Monday, January 11, 2010

Nokia N86 8MP Review

Announced early 2009 and released in mid-2009, the Nokia N86 8MP is Nokia's first 8 Megapixel camera phone and ideal for consumers who want to leave their cameras at home. The photos captured look amazingly vibrant on the 2.6 inch OLED screen. As with all Nokia highend Nseries smartphones, the N86 packs an integrated GPS, 802.11g/b WiFi, TV out, and FM transmitter all in a dual slider format.

Thanks to WOM World for supplying me the N86-1 8MP for this review.

Quick facts:
Name: Nokia N86-1 (RM-484)
Network: GSM 850/900/1800/1900 WCDMA 900/1900/2100
Weight: 149 g
Dimensions: 103.4 x 51.4 x 16.5 mm
Battery life (stand by): 264 hours (WCDMA), 312 hours (GSM)
Battery life (talk): 234 minutes (WCDMA), 378 minutes (GSM)
CPU: 32bit Freescale MXC300, 434 MHz ARM1136JF-S
RAM: 128 MB (74MB free after start up)

Included in the box:
  • N86-1 8MP (firmware V 20.115 21-09-2009)
  • AC-10E charger
  • CA-101 USB data cable
  • AD-54 Music control
  • HS-83 Stereo Music Headset (in ear type)
  • Nokia OVI CD with utilities and programs

My phone was manufactured in: (your phone's country of manufacture could vary) China.

The N86 opened:
A simple looking slider phone with the classic Nokia looks.

Top of the phone features the 3.5mm headset jack, microUSB slot, and power key. Left of the phone has only the small spring loaded phone lock key. The right of the phone includes the volume keys, 2 stage camera button, and stereo speakers. The volume rocker is not lighted but is sturdy.

The Nokia N86 is an evolution of the latest Nokia designs with it's slated Symbian key and tighter ring D-pad. A marked improvement to the Nseries design is the addition of the nice metal trim around the top half of the phone and classy design.
The glossy top half of the phone mean you'll have lots of fingerprint smudges. The N86's top half has a little noticable wobble when closed and opened.

The N86 shares a number of design cues from the N85.

The keypad is a design step back to the Sony Ericssons T610 days:

Although they look retro, they are comfortable to press

The keypad light is strong. As with most phones these days, lighting is controlled by a light sensor.

Keypad lighting

The N86 while closed

The N86 while keypad is opened
The number pad is evenly lit.

The N86 while multimedia keys is opened

The SIM mechanism is a slider type without a spring mechanism. When inserted, trhe SIM card sticks out just enough to use your finger to slowly slide it out:

In terms of thickness, the N86 is just a tad thinner than the N82:

The N86 is so think and still doesn't have Xenon flash

The N86 is very thick compared to contemporary phones like the E71:

The N86's bottom half is the same thickness as the whole E71. It's a bulky phone

Opening up the phone is difficult:

You need to slide your nails along the sides of the phone starting from the bottom here

Once you get it open:

The small latches for the battery cover are small. I was worried about breaking them each time I tried opening the phone. I wonder if those gold pins are for theme changing based on battery cover like the N79 feature (a red battery cover causes the phone's theme to change to the pre-loaded red colored theme).

Kick Stand

The kick stand is a simple addition but really improves my experience of watching movies on the plane

The kickstand blends into the camera module:

You can configure an application to open after pulling out the kick stand

The N86 uses a 2.6 inch screen with the same pixel resolution (320x240) as many of Nokia's other non-touch Symbian phones. The screen uses OLED so it's much more vibrant compared to conventional LCD.

Display Comparison (Nokia N82 and the N86 8MP)
The N86 display looks more vivid than the N82

To help conserve battery power, the N86 has a power saver timeout that blanks the entire screen and blinks the LED under the symbian key. Unlike the E71, turning off the Breathing Light will not disable the screen from turning all black.

Unfortunately the screen is washed out under direct sunlight:
 That's the menu on that screen.

The keypad design looks like something from the old Motorola T720 but it is comfortable to use with good tactile feedback.

The D-pad:
The stiff D-pad is comfortable to navigate the menus but the narrow directionals like left and right make it a challenge to use for gaming

The number pad:
The number pad has an old design but it works well with comfortable spaced keys and good feedback

The multimedia keys:

Very stiff but easy to feel the specific key you're looking for.

