Well, hello! The Nokia N76 could easily pass off as the now-iconic Motorola RAZR’s slightly beefier twin by utilizing the latter’s curves and metal keypad. What lies beneath, however, is a different matter, for the N76 is in fact a smartphone running on the latest edition of the Symbian OS squeezed into 106.5mm high x 53mm wide x 13.7mm thin casing.
The review unit N76 is eye-catching in glossy black and a mirror-like front plate that hides the external display, but this unfortunately meant that I was always polishing the phone on my trousers like a new-ball bowler to keep the surface nice and shiny—this thing attracts dirt and smudges faster than a kid with a lollipop. The chromed plastic parts are rippled and wavy and give the phone a slightly cheap look. The N76 has a nice heft and feel to it, but the width and design requires both hands to open and close it. The lack of an auto-spring in the hinge means that you have to open the phone almost to the top before it snicks to a stop.
The left side has a microSD memory card socket, covered by a rather flimsy dropout flap, and above it is the charger socket. On the top end, you will find a rubber-flap-covered miniUSB slot, as well as the power button and 3.5mm audio jack—which means you can ditch the included HS-43 headset for one of your choice. But the strange thing is that with either the earphones or the USB cable attached, the phone is impeded from opening out fully—it’s OK if you are using the supplied earphones, but not if you’ve decided, like me, to use your own preferred earphones. The bottom end has the rather nice sounding speaker, a rare thing in a cellphone, for playing back music and when the hands-free mode is activated. What helps, too, is that you can point the speakers towards you when the phone is on a flat surface. The volume keys and the dedicated camera and gallery keys are placed on the right edge of the phone. The backlit metal keypad has a good tactile feel and feedback with its ridged surface. You can see how thin the keypad is when you remove the battery to slide the SIM card into its tray. Granted, you don’t change SIM cards every other day like me, but the SIM card placement below the battery is a royal pain in the butt.
The 2.4-inch internal screen embedded in Nokia N76 is crisp and vivid, with the ambient light sensor working well enough to read the screen in sunlight. If you are so blessed, it has a forward-facing camera for video calls within 3G networks. The N76’s 1.36-inch external screen measures 128x160 pixels in size and has a row of backlit music buttons on the front. The standby screen shows service indicators, time and three icons for music menu, a dedicated player key and radio. To navigate through the list, you use the side, volume control key, which is quite intuitive. The soft keys below the screen can handily be used to voice-dial and look through missed calls and messages. I really like the cover display interface, but do turn the automatic keylock feature on before putting it in your pocket. Bluetooth 2.0 is supported, but the A2DP stereo profile is strangely missing. I was forced to use my wired Bose headphones as there is no way to transfer stereo sound to my Motorola Bluetooth DJ headphones.
The N76 is quite a capable multimedia device. It supports most of the popular media formats played through Nokia’s own multimedia player and video files are opened with Real Player, with full screen playback. The built-in FM Radio can be configured to 50 radio stations presets and Visual Radio is also supported. Picture quality from the 2-megapixel CMOS camera equipped with a puny LED flash isn’t too hot, and low-light pictures tend to be a bit blurred, perhaps because it is sometimes hard to hold the camera absolutely still in an awkward horizontal flipped open position—so using the external display makes more sense. So does holding the phone still for a few moments after pressing the shutter to compensate for the noticeable shutter lag. The N76 shoots QVGA resolution MP4 video at 15fps. The quality is acceptable, but by no means excellent.
The N76 is a quad-band phone, supporting all GSM/EDGE on 850/900/1800/1900MHz as well as 2100MHz UMTS 3G support. I did not experience any problems while putting the N76 through my standard test for cellphones—making a call while in the lift in my office building. Reception was good and the audio quality clear and loud enough with no drop-out. Along with A2DP, infrared and WiFi are not supported by the N76. One of the biggest tweaks in the S60 3rd Edition OS is the new OSSBrowser 2.0. You can use the same browser for all Web pages and it supports page view in landscape mode. Multi-page browsing, though a little clunky, is finally supported. On top of RSS 1.0 and 2.0, the new browser can handle Atom channels as well, something that you would definitely like to see on all smartphones. With the support for FlashLite2.0, you should be able to download some good third-party games.
Perhaps due to its slim form factor, Nokia chose to use the 700mAh lithium-ion battery. Nokia rates the N76 for up to 2.75 hours of talktime and an estimated 8.5 days on standby but, in the real world, you will need to hook up the N76 to your charger inside two days of normal use.
The Nokia N series is primarily aimed at leading edge technology users, so I’m not quite sure what Nokia is up to with the N76. I’m not sure if there is an area where it could claim to be latest leading edge even though the official paper from Nokia may proclaim, “The N76 is a perfect embodiment of leading-edge technology in a stunningly new sleek form factor.” With the prominent, dedicated music controls on the front cover, the N76’s positioning is quite clear. Actually, it’s a pretty good music phone, with a 2GB microSD loaded up with WMA or AAC tracks, your favourite in-ear 3.5mm headphones and the front controls, and hopefully Nokia will fix the lack of A2DP stereo profile in a firmware update soon. While the Nokia N76 may be eye-catching, especially in its metallic red avatar, at its price of Rs17,317, I’ll opt for function over form. The N76 isn’t a bad smartphone with its improved Internet functionality, it’s just one that hasn’t had all its wrinkles ironed out.
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