First Impressions: Nokia N76, the thin Smartphone

Nokia’s History of clamshell smartphones has been quite predictable: they have all had large dimensions. Not only that, almost all of them had some funky twisting function that somehow reminds me of the Transformers. Just look at the 6260, N90, N93 and N93i all big phones with a display that somehow turns or does something that can only be described as Transformer-like and they looked the part too.

While the N71 couldn’t twist its screen it had gigantic dimensions. I’m sure they could have created thin smartphones a long time ago, but I think that for a long time their design philosophy for smartphones in general was aiming for austere looking phones with functionality above design, even if this meant not going for the thin route. It’s not only Nokia, but the general public has this image of smartphones being devices with a big screen, QWERTY keyboard and large dimension like the E61i and Blackberry phones. When skinny clamshell phones like the Motorola Razr and its many iterations were all the rage, Nokia released bulky (albeit feature-wise superior) clamshell smartphones. The sales of these smartphones were good, but just couldn’t match the numbers of the Razr. Most users just tended to go for the more stylish and thin phone, sacrificing feature for a svelte device. So it came as a big surprise when Nokia released the N76, its thinnest phone yet, and it’s a smartphone! Let’s have a first look at the Nokia N76. The Unboxing

N76 first impressions
The N76 I received was a Jet Black Nokia USA ‘Made in China’ model. The N76 is also available in Metallic Red. Taking a closer look at the box I can notice that the same new printed design that was used on the N93i and EURO/US N95 was used on the N76’s box. Basically it’s decorated with geometric shapes and a light grayish-pink is used. Nothing against pink, but Nokia’s decision to use pink in their entire line of high-end devices seems a bit odd.

So what’s in the box? The standard retail package comes with:

  • Nokia N76
  • Nokia Connectivity Cable (DKE-2)
  • Nokia Battery (BL-4B) 700mAh
  • Nokia Travel Charger (AC-4)
  • Nokia Classic stereo headset with new Nokia A/V 3.5mm (HS-43)

Also included in the package was a 1 GB (MU-22) microSD card, but the card capacity varies from region to region so this is no guarantee that you’ll get the same capacity. While Nokia states that the N76 can use up to 2GB cards, it’s now confirmed that the N76 is microSDHC compatible and should work with the latest 4GB microSDHC cards like those from Sandisk or Nokia’s own MU-41 microSD cards. I recently received a 4GB microSDHC card from Sandisk and it works just fine in the N76. This makes the N76 the third Nokia device including the N95 and E90 to support microSDHC: upcoming 6 and even 8GB models will be supported. Nokia should better inform users next time and not keep silent about such a sought-after feature. But it’s nice to know that these are the only few phones on the market with SDHC support. I’m also happy to see that again Nokia has included a generous 1GB card with the package, something that seems to have become standard now in all their latest phones. Very nice! Maybe it’s time to include 2GB cards now, Nokia? The package is typical Nseries, but of course lacks things like the TV-out cable. Overall the package is good and has the basics to get you started, only things really missing here are a protective pouch/ leather case and a cleaning cloth. The N76 has a beautiful finish that will need some care to keep it looking good, that’s why Nokia should have at least added a pouch/leather case to protect it and a cloth to keep the screen and front looking spotless.

Picking up the N76 for the first time reveals something totally unexpected, especially coming from such a thin device: it feels absolutely solid and well- built. With its thin dimension it’s a treat to hold. The N76 gives the impression of consisting of just two thin metal parts that are attached in the center. No unwanted moving parts, no squeaks! Compared the higher-end N95, the N76 wins hand down and takes the crown as the best built device in the Nseries, besting even the N800. It also comes close to phones like Nokia’s own 8801 sirocco that is currently one of the best build phones on the market. Popping the battery cover of was really difficult and almost felt as if I was going to break the device. Once the battery cover is of it clearly shows that Nokia has used every single space available. The BL-4B Li-Ion battery used is thinner and smaller then those normally found in other Nseries smarphones. Its smaller volume also equates to a smaller capacity of 700 mAh which is a notch below average. Their have been concerns about the battery not having enough capacity, but from my usage so far it’s been good enough, but I will do some more testing to see how the battery holds up. The SIM card is inserted in an untraditional way: it’s first placed in a yellow drawer and is then inserted into the body. For those that frequently like to swap out SIM cards this could be a bit of an annoyance. For me this was no trouble as I barely have the need to take out the SIM card. From a design perspective I do understand that some changes had to be made to keep the device as thin as possible and the situation with the SIM card holder is an understandable one.

