The Nokia N96: Face the TaskJames Whatley
If you buy a Nokia N96 you only have yourself to blame.
Before we go on, please note – if you are new to this site – understand that Nokias are my thing.
Resident expert if you will.
This is my opinion and I give it freely to you, the lovely readers of Mobile Industry Review.
So, in advance – thanks for reading…
If you’re not new to the site, if you’re a regular reader in fact – you’ll know that Whatley Wednesday has been on a bit of a hiatus of late – my creative output instead being poured into The MIR Show.
This has changed.
The Nokia N96 has frustrated me so much that I really had no choice but to put e-pen to e-paper and express my thoughts…
So again, in advance – thanks for reading…
Now, to business:
This is not a review. Don’t expect in-depth looks at the camera abilities – like they matter these days?
This is more of a public service announcement.
Some of you may have already seen the online marketing around the Nokia N96. ‘Face the task‘ is the name of the game and trials like geo-tagging photos, uploading videos, consuming media etc… are the challenges laid out before you.
Never before has a Nokia campaign been so completely on the money.
Using the Nokia N96 has to be THE MOST challenging experience of my entire life. Forget The Crystal Maze. Cast aside the Krypton Factor. If you want a true test of mental strength and stamina then I urge you to go out and purchase this handset at once.
Yes. It’s actually that bad.
You guys know me right?
You know how much of a Nokia fiend I really am right? I currently rock an N95 and an E71 as my two main handsets with various others just kicking around as spares.
Of Nokia – You could say: I am a fan.
So when I say to you that the Nokia N96 is quite possibly the worst attempt at a handset ever to come out of Helsinki you know that they really, really must’ve done something wrong.
Well yeah, they did.
They made the N96.
This device is not new to me. It was first announced way back in February this year at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Yes, that’s right – a full 8 months ago. EIGHT MONTHS.
In EIGHT MONTHS I reckon you could probably get fairly proficient in a new language, such as French, Spanish or even C++… EIGHT MONTHS is also the gestation period of a deer.
That’s right, NEW LIFE CAN BE MADE in the time that this phone has taken to finally hit our shelves. You’d THINK that Nokia would’ve done something in that time about addressing some of the issues that plague this debacle of a handset…
Instead, in that time we’ve seen the N85 and N79 announced, (both of which are sufficiently sexier than the N96), Nokia’s first touch-screen device the 5800 (aka ‘the Tube’) was finally revealed and on top of that – we’ve also seen the launch of possibly one their best ergonomically designed devices yet, the E71.
But this is not some massive Nokia love in. Not by any stretch. Oh no. Also, in this time we’ve seen the launch of the iPhone 3G and also the recently announced built by geeks, for geeks – the T-Mobile G-1.
It is worth noting at this point that Nokia are not a reactive corporation. No Sirree Bob.
But you’d think after the poor reception that the N96 received in Barcelona, (Christ, I was more excited about the Nokia 6220 – which, for the record, I’d recommend over the N96 any day), they would’ve given the thing an overhaul of some kind. The N95 8GB for instance is just enough of a re-mix on the N95-1 to warrant an upgrade. The N96, while not strictly the N95’s successor, learnt nothing from this lesson.
Since Barcelona I’ve had my hands on this device a number of times – once at a WOM World meet up, where the Product Manager for the N78 (lovely chap named Tim) turned up with a couple on him, I distinctly remember remarking at the time that the screen was lovely and may play a large part in any purchasing decision I might make…
And then again at a Future of Mobile dinner earlier this year (where I recorded and uploaded the following Global Race comparison video).
So far, SO unimpressed.
Regular viewers of the MIR Show will recall a few weeks back when I dialled in to video call my segment over the phone I mentioned that I was indeed waiting for an N96 to arrive from those kind folk at WOM.
Well, late last week, it arrived.
I opened it Friday afternoon, filled it with Whatley Goodness (i.e.: My apps of choice, MP3s, bookmarks etc) and then charged it overnight… Saturday morning I thought I’d take it out for a test drive and upon turning it on I was greeted by a glorious screen.
The N96 does well here. You can’t help but gaze at the amazing Technicolor Loveliness
The first thing I did when I popped my SIM card in? Checked the firmware. V10. Hmm.
I was fairly sure that there was a more recent update, so I checked – Yup, there is. V11 available for download.
Fantastic. Straight out of the box and already it needs an update. The good news is the N96 (along with the N78) supports OTA updates, powered by the awesome people at Red Bend (we met them at the Symbian Smartphone show and they deserve their own write up, Ben? Dan?), and the firmware downloaded and installed perfectly.
Good work Red Bend.
