Nokia N85 review
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Review by Anton Spiridonov (smape.com)
Nokia N85 is a key product of the final quarter of 2008 and the first two quarters of 2009.
Let’s have a closer look at the positioning of N85. First of all, it’s meant to be a sequel to the musical N81 handset, claiming the throne of an ultimate gaming / music phone. The price bracket and target segment are all the same, as well as the starting amount of memory; on the other hand, every other aspect of functionality has been improved. Nokia N85 can also pass for a very good replacement to N95 8GB sporting almost the same functionality, yet implemented on a remarkably higher level. The same saying can be applied to the model’s positioning. The company are counting on N85 as the most likely candidate for becoming a mass market bestseller, massive investments being made into the promotional campaign. Nokia N85 has no direct competitors save for N95 8Gb, but in all senses the former is preferable. The price gap between N85 and N96 is going to constitute 100 euros, that’s basically how much you’ll be charged for the extra memory and the DVB-H unit. N96 doesn’t offer any other practical advantages, and N85 is obviously preferable for better materials, size, screen quality, Design and battery life. A comparison article pitting N96 against N85 is already available on the site, we hope you’ve already had a chance to skim through it and come up with a pretty clear idea of how things go for these two models.
Design and Ergonomics
Nokia N85 follows the style of N81, every corner and edge rounded, black glossy plastic stuck tight with the framing. This gives the hand a more comfortable, less edgy feel. The handset size is very modest, the measurements only counting 103x50x16 mm, which is slimmer than the wide and not as ergonomic N96. The casing is made from a glossy plastic, but it’s different from the one used in N96, it’s not as easily soiled and looks more expensive. Have a look at 6600 slide, and you’ll spot the analogy (except the latter’s having multiple metal parts). The style is maintained by an absolute smoothness of the buttons which have their markings automatically faded out in case a button is inactive in the current mode. At the same time, the buttons aren’t touch-powered and have a good mechanical feedback, though a bit too tight and not as perfect as in N81. The black N85 comes in two versions: one of them has the side edges and the back panel painted brown, the other uses violet.
A small remark concerning the gadget design. According to the company representatives’ statements made exclusively for SMAPE.com, the current designer conception (N81, N85, N96 and the future portfolio entries) will go on existing in its current established form for an indefinitely long period of time, the metal parts traditionally reserved for Eseries gadgets. It’s hard to say how good or bad this thing is, we’d better stay neutral on this point and simply tell you a few more things on Nseries’ market perspectives. As long as the current design sells well, Nokia won’t come up with inventing something totally new.
The quality of materials is very high, the assembly quality is next to ideal; there’s a slight play between the halves of the slider, being less than a millimeter, which is quite normal. The right edge of the casing houses the two-position volume control button, the camera launch / shoot buttons as well as the keyboard block slider. It now functions slightly differently from what we had before: the slider automatically returns to its initial position, unblocking the phone if it was previously blocked, and blocking it if it had been blocked.
The left edge hosts only a microSD slot protected with a flash. The stereo speakers are shifted to one side, just like in N96. A variety of customization options like sound trajectory and special effects are available here. However, none of these tricks changes the sounding to much, the differences are minimal.
The upper edge has a microUSB slot, a power button and a standard 3.5 mm audio socket.
The back panel of Nokia N85 is glossy, smooth and prone to growing worn spots and getting scratched. The elaborate pattern consisting of thin lines (which is a signature feature of the latest models by the company) helps to counter that. On the same surface you see the camera lens neighboring a dual LED flash. A 1200 mAh battery is concealed behind the battery bay cover. The inner surface of the battery bay cover hosts the FM antenna – take the cover away and the radio will refuse to work.
The screen of N85 is identical in size to the original N95 (2.6’’) but bases off the AM-OLED technology. This helps to notch down the power consumption and gives a better looking palette. Oh well, the view angles also appear wider and the refresh rate is pleasantly high. On the whole, this screen is obviously better than the display of N95 8GB, - but don’t take this as an offense to the latter, its screen is just plainly good but N85 offers a perfection in this aspect. The high refresh rate is crucial for comfortable N-Gage gaming.
