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Review of GSM/UMTS-handset Nokia N85
Live photos of the Nokia N85
At a glance, the N85's positioning in Nokia's portfolio may seem somewhat tangled. Judging by its technical specifications, it looks like almost the exact copy of the Nokia N95, bar a couple of things; however this first impression is deceiving. In fact, the N85 comes in to replace the original Nokia N95, that recently got an upgrade in the form of the N95 8 Gb. And since the N85 is superior to the latter on all major accounts, it easily qualifies as a successor to all existing iterations of the fabulous N95.
When it first arrived, the Nokia N95 retailed for around 550-600 Euro, whereas the Nokia N85 will go for around 450-500 Euro at start. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that these convergent devices have been relegated to a lower price bracket that will allow boosting their sales in a major way. So, the Nokia N85 will be targeting the mass market from the get-go and will remain one of Nokia's key offerings throughout 2009.
The question remains, however, what the Nokia N85's audience will look like? Actually, there will be several well-defined user groups in it:
We left out some secondary consumer groups on purpose, since they aren't all that important. Having rolled out a replacement for the N95, Nokia is all set to retire it from the market. They will keep both phones in for the next six months, and while the N85's price will be somewhat higher at start, it will steal the market from the Nokia N95 all thanks to its superior functionality.
Now let's see whether Nokia themselves can offer a more feature-rich phone these days. Basically, they can't - of course you could argue that the Nokia N96 is the one, but that'd be a little too far-fetched, since effectively it is no better than the N85 in any significant way. It sports a slightly bigger screen diagonal, no doubt about that, but its picture quality is worse; and DVB-H support along with 16 Gb of onboard memory are hardly worth bragging about. Other than that (i.e. in terms of camera and functionality) these two are pretty much in one league. Plus, as you probably remember we have already seen a bunch of Nseries-branded phones with bundled TV-tuners that had top-of-the-line indexes, but none of them ever became the flagship solution. After all, due to very obvious reasons, this feature was and still is optional.
It turns out that for almost 6 months Nokia will have only one flagship on their plate - the N85. Again, it's not to be taken for granted that the "flagship" is the model with the highest index around, or the most expensive one. As a rule, "flagships" are the phones that have what it takes to sell in droves and boost their maker's market presence along the way. Based on this definition, the N85 is Nokia's flagship solution, no doubt about that.
Another open question is whether other makers have some solutions that can stand up to the N85. Motorola doesn't have one and won't be able to churn out N85-grade offerings for a while longer. Sony Ericsson tout their C905 as the ultimate phone with an 8 Mpix camera onboard, but when you think of it, retailing at a similar price point, it loses to the N85 on every major account (bar the camera) - music quality, radio, extra applications, screen, navigation, you name it. Basically, these phones are in two completely different leagues that happen to have comparable price tags.
Now it may sound a bit strange, but the Nokia N85's greatest rival will be the Nokia N79, since these two phones are second to none in their respective categories. The N79 will be picked by the more conservative part of the audience, who aren't particularly sweet on sliders.
Initially the N85 will be available only in Copper with its front fascia decked out in black glossy plastic that isn't much of a fingerprint- or scratch-magnet. The side plates of the phone are finished in matte plastic, and the entire underside of the N85 is a big piece of textured and lacquered plastic, similar to that found on other Nseries-branded phones, such as the N82 and N79.
Early in 2009 we will see at least five extra color swatches that will bring about new hues for the side plates and the rear. You will have quite a few options to choose from, make no mistake about that. On the downside, however, the Nokia N85 doesn't support interchangeable covers, leaving this feature for less sophisticated solutions.
Now for the N85's build quality. The N95's lens cover, especially the fact that its coating tended to go off with time, has always been a crucial issue with most of its colors. Luckily, they have addressed this defect in the N85. Probably the only weak spot on the new N85 is its navigation button that is made of soft plastic. However we haven't run into any serious problems with other phones equipped with this type of buttons, so we have absolutely no reason to believe that you will experience some issues with the N85 on this front.
