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Nokia N85, Nokia N79 - old heroes, new wrapping
Here is a riddle you should be able to crack in no time. What phone managed to set the course for the entire market for years to come, raised the bar for all other makers and despite being quite steep sold in droves? Obviously, it's the Nokia N95 and all spin-offs that followed, such as the Nokia N95 8Gb only made it even more popular. The army of this phone's fans has just about every consumer group you can think of, including fashion-conscious users and techi. However, some complain about its build quality, some blame the slider mechanism for being somewhat flimsy, and some just can't handle the idea that an all-plastic phone can cost this much. What's more, every one of them is right - it all comes down what they expect from their N95.
Now that it's been a year since its original release, the Nokia N95 is starting to roll down to lower price segments, so Nokia's main goal these days is to prevent its sales from fading completely. Which is exactly the reason why they have decided to unleash a replacement for the good old N95 - the Nokia N85 that will have to share the market with its brother in arms until early 2009 and then will go on to become one of the most popular offerings in its segment.
But don't think that the Nokia N85 is an exact copy of the Nokia N95 that has had its casing refurbished in an effort to prolong its platform's life cycle this way. In fact it's one of the first phones to enjoy the revamped NSeries development strategy. Before we move on to the N85 itself, let us clarify what we mean by this "revamped strategy".
Around 8 months ago Nokia announced that they were going to sign up with several chipset manufacturers, so as not to get to depend on one particular hardware platform. This way, S60-powered phones are still running on TI OMAP solutions - the latest and greatest phones in this portfolio currently utilize the 2420 platform, although the 2430 with enabled 3D accelerator is set to launch in the near future. Then they have turned to a single-chip platform from Freescale and subsequently events Nokia signed up with STMicroelectronics in order to utilize their Nomadik platform in the N96. What we are getting at is that the Nokia N85 is the second Nokia-branded phone to employ this chipset. That is why we wouldn't venture to claim that it adopts the N95's platform - on the contrary, these two phones are very different in this sense. More importantly, going for the new platform is a dedicated 24-bit DSP processor that handles the entire audio department in the N85. But while it trumps all current phones on this front, the N85 still can't match the Nokia N91 as far as sonic experience goes. We'll get to that in our comprehensive reviews of these phones a tad later.
Another thing that is ought to be factored in, but usually ends up overlooked, is that Nokia is in the middle of revision of their pricing policy, to be really specific - its NSeries part. Their multimedia computers are becoming one of the main sources of sales and audience growth and that's why the new bottom line for this type of phones is set at 350 Euro. Furthermore, originally the N79 and N95 were supposed to launch at even lower price points (300 and 390 Euro respectively), but then they thought better of it. The reason was similar to that behind the revision of their pricing policy - the demand for these handsets is elastic, meaning that people don't get put off much by increasing prices. Those who are in the market for better price/quality ratio will be content with other Nokia-branded phones, including those utilizing the S60 platform. As you probably remember, we touched upon this matter in our interview with Nokia's Vice President, Ukko Lappalainen.
Moving back to the Nokia N85. What does Nokia have above this phone, based on its index? Naturally, first offerings you'll think of are the Nokia N95 8Gb, Nokia N96. As far as functionality goes, the N85 is in one league with the Nokia N95 8 Gb, the only thing you might be missing is 8Gb of bundled storage, but then again, the N85 will come boxed with an 8 Gb microSD memory card. What's better - inbuilt storage or a separate memory card - is quite a dilemma. Curiously, Nokia's strategy implies a step-by-step transition to huge storages (8, 16, 32 Gb, all in 2009) with enabled memory cards (so that no user will come out disappointed). In this sense the Nokia N85 is more of a bridge connecting "before" and "after", but they have cut its bundled storage so as not to put it in the same league with the Nokia N95 8Gb.
The build quality is one of the more popular questions about the Nokia N85 - actually it's always frustrating when you find out that your 500-Euro phone is all flimsy. Fortunately, Nokia has addressed this old issue of the N95 in their brand new N85 - its dual slider mechanism feels very sturdy and the phone itself is very palm-friendly too. What's more, its glossy plastic surface isn't that much of a fingerprint magnet as you'd expect it to be. The rear plate comes in a variety of colors, which is also a tribute to Nokia's current strategy. So, as far as looks, build quality and materials go, we have no niggles with the N85 at all.
