Thursday, September 13, 2007

Nokia N76 Mobile Phone

See, the N76 isn't supported by any of the US mobile phone companies, so there's no discount for buyers. With the support of a phone company, the N76 could have been an attractive feature-packed value at $50. Instead, it's an underwhelming performer at $500. For that big a price tag, a phone needs to deliver a lot more than the N76 provides.

There's a lot to like about the N76, if not $500 worth. For starters, it's an attractive, sturdy clamshell with two displays: an external (1.4-inch, 160 x 128 pixels, 262,000 color TFT LCD) with handy music playback buttons underneath, and an internal (2.4-inch, 240 x 320 pixels, 16.7 million color TFT LCD) for most other tasks.

The phone is meant largely for music playback, and offers a microSD slot for adding up to 2GB of storage, sold separately (there's only 26MB of internal memory). Nokia's site says that the phone comes with a 1GB microSD card; ours didn't, which is common for review units, but check the contents before you get it home. This is a GSM phone, so it works with both AT&T and T-Mobile.

The N76 measures 4.2 x 2.1 x 0.54-inches and weighs 4.1 ounces. It feels especially sturdy in the hand, much more so than the Razr, the phone that kicked off the flat flip phone craze.

It is quite large when opened, yet is thin enough when shut to fit easily into a pants pocket. That extra real estate when opened has convinced the designers to add more buttons that usual around the dial pad, which wasn't a great choice.

Besides the usual left and right soft keys, start and end call buttons, and navigation pad, the N76 has buttons for calling up the menu, calling up a special multimedia menu, and editing text (something few will ever do). The keys are all flat, which makes selecting the wrong one easy. In fact, we had to give up trying to play games on it, since we kept hitting the menu button by accident.

As a music player, the N76 does a fairly good job. You can download songs from an online store or your computer, and you can use the headphones of your choice with the 3.5mm headphone jack. You won't be able to hold many songs, even with the maximum 2GB microSD card, so it's questionable how much value it has as a portable music player.

The N76 also tunes in FM radio, when the included headphones are plugged in (since the cord doubles as the antenna).

There's a 2megapixel camera which takes decent but slightly washed-out, slightly grainy shots. It's for emergency use only.

The N76 can also check e-mail and surf the Internet, but not all that quickly. The phone lacks 3G support, so you're stuck browsing at EDGE speeds. It's handy to have for a quick look-up, but that also is for emergency use only.

Nokia rates the battery for 2.8 hours of talk time and 200 hours of standby. That's not huge, but it ran for several days between chargings in our testing.

We found call quality to be good, with no complaints from our callers. We disliked how easily the phone smudged, however, and how hard it is to clean oily streaks from it. The screens are quite difficult to read in direct sunlight.

The N76 is an attractive phone, with a decent set of features, but it simply doesn't offer enough to warrant the $500 price tag. Unless you definitely want an unlocked phone with no commitment, you'll find better phones at better values from the wireless companies.


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