an additional set of hidden media player controls around the D-pad/scroll wheel, which light up when you're in multimedia mode.
The 5 megapixel camera has the same Carl Zeiss lens as the N95 and takes a very good snap, showed off to good effect on the sharp and bright 16 million colour screen. This version has a brighter flash with two LEDs instead of one – it's not exactly blinding, but does give you a bit more scope in low light conditions, especially for video.
There's also a secondary camera on the front for video-conferencing.
Smooth video playback
Your pictures can be automatically geotagged, which of course means that there's A-GPS on board, backed up by Nokia Maps, which works very well indeed, though you can also download Google Maps to take advantage of that system's aerial photographs.
Video playback at 30fps (video recording can also be set at this level) is generally smooth and there's a fold-out stand on the back (which doubles as the frame for the camera lens and flash) so you can set it up on a desk for watching mini widescreen viewing.
It works, but there's no real option to adjust the angle it sits at. Incidentally, when it's positioned this way, the stereo speakers sit on top at each end of the phone – ideal positioning in other words.
Intuitive music player
The web browser, whether it be connecting through the fast-ish HSDPA 3G connection (up to 3.6Mbps) or the fastest Wi-Fi link, is decent if not spectacular, especially when you can flip into landscape mode and use the slide-out media player controls for streaming video or music.
The music player is still a good one, easy to load up the 16GB of onboard memory with tracks from your PC or via Bluetooth and intuitively organised.
The dual speakers go fairly loud though they seemed to get a bit hissily distorted at higher volume, and there's a 3.5mm jack plug so you can upgrade the (admittedly not bad) supplied headphones. And if you get bored with your own tunes, there's FM radio too.
Battery life hasn't been significantly increased, according to the specs, and sure enough, we found ourselves refuelling every other day.
Worth the upgrade?
The N96, like both flavours of N95, is a great multimedia phone, but it's a fairly straightforward upgrade on its predecessor, with increased memory as well as the thinner and lighter casing the main advantages.
If you haven't already got an N95, it's definitely worth a look, but if you have, and are thinking of upgrading, your decision will largely depend on how much you need the extra memory.
Ease of use: 4/5
Call quality: 5/5
Network availability: Vodafone, O2, Orange, T-Mobile, (3 TBC)