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The Nokia N85 might have been released late last year, and we have taken it for a spin for a considerable amount of time before publishing our findings. This can be considered to be the second generation of the N Series from the Finnish cell phone manufacturer, and from the moment one turns it on, you will realize that the entire device boots up a whole lot faster – more on its zippiness later. How does it compare to other smartphones in the market, and does the slider form factor work in its favor?

Basic Phone – Dialing
For its phone function, the Nokia N85 works just like it should. Since there are no touchscreen displays that come along with this model, you will have to slide the display upwards to reveal an alphanumeric keypad underneath which are flat in nature without any raised keys. These keys work surprisingly well, and are extremely reactive even with one-handed use. You have the option of tweaking how the sliding function will affect the voice call, where closing it could result in you hanging up while sliding it upwards will allow you to receive the call – otherwise, there are always the standby green and red buttons for you to fall back upon.

Basic phone – Sound Quality
Sound quality is as good as it gets – no complaints from us here. In fact, it can get rather loud at times. I have noticed that there is a drop in quality whenever I receive/make a call while being connected via 3G, but suspect that is due more to a service provider problem compared to a hardware problem. Most of the time in such a situation, it is the other party who finds it difficult to listen to me as they claim that my sentence gets all chopped up.

Physical Design
The Nokia N85 is a fairly average slider handset in terms of physical design, and I guess nobody has yet to figure out a way to create a fingerprint-resistant surface (regardless of the display or body). The sliding mechanism is smooth and steady, so you won’t feel as though this is going to break in half any time while using it. I do find it difficult to sandwich the handset between my ear and shoulder while talking with both hands occupied as the phone tends to slip out all too easily, but then again we’re supposed to hold it up with one hand when talking, right? You can slide the display upwards much further to reveal the alphanumeric keypad as mentioned earlier, while sliding it downwards will reveal a bunch of dedicated music controls for you to take full advantage of your MP3 files stored on a microSD memory card. The navigational keys are extremely responsive, and it is nice to see a quartet of keys remain “hidden” until the device is keypad-unlocked, where the light will then reveal their respective positions. Overall, the Nokia N85 has a pretty solid feel to it and you know you’re using a cell phone when talking with one instead of those ridiculously thin handsets that were all the rage a couple of years back.

Display
No touchscreen display here, but what you get is an extremely crisp and sharp 2.6″ OLED display that showcases up to 16 million colors in QVGA resolution. It still won’t stand out under bright sunlight, but does a much better job compared to other forms of displays. Of course, be prepared to wipe grime and oil from the display all too often due to the nature of the handset design, but color me impressed with the way the thing looks and presents both photos and videos.

Operating System
The Nokia N85 is powered by the Symbian OS 9.3 with S60 3.2 user interface, and as mentioned in the opening paragraph, it works much faster compared to the first generation of N Series (such as the N70, N73, et al). Booting up the handset takes a much shorter time, and you hardly suffer from lag while composing text messages. Also, the handset has yet to hang on me after prolonged usage. After using the HP iPaq 910c for quite some time which is powered by Windows Mobile 6.1, jumping back to Symbian OS is somewhat akin to riding a bike – once you know how to, you never really forget. Yes, the user interface is still as intuitive as ever, so if you’re a first time cell phone user and decide to pick up the N85, you won’t need a manual to figure out the controls.

Physical Keypad
While the keypad is just fine for composing text messages and keying in contacts, it poses quite a problem when playing games. I fired up Star Wars: Force Unleashed and found the Cellweaver control scheme to be rather challenging due to the nature of the button layout, where I am required to make use of both levels of keys in order to make progress through the game. This might be rather awkward for some who have larger hands, but those with smaller palms and shorter digits won’t find it to be a problem. Do take adequate breaks from your gaming sessions with the N85 as you might end up with finger cramps in the process. Apart from that minor gripe, the keypad works pretty fine.

Web Browsing
Nothing comes close to the iPhone when browsing on a phone is concerned, so the N85 fails in this department only if you have had experience the wonders of Web browsing on the former. Beginners will find it rather challenging to surf through their favorite sites if those have not been formatted to handle mobile browsers. I’d recommend you use the browser sparingly though since a 2.6″ display does not quite cut the mustard despite being capable of connecting at HSDPA speeds.

GPS
The N85 uses Nokia Maps to help you find your way around unfamiliar places, and it doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes to locate your current position from a cold start. Make sure you’re subscribed to an unlimited data plan if you want to use the A-GPS function often as there might be a considerable chunk of downloads to make during your trips. Nokia Maps is pretty comprehensive to date, offering a quartet of different view modes with satellite and hybrid maps among those. You can also opt for regular 2D and 3D view modes if you want to. The route planning algorithm works just fine whenever you know of a shortcut, and there is even the option to avoid toll roads and motorways if you prefer to take the longer, scenic route. Voice-guided navigation is included on a three-month trial basis where you will then need to purchase a license upon expiry. Making a purchase is pretty painless actually as it is done through the phone interface, albeit requiring an Internet connection.

Photo/Video Capture Quality
The 5 megapixel camera is definitely above average when it comes to megapixel count, capable of hitting a maximum of 2,592 x 1,944 pixels. You will get autofocus (that seems to take an awfully long time) and an insanely bright dual-LED flash, accompanied by a lens cover. The camera function will kick in automatically once the camera lens cover is open, and you can also turn on the geo-tagging feature which allows you to keep track of where and when you shot that particular image or video. Too bad the zoom function takes a pretty long time to zoom in or out, where by that time your subject might already be somewhere else. It doesn’t come with just automatic controls but has manual controls as well for those who want to customize their photo taking experience. Image quality is above average IMHO, but if you’re going to get a cell phone that doubles as a digital camera replacement, I’d suggest you keep on waiting – for a long time.

N-gage Gaming
With the N-gage platform coming back as a software one instead of hardware, I’d stick to my PSP and DS Lite
if I want portable gaming. The hardware of the N Series still doesn’t appeal to me, and until cell phones are able to muster up enough processing power for much more complex titles, I’ll give it a pass. Sure, you can always challenge your friends over the Internet and post your high scores there, but for casual games? The iPhone still wins out in this aspect where cell phone games are concerned, what with the recent release of Metal Gear Solid Touch.

Battery Life
Battery life of the N85 is pretty long – up to three or four days of normal use if I turn off the push e-mail function (Mail for Exchange running in the background 24/7 over 3G/HSDPA connectivity) and do not fire up the GPS module whenever I hit the road. Otherwise, with just push e-mail alone, I get only a day’s worth of battery life with this. Couple that with GPS navigation and I will need to juice up the handset before I leave the office in the evening to make sure there is still some battery left to make that dinner call to my other half.

Conclusion
What endears me to the N85 is its ease-of-use and the introduction of USB modem tethering that doubles up as a charging session as well – nifty if you’re looking to work in areas with 3G but have no Wi-Fi. This is one well balanced handset from Nokia that seem to bunch in everything that is good from various N Series devices into a single device. For those who are shopping for a new handset and are partial to Nokia, the N85 would be a good place to start if you’re one who wants a device which makes great phone calls and is reliable enough to keep you connected at all times no matter where you are.

Filed in Cellphones >Reviews >Top Stories.
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