Nokia N86 review

While many of the latest smartphones will offer you the chance to customise with apps, surf the web with ease and basically do lots of funky things, the one thing they all have is a general disregard for the camera.

It seems that if you want to take pictures that are any good with your mobile phone, you have to choose a handset that is dedicated to it. In steps the Nokia N86, the Finnish company's photographer handset du jour, complete with an 8-megapixel camera on the back.

Before we get to the camera element, and let's face it, that's what you want to hear about, let's quickly cover all the other bits and bobs you get first.

On the connectivity front there is HSDPA/3G, Bluetooth 2.0 so you can connect the phone to your computer, wireless headphones and the like, as well as GPS (assisted and actual) so you can find out where you are.

The phone itself runs on the Symbian S60 interface that Nokia users will be familiar with, it comes with a hot swapable microSD slot, and 8GB of internal memory so you've got plenty of space to store music, apps, and of course your photos.

As for the design of the handset, like the N95, it is a double slider that means you slide up for the number keypad and slide down for dedicated keys for the camera and the music player.

Encased in metal and available in Indigo Black it's not only tougher and more durable than previous handsets from Nokia, but it also looks the part too. Buttons are well placed and fairly straightforward although, as usual, there are too many underneath the main screen making it possibly confusing if you are in a hurry.

While lacking a touchscreen like other recent Nokia releases, you do get a 2.6-inch 320 x 240 pixels (QVGA) display. It's an Active Matrix OLED screen, which while not as stunning as some of the recent offerings from the likes of Samsung, is bright and crisp enough to enjoy most things. At no point would we hold it against the handset.

Elsewhere the handset offers a 3.5mm headphone jack. The numberpad is as unadventurous as it is comfortable, and the accelerometer is quick and nimble.

Turn it on and you get the S60 operating system staring out at you. Compared to the likes of the iPhone, Android and the WebOS operating systems the OS is starting to look dated, however it is still very easy to use.

On the software front you get the same interface found on other recent S60-running Nokia handsets, plus access to the newly launched Ovi store so you can download further apps if you want.

Music fans are well catered for with the phone coming with access to the Nokia Music Store, internet radio, FM radio, and all the usual features present for the Nokia music player, however not the company's Comes With Music offering.

It's here the four buttons on the second slideout (sliding the screen to the right) come into play and give you fastforward, rewind, stop and play controls. They are easy to use, and as N95 users would probably agree, a useful feature to have on the phone.

The N86 also sports a kick stand around the back that allows you to perch it on your desk - it comes in handy when watching video and actions can be set when opened, like go straight to your photo galleries. The on-board speakers are okay, but nothing to write home about.

So that's the phone, but as we said at the beginning of the review, this is a dedicated camera phone packing a whopping 8-megapixels which, if successful in its task, could eradicate the need for a compact camera.

The camera features a rather annoying sliding lens cover on the rear that you have to manually slide down to take a picture. It doesn't have enough staying power to stay closed in your pocket so it isn't the best solution to protecting your lens.

Hiding behind that protruding cover is a wide-angle Carl Zeiss Tessar opticals lens with a mechanical shutter up to 1/1000sec and an f-stop range of 2.4-4.8 to suit low light conditions.

Controlling the camera is easy. Those music buttons we mentioned above also double as camera buttons giving you zoom controls, while the shutter button is on the top edge where you would expect it.

If that wasn't enough to get you in the snapping mood, the phone features geotagging (thanks to the GPS) and a third generation dual LED flash rather than a Xenon flash. Nokia say that the move back to LED is because things have vastly improved in terms of battery, light and general technologies used to make the picture work better with the limited features available and in use we would have to agree - the camera flash is good.

The resulting image quality does vary on the conditions at hand (as you would probably expect), but on the whole we were very impressed with the shots we took. It has to be one of the best camera phones we've tested here at Pocket-lint.

While the non-flash enabled indoor shots did come across as foggy at times (even though the lens was clean) outdoors, with plenty of sunlight, you would struggle to work out whether the results were from a phone or low end compact camera.

Furthermore the camera application offers plenty of features, plenty of scene modes and plenty of chances to select the best settings for the shot needed. There is also a panoramic mode that again, considering this is a phone, is very good.

When it comes to recording video you get control over white balance settings, colour tone, and even whether your want the LED flash to be on as a permanent top light. There are five recording settings. The top quality isn't HD unfortunately, but 640 x 480 good enough for most TVs while the lowest recording level of 176 x 144 is suitable only really for MMS messages.

Controls for the camera, although not available on the toolbar as default, can be added from a customised menu to give you much more control. Those controls include standard camera features such as exposure, ISO, and white balance, as well as non-traditional ones such as brightness, colour tone, contrast, sharpness and the option of a grid display to help you compose your pictures.

So will you be dumping your digital camera in favour of a phone? If you use a low-end digital compact then the answer is yes. The quality here is as good as some entry-level models, however before you ditch everything and run out to buy one, it's worth pointing out that it is not going to replace the mid- to high-end compact offerings, or your DSLR, just yet.

The fogginess in some pictures and the lack of optical zoom on the Nokia N86 will delay your complete switchover for some time, however if you are looking for a camera phone that is ideal for snapping those moments you love to share on the Internet without having to carry a compact camera around then this will do nicely.

Verdict

So is this a goer? Well on the camera phone side, definitely. There are enough control and features here to offer those who like to snap while out and about.

The ability to share your images to social networking sites, email them or merely transfer them by Bluetooth to your computer is also likely to appeal, and if you are still using a 2- or 3-year-old camera then it might be worth upgrading to this rather than buying a phone and a camera separately.

Of course there is a catch. While we were impressed with the camera side of things the N86 is starting to look a tad dated on the interface, certainly compared to the new smartphones coming out from HTC, Apple, Palm and even LG and Samsung.

The bottom line is that if you like the Nokia S60 interface and want to take good pictures sign up. For the rest, you have to ask whether taking on the S60 interface is a hit you are willing to take, just so you can take good pictures with your phone.