GPS facilities have been enhanced over the old N95 models with the addition of assisted GPS for a better lock and an improved version of the Nokia Maps application that now provides instructions for pedestrians as well as drivers. Getting a decent and constant signal isn’t particularly easy in my corner of the South West of England, and the N96 wasn’t the best device I’ve come across in doing so, but when it worked it worked pretty well, though potential buyers should be aware that they’ll still have to pay extra for voice-guided car and pedestrian instructions.
Now to the games. Nokia has been pushing its N-Gage service as a premium gaming platform to match more conventional handheld platforms like the DS or PSP, but I’m still not convinced. With the screen slid to reveal the multimedia keys – now posing as action buttons – the form factor of the N96 is perfect and the built-in speakers make sense. However, the more ambitious 3D games still fail to run at any decent frame rate while the less ambitious 2D games, though entertaining, feel like products of a bygone era. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the action puzzle game Reset Generation, but for now I’d hesitate to recommend that any game enthusiasts pick the N96 over any other phone, particularly when the iPhone seems to be gathering more momentum in this area.
Finally, the camera. Again, it’s a 5-megapixel job, this time with two LED flash lights, and the results are generally very good, if not quite up to the standard of recent camera phones from Sony Ericsson or Samsung. Colours are bright and the auto exposure and focus systems competent, and the Carl Zeiss lens copes well with objects viewed close up. Sadly, two persistent issues recur from the N95 and N95 8GB. First, there’s still no cover for the lens, though Nokia has turned part of the frame surrounding it into a funny little stand that holds the handset at a suitable angle for watching video. Secondly, there’s still an annoying lag between pressing the shutter and taking the picture that makes it hard to capture anything that’s moving at any real speed. Otherwise, the N96 doubles as a fine point-and-shoot camera with more manual control than most.