Nokia N85 review: Nseries revved up

GSMArena team, 07 November 2008.
Pages: 123456789

Unboxing - 8GB card inside

We were delighted with Nokia N85 keeping the promise of an 8GB microSD card in the retail package. A decent two-piece handsfree set is also supplied. The keys on the remote are large and tactile enough, so you can quickly get used to operating it without even looking.

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The 8GB card is the treat in the package

A TV-out and a data cable can also be found in the medium-sized box, as well as the essential DC charger. The paper load this time is as big as it gets to help Symbian newcomers. The final item in the retail package is a DVD with the required software for PC synchronization (nothing you can't download off the internet anyway).

Nokia N85 360-degree spin

Nokia N85 measures 103 x 50 x 16 mm, which adds up to a volume of 76 cc. Now, all those numbers translate into actual handling quite nicely. With the other Nokia dual-sliders in mind, the N85 is rather compact. N85 is of course a hefty piece of gear but we do appreciate the notably improved palm-friendliness over N95.

The weight of 128 g is identical to Nokia N95 8GB, which definitely is heavy but so is the feature load.

Design and construction

Like it or not, we have to face it again. Before anyone starts worrying about our state of mind, it's good old us. And no, we didn't suddenly awake to the mind blowing aesthetics of the Nseries. But… (Did we almost hear a collective sigh?)… it feels like the N85 has absolutely got the point. So much so that if N81 was more like N85 we wouldn't have started it in the first place.

The N81 is still all over BUT: the crammed flimsy membrane of a navigation pad is now way more refined and user-friendly, the disastrous backlighting has immensely improved and - most importantly - the offensively cheap looks are gone. Nokia N85 will hardly turn heads but it ain't a complete disaster either. Sadly, the fingerprint issue of N81 is an unfortunate heritage.

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The same styling, better looks and feel

The loudspeaker grill is at the top of the front panel, flanked by the N85 signature and the ambient light sensor video-call camera combo.

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The top right corner hosts the video-call camera and ambient light sensor, subtle earpiece dead center

The 2.6" OLED screen takes most of what is left of the front panel. It sure is one of the most prominent features of Nokia N85 which, as the tradition goes, will be covered in more detail towards the end of this hardware chapter.

Under the display, seven keys encircle the Navi-wheel-enabled D-pad. The two soft keys, Symbian and clear keys are just backlit symbols in the four corners of a flat pad, much like what we got in N81 and N96.

The menu and clear keys lack some in terms of adequate press feedback but nothing you can't live with.

The D-pad is notably smaller than that of N81. Not the most comfortable we've tried, it still does look and handle better than in N81. The dedicated music keys around the D-pad are gone and we don't think they'd be badly missed.

Not only does the dual slide design render them redundant, but they were the worst bit in N81 and N96 alike, for both looks and press. The Call and End keys, and the Multimedia key are actual knobs - no flat pad - and that's by far the better approach. The red and green buttons are too thin and somewhat rigid by still better than the flat controls on the sloping edges of N81.

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The implementation of the controls beneath the display isn't really spectacular

The Navi-wheel functionality was rather badly implemented on our unit even though it is a retail version. It might have some software issues to be fixed later trough a firmware upgrade but we are quite skeptical about that. As it is now, the Navi-wheel feature is unusable and, on the rare occasions when it actually works, it's confusing rather than helpful. No wonder we kept it off for most of the review.

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The Navi wheel is a disaster

The microSD card slot is placed on the left side of Nokia N85. Hidden under a plastic cap to keep off dust and dirt, it can easily handle the largest memory capacities available on the market. And with the 8GB card that ships with the handset you get plenty of storage right out of the box.

The other element of interest on the left side is the lanyard eyelet in the top corner.

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microSD slot on the left, right under the lanyard eyelet

The top of Nokia N85 is quite crowded with the microUSB port, 3.5mm audio jack and power key all jostling for breathing space. No, forget that, the layout is perfectly usable, except on the fairly rare occasions when you'll need both the charger cable and the headset plugged all at once. Both the power switch and the audio jack feel right at home on the top.

The only minor issue is that none of the apertures has a protective cap, which could cause some trouble when they start filling up with dust. And you have our word this will happen sooner than later.

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Quite a crowd on top: power key, 3.5mm audio jack and microUSB port

The right side of the phone hosts the stereo loudspeakers on the two extreme ends, the volume rocker, the keylock switch and the dedicated camera key. We have no complaints with any of the buttons, all of which are rather comfortable to use. Due credit to the shutter key, which makes the …hmm… top dog N96 blush with embarrassment. The fact that there are so many controls on this side might cause some confusion but you will get over it in no time.

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Stereo speakers on each end of the right side • Shutter key, keylock slide and volume rocker in between

The bottom of the handset is completely bereft of plugs and controls.

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The bottom of the handset is all neat and plain

Turning the phone over we come upon the 5 megapixel autofocus camera lens tucked under a neat sliding cover. Next to the lens is the dual-LED flash.

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The lens cover is more than welcome, dual LED less so

A gentle press of the latch at the bottom of the rear releases the battery cover. Below it hides the 1200 mAh BL-5K Li-Ion battery. It's quoted at up to 360 hours of stand-by and 6 hours and 50 minutes of talk time, which sounds quite a promise to us. In reality it kept the phone going for about 2 days of quite a strain (about 50 photos, an hour and a half of web browsing over Wi-Fi, 20 minutes of video playback, an hour of GPS navigation, several calls and 20 minutes of music playback).

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The battery fares pretty decently

There is also a nice new feature in recent Nokia phones that automatically enables power-saving mode once the battery starts running low. This should usually give you a bit of extra time to get a charger before your battery is completely drained.

The general build quality of Nokia N85 is commendable. The fingerprint issues were duly noted and that's pretty much our only grudge.

Handling - and finish - is a definite step up from the N81. What's more, the N85 looks way better than the Nseries top device N96, and is not nearly as steep on the price. How's that for an asset?

You know, if the facelift for the new Nseries was a charity project we'd be the first to donate. But N85 will do without our dime.

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We're pleased with the build quality of Nokia N85

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