First hands on: Nokia N96 review

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.

Wide boy

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.

Mediaaaaa... yeah!

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.

Gareth Beavis
Formerly Global Editor in Chief

Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.