The image brightness is on a very high level, the traditionally available luminance sensor switches the brightness levels automatically depending on the environment. The maximum brightness level is stronger than in Nokia N96, though the colors aren’t as natural, rather sticking to an acid-like, overly vibrant palette. But on the whole this screen is actually one of the best screens available on the market.
The block of controls is remarkable for the availability of numerous dedicated media buttons which are rendered active only when you are working with the player – rewinding, play, pause, and similar features also found with Nokia N81 or N96. The only difference is that the dedicated buttons of N85 are totally flat and remain unseen until their markings are backlit in the active state. The buttons aren’t powered by the touch technology though, they’re simple mechanical units with a good feedback, bringing about almost no problems. Those are a great addition saving a lot of time and nerves when you’re about to spend a hour or two listening to your favorite music.
A Navi Wheel is traditionally available, remaining active in all menus and lists. The sensitive area of the wheel is limited to a thin limbo running along the perimeter of the navigation element. Moving your finger clockwise or counter-clockwise allows for rapid playlist browsing in a corresponding direction. The light indicator sits right in the center of the Navi Wheel and can be easily turned off. It doesn’t carry out any special functions like a message or a call reminder, a feature still available on some older Nokia models.
The set of buttons residing on the moving part of the slider complement the controls surrounding the navigation button. The button markings change automatically according to the current mode: in the player mode, a total of four rewinding / play / pause / switch track buttons are active; in gaming, only the two central buttons can be used as controls; in the gallery, these buttons serve as zoom in and zoom out controls. The idea is close to what we see in some Motorola models, especially E8.
The numerical keyboard is made from a solid piece of plastic; the buttons are very flat, yet have a great feedback and pose no practical inconvenience. The large size of the buttons eliminates the possibility of stray keystrokes. The keyboard backlight is of a bright white color, visible in any environment. The numerical keys are larger than on N96, the upper key row brings about no problems.
Nokia N85 is coming with a new generation BL-5K 1200 mAh battery. It’s smaller than a standard Bl-6F battery with a same capacity, but doesn’t fit into the battery bay of N96, that’s a real pity. Combined with a power-saving OLED screen and the Feature Pack 2 platform, N85 has the longest playback cycle among all Nokia smartphones, even beating N78.
Nokia N85 battery
|Phone||Nokia N85||Nokia N95 8GB|
|Regular using||3,5 days||2 days|
|Multimedia cycle, video (3GP)||5:28||5:09|
|Multimedia cycle, audio (MP3)||26:45||10:27|
The onboard Wi-Fi unit is served by a friendly WLAN Wizard which helps you to configure a web connection in no time. The options are rather few: firstly you are asked to create a connection, secondly you specify the default access point and thirdly you configure the network filter. The supported security standards are WEP, WPA and WPA2. The WLAN network detection timeout is also specified in the settings.
The USB 2.0 wire data transfer speed reaches 4 Mbytes per second. The Mass Storage mode is fully supported, the user is free to choose in what way the handset will be used upon establishing a phone-to-PC cable connection: Mass Storage, PC Suite, Image Print, Media player. As long as the phone stays connected to the PC, the battery is being recharged. N85 is the company’s first smartphone sporting such a possibility. For instance, N96 doesn’t replenish the battery charge during USB sessions.
Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR is available, supporting all the common profiles:
- Audio/Video Remote Control
- Basic Imaging
- Dial-up Networking
- File Transfer
- Generic Access
- Generic Object Exchange
- Object Push
- SIM Access
- Serial Port
The A2DP support allows to use a wireless stereo headset, which worked just fine for us. The settings include the device visibility timeout and a list of blocked devices.
