There has been a fair bit in the news lately of Nokia’s troubles, and the likelihood of the company having to lay off several thousand people as they try to arrest what looks to be a terminal decline. Whereas folk losing their jobs is not very nice, if any of those soon to be joining the dole queue were involved in the development of their N86 model, then I’ll not be shedding any tears for those particular individuals. It seems that Nokia’s troubles are not the result of wrong-headed acquisitions or overstretch; rather, everyone seems to think it is the company’s failure to develop a smartphone within 4 years of their competitors. That may be the case, but in mine it may be even more simple than that: their phones are shit.
When I bought the N86 just over 2 years ago, it was their flagship model and the fourth or fifth Nokia I had owned. Other than a company Ericsson in 1999, I’d not used anything else. Even though I am still using the thing now, I am unlikely to buy another Nokia again. Here’s why.
1. When you charge it, a bright white LED comes on at the top of the phone, which cannot be turned off. I’m sure I’m not alone in that I charge my phone at night and use it as an alarm clock, meaning it is beside my bed when I am sleeping. Or rather, trying to sleep. Kind of hard to nod off when you have some stupid, wholly unnecessary, bright white light shining six inches from your eye.
2. Emails are by default saved in the phone memory, as opposed to the much larger mass memory or memory card. All the phone’s operational functions run off the phone memory. I have looked, but I am pretty sure there is no way to save emails anywhere other than the phone memory. When you download emails, you have two options in the settings: headers only, and all text plus attachments. There is no option to download only the body text and not the attachments. Nor is there an option to save the attachments somewhere else, which was a feature on the HP iPAQ* PDAs back in 2004. What this means is that if you have a lot of emails, or somebody sends you one or two big ones, the phone memory gets full and the phone stops working. It locks itself up to the point that you cannot go into your emails and delete the big ones, so you have to go into the file manager and delete something else from the phone memory, such as a game. But you can only do this after restarting the phone, which takes several minutes and sends up 3 or 4 low memory warnings which if you try to clear lock the phone up. So if somebody innocently sends you a large email and you happen to pick it up on your N86, you spend the next 5 minutes waiting for your phone to restart after which you have to delete something you probably wanted to keep.
3. When the memory runs low, the phone stops working properly. One of the symptoms is when you leave your phone alone and try to do nothing at all, an “Error in Selected Template” warning comes up, and prevents you using the phone for a while. This wouldn’t be so bad if it popped up when you were actually trying to do something, but it appears the phone flags it up when trying to do something of its own accord.
4. The processor is just too damned slow, and the phone keeps crashing. Opening the email application takes between 5 and 10 seconds. If you try to switch quickly from emails to read an SMS message, and then reply to that message, the reply-to screen will take anywhere up to 15 seconds to load. If you try to switch between emails and the web, chances are your phone will crash. Most of the time it cannot be rebooted by pressing the power button, you need to remove the battery. I have to do this about 2-3 times a day in normal use.
5. The phone thinks it’s being clever by automatically selecting any new wi-fi connection as the default – and only – connection for all subsequent web surfing. So if you have it set on “Always Ask” and you go to Starbucks and try to connect to their wi-fi, it will ask you which connection you want to use. But the phone will then change the settings from “Always Ask” to “Always use Starbucks wi-fi”, meaning when you go home and try to connect to your home network, it will start looking for Starbucks wi-fi. It wouldn’t be so bad if the phone told you Starbucks wi-fi wasn’t available and would you like to select another? But no, instead it says “WLAN not available, cannot complete operation” or some such guff, and you have to go into the internet settings to put the damned thing back where you had it in the first place. Also, the general connectivity of the phone to wi-fi networks is rubbish. For some reason, my phone won’t connect to my home network, even though my laptop and everyone else’s phone has no problems.
6. If you try to amend any of the connection settings when a connection has recently been attempted, you get an error along the lines of “Cannot access database at this time. Please try later”, as if you’ve stumbled across a website hosted on a Nigerian server. This is almost as stupid in its inaccuracy as Microsoft Windows Media Player’s “Server Execution Failed”, which seems almost to be a randomly generated excuse. They’d be better off saying “Wank Programming Error”.
7. The interface with Skype is rubbish. When Skype tries to find a connection it suggests them one at a time, up to a maximum of 3 attempts. If the connection you want to use happens to be outside the top 3 in the phone’s connection priority list, you need to go and amend it so that it is.
8. The automatic screen alignment detection takes an age to function, and sometimes it doesn’t work at all.
9. The phone is not sealed very well, so within a week of buying it dust had appeared behind the screen. This gets steadily worse over time.
10. The phone sometimes does something of its own accord which drains the battery in a matter of hours.
Now I don’t know if the phone performs as badly across all its functions, as I only use it for making calls, sending messages, picking up emails, and waking me up in the morning. But if this was the best Nokia could offer when Apple was already selling the iPhone, it’s no wonder the company is in so much trouble now.
* So much for Apple being the ones to prefix everything with ‘i’. I’m surprised somebody hasn’t sued over this.