the music/N-Gage keys

the music/N-Gage keys

Continuing the review of the N96, this time we look at the software, music, battery and screen aspect of the phone. These are things which are increasingly important for a phone of this kind. Earlier portions of the review, we looked at the design and the lighting aspects.

Lets see how the N96 performs on these counts.


screenshot00541The N96 uses the now very well known Symbian S60 OS. The S60 on the N96 is slightly different than the one found on the N82 or even the Eseries. It has the FP2 (Feature Pack 2) which brings apart from more security, a lot of features to the device. The FP2 also enables the ability to have transitions between menus. So when you see the screen tilt and change more gracefully then you saw on the N82, it is because of these transitions.

The new S60 3rd edition is very different from the S60 on the N82 or the N95 even. A lot has changed. For starters the transitions have made the phone more graceful in its working (visually). The screenshots below will give you an idea of the changes that have taken place in the S60 3rd edition FP2.

First up is the menu views,

screenshot0057screenshot0056There are now many different types of views for the menu, namely “List”, “Grid”, “Horse shoe” and “V- shaped”. The latter of the two are new and you are not likely to find it on the N82, the N95 has this.

Second, the applications running in the background,

screenshot0062Now earlier if you needed to check what applications were running in the background, you would keep the menu key pressed and it would show you a list (vertical) of applications minimized. Not anymore, now no matter where you are in the menu, you can see which applications are running by selecting the left soft key and then the top most option, “Show open apps.”, this option then shows you in a horizontal format, the apps that are running in the background –  Neat and very good in my opinion.

The third change is the Active Standby,

screenshot0058screenshot0059There is one more option available now, “Navigation bar”; This style allows you to de-clutter the crowded Active Standby screen on the N96. Also the wallpaper that you set now is more visible. Finally a better way to have everything on the screen and and yet not look crowded.

Bluetooth is another area, where some changes have occured,

screenshot0055There is another tab called “Blocked Devices”, which essentially is a list of devices blocked from connecting to the N96. I haven’t had to use it yet, so no comments.


screenshot0060This replaces the “Gallery” in many ways. Remember the amount of frustration at not having the photos and videos segregated. This little addition changes it. Now you can view all the photos you have clicked by just going here. You can also run a slideshow from here itself. A handy feature.

“Video Centre”

screenshot0069This option has undergona slight change, primarily since the N96 has DVB-H facility, that allows you to watch Television channels (Note: this feautre is not yet implemented in many parts of the world)


screenshot0061This option has seen a few additions, namely the “call image” option that lets you set the iamge you want to see when you initiate a call.

“File manager”

screenshot0070The “File manager” option now incorporates the “Memory” feature into itself. This in my opnion is a very good move and a step in the right direction. It was a bit silly to have 2 native applications to do the job, I’m glad they have been amalgamated into one single application. The application also allows you to map an online drive you might have. Hmmm…  S60 has been very hard at work lately! I like what I see.

If that wasn’t enough, you can take a backup of your phone from right here itself. Woah! so this means that there are 3 applications amalgamated into one! Neat!!! I’m very impressed.

“Device manager”

screenshot0072The “Device manager” allows you to check the version of the OS on your phone and even check for updates and download a new version, if available. the code *#0000# will bring forth that application from now on. A neat thing.


screenshot0071This option which is in the “Settings” menu under “Connections” is a big change from the “Access points” option in the N82.  Although doing the same job albeit under a new title, the look of this has changed. I don’t know why this has been done. Was there something wrong with the earlier title?

The above are but a few changes listed. There are many more. I have really like the new S60 and I must say that it is definitely more polished. Seems like the Kastor UI has been incorporated partially.

The one thing which has put me off completely, is that every time I connect my phone to the laptop to transfer data( photos, videos, etc…), the phone pops up a “Connect to the internet” pop-up and even I cancel, it shows up repeatedly 10 times. Highly irritating and a real put off! The same is the case when I want to change the theme. What’s worse is that I can’t seem to turn it off! This has become the single most annoying feature on the S60.

screenshot0067Apart from that S60 functions just the way it should. The N96 also has very little RAM available to the user, only 30 MB! which is shocking, the N82 running on V30 had close to 89MB and on V31 has 94 MB free. What is the idea behind having so little free RAM?  The phone is also noticeably slower than the N82 and the E71. A slower processor is to blame for it; 264MHZ single core v/s 369MHZ  dual core. What was Nokia thinking? A flagship device that is so ancient on hardware!

On the software aspect, I will give the N96 a 7.7/10. I higher score could have been possible had the internet connection pop up issue not been present and the hardware been better.


screenshot0064The music is a spot where the N96 performs with aplomb. The N96 is a powerhouse of a music player (video player too!). I have not seen any Nseries phone perform so well. The N96’s speakers are LOUD! I have said that earlier and I repeat it. The thing blasts most phones into oblivion. I don’t think even the N81 performs this well. It’s like having a pocket sized boombox! Connect it to a pair of Sennheiser HD202 and I’m in music nirvana! If you have a N96 or are planning to buy it, you absolutely must invest in an obscenely expensive pair of great headphones! Not having a good pair of earphones or headphones for this phone is a crime!

On this aspect I have to give the N96 a 9/10. We have a winner here! I wonder how the N97 will perform on this count or even N96’s successor? This phone is a tough act to beat!


06022009745-small-winceThe battery has been called the weakest link on the N96. I would second it, but only upto the point that is a 950mAh battery. The battery management on the N96 is really good. I guess made better by a slower processor and lack of a dedicated graphics chip. The BL-5F does duty on the N96. The same battery that was employed on the N95 when it first came out.

The battery can easily be made to give a good life by adjusting the settings within the phone. I have been able to get close to 2.5 days of backup on a single charge and my daily usage is somewhat like this, most of the times I have had the music player playing at full volume through the speakers(about 3-4 hours at minimum) and with approximately an hour on calls with about 20-25 minutes of WiFi usage and maybe about 5-10 minutes of GPS too with about 10-15 messages being sent and received almost everyday.

Now to most people that might seem surprising. The first few days, when I used the N96, I was getting a battery backup of only 1 day max. which was horrible and I wasn’t even using the phone so much. Then I made some changes to the settings to the phone and the battery backup increased dramatically.

Here is what I changed in the N96 to give me a good battery life.

Bluetooth switched off (only used when needed not otherwise)

WiFi scanning switched off (only used when needed)

‘Navi wheel’ breather light switched off.

Auto-rotate switched off

Brightness set to lowest.

Power-saver time-out set to 15 seconds.

Light time-out set to 10 seconds

Network mode set to only GSM

If you were to implement these settings on your phone, rest assured the battery life will increase. Changes in the ringer volume will also have a positive impact on the battery life.  I would give the N96 a respectable 8/10. The battery life indeed can be good on a device such as this.


screenshot0065The N96 has a huge 2.8″ screen. With such a huge area to play with, Nokia has given the standard Active Standby 7 icons instead of 6.  The presence of an accelerometer mean that the device shifts from portrait to lanscape almost instantly. The dual sliders also help in changing the orientation. A huge screen like this is a big boon. Watching videos on it is an experience in itself. With 16.7 million colurs being displayed, it easily trumps the Windows Mobile based phones in colur reproduction. There was just one complaint from the screen, it was too glossy! The finish made it impossible to see anything without being able to see yourself too.


In this area the N96 scores high point again, 8/10. If the glossy finish was a little toned down, it (points) would have been higher.

If you are wondering why N-Gage has not been mentioned, worry not, In the last part of the review I will talk about it exclusively. Stay tuned for the last 2 parts and see how the N96 peroforms in those aspects.