While its casing is made entirely of plastic, the N85 doesn't creak or squeak when you squeeze it, which isn't all that typical of sliders. The spring loaded mechanism does the job very well - all you need to do is put your finger on the navigation pad and push it up; although the slider action is a bit on the stiffer side, it's much easier to manage the phone this way, as you don't have to worry about zipping the N85 open by accident.
The battery compartment cover is crafted of thin plastic; mounted on the inside is the FM-transmitter's antenna.
The thing I really want to focus your attention on is the size of the N85 - at 103x50x16 mm and 128 grams it is considerably thinner than the Nokia N95 with its 99x53x21 and 120 grams, meaning that it's way more pocket- and palm-friendly. Perched in the top left corner is the lanyard eyelet, although I doubt many will use it. But who knows.
Sitting on the left-hand side is the memory card slot, while on the top there are the power button, 3.5 mm headset jack and microUSB socket for charging and data synch. Remarkably, the Nokia N85 doesn't have the standard 2 mm charger slot, and to tell the truth after several weeks of quality time with this phone, I ended up trying to charge other Nokia-branded handsets via the microUSB port (although even the N96 doesn't support this way of charging and freezes when you plug it into the mains).
Located on the right-hand spine are two loudspeakers - this setup is nothing new, though, as most other Nokia's latest and greatest phones employ it as well. Also here is the keypad lock switch, volume rocker and dedicated camera button. The rear of the N85 houses camera lens and flash module.
Perched right about the display is the forward-facing VGA camera for video conferencing and on the right is the ambient light sensor that handles the phone's display and keypad backlights.
Many S40-based phones already enjoy OLED screen that offer a brighter picture and better viewing angles while being less power hungry. Thankfully, S60 devices are moving in the same direction, and the Nokia N85 is one of the first handsets in this range to adopt a 2.6 inch AM-OLED screen (39x43 mm) capable of 16 million colors and QVGA resolution.
The cover glass here is slightly tinted, which allows for better legibility in the sun. All in all, the N85's diagonal/resolution ratio is just right to provide for decent picture quality - should they have installed a bigger display and kept the QVGA resolution intact, the N85's quality would have been far from what it is now, especially in the way of fonts. Speaking of which, the Nokia N85 offers mid-sized fonts, that remain visible at all angles, so that you won't have to stare at the screen to read them. This display accommodates up to 8 text and 3 service lines, although in certain modes you can cram in as many as 14 lines of text.
Nokia N85 (on the right) vs Nokia N96:
Nokia N85 (on the left) vs Nokia N96:
Apparently, Nokia have done some tweaking to the ambient light sensor - now it does a better job at adjusting the display's backlight to your current environment.
Since the N85 sports a motion sensor onboard, it allows you to rotate the screen in any menu, although you can disable this feature in the phone's Settings.
The N85's navigation cluster keeps a low profile while in standby - without any backlighting this area appears to be a completely flat and lifeless surface without any trace of buttons. It can even make you second-guess yourself, thinking that the N85 may actually employ touch-sensitive keys. But in reality all these buttons are mechanical and our only niggle with this navigation cluster concerns its soft-keys - they may feel on the stiffer side, although it's nothing you won't be able to get used to.
The phone's plastic numberpad utilizes a single-slab design, but since all these buttons are pretty sizeable, texting with the N85 was a breeze - they offer pretty decent feedback and are easy to press at that, therefore allowing for pretty quick typing. All keys are lit in white; the bundled ambient light sensor keeps them visible in just about any environment, adjusting the backlight intensity in a proper fashion.
The multimedia keys on the N85 have finally evolved into multifunctional controls - while they still let you manage the music player, now you can also use them in games or to zoom in and out on pictures when browsing through the gallery. If you think that it'll be easy to misuse them or memorize all things they can do, fear not, as the captions are context-sensitive and get updated automatically.
Mounted around the navigation pad is Nokia's Navi Wheel, a touch-sensitive control allowing you to scroll through lists in most applications.
The handset utilizes a 1200 mAh Li-Ion battery (BL-5K), similar to that employed in the Nokia N79. The N85 is rated for 7 hours of talk time (GSM) and 363 hours of standby. Music time - up to 30 hours, video recording time (top resolution and quality settings) - up to 180 minutes, video playback time - up to 7 hours.
