The 320 x 240 OLED screen doesn’t do so well in direct sunlight, but it is otherwise sharp and vibrant, both for still and video. It’s not the highest resolution on the market, but it certainly does the job. Video playback from sideloaded files I find is hit and miss with RealPlayer – about on par with what I’m used to on the BlackBerry Bold when it comes to compatibility, and maybe even a bit worse, but that is easily outweighed by the browser’s ability to stream Flash videos. No need for a YouTube app, although there is a nice one preloaded. Between that and RealPlayer, the N86 excels largely at streaming online video rather than viewing locally-stored clips. The kickstand can definitely make life easier for viewing, and you can even set it to launch an app when you flip it out.
The sound quality on the external speakers is fantastic, and I daresay second only to the BlackBerry Bold – I’d even call it a close race. The 3.5mm headphone jack is always a welcome sight, and the slide-out top media keys make for easy navigation. Sometimes the music keys will be overridden depending on the app (the browser uses track skip to zoom, the pictures app uses the volume keys), so they’re certainly more handy when you aren’t multitasking. 8 GB of on-board storage can help you get started with tunes without having to worry about a microSD memory card (although that’s still an option once you fill up).
S60 still makes baby Jesus cry. Like I said of the N97, it’s certainly not for lack of functionality – it’s jam-packed with cool stuff like a native Podcasting app, a Home media function to sync up with files on your Wi-Fi network, an Office suite for document handling, and an FM transmitter. The problem is that there are so many layers and nuances of the operating system that it makes discovering the cool things on your phone painfully slow. I will say, however, that the form factor is ideal for Symbian. The full keyboard and touchscreen on the N97 overcomplicated what was already a headache of an OS. Working solely with the four-way directional pad made life more focused, if nothing else. Of course, typing out e-mails on a traditional number pad is a little ridiculous, but doable in a pinch after you’ve brushed up on your T9 skills. As a full disclaimer, this is only the third Symbian phone I’ve spent any discernible amount of time with – I hope I’m still learning, but it is a long, hard road so far.
I wasn’t thrilled with the call quality. If there was a lingering data connection when I first picked up a call, I found I could still hear some of the telltale buzzing in the background. However, I was especially impressed with the ringtones that the N86 comes packed with. Some very characterful choices, like this one, made receiving calls surprisingly enjoyable. Video ringtones and 3D effects were added bonuses that had me spending an inordinate amount of time customizing my profiles.