The Home Media application allows to interact with other devices using the UnPNP protocol was given a broader functionality in the new models starting from Nokia N81 (unlike the older N95 and N93). The earlier models only allowed to share the media content stored on the device, but now it’s also possible to play files accessible from remote sources right on the screen on the phone. We have tested this feature with a PC and it worked all right for us. Once the feature has been properly configured, a Broadcast Over Home Network option appears in the Gallery menu.
Also, N85 is the first Nokia model two support a whole three WCDMA bands: 900, 1900 and 2100.
The hardware platform of Nokia N96 cardinally differs from N85 and the rest of Nokia models, being a STn8815 Nomadics chipset by STMicroelectroncics. We were amused to watch incompetent people putting a huge equation mark between N85 and N96. N85 utilizes the same hardware as N78 and N81.
Nokia N85 / N96
Nokia N96 / N85
As seen from the test score, N96 displays a lower Performance than N85 and a much worse one than N95 basing off OMAP 2420. The lack of a 3D accelerator is blatant in the JBenchmark 3D test. N96 lags behind in other tests as well. The gap may be accounted for by the use of a newly developed platform, while N85 employs a platform which has been through a long evolution of improvements and optimizations shared by Nokia N78 and N81 models. There’s little sense in repeating the de!--ions of this platform since it has already been dealt with in our review of Samsung i450. Despite the lags seen in the tests, N85 and N96 have identical audio quality, a bit above the sounding of N78 and a bit below than Samsung i8510 INNOV8. The audio quality provided by N78 seems to please the majority of the owners, so an even better sound is simply great.
|Phone||Nokia N85||Nokia N82||Nokia N96|
|Jbenchmark 1.0.1 Score||3232||5311||2796|
|Jbenchmark 2.0.1 Score||548||568||358|
|Jbenchmark 3D HQ||195||973||155|
|Jbenchmark 3D LQ||380||1018||283|
|Jbenchmark HD Gaming Score||166 (5.5 fps)||91 (3.0 fps)||127 (4.2 fps)|
|Fill rate, KTexels||2289||1107||2635|
The model is running on the latest revisions of the Symbian operating system, namely ver. 9.3, S60v3 Fp2. There’s no support for the Fast Boot feature, though a full bootup cycle never exceeds 20 seconds.
Once the gadget has booted, there’s some 78 Mb of free user memory left out of 128 Mb in total. The same numbers are true for Nokia N78 and N96. The Heap and Jar sizes for the applications are unlimited. The device supports microSDHC cards up to 32 Gb, with a 8 Gb card arriving in the sales box.
The onboard accelerometer automatically switches the screen aspect depending on the smartphone’s physical position in space – everything’s identical to N96, N82 and other Nokias sporting this feature. The accelerometer functionality can be switched off at user’s will.
Nokia N85 bases off the S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 2 platform. A comprehensive overview of the basic functionality provided by the platform is already available on the site so we won’t be repeating things once again in this article. The only noteworthy point is that the gadget comes with a variety of preinstalled games. Since Nokia N85 is marketed as a gaming smartphone, don’t be surprised to discover a whole ten games preinstalled on it, one of them being a fully licensed copy and the rest – demos. The high quality, large OLED screen provides for maximum comfort during gaming sessions. The preinstalled miscellaneous services are nothing very unusual – an online music store, a Share on OVI service and so on.
GPS is one of the hottest lines on Nokia’s priority list. Enormous amounts of money have been invested in this direction; multiple navigation companies were acquired and merged into the Nokia corporation, and the market expectations are amazingly high for the current year: a total of 35 million of GPS-equipped devices are estimated to be sold over the course of 2008, which is more than the whole market of navigation devices in 2007. No new Nokia smartphone goes without a GPS unit. Nokia Maps 2.0 is not just a cosmetic update but rather a comprehensive overhaul of the application’s interface. It grew to become more intuitive, informative and user friendly. Nokia Maps 2.0 is available for download at http://europe.nokia.com/A4984199
A major addition is the dedicated pedestrian mode (Walk) which is an exclusive feature as stated by the company representatives. Pedestrian-friendly features include special voice reminders, step-by-step visual hints (e.g. the ‘footprints’), the onboard compass helps to indicate the wanted direction. The maps are incredibly detailed, displaying anything from highways to walking paths in a park. The compass needs calibration prior to starting work. The integrated accelerometer is what allowed for adding such a feature.
