Nokia made a controversial decision in returning to a 950mAh battery with the N96, apparently to keep the size and weight down. Apparently, software optimisations should ensure that battery life in normal use isn’t badly affected, but while Nokia claims 230 hours of standby time and 230 minutes of talk time I’d take those figures with a pinch of salt, particularly if you’re planning to use GPS and WiFi. The specification claims 5 hours of video and 14 hours of music playback but I topped out at a little over nine – not quite on a par with Nokia’s estimate, but not a bad result.
Still, generally speaking the news is good. In terms of physical design and overall performance the N96 is an improvement on its popular predecessors. The bad news is that this is no longer enough to make it a must-have mobile. The N96 does an awful lot of things and it does them very well, but in every category there are other devices that do the same thing better. It’s not an exceptional camera phone, it’s not a particularly great web device and it’s not an incredible media player. As a games machine it’s better than many other mobile phones, but a long way behind the console quality experience Nokia has been promising.
Worse, in a field now dominated by touchscreen phones the N96’s design is beginning to feel a little staid and conservative. The interface is functional, but low on ‘wow’ factor or real innovation. While everyone else is trying to catch and beat the iPhone – and a few are coming very, very close to succeeding – Nokia has merely bashed out a slightly better N95. If you loved the N95 that’s not a disaster: it’s a pretty sure thing that you’ll like the N96 even more. If not, however, there are other, more exciting phones out there for this kind of money.
In all respects the N96 is an improvement on the already good N95 8GB, handling all its functions well. However, Nokia’s new flagship lacks the glitz and glamour of rival smartphones and doesn’t excel in enough areas to justify the high price tag.