micke-midlife on September 29th, 2008

the nokia n85 was just released and we wanted to find out how well it works as a running companion. with the sports tracker application installed it records the route you run and you can upload each training session to the sports tracker service on the web where you find the route displayed on a google map. but this post is about the device, the sports tracker review will follow.

due to its physical size, the n85 is narrower than e.g. the nokia e71 and thinner than an n95, it fits well into a standard armband (the armband was covered earlier here). the weight is acceptable, you feel it while running but it’s not disturbing, it might train your upper arm - well, perhaps a bit of a one sided training…

the actual usage scenarios while running - pretty much sports tracker, music and taking pictures. of those three two are in regular use with me, sports tracker and taking pictures, all the outdoor pictures on this blog are taken while running. the music case got a slight deviation from the mainstream due to the apparently funny shape of my ears. have to admit that i haven’t come across a decent looking pair of small headphones that would not have fallen out of my ears on the first 10 meters. but yes, i was using only those headphones that come with the mobile device, me being a bit of a stingy bastard. so my usage reminds more of the boom-box scenario, music on, screw up the volume and let the in-built speakers do the job. some more on this social experiement here.

the good

the mechanical features and their integration. that’s something very basic to which alternatives haven’t really yet be seen: while on the move especially on the run you need quick and clear controls. going through a menu structure to do something is not really an option. here very good the lock/unlock slide-button on the side and the camera lens cover. the lock/unlock slide button disables/enables the keypad and other buttons, everytime before putting it back into the armband you want to quickly lock the device. the camera lens cover is well integrated in a way, even when the buttons are locked, as soon as you slide open the lens the camera application activates and the buttons become active as well. with the decent shutter speed you can even take pictures while running, for good shots it makes sense to take a couple of deep breaths and try to stand for some seconds with a still hand. the carl zeiss lens and the 5mpix do a really good job.

the speakers do a relatively good job while the device is in the armband, i guess headphones would bring it closer to the hifi standard, but well, with some songs, e.g. don johnsson big band’s “busy relaxin’” you can run in the songs rythm, that’s enough fun for the runner. music is on shuffle, so not much interaction there.

another great thing is the screen, it’s very bright with very good contrast and the device looks great when lit up. sometimes i find myself unlocking the device just to see all lights go on… (should find something better to do in my spare time, i know)

the not so good

the sports tracker application in it’s current version (1.75) is still rough around the edges regarding easy-to-use. apart from the fact that it’s quite a starting sequence when getting going (music on, start sports tracker, let it find a GPS fix, start the timer on it, start running, start the heart rate monitor on my other arm, try to squeeze the mobile device into thearmband while already running), the most obvious thing, i.e. to stop the time counter, at the end of the run, is in an option menu and not directly assigned to a button on the device, e.g. the left or middle soft-key. more about the sports tracker app in a separate blog entry.

also to get the device easier out of the armband it could have a little fabric loop or backstrap where you could simply pull the device out. also the lower end of the cover could be shaped in a way that it would help getting the device with one hand easier into the armband while running.

a final tricky thing is - without a headset - to adjust the volume, the buttons are locked and the device in the armband, you pretty much need a headset with easy volume control.

overall this is an experience device

i.e. the real value of it doesn’t become evident just by looking at it, you need to use it and you’ll see.

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