The handset's battery life averaged 3 days in our tests, when we used the N85 for about two hours of calls, a dozen or two snaps, several minutes of video, and around an hour of music/radio. It takes the N85 around one hour to charge from empty to full.
Below is our chart of battery times we managed to squeeze out of the N85:
In our review of the Nokia N78 our verdict on its battery was as follows: " Thanks to the inclusion of the FP2, some modes are now less power-hungry, which adds up to a nice battery life boost. The N78 is obviously ahead of the N82 on this front, although their batteries are drained equally fast by web-browsing and Wi-Fi. At the same time, the newcomer can put up almost twice as many hours in the music playback mode".
The good news is that the Nokia N85 is even more of an overhaul on this front - in terms of energy consumption Nokia have addressed pretty much every department in the phone. While its overall battery time is pretty good thanks to the new display type, when it comes to data connections, such as EDGE, WiFi or GPS, the N85 is second to none. The only area where it can't stand up to the competition is video recording - here its numbers have dropped down by 30 minutes. But this isn't that much of a deal, seeing how much more juice it offers in all other modes. As you probably remember, not so long ago we praised phones that could put up 21 hours of music in bundled earphones, now the N85 raises the bar all the way up to 30 hours. Plus it can play video for 1.5 hours longer than other Nseries phones.
With the N85 you will also be able to benefit from its power saving mode: when the battery is about to run out of charge, the phone drops down the display brightness to the minimum without cutting out any applications (such as camera). But when the battery indicator reaches the critical level, the N85 will shut down all applications and will start saving some charge for several more calls that can really come in handy. That said, the Nokia N85 does exactly what you'd expect from a smart phone, in every way.
Since the Nokia N85 runs on similar hardware as the Nokia N78 and N79 and employs the same Feature Pack 2, it's safe to say that Nokia have done a great job fine-tuning the system's code to allow for longer battery life.
The device comes equipped with 128 Mb of RAM, after first launch you will get around 70 Mb of free memory at your disposal. Also you will have around 72 Mb for storing personal data. The N85 deals with microSD memory cards (hot-swappable), the phone comes packaged with a 8Gb unit. There are no restrictions as far as memory card's size is concerned - our handset easily identified a 32Gb card.
Actually, in this section of the review, I should probably start kicking myself, and for a good reason. The fact of the matter is that in my preview of the Nokia N85 I insisted that this phone ran on the same chipset as the Nokia N96; furthermore, it was confirmed by several people, including Nokia's Vice President. Mea culpa - as it turned out, that wasn't really true - in a nutshell, the N85 employs a chipset from Freescale, being identical to the N78, N79 and some other phones in this department.
The N85 is almost no different from other FP2-based phones performance-wise, so it is pretty much in line with other state-of-the-art S60-powered devices.
USB. USB. You pick one of these 3 connection modes in the USB settings of the N85:
Data transfer speeds top out at around 2 Mb/s. Once you plug the N85 into a PC it starts recharging automatically via the USB cable
Bluetooth. Bluetooth. The phone comes with Bluetooth v2.0, with support for EDR. The following profiles are supported
The top speed you can get with the N85's Bluetooth connection is around 100 Kb/s. We also tested its A2DP profile in pair with the Sony Ericsson DS970 headset, which worked just fine - we managed our play list, skipped within tracks and adjusted volume seamlessly, however we couldn't make current track's title show up on the N85's display.
Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi. This handset comes armed with Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11 g) support. All security standards are supported: WEP , WPA , WPA 2, with other advanced settings available. The device supports Universal PnP standard (UPnP), which is the successor to the wired standard PnP. With its help, along with Wi-Fi, you can send slides to a TV, music to a stereo system, and photos to a printer. In a certain sense UPnP is like an add-on to the infrastructure (Wi-Fi, for example) in the form of Bluetooth-esque services, so this looks more like a software upgrade. The sales package includes Home Media Server, which allows connecting the N85 through your home Wi-Fi network to a desktop PC.
There is also a Wi-Fi wizard available in the N85 - it can keep looking for enabled networks in the background mode and tap into them.