Bad form Nokia – this phone has been out less than a month! How many consumers are going to know about this option without PUSH updates?!
Christ! You’ve SEEN ‘Walking with Normobs’ right? There are STILL people out there with N95s on VERSION TEN FIRMWARE which shouldn’t have ever seen the light of day! BUGGY?! MUCH?!
…and breathe Whatley…
Let’s move on…
Now, the more cognizant amongst you may remember that just 11mths ago I reviewed the Nokia N81 8GB for Mobile Industry Review. If you recall – I wasn’t a fan of that handset.
The look and feel was poor and plastic, the industrial design suffered from poorly placed buttons and the newly implemented ‘key-lock’ switch kept getting stuck.
Take a look at the N81 8GB.
Now scroll back up and take a look at the N96.
Spot the similarities?
I can happily report that ALL of the problems I reported on the N81 8GB BACK IN NOVEMBER 2007 are ALL present in the ‘new’ N96.
ALL OF THEM.
The thing about the buttons – If I place my thumb over the right side of the top keypad, I can cover six, (count ‘em) buttons. Six of them.
This is not really so much of a problem on the N95 8GB for instance where the buttons are raised and you can feel the difference between each one without really having to look at what you’re doing but on this handset – the N96 – the keys are flat next to each other, or ‘flush’ as I believe the design is notionally referred to as.
This is NOT GOOD.
Let’s go back to the N81 criticisms for the second of my main bug bears:
“The ‘c’ button is right next to the ‘play/pause’ music button. AARGH! Sorry. I say ‘right next to’ I mean ‘may as well be the same button@.
That’s right – a negative button right next to a positive button. By pushing the button that I want to stop doing something I accidentally push the button that starts doing something.
In this instance Kate Nash starts blaring out at me whenever I try and correct a misspelt SMS!”
Same. Here… and although my music tastes have changed somewhat since this time last year, the result was the same – it happened again.
Again and again and again… Through the the ONE DAY OF TESTING that I gave to this shoddy piece of workmanship I actually lost count of the amount of times I hit ‘pause/play’ when trying to hit ‘c’.
Oh yes, that’s right: ‘One day of testing…’ – I challenge ANYONE to try and use the N96 for a longer period than this without feeling ANY frustrations whatsoever.
Seriously – this has to be the worse handset I have ever had the misfortune to have in my possession.
Parking the buttons to one side for a moment, I mentioned just now that I tested the handset for a day.
This is not strictly true. I actually tested this handset from 8am through to 1pm where upon the ridiculously short, iPhone 3G-esque battery life gave up on me.
Why the short life span?
Well, Nokia – in their infinite wisdom – having learnt their lesson with the low power levels of the BL-5F battery in the N95-1 (giving it a much needed upgrade to the BL-6F in the N95 8GB), have decided to throw this innovation completely out of the window have seen it fit to equip the N96 with the very same BL-5F from the N95-1 stating ‘power saving software upgrades’ as the reason for this apparent downgrade.
One morning of relatively hardcore use – Music Player, Browser, Mobbler etc… and whoof.. Battery, dead.
“Steaming pile of rubbishness” doesn’t quite cut it really. This phone is abysmal.
So what, if anything has the phone got going for it?
Er… BBC iPlayer? Woo!
Had that on my N95 for a fortnight now… nothing new here. 16GB of onboard memory with an expandable option for a MicroSD card? That’s pretty cool. I could do with more memory…
However, WHAT IS THE POINT of carrying around (up to) 32GBs of MP3s if the battery won’t last the day?!
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
…oh and it has a kick-stand on the back too, so you can have a better view of that ominous ‘battery low’ sign when you’re attempting to use the phone for anything more than 5hrs at a time…
Free mobile advice is my thing – and I love helping people with their purchasing decisions. The N96 is no exception to this rule – I have already sent out four emails to various online folk telling them excatly why this is not the device for them and I will give you, dear readers, the same advice I gave them:
If you’re looking for an upgrade to your current handset and you’re giving serious thought to the N96. Go, get one.
BUT MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A RETURN POLICY.
Because when you take it back to the shop complaining of just how hideously unusable this appalling excuse for a mobile phone is, you’ll want to be damn sure you’re able to exchange it.
I’d recommend a Nokia N95 8GB. Better battery life, better design, infinitely more stable software and above all, it’s NOT the N96.
However, if you already have an N95 8GB. Nice one. Good work.
It’s what I use and even though I am well into my upgrade period, it is not going anywhere.
As I said at the start of this post:
“Buy a Nokia N96 and you only have yourself to blame.” – and I mean every.. single.. word.
Here endeth the lesson.