The side phone lock key is very useful for quickly looking the phone in the music app. It takes me 3 clicks to do the same on my N82. I'm glad all Nseries photos are getting this new phone lock key.


The N86 is a snappy phone with very fast response throughout the menu. Some of the transition elements like in the image gallery are very slow.

Impressively, the N86 switches between landscape (key pad opened) and portrait (closed) very quickly. By default the keypad will lock when you close the slider but you can customize this in Ctrl. Panel > Settings > General > Slide Handling

As you may have heard, or not, the N86 runs S60 FP2.

Although Nokia has once again re-juggled where everything is again. S60 still needs a lot more work to be intuitive for first time users. For example to handle Wifi connections you don't look under Control Panel > Connectivity (where WLAN wizard and Conn. Mgr reside) but you have to look in Ctrl Panel > Settings > Connection > Destination > Internet.

During my 3 weeks with the N86 never crashed.

Those who say S60 is designed mainly for creating and not geared as much to consume multimedia must not fully use their phone. Out of the box the E71 supports H.264 video, the same video format used by the iPhone. With some added third party software like Coreplayer and MobiTubia, the E75 can open DiVX movies and stream YouTube videos. With the included 3.5mm stereo headsets (or get yourself a pair of AD2P stereo Bluetooth headsets) and music player supporting album art, you can easily have your favorite MP3s blasting in your ears. If you're an audiophile then you can install OggPlayer. S60 gives you more flexibility than both the locked down iPhone and the "lacking in software" Blackberry.

The N86 8MP, like its name indicates, includes a 8 MegaPixel camera with autofocus and macro mode.

The N86 sports dual white LED for flash

The N86 uses the dedicated 2-step camera button with the first step for autofocussing and second step for taking the photo. Focussing time is similar to the N97 and about 2/3rds the time needed by the N82. Unlike the N82, the N86 never needed to do an automatic double attempt at focussing.

The N86 features an "intelligent" auto focus box that is no longer fixed to focus on the center. You can't disable this and I found the N86 have difficulty focussing on the right object in many occasions. But the good thing is that the focus box is now smaller. The latest firmware, 20.115, also includes face tracking but the resulting photo only focusses on 1 face.

The N86 8MP uses the similar camera software as previous Nseries devices but adds a few notable differences. Most of the advanced camera options are hidden so you'll need to unhide them (Options > Customize toolbar > Add shortcut). As i previous Nseries devices you'll have white balance, sharpness, contrast, color tone, exposure compensation, ISO, self-timer, flash mode, scene mode (Close-up/macro, Night, and Night portrait being the most important) and brightness controls. New for Nseries is the integrated panoramic functionality.

You can silence the camera sound but the led will automatically flash.

Outdoor Auto (N86 8MP, N82):

Indoor Auto:

Quick Indoor Auto (N86 8MP, N82):

Macro Auto:

Macro Auto (N86 8MP, N82):

Night Photos:

Flash photo comparison

The N86 8MP produced very impressive photos under direct sunlight that rivalled Nokia's photo-centric N82. Colors reproduction was more accurate just siding a little to more vivid. The night photos without flash were very poor but impressive with flash for still objects.

Panorama mode
Earlier Nokia devices included a separate 3rd party application called Panoman to create panoramic photos. N86 finally includes one within the camera application and it produces really bad photos:

The N86 doesn't properly match up the background to link the photos together. But different than panoman, the built-in panoramic function uses the 8MP camera rather than rely on video mode.

The N86 8MP had about the same number of bars as the N82. Although bars isn't an accurate measurement of a phone's reception but a phone without bars can't make calls.

The audio was not as loud as the N82 but better at the highest volume. There was less distortion on the N86.

I'm not a audiophile but I felt the audio coming out of the N86's 3.5mm jack was close to the quality of the N82.

Unlike the Blackberry and iPhone, the N86 offers a wealth of Bluetooth profiles that allows you to share files with other devices, listen to music over a wireless stereo bluetooth headset, or sync data to your home computer.
Connecting the N86 to a computer using a USB cable will automatically keypad unlock the phone (but not phone unlock) allowing you to select the connection type (mass storage, nokia suite, etc.)

The WiFi sensitivity is weaker, picking up less wireless routers, than the Nokia N82 but stronger than the E71. As usual, the sensitivity is weaker than the standard Centrino package from Intel for laptops.

As with other FP2 devices, the N86 can't detect hidden networks in offline mode.

