Review: Nokia N85

Somewhere out there there is someone lusting after the N85. For some reason the rest of the world loves these lumpen little phones. Perhaps the Nokia N-series calls up memories of the old phones that we once clung to in the dark ages of cellular communication. The Nokia is the ur-phone, the manufacturer of dreams, the Campbellian original Hero With a Thousand Faces. It can do anything, given enough care and attention.

We at CG love Nokia, we support them, but that love is scarcely returned when they release phones like the N85 onto an unsuspecting populace.

First, I’d like to offer a reasoned commentary on my personal anger towards the Nokia N-Series line to head off those who might find me biased. The N-Series line is a smartphone line for the 20th century. When they hit the scene in about 2005, in the form of very powerful offerings including the N70, the N90, and the N91, I was very excited. “N-Series” meant smartphones with Symbian that could basically run anything you wanted and were compact and amazingly powerful. The series, sadly, faltered in the US due to carrier disconnects – figurative and literal – and an inability to sell phone one in the US. They gave up and began selling the phones in flagship shops and this, for a time, seemed to work.

Why is the N-Series popular? Because it is the standard smartphone in Europe, much as the Blackberry is the standard smartphone in the United States. They’re unlocked world phones with enough processing power to run a few apps and send an email or two. Not much else. Full stop.

I also look forward to seeing the N97 – a keyboard would make most of my concerns evaporate – but I’m still against Symbian on principle as an unusable operating system long past it’s prime. And the N-Series is riding the Symbian train until the end of time. Say what you want, but my biggest issue with this phone is Symbian and I will come from that single point and move from there. Note: I also really loved the E71 because it was a smartphone that made sense. If you are from Europe or you really like T9 typing, do yourself a favor and stop reading.

So: the N85. It comes with an 8 gigabyte memory card, it has music control buttons, and a numeric keypad. It has a 369 MHz ARM processor. It also has WiFi and Bluetooth. It has a 5-megapixel camera. It’s a great phone if you love you some Nokia. And it costs $429. Generally, if I were a calm man, I’d leave it at that.

Sadly, I’m not a calm man. This phone hasn’t changed in five or six iterations since the first N series phones. It is the same thing. It has Wi-Fi now, but big whoop. It has better media playback functions, but the screen is so small it’s not worth watching anything on it. Email is impossible. It’s not a smartphone.

But John, you say, you liked the 7510 for T-Mo. Sure I did. It costs $49, it has lots of “features” but doesn’t bill itself as a business phone. Symbian, at this point, is ready for my Mom. It fits nowhere in the in the modern cellular ecosystem.

Man, I love Nokia. I love their gumption, I love their market share, and I wish them no ill. But please, please, please. Stop it. We’ve all had enough. Processors are fast enough to run legacy apps. Throw this garbage out and reboot.

So there we have it: my anti-Symbian rant. I’m sorry the N85 had to get caught up in all of this. None of this is the N85’s fault. It got caught in the cross-fire. Again – you need an N-series at work? Go get one. It’s like a smaller ThinkPad – rugged, boring, and fully-featured, in theory. Otherwise, let’s wait to see what Nokia has up its sleeve and move on from this long, dark, international nightmare.