The search interface is now improved, the search results can be sorted by a number of categories; a so-called quick search function is in the place, allowing for searching without calling on the context menu. Hybrid maps are a perfect addition to the two alternative viewmodes. The route calculation is done on the basis of the three values and can be dynamically rearranged in cause of sudden traffic jams; the map coloring is changeable between the day and night variations. Once GPS has been initiated, a small icon depicting a satellite is shown on the status bar at the top of the screen, that’s how you see when the positioning is being done. Nokia Maps 2.0 offers an impressive variety of features, keeping them together in a friendly interface which will never cause confusion to the newbies.
The multimedia player interface is pretty standard, showing no difference from Nokia N96 or N78, this kind of interface is common to all the latest products basing off the S60v3 Feature Pack 2 platform. The controls are very comfortable in operation, you can rewind, pause and play the tracks with the dedicated player buttons located on the upper half of the slider or the buttons around the joystick button. We had really no problems with the controls, the playback is easily controlled with a few taps (unlike in models which don’t come with dedicated player controls. For example, Samsung i8510 offers an even superior audio quality but it’s not too handy with playlists and track switching because of a lack of extra control buttons.
A total of five customizable presets of the eight-band equalizer give you unlimited power of tweaking and adjusting the sound to your liking. An eight-band equalizer is now commonly found almost with any multimedia device using FP2, while in the older days the equalizer normally would be a five-band one. The extra sound settings include balance adjustment, enhanced stereo sounding, bass boost and reverberation. A variety of content management options are available: sorting by performer’s name, album title, genre, repeated and random layback. The Album Arts feature allows for an album cover displayed all across the screen when a song from the album is playing. Actually S60 FP2 is remarkable for the best implementation of this feature. A number of visualization options are available, yet while you are watching the animation, it eats up some extra battery charge. The sound signal can be broadcast over a Home Media network. The Music menu item now has a Nokia Music Store subitem to be discussed in a later section of the article.
The following multimedia formats are supported by the handset:
MP3, WMA, Polyphonic ,XMF ,AMR (Voice Tag), AAC, AAC+, e-AAC+, Midi (SMF), SP-Midi, RealAudio 7,8,10, True tones, WAV and RA.
The audio quality provided by Nokia N85 is one of the best available from today’s market. It’s higher than N78 and N79 can offer and goes on par with N96. Some people whom we invited to test the audio quality of the two models claimed to have spotted a very slight difference, N96 allegedly sounding a bit more natural, however the difference, if exists, is simply marginal. Samsung i8510 remains the ultimate music phone, though, and it can’t be beaten by anything so far. That’s the best music solution and is going to remain such for about a year in advance, if not longer. On the other hand, the audio inferiority of N85 and N96 isn’t too big in comparison with i8510, thus making things complicated – a vast majority of the audience will probably never care about this slight difference in the quality of audio. Nevertheless the overall experience you get from using each of this models is apparently different. I8510 has the audio socket nested on the side edge, which makes it not too good for carrying in the pocket with the headset plugged in. There are no extra music keys, you always have to enter the player menu to switch tracks. N85 comes with two sets of extra controls, which makes a big difference. The continuous playback cycle is two times shorter with i8510. Also N85 offers a greater variety of music settings, a better looking player and an FM transmitter.