Global Positioning (GPS)
The N86 has an integrated GPS chip to get an accurate position of the phone.

Here is a comparison of the N82 to the N86 GPS status screen:

Both phones had their GPS started at the same time from cold boot. The N82 took 3 minutes to lock while after another 5 minutes, the N86 failed to lock.

The N82 was consistently faster at locking a position and much more sensitive. Nokia no longer includes a way to see the satellite status in Nokia Maps or the GPS app.

Time to lock is dependent on your location and weather conditions. Turning on assisted GPS in Tools > Settings > General > Positioning > Positioning Methods will reduce lock time but requires a data connection.

External Memory
Unlike most other S60 Nokia handsets, the N86-1 8MP did not include a memory card with the retail package. However it easily supported the 2GB microSD and 8GB microSDHC cards I had on hand. The small memory slot is under the battery cover, spring loaded, and hot swappable.

The N86 uses a thin BL-5K Nokia battery with 1200mAH. The 1200mAH gives the N86 amazing battery life that easily lasted two times longer than my N82 under similar usage and almost kept up with my E71. Under medium usage with occasion wifi and GPS usage, the N86 lasted about 2.5 days compared to 3 days with my E71 under similar usage.

The N86 only supports USB charging through the microUSD jack.

Build Quality
The slider is wobbly when the phone is closed but not as much when the keypad is opened.

The speakers are fully exposed so dust getting inside the phone is a serious problem:

Dust gets under the display:

I'm surprised by the amount of dust that got into the phone after only 3 weeks. The dust getting under the screen will be unacceptable to most users.


A good looking device with powerful multimedia features

After 3 weeks of testing the N86 8MP, I found it a worthy replacement for my N82. I initially didn't like the cheap looking number pad but I found the phone really easy to use and comfortable. The build quality is better than most Nseries devices but a problem with dust is something to be aware of. The camera on the N86 8MP is impressive but 8MP isn't much better than the N82's 5MP. Unfortunately photos in dim situations for moving objects was not good. If you're looking for a non-touch smartphone with a standard number keypad, the Nokia N86 should be your top choice.

Build quality...........8
Features for $.........8
Battery life............10


*comfortable keypad
*long battery life
*very impressive camera under sunlight and still night shots
*vibrant display

*Thick phone
*Paying for navigation in Nokia Maps
*small screen
*smudges easily
*organization of menu items still not intuitive
*slow locking GPS
*difficult phone to recommend compared to other similarly priced phones


nokia n86 review said...

Nokia N86 has become one of the favorite among all cell phone users. It has an attractive design. The image quality is very much satisfying.It is very easy
to use and has a good speed. The picture quality is mind blowing. It is a bit pricey. This phone is specially meant for Nokia fans.

Arun said...

Awesm review.. Good job man!

Kevin T. Neely said...

Great review. I'd love to give the n86 a yry, but I think I'm addicted to a bigger screen an dqwerty keyboard on my N97. Still, whenever I go back to my N82, I remember how great it is.

Happy to hear N82 has a worthy successor.

@illusionado said...

awesome review...two thumbs up =D

Anonymous said...

Why you made the N86 photos private? I would like to see them :)

Eric said...

@anonymous - sorry about that! I fixed the OVI settings so you can download any pics

Anonymous said...

,Hello. May i know what GPS app is that on the N82/N86 screen? Thanks.,

Eric said...

@Anonymous - it's a screen from Garmin XT

nintendo dsi r4 said...

it combines everything we loved about Nokia's N-Series since the N95, mixing great hardware with a solid platform and Nokia's growing suite of Ovi apps...

putra said...

nice review i like that, i will buy it later.

Best Netbook Reviews said...

The N86 boasts a variable aperture, which means the size of the aperture (optical diameter) can be varied. The N86 has three settings: F2.4, F3.2 and F4.8, other phones typically have a fixed aperture (Nokia's are generally at F2.8). Varying the size of the aperture means the amount of light let into the sensor can be changed. Higher F numbers mean a smaller opening and, as well as letting in less light, this can theoretically give sharper images. The overall effect of this is that, in theory, the N86 can produce higher quality photos over a greater range of lighting conditions

Mark Smith said...

Nokia N86 is decent phone it is the first 8 mega pixel camera phone from nokia.

eric said...

Nokia n-series phone are full of features and have cool looks.