The music/gaming controls haven't changed much since Nokia's previous sliders employing the same setup.
One of the N85's highlights is its 2.6 inch OLED-display capable of 16 million colors. While these bare numbers might not tell you much, the picture quality will for sure - the N85 is an enormous improvement over the Nokia N95 with its brighter and juicier colors along with very readable fonts. All in all, it's one of the best units we have seen yet. To tease you a little, let me say this - I managed to have a sneak peek at the next generation of screens some time ago (boasting the VGA resolution) and found that they were quite in line with the screen utilized in the Nokia N85.
The N85's 1200 mAh battery is becoming par for the course for this type of phones; since the N85 actually employs a different kind of chipset with a dedicated DSP processor, it puts up an astonishing 28 hours of music. On top of that the phone allows watching VGA video clips at 30 FPS and to Nokia's credit be it said the N85's battery time in this mode has increased as well.
As far as the music department goes, there are no bells and whistles in the N85 - it packs in a generic S60 player application, as the whole device is based on the Feature Pack 2 software. But there are some welcome additions to its standard functionality, such as a 3.5 mm headphone jack, a pair of stereo-speakers (which are almost as loud as those of the Nokia N82 at that).
The camera here boasts a mechanical shutter, but the camera module itself is nothing to write home about - Carl Zeiss lenses and a LED flash. Personally, I don't think it's much of a letdown, since this type of flash usually beats Xenon units at close-up shots. The image quality along with the camera interface haven't changed a bit; all things considered, it's one of the market's finest 5 Mpix shooters, just like other Nokia-branded phones are.
The bundled WiFi comes armed with a full array of settings, plus Home Network. Now for games: the N85 ships with 15 N-Gage titles, but the box contains only one activation code that will allow you to pick one of these games and get its full version. By the way, the Nokia N79 exercises exactly the same approach.
Other options available with the N85 include an FM-transmitter, which is one of the features that have been spreading throughout Nokia's NSeries portfolio lately. Plus, the menu features a stand-alone application for updating the phone's firmware. Other than that, the N85 is a standard Feature Pack 2 fare.
The Nokia N85 is on track to start shipping in late September for 450 Euros a unit. As far as Nokia's portfolio goes, the only phone that can take on the N85 at this time is the Nokia N95 8Gb, but then again, their latest and greatest slider beats it in almost every way - from build quality and sound to camera and software. The N85's relatively high price will allow Nokia to keep it in business for around 14-17 months - supposedly, its price will hi the level of 350 Euros or so before they will retire it for good.
Given that I've been longing for the N85 for quite some time, I can't miss this opportunity to note how good it actually is. This phone is very palm-friendly and its battery time is beyond expectations - basically, it's the epitome of "do-it-all", and will prove to be a great replacement for those who are already bored by their N95s, but don't want to give up its functionality. Also the N85's price/functionality ratio will definitely appeal to more pragmatic users - apparently, there are some even more feature-rich phones around, like the Samsung INNOV8, but their price tags can easily make your wallet cry.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the N85 will become of the market leaders and won't give up this position for a very long while. In fact, 2009 will be the year of the N85, for no other company can offer anything even remotely close to this mobile powerhouse.
The only question that remains is which phone to choose - the Nokia N85 or Nokia N96. While the senior model supports DVB-H that, let's face it, it will be used by very few (probably engineers, carriers, and hopeless tech aficionados), boasts more bundled storage, it still runs on the same platform, features a comparable camera and its price tag is around 150 Euro heftier. But more importantly, put these two phones face to face and see which one will fit in your hands best - I'm sure you'll know the answer right away. That said, if you are in the market for some reasonably priced and functional phones, the N85 is ought to be on your shortlist.
Speaking of indirect rivals, the Sony Ericsson C905 might be one, but it can't stand up to the N85's feature pack, and the only department it excels is camera. But since they retail for pretty much the same money, most consumers will rather go for the do-it-all N85.