What do we finally get
- People looking for a music phone will mostly prefer N85, regardless of a slightly worse sounding. The rest of the music-related features are better implemented in N85, despite the much higher price of the Samsung solution. Nokia engineers aren’t going to chase after perfection as long as they’ve got an established technology allowing to create something already very close to perfection
Also, the overall experience you get from N85 as a multimedia player is much better than you get from anything else, including the Samsung flagship.
The radio part of N85 consists of Visual radio and Internet Radio. The visual radio is a regular FM service supporting extra visual features like Album Arts while Internet Radio is a networking radio which is growing increasingly popular with the ongoing spread of public Wi-Fi access spots and 3G mobile networks.
The phone has a Nokia Music Store support, giving access to more than a million tracks by various performers; one track costs one euro, albums sell starting from ten euros, a monthly sub!--ion for web-to-phone database synchronization costs 10 euros as well. The price is comparable to the prices for analogous services offered by different European carrier companies. In the playback menu, a ‘go to the music store’ option was added, which bounces you to www.music.nokia.com should you select it. The Music Store offers a lot of options: a full-fledged track database search, access to ratings and statistics, a planned download list, phone-to-PC synchronization with the help of Windows Media Player. All the tracks are downloaded in the .wma format, a bought song can be re-downloaded for free should it get lost. The shop’s interface is rather intuitive, all options are accessible through a couple of clicks.
Nokia sticks with the traditional Carl Zeiss optics in both models; the actual characteristics of the cams differ between the two, upon a closer examination. We made it sure that all the settings and characteristics were identical for both models during the tests, save for the availability of a lens guard with N85 and the kick-stand coming with N96. The double LED flash is the same thing used in either model. The latter, by the way, is slightly worse than a xenon flash, for instance like the one used by N82. Let’s quote the camera specs:
- CMOS-sensor, 5 Mp
- Maximum resolution: 2592x1944
- Lens aperture: 1:2.8, focal distance 5.45
- CMOS-sensor, 5 Mp
- Maximum resolution: 2592x1944
- Lens aperture 1:2.8, focal distance 5.2
How exactly the difference between the 5.2 and 5.45 tells on the practical results
The idea is simple: just have a look at the pictures and see how the focal distance and viewing angles are related.
In an actual photo, it works like this:
As you see, a shorter focal distance stands for a larger viewing angle. In other words, the lens grabs a bigger fragment of a real-life picture from the surrounding panorama. Special tasks may require the opposite, though most casual users will be better off with a shorter focal distance. It equals to 5.6 in Nokia N82 and N95, 5.7 in i5810 and so on. This doesn’t influence the quality of the resulting picture at all, yet the pictures taken with different focal distances differ accordingly:
Nokia N85 / Nokia N96
As you see, N85 is leading in test with flash turned on and off alike. We took a series of pictures with a Samsung i8510 in the same environment for an objective comparison:
Nokia N85 / Nokia N96 / Samsung i8510 INNOV8
The lens is protected with a lens guard sporting a maximally handy design. A double LED flash is found right nearby; it looks a bit outdated since the majority of modern cameraphones come equipped with xenon flash units. Still it’s effective at distances less than a meter. By the way, N85 isn’t marketed as a photo flagship, that position reserved for N82. Besides its primary function it is alternately used as an aid to auto-focusing in insufficiently lit environments.
In the camera mode, the volume controls are used to zoom in and out up to a 20x ratio. While the camera is in an active state, these buttons are backlit; at the same time, the button markings on the numerical keyboard fade away. It takes only four seconds for the camera application to fully initialize. The viewfinder window doesn’t suffer from an inertness like was encountered with Samsung U900.
The interface uses a landscape orientation. In the viewfinder mode, such indicators are shown as the image resolution, the remaining number of available shots, the storage folder path and so on. A small shortcut bar provides access to all the main settings. It can be optionally hidden.
The main settings include:
- 0,3М (640x480),
- 0,8М (800x600),
- 1,3М (1280x960),
- 2М (1600x1200),
- 3М (2048x1536)
- 5М (2592x1944)
In the same tab, it’s possible to turn off the geo tagging feature. But it would always be better for you to keep that option active, since it’s enormously handy to be able to sort the pictures by their geo tags.
