World Exclusive: N86 extended test in Prague

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There’s plenty of video upcoming from our trip to Prague this weekend including an exclusive first-look at the N86 in real-world conditions – as you can see above it’s a tough life, this international playboy-blogger thing we’ve got going on right now…

But, Hi-Def video takes some time to edit and publish (see the MWC hands-on until then) so here’s a quick update on the N86 we took with us – the one you will have been able to see ‘in the flesh’ if you were able to attend our own man Whatley’s ‘Mobile Geeks‘ event on Thursday… The unit’s an early prototype so these are a few more general observations.

3313846513_8b31a94131_oThe good:

Materials and build quality – Even on this prototype unit the finish is excellent.  The new (introduced with the N97) metal bezel styling looks good and feels good in the hand.  The unit is well weighted adding to the feeling of quality, without being too heavy (in my opinion).  The minuscule holes in the metal menu button that are invisible until it is illuminated are a particularly elegant touch.

The number keypad – Silly small number keys are banished in favour of good-sized number keys with a pleasant action.  There’s also some haptic feedback too on menu button clicks which feels nice.

The screen – The OLED unit is crisp and bright (with one caveat below) – it looks great with what feels like deeper blacks and brighter whites.  Performance is snappy, but slick transitions enhance this sensation even further.  Transitions between portrait and landscape mode where also sensed quickly and rendered well – this stood out next to it’s older brother the N82 which has always been a bit slow off the mark in this regard.

The camera (probably) – Although not performing reliably on this unit a good number of the images we did manage to take impressed as did the sample images in Barcelona so this, at least, bodes well.  Nokia are shouting as loudly about the imaging system upgrades as much as the raw megapixels and the signs are good.

Call and network performance – Not a surprise with Nokia any more, but the N86 handled poor signal and jumping between 2G and 3G networks with style were other handsets where upset (notably the G1).

3314269840_19d1fdc506_oThe bad:

The function buttons – The main D-pad assembly and menu  key are still a bit ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’, but either way work well.  However, the two function keys at the top are low-profile with little travel and difficult to press with anything other than a fingernail.

The OLED screen in daylight – In contrast to its performance at any other time, in direct sunlight the screen washes out to nothing where the iPhone’s comes alive. Most handsets struggle in this situation, but an imaging-centric handset like this will probably see plenty of action outside.

The memory card slot – It’s only accessible by taking the rear cover off completely.  Admittedly with 8GB on-board it’s going to be needed less frequently than on other devices, but the process to remove the back cover is a bit fiddly and more elegant solution doesn’t feel like an unreasonable request.

The software – Yes this old chestnut… The N86 is already looking like a brilliantly refined handset and the hardware seriously impresses – this will surely take the N95’s mantle and attract a huge following – but with the tweaks, extra features and options the software is still a maze of menus which don’t always feel consistent.  It’s a wider failing across newer S60 devices, but how many excellent features will users simply never discover because they’re buried in the menus?

3286644991_7605b35ae1_mHaving been very disappointed with my first hands-on N97 experience recently, this restores some of my faith in Nokia – the N86 is already hugely impressive…. but where it’s a hardware tour de force, the maze of menus and settings disappoints.  This has to be the next area of attention for Nokia.

Watch out for our hands-on video from Prague coming soon and fire us any questions in the comments.

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