The design looks stunning with its metallic accents and front mirror. The material used on the N76 feels like metal, when it fact it’s not. It’s amazing how they managed to make plastic look and feel the part, the solid feel of the device also helps to conceal this fact. The mirror effect used in front is similar to the one found on the N93i and does a fairly good job in hiding the outer screen when it’s off. For the ladies it could very well double as a vanity mirror. Strangely enough the outer screen has good visibility outdoors even though it’s behind a mirror. While using the N76 outdoors I found one small problem: due to its high reflectivity there’s sometimes a lot of glare. This only happens when it directly reflects the sun’s rays, when it’s in an indirect angle it doesn’t. Thankfully you don’t have to look at the screen to change tracks as it has conveniently placed front music controls. The larger inner screen’s visibility outdoors is not that good and is a shame since Nokia’s own N95 and N93 have excellent outdoor visibility. Indoors the large screen is bright and looks stunning placed on such a thin device, it’s as if the screen and body are on piece.

The overall design is very Razr-like and without doubt Nokia has taken some designs elements like the flat keys and hump at the bottom from Motorola’s popular device. The keypad is better then what I expected, although the selection does feel a bit cramped. Overall it does work well with enough tactile feedback to keep me happy.

It’s a smartphone!
Looking at the N76 you wouldn’t expect it to be a fully featured smartphone. The N76 uses the S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 1 UI on the Symbian OS (v9.2). It feels very speedy and even beats the N95 in this area. Putting it next to a N95 shows that it can open apps a few milliseconds and sometimes seconds quicker, this is impressive considering the N95 was no slouch either. A quick check at the N76’s specs reveals a possible reason: It sports a single CPU running at an impressive 369MHz compared to the N95’s dual CPU running at 332MHz. Another impressive fact about the N76 is that it has a total of 96MB of SDRAM, with about 40+MB being available after boot. Even the flagship N95 sports a mere 64 MB with only 18MB being available at boot. I’m happy that Nokia finally learned this lesson and is now equipping even mid-end devices like the N76 with oodles of RAM. This makes the N76 perfect for multi-tasking allowing you to leave all your apps open and just switch between them at your hearts content.
Of course being a FP1 device the N76 is fully backwards compatibility with the 3rd edition apps. The menu seems to be more logically arranged and there are notable enhancement like showing what apps are open (small circles appear next to the open app) and the floating bar in the browser. Lastly I’m hoping that Firmware-over-the-air makes its way in the N76.

The N76 takes good 2 megapixels pictures, but something like the N70 clearly takes better shots, the video itself is just as good during the day as in low light conditions. It is only bested by higher-end models like the N93 and N95 which have VGA video. In both cases the outer screen can be used as a viewfinder.

Its 3.5 mm jack which to me is a must-have, music keys and microSDHC make the N76 a competent and slim music phone with an audio out-put that rivals dedicated MP3-players. Those looking for the best music phone output available should still look at the N91, but with the N76 convenience is the key. While its audio output is below that of the N91, it’s still one of the better ones out there being able to power some high-end earphones or audio devices with good quality and volume to match and its thin body will fit easily in a pocket: something that definitely can not be said about the N91. In audio quality it matches the N95 in sonic output. While the N95 could be mistaken for a digital camera or video player, the N76 looks are a throwback to its musical roots. With headphones attached and in closed position it looks a lot like a MP3-player. In the music department so far it has been holding up quite well and should be an excellent performer in this category.

So far so good: the N76 seems like a great all-round Smartphone. It has added much needed style and design to the Nseries and clearly shows that being a smartphone doesn’t have to mean being big and bulky. The N76 is an excellent music device and does well as a smartphone. From using it so far the only negative points I have encountered have something to do with it’s shiny exterior. This not only makes it a finger print magnet but also makes it highly reflective in sunlight. I do miss the WIFI but I can overlook it due to its slimmer size and lower price. More to come in the full the review! In the mean if you want me to include something into the final review leave me a comment.

Written by Devin