Moving on from the hardware aspect of the N96 in the N96 review series, this post focusses on its multimedia capabilities. The review will cover area like the Camera, Music and Video playback amongst other things.
To give you a bit of a background in these areas – the N96 boasts of a 5MP camera with dual LED, a 3.5 mm jack which also doubles as the TV-out slot, stereo speakers on the right hand side of the phone and lastly a kick stand attached to the back which allows the N96 be kept at an incline while watching video.
The N96 gives its music capabilities a serious shot in the arm with the 16GB of internal storage as well as a slot for an additional microSD card, this theoretically means upto 32GB of storage. Not only that, the music output from the phone is also fairly good. The volume via the headphones is decent, the sound deep and this is capable of being enhanced with a pair of quality headphones that you might have.
If I were to compare it to phones currently on the market, I’d have to say that its better than the N82/N95 level and is almost like the N91 when it comes to quality. As far as the loudspeakers go, they are powerful, but not something that would blow you off.
With its 2.8′ screen, the N96 almost screams ‘I was built for on-the-go video’. Out of the box it supports quite a few formats such as MPEG-4, Real Video and WMV, however keep in mind that not all of their variations are supported. It sadly lacks inbuilt support for the Avi files you would normally found on the Internet.
This is where an application like Core Player comes in really handy and with it installed, the N96 can virtually play anything thrown at it. Be it the 700MB movies found on torrents or a .dat file copied off a Video CD. The play on most occasions is flawless and with 16GB on storage you can carry a lot of movies and other videos without thinking twice. The multimedia keys and the volume rocker also work with Core Player, so once you have set it up and running, it also almost feels like a native application. The slight problem you might have while playing unconverted/non mobile optimised video will be when you try and watch video with a lot of action.
The placement of the loudspeakers has also been optimised for video, to give a more balanced audio output in the landscape mode. While a lot of people have loved the kick stand, I personally have not found much use for it. The display although large, is not big enough to keep on a table and enjoyed from the chair and on most other occasions I generally have it in the palm of my hand.
The camera is probably the biggest beneficiary from the new v12 firmware, after the UI speed. From being a pain, it has become far more functional and efficient. Unlike the pre v12 era the phone can now focus well and even shots taken with the close-up mode turn out fine.
From the camera launch (by a long press of the camera key) to focussing and taking a picture, the N96 takes about 6-7 seconds which is reasonable. The fact that it does not have a physical cover for the camera means that you might pick up a scratch or two on the lens, but it shouldn’t affect the camera quality.
As far as the dual LED flash goes, I am not convinced. It marginally improves performance over the single LED of the N95 and I really haven’t seen myself use it much while recording video. The one use I have had of it is when used as a torch. But if you shoot a lot of videos in the dark then it might just be the thing for you, provided your subject(s) is with a few feet of you.
The video is pretty much standard Nseries quality and with the amble storage you can go on and on shooting it, battery permitting! If I were to rate the overall camera performance, I’d have to say that the N95/N82 still perform a tad better than the N96. It however, in my opinion, is better than the camera on the N85 running v11 firmware.
From the above it is clear that the N96 is great for content creation as well as comsumption, but its 950 mAh battery puts a huge caveat on its functionality. If you do too much of any of the above, the N96 will have problems staying alive through the day. Unless of course you decide to put the 1200 mAh inside it!
With Feature Pack 2 the Nokia N96 has true USB 2 speeds, so whatever you decide to put on/take off the phone will be a breeze and a pleasure. I have actually started using it as a mini portable drive to copy stuff from here and there.
All in all, with Core Player installed I’d give the N96 a 4/5. Half a point taken for the lack of Xenon and half for the battery.