At a Glance
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The Nokia N85 has excellent multimedia capabilities, but navigation can be difficult with no QWERTY keyboard or touchscreen.
The Nokia N85 ($370 unlocked, as of 4/7/2009) is very similar to the company's N96, but with one big difference: It has an OLED display, and a gorgeous one--a huge boon because the N85 has excellent multimedia and camera features. But like the N95, the N85 lacks a touch screen or QWERTY keyboard, so navigation and messaging can be a pain.
Slightly smaller and lighter than the N96, the N85 measures 4 by 0.6 by 2 inches and weighs 4.5 ounces. Unfortunately, the unit's plastic chassis feels a bit cheap and flimsy, which is something I've noticed with other N-Series phones. The display size on the N85 is also slightly smaller, down to 2.6 inches (versus 2.8 inches on the N96).
The N85 nevertheless felt comfortable in my hand. Additionally, it had very good call quality when used over AT&T's 3G network. Voices sounded clear, with no static or hiss. The majority of people on the other end reported hearing sufficiently loud voices with very little background noise.
Like other N-Series phones, the N85 has a dual-slider design: Sliding the OLED screen up reveals a numeric keypad, while sliding it down switches the display and button orientation to horizontal and uncovers four multimedia-playback buttons (for Play/Pause, Forward, Back, and Stop).
First and foremost, N-Series phones are entertainment phones--and the N85 is no exception: It's chock-full of great multimedia features. The Video Center contains all of your video content, including your personal videos, Internet videos, and video podcasts. The N85 supports a respectable number of video formats: MPEG-4 Part 2 (H.263/SP), MPEG-4 Part 10 (H.264/AVC), WMV9, and RealVideo with playback at 30 frames per second. Video playback quality on the N85's display was excellent. My only complaint: The screen was sometimes difficult to see in bright environments.
The music player is equally impressive, supporting MP3, WMA9, AAC, AAC+ and eAAC+ formats. You can create playlists on-the-go, view album art on the now-playing screen, and browse songs by artist, album, genre, or composer. The N85 also has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, which isn't exactly a bonus feature, but a lot of smart phones (HTC handsets, for example) lack one. Audio quality was very good; based on my experience, I could easily see myself using the N85 as my primary music device.
As an added bonus, the N85 also has an FM radio with a built-in FM transmitter. The transmitter is particularly handy in a car, since you can use it to wirelessly stream your music to any radio. Additionally, the N85 comes preloaded with Nokia's Internet Radio app, which allows you to listen to various Internet radio stations.
One of the biggest draws of the N96 was its generous 16GB of internal flash memory. The N85, however, is at the opposite end of the storage spectrum, with only 78MB of internal memory. Luckily, Nokia makes up for this by including in the box an 8GB microSD card (the maximum amount of expandable memory the N85 supports)--not bad.
The N85 runs S60 3rd Edition, Feature Pack 2, of the Symbian operating system. The user interface is attractive and easy to navigate. Running multiple applications slowed the N85's performance, but overall I found the software speedy enough.
The handset comes preloaded with a variety of applications, including the excellent Nokia Maps 2.0 (with stand-alone and assisted GPS), QuickOffice (where you can view your Microsoft Office documents), Adobe Reader, and a .zip-file manager. For e-mail, the N85 supports POP3, SMTP, and POP3 accounts, as well as MMS and SMS messaging.
The N85's 5-megapixel camera improves upon the N96's with the welcome inclusion of a durable lens cover. The Carl Zeiss lens and dual-LED flash are on the back surface. The N96 has a variety of advanced features, such as a 20X digital zoom, an on-camera photo editor, seven shooting modes, red-eye reduction, five color tone settings, and options for brightness, white balance, ISO light sensitivity, color tone, and contrast adjustment. You can also shoot VGA video at 30 frames per second. In my hands-on tests, I took pictures in settings, including a darkly lit room, the rainy outdoors, and a brightly lit office. The Nokia N96's image quality impressed me: Colors appeared accurate, and the images were sharp in most of the environments I tried it in.
As with the N96, I was disappointed with how difficult it was to navigate through content and messages. The N85 lacks a touchscreen and a hardware QWERTY keyboard, so navigation depends on a five-way navigational pad and softkeys. Since the Nokia N97, which will have both a touchscreen and a QWERTY keyboard, is waiting on the horizon (it is due sometime this year), the N85 might already seem a bit obsolete. But Nokia has yet to announce U.S. pricing for the N97, and if the N96's debut price is any indication, you can bet that it will be sky high.
If you can get past the at-times frustrating navigation, the N85 is a solid buy with its superb multimedia features and high-quality camera.