The handset comes bundled with a 5 Mpix CMOS camera, similar to that found in the Nokia N95 and some other Nokia-branded handsets. The N85 features a two-section LED flash that can make some difference when taking a picture from 1-2 meters away. While the N85's flash does better at shooting sceneries rather than people, it's still debatable which kind of flash is superior - Xenon or LED. Perhaps the Sony Ericsson K850i answers this question in a certain way, utilizing both the Xenon and LED flash types.
The picture quality put up by the N85 only loses to that of the Motorola MOTOZINE ZN5, although some people still like it better. For those wondering whether the brand new N85 is any different from the Nokia N82 in terms of camera - it's not, or, at least, not in the way you will notice.
Nokia N85 camera specs:
The N85's top resolution is Print 5M - large, which stands for 2592x1944 pixels and image size of 700Kb-2Mb. The user can also make use of the following resolution settings:
It takes the N85 around 3-4 seconds to save a shot in any of the above resolutions if you have enabled the after-shoot view. Or 1-2 seconds in case you are ready to take another snap right after that (in the latter case all images are saved from the buffer).
Color tones. Since these overlays can be applied to any snap in a standard graphics editor, it won't be wise of you to enable them for taking a snap on the N85. There are four effects available - Sepia, Black & White, Vivid, Negative.
Exposure compensation. This parameter is adjusted at a 0.33 step here; it will prove useful for shooting objects with dominating light or dark tones.
White balance.. The N85's camera does very well in the auto mode, though you can manually adjust the white balance and choose one of the following settings - Sunny, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent.
Video recording.. When recording video with N85, there are considerably fewer settings, than in the still image mode. There is a software image stabilizer that was first introduced in the Nokia N80. You can adjust the white balance, choosing from Automatic, Sun, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent. The overlay pool includes Sepia, Black&White, Negative. There are only two shooting modes - auto or night mode. Maximum resolution - 640x480 pixels (mpeg4), you can also mute sound, although there is no way you can adjust the N85's FPS, which is locked at 30. The handset allows recording videos until you run out of free memory.
The major update to this department is the new version of Nokia Maps, which you can learn more about in our review of the FP2. Also, we would like to note that the application has become even speedier, the cold start time makes around 4-5 minutes, and we felt that the gears were spinning faster, so to speak. To my mind, the N85 is a tidy navigation-savvy solution, it does the job hands down. But, unfortunately, as far as battery life goes, the N85 doesn't improve over the predecessors.
All applications that have something to do with the N85's music department (music player, radio, Internet radio) have been carried over from the FP2's standard suite of features and are basically nothing to out of the ordinary. The handset ships with a remote control, the same as that found in the box with the Nokia N81; the bundled earphones are nothing to shout about, so you should definitely replace them with something me capable.
The N85 also benefits from the Internet-radio, which is a worthy addition to its music department. On the downside, its FM transmitter that can beams music, didn't manage to impress us. It is a quaint feat that may even settle down on Nokia's solutions, but by and large it is of no real use. Unfortunately, this decent idea is drowned by poor technical implementation, which is not the letdown of this particular handset, but rather all devices of this type. This weakish transmitter can't make for a stable and strong signal, therefore allowing noise and static to slip into your broadcasts, that's why even audio books get pretty irritating to listen (as far as using the transmitter in the car goes).
As far as music quality goes, the N85 offers an unparalleled experience for an S60 device, but while it improves upon the N95 and N78 on this front, it can't stand up to the Motorola ZN5, Samsung i8510 INNOV8 and some other solutions. Nevertheless, it's still good enough to take on the Apple iPod, plus less sophisticated users won't notice any difference at all when listening to music in stock earphones.
RightMark Audio Analyzer tests:
General Performance: Good
Nokia N85 vs Nokia N78, Nokia N95 8Gb, Nokia N96:
The utility marries the local search abilities and browsing. Furthermore, the search engine used in the N85 may vary by country - for Russia it is Yandex.ru. Generally, you can pick a search engine you like manually or keep the default one - Yahoo. The reason behind this differentiation between regions is that the maker deems local search engines better tweaked for respective countries.
Local search is performed in all categories, which are:
All you need to do is punch in first letters of a word and the N85 will instantly display how many matches it could find in every section, which is really handy. For the time being, Samsung-branded devices come with a quite similar feature onboard; however their search engine is somewhat less sophisticated, even though the abilities are pretty much in line with Nokia's search.