To get a better idea of what the Nokia N79 is, let's start with a simple question - what phone the N79 aims to replace. While its closest sibling in Nokia's portfolio is the N78, it doesn't quite qualify as a full-fledged replacement, since they target different demographics. In fact, this phone comes in to take the place of the most popular Nseries smartphone to date - the N73. Given the way the N73 was positioned back in the day - decent camera for very little money - the N79 seems to fall under exactly the same category. It brings together a 5 Mpix camera module with a lens cover and the rich feature pack of N78.
Apart from that it features an FM-transmitter, LED flash, 2.4-inch display and all other attributes of the Nokia N78 - if you want to learn more about the N79, just read our review on the N78 and you'll have a good idea what this phone is capable of.
The N79 also sports the touch-sensitive Navi Wheel that can be disabled in the menu. Plus it has a motion sensor inside that can be disabled as well, so that the phone's screen won't automatically rotate as you turn the phone around.
Much like the Nokia N85, it packs in 15 N-Gage games along with Maps 2.0 application (in fact, all Nokia's latest and greatest phones boast GPS functionality), FP2 and the brand new firmware updater.
The phone will be available in two colors - grey or white; but every phone comes boxed with three spare rear panels of the following colors: green, brown, blue, light blue, red, and patterned white. The interesting thing about these panels is that they are literally connected with the themes installed on the phone - on the inside every panel has four miniscule contacts that make the handset switch the current theme once you put it on. But you can always disable this feature from the menu if you don't want your phone to get that creative.
Another thing of note about the N79 is that both the microUSB socket and memory expansion slot are housed under a plastic flap on the right - in fact it's the first time we have seen together, and we should note that we are not very happy with the ergonomics of this design.
The N79's stereospeakers are somewhat quieter than those of the Nokia N85, and its audio quality is nowhere near the N85, even though it sports a 3.5 mm audio jack. All in all, check out our review of the Nokia N78 for more information on N79 - they haven't' changed much in it after all.
The N79 will start retailing in Europe for 350 Euro in December, which is a well-justified price for a phone of this caliber. But does it improve over the Nokia N78? Definitely - its keypad has been refurbished a little, also they have added a slew of tiny, yet welcome additions to the interface, enhanced the camera and thrown in a couple of "smart" rear panels. Personally, I think this change list is well worth those 70 Euros that separate these two phones. However, the real question is what is going to become of the Nokia N82 - this phone offers a similar camera (yet with a Xenon flash) but can't stand comparison with the new N79 in terms of software. Rest assured, it is not going anywhere, Nokia will keep churning out N82s and will also add the Value Edition (a music-centric edition of the phone and new sales packages). This will allow them to keep it at today's price point and offer some unique features that will distinguish it from the N79. But in the long run, the Nokia N79 will put the N82 to rest, make no mistake about that.
The N79 will inevitably clash with Sony Ericsson's music-minded flagship, the W902 that comes packaged with a 8Gb memory card (against Nokia's 4Gb), but that's the only advantage of the W902 - other than that the N79 beats it hands down. And given their identical price tags, there won't be much of a dilemma.
Some tend to compare the N79 with the Samsung i7110, but it's pretty obvious now that these people have never held the latter in hands. While these two phones run on the S60, they target different audiences and offer different feature packs - they are simply in leagues of their own, but you will hear more about the i7110 in the days to come, and I suppose it will be enough to make it very clear that it is not the phone that will take on the N79.
СIt's hard to underestimate what has just happened today -Nokia has unleashed its key mid-tier products for 2009, which have all it takes to become the market's most popular and beloved offerings. Furthermore, their competition still don't have the offerings that'd be able to fight back, meaning that Nokia will have at least a 4-5 month handicap that translates directly into lighter price tags and wider availability. This will give them just enough time and resources to prepare for the launch of a new line-up that will include some touch-based solutions. In February Nokia will reveal around 7 new S60-powered phones, two of which will be the milestones for the entire industry for at least a year to come. But their sales charts will still be topped by such phones as the Nokia N79 and Nokia N85 that came together in one announcement solely because of their potential. While Nokia's competition really need to make a leap forward in the mid-tier, some of them don't have the resources, whereas others are too obsessed with the higher end of the market. That's why for the time being Nokia has nothing to worry about, at least on this front.
Published 27 August 2008
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