On the surface, the N76 seems tailor-made for image-conscious and tech-savvy consumers who wouldn't be caught dead with a run-of-the-mill RAZR. This flashy unlocked phone comes packed with multimedia, blogging, and search features, but the smudge-retentive exterior and lack of domestic 3G support may alienate snobs and squares alike (view photo gallery).
The N76's black-and-silver casing (which is also available in red) looks sleek and sophisticated, but after handling the phone for five minutes, all the fingerprints nearly convinced us that a two-year-old had been playing with it. The N76's mirror-like external display proved difficult to read in bright settings but is perfect for touching up makeup and signaling low-flying aircraft.
Below the shiny display is a set of three buttons for music playback. A microSD Card slot sits along the left edge, and volume controls and mode and camera buttons are on the right. A standard 3.5mm headphone jack and a mini-USB 2.0 port grace the N76's neck and shoulders. Opening the clamshell reveals a bright and spacious 2.4-inch QVGA screen. The glossy keypad sports tons of tactile and responsive buttons--soft touch, menu and D-pad--ensuring fluid navigation no matter what SIM card you use. On the back of the phone you'll notice the two-megapixel camera and flash, along with a reflective strip perfect for snapping MySpace pics.
For this review, we popped in a Cingular SIM card with nary a hiccup. Surfing Cingular's EDGE data network was relatively quick, with simple Web pages downloading in eight to ten seconds. For more complex pages, however, Nokia's included browser was abysmal. CNN.com took more than 40 seconds to load completely, and we experienced repeated crashes. Stability is most definitely not the N76's forte.
Multimedia is this clamshell's biggest strength. Music playback from the external stereo speakers was impressive, and we like the addition of a normal headphone jack. The N76 supports virtually every audio format under the sun, including AAC, MP3, and WMA files (including DRM-protected tracks). We did encounter a problem with the design: The 3.5mm jack is located on the top of the phone, so it's impossible to completely open this clamshell while the headset is plugged in. (Same thing goes for the USB charging port.)
The N76's 2-MP camera delivered very good details in our tests with a bit of color degradation. Videos are recorded at 320 x 240 pixels and 15 frames per second. The footage we captured was good enough to post to YouTube.
A handful of mobile apps come standard, including Yahoo Search and Lifeblog. Lifeblog allows users to upload pictures and video to blogging services like Vox and Flickr. We had difficulty using this feature with our Blogger and Flickr accounts, since Lifeblog requires its own password and server settings. Yahoo Search, on the other hand, was powerful and accurate, helping us search eBay auctions and local pizza joints, despite the instability of Nokia's browser.
Call quality on the N76 was adequate during our tests using Cingular's network. Some callers reported that we sounded distant and low, but the overall performance was fine. The 2.8 hours of rated talk time underestimates this phone's endurance. The N76 provided more than four hours of straight talk time, and it lasted through three days of periodic data and voice usage.
There's a lot be said about the N76's freedom and versatility. However, if style is your game--and $499 is your price ceiling--you'd look cooler with an iPhone. If the sky's the limit, consider the $749 Nokia N95, which sports GPS and an even sharper 5-MP camera.
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