I’ve the Nokia N85 when it was announced, but the time has come to post a full review.
The Nokia N85 is among the newer cell phones to come out of Espoo, Finland. This multimedia computer (as Nokia calls it) continues the NSeries tradition of fantastic imaging with a 5 mega-pixel camera and Carl Zeiss optics, built-in GPS, a multi-functional Symbian operating system, and many other classic NSeries features.
The Nokia N85, in my view, is an update to the highly-esteemed and ever-popular N95. Sure, we have the N96 that came out recently, but the N96 is quite buggy and very large, especially compared with the N85.
What sets the N85 apart from the NSeries line is it’s use of a dual slider mechanism, meaning sliding the display up reveals the numeric keypad and sliding it down shows the media keys for video viewing. Also, the Nokia N85 uses an OLED screen, which produces a very bright and beautiful image with vibrant colors.
A very important distinction with the Nokia N85, the NAM version features a tri-band HSPA. This means you can have 3G coverage here in the US on AT&T’s network and if you travel abroad to Europe, you can have 3G data access there as well. Up until this point with Nokia handsets, you had to choose either to have North American 3G or European 3G when purchasing a phone.
First Impressions and Build Quality
The N85 has the classic piano black look and feel that has become ubiquitous with the Nokia NSeries line of phone. The corners on the phone are rounded and smooth. When you turn the device on, the first thing you notice is the bright, vibrant screen. The blacks are true and the colors pop, even in the home screen looks enhanced on this OLED screen.
The front of the device is made up of a 2.6″ screen, front facing camera for video conferencing, send/end keys, and the Symbian key and home keys. One think I like on the N85 versus the N96, the N85 doesn’t have the lame media control buttons (pause, play, forward, backward) cluttering up the keypad around the D-pad on the bottom. These media keys are present on the N81 8GB and N96 and make using keys around them very difficult.
On the front left side of the N85 you find the Micro-SD card slot and on the right side are a physical keylock (nice touch), volume rocker, and camera key. The top of the N85 features the 3.5 mm headphone jack that doubles as a TV-Out as well, the USB port and power button.
The back of the device is made up primarily of the battery compartment and camera lens. One great thing about the N85: a physical sliding lens cover! This is great for those who want to quickly snap a photo by opening the shutter, taking the picture, and closing the shutter. When no lens cover is present, users must unlock the handset, launch the camera application, take the photo, exit the camera application, and re-lock the keypad. This is a very laborious process when you just want to snap a quick snapshot.
Overall, the aesthetics of the N85 are curvy and sexy. I consider this phone to be a beautiful version of the popular N82 with dual slider goodness.
My pal Ricky Cadden of Symbian-Guru recently reported build quality issues with the Euro version of the N85, but I didn’t see these issues with the N85 I trialed. In my experience with the handset, the Nokia N85 dual slider mechanism seems firm and secure. My feeling is that after years of usage, the dial slider would stay intact and firm, unlike some Nokia N95’s I have read about online.
Using the Nokia N85
Speed and Performance
The N85 is a quick and responsive when navigating through menus, screens, and features. I noticed I first started using the N82 that it was noticeably faster than the N95; and the N85 blows the N82 out of the water with regards to performance. Applications run quickly, videos play instantly, and the camera application is quick when handling photos and image files.
It is very nice to have such a well performing NSeries phone in the marketplace as Symbian and S60 can look very sluggish if it’s on slow hardware.
How did the the N85 perform as a daily use mobile device? Overall it did very well. As a messaging device, the N85 is very well equipped. I loaded Mail for Exchange in order to access my work email and installed Nokia Messaging for care-free access to my personal Gmail account. Installing, configuring, and using these mail applications with a cinch and made it very easy to keep in touch with my messaging needs around email.
When composing emails or SMS messages, I found the keypad on the N85 to be very usable. The N95 was great for messaging because the keys had a rise to them and you could easily tell each button from another. With the N85, the keys are flat, but there’s enough spacing between the keys to suit your needs when composing short messages.
Enjoying media on the N85 is a very fantastic experience. The speakers are loud and clear, much louder than normal smartphone or cell phone speakers. I would compare them to the speakers on the N82. The media playing software is the standard Symbian music player so there’s nothing to write home about in this department.
GPS, Navigation and Mapping
I don’t have any proof of this, but I’m wondering if Nokia used a new GPS chipset in the N85. This handset is so quick in finding and locking on to GPS signals. Combined with Nokia Maps, the GPS functionality find and tracks your location with speed and elegance. Also, when taking photos, the N85 is very quick to lock on to satellites and embed the location information in your photos. Geotagging is very beneficial for future use, especially if you use iPhoto ’09 or Flickr, two utilities that utilize this geo-locational data.
Camera and Imaging
One of the strong suits of the entire NSeries line is the spectacular imaging capability. The N85 is no departure from this tradition as the handset includes a 5 megapixel camera accompanied with Carl Zeiss lens. Dual LEDs allow you to take night time photos and video. While I wish a zenon flash was also on board, LEDs are better for battery life. Photos taken at night or in low-light situations look good as the dual LEDs do their job.
The photos taken on the N85 are stunning and colorful. As stated above, the N85 is quick to lock onto GPS to enable geotagging. My only complaint about the N85’s camera operation is the physical camera button itself. There is no stop when depressing the key that allows the N85 to focus the shot before snapping it. The functionality exists, but the button doesn’t allow for easy usage.
Updating the Phone
The Nokia N85 is a Feature Pack 2 version of the S60 operating system. One unique and welcome feature of FP2 is the addition of over-the-air firmware updating combined with user data preservation. What does this mean in human language? It simply means you can update the software of the N85 without having to hook up a USB cable and all your data (messages, applications, call history) won’t be deleted in the process. This is a small feature, but very useful in my opinion!
Making and Receiving Calls
As with every other Nokia I’ve trialed, the N85 is rock solid when it comes to audio quality when making and receiving phone calls. The earpiece speaker on the N85 produces very audible sound and callers I talked with said I sounded superb as well. The speakerphone feature worked very well, especially with the N85’s excellent speaker quality.
The N85 presents an incredible package for mobile handset users. The bright screen will make your video and image media pop right before your eyes. The audio quality makes for phone conversations sound incredible. With the Micro-SD slot, you can insert an 8GB or 16GB memory card and load the N85 with a massive amount of media for your viewing. And finally, the camera is a very functional imaging device for taking snapshots. Having a 5 megapixel camera on your cell phone is such an asset.
Will I choose to go buy an N85? No, I won’t but my reservations have nothing to do with the handset or software…it’s just that I don’t like slider phones. One asset, in my eyes, of the N82 is the fact that I don’t have to slide anything out of the way to get to the numeric keypad. Media keys are wonderful, but I don’t really watch much video on my cell phones.