A default filename for photos and videos, the default ‘saved to album’ sound and a camera shutter sound are specified in the options as well, along with a photo storage location selectable between the onboard memory and the flash card. Unfortunately, there’s no way to specify a custom folder. Surprisingly, such an option is available on conventional S40 phones, we were never able to figure out the reason why Nokia had taken that out from the smartphone.
Videos can also be geo-tagged and shot at different resolutions (three of them available in total). The maximum possible resolution is VGA (640x480) at 30 frames per second. Image stabilization during recording is available as well, along with an option to disable the sound.
The image tweaking options come in a pleasing variety, the model is actually one of the best solutions in this aspect. Here’s what’s available in the settings:
- switching to the video mode
- shooting mode (auto, custom, macro, portrait, nighttime shot, nighttime portrait, landscape, sports)
- flash controls (auto, on/off, red eye filter)
- timer (2, 10, 20 seconds)
- serial shot (a frame taken every 10, 30 seconds, 1, 5, 10, 30 minutes)
- exposure adjustment (from -2.0 to 2.0)
- white balance presets (auto, sunny, cloudy, glowlamp, fluorescent lamp)
- effects (sepia, negative, black and white, boosted transparency)
- ISO settings
- Sharpen / Soften
- Contrast (20-notch scale)
- Brightness (10-notch scale)
Macro shooting samples:
Nighttime shooting samples:
Drawing the final line, we’d like to point out that the cam installed on Nokia N85 is no worse than the cam of N95, displays a better quality of pictures than with N96 (which is probably because of a more finalized firmware – theoretically the results should be the same), that’s a great score for a solution with a primary accent on music and gaming.
There has been a lot of breath wasted about the positioning of Nokia and the main purpose of this product. One sure thing about it is that it introduces a totally new vision of all-in-one solutions. A compact and elegantly built smartphone sporting a vast range of features and an affordable price. That’s not a flagship in terms of functionality and the technology level; it can’t be compared directly to Sasmung i8510 INNOV8 or Nokia N96 because of a critical price gap. Nokia N85 is 150 euros cheaper than N86 and 300 euros cheaper than i8510. That makes a huge difference for the mass market. Is the consumer ready to pay a much higher price for the bulky i8510 just because of a better camera and some lesser improvements in various departments of functionality
The majority is likely to reply no, limiting the target audience of this product to a thin layer of tech geeks looking for every possible technology at its highest collected within a single device.
At this point we come to realize the difference between Nokia’s and Samsung’s approaches to the product development strategy. The Korean vendor invests money and effort into the upper segment, gradually establishing itself as a technology leader; but this will never bring about mass sales, this rule perfectly true for i8510 as well. As of now, that gadget offers an unmatched level of functionality on all fronts and won’t face any direct competitors until a few months have passed. At the same time, it’s not going to sell in thousands, which is perfectly understood by the manufacturer company. On the contrary, the well-balanced N85 will fall to the liking of a great many of consumers, this model (along with N79) is going to constitute the majority of the company’s smartphone sales in 2009.
Nokia N85 is going to enter retail sale in October priced 550 euros, that’s quite an adequate sum charged for an extremely compact smartphone coming with a reach bundling, neat design and an unmatched experience. N85 works equally fine as a multimedia player, a digital cam or a gaming console. The developers did their best to optimize every tiny part of the controls. Nokia N85 isn’t a controversial product like the cult N95: it doesn’t display any apparent weaknesses (e.g. short battery life, assembly quality) which served as good soil for the criticism which sprouted up almost immediately whenever N95 was being discussed; the functionality level didn’t jump far above that of the predecessor model, though the implementation of certain features was greatly improved. At the same time, the price isn’t biting. This model is one of the best solutions which became available during this year, for sure.