This is a wheel-shaped menu (made its first appearance with the Nokia N81), where every tab features kindred functions. You can navigate through these tabs with the help of the D-Pad or the numeric keypad.
The current version sports only six pages, whose order of appearance may be easily varied - by the default, the first tab you see is all about music (with this tab on, you can check out your library, start random playback of your tracks or view podcasts). The Games tab proposes exactly the same options as the N-Gage section. The Gallery allows you to view your last captured shot and calls up the Album. You can submit some entries to the Contacts tab, so it acts like a speed dial menu, which may come in handy on certain occasions. Internet - links to your favorite pages, Maps - points of interests and locations.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to notice that there are a whole lot of functions typical of stand-alone apps duplicated in the N82 - in the multimedia menu you can add new bookmarks, but the browser can serve the same purposes as well. You can throw some contacts into this menu, but adding them to the list of Fast dial makes more sense. Ergonomics-wise, this menu is a complete blank, bringing nothing new to the table. It is just another way to display the phone's contents, and that's about it. Let's call it a "contemporary" way.
The Nokia N85 is the first phone to feature a full-fledged N-Gage client - a tad later its localized editions will become available world-wide. The handset comes boxed with fifteen Try&Buy games, although you can pick one of them and get a full version free of charge using the activation code the N85 ships with.
Video Center Ц enables the user to subscribe to various channels offering an assortment of video clips, including YouTube's mobile version. All videos get uploaded onto the device, so that you will be able to watch them whenever you want. You can expand clips to full screen in the landscape mode, plus there is the portrait mode available with the N95 8Gb. The best way to upload clips is via home or office Wi-Fi networks.
QuickOffice here comes in a shrunk edition. Specifically, with the version found in the Nokia N95 8Gb you won't be able to edit office documents. To go beyond the Read Only mode you will need to pay extra money.
Adobe PDF Ц allows reading PDF-files, no complaints about the application.
ZIP Ц enables you to extract files from archives or create new archives.
Barcode Ц reads bar codes, as its name suggests. Almost of no real use these days, though.
Firmware update Ц this application checks your current firmware version and updates it if necessary.
So, the only question that remains is whether the Nokia N85 is any better than the Nokia N95 8Gb. But I'm sure the chart below is enough to convince you that with all things considered, the newcomer outruns the good old N95 8Gb hands down
Those who are in the market for a phone that is just as feature-rich, yet comes in the candybar design should put an eyeball on the Nokia N79 - while the latter comes with a smaller screen and a smaller memory card in the box, as far as functionality goes it holds its own against the N85.
Call quality was never an issue with the N85, as it easily lived up to our expectations of a Nokia-branded phone. Ring tones sounded quite loud thanks to the handset's dual speakers - in this sense, it is one of the market's vociferous offerings. The vibrating alert was on the stronger side all thanks to the N85's svelte casing
The N85 will remain the undisputed flagship in Nokia's Nseries range for at least six months to come, as we won't see anything remotely close in terms of features or sales package any time soon. At the same time, other phone makers don't have any competent solutions on their plates that could stand up to this brand new do-it-all wiz. The N85 is a well-balanced offering, plus Nokia's engineers have worked on its battery time and music quality. Together, the N85 and the N79, that is just as feature-rich, make a fearsome duo that will rock the mass market and no other manufacturer will be able to do anything about it. All in all, this latest release shows that Nokia has been preparing for the golden era of S60 since a long time ago. But seeing that phones with VGA screens and S60 Touch (we'll see it already on October 2nd in London) are already on the horizon, the N85 isn't that much of a revelation, but in terms of price/quality ratio it is Nokia's, and let's face it, the market's finest solution to date. Basically, you won't find a phone below 600 Euro that can take on the N85 functionality-wise (while the Samsung INNOV8 can give the N85 a rough run for its money, its price tag is a lot heftier).
That said, in 2009 the N85 won't come off the top of sales charts in this price segment - in fact, with this device Nokia have set the pace for their rivals that they will have to keep up with in order to remain competitive.
Published 04 September 2008
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