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September 23, 2008

Size doesn’t matter – battery life and the Nokia N96

ESPOO, Finland – It’s come to my attention that there are some folks grumbling about the size of the battery on the Nokia N96, which is smaller than the battery on the Nokia N95-8GB.

I don’t want to get in a she-said he-said of boring tech specs, but would like to use this opportunity to highlight some interesting constraints mobile device designers face (and conquer) on a daily basis.

The contention

Battery power is compared through a mAh (milliamp hours) rating. It turns out that the N95 and the N96 have a 950 mAh battery, while the N95-8GB has a 1200 mAh battery. Of course, folks are up in arms, since the N96 is a feature-packed device, designed specifically for video and TV play-back. Logically, one would think that the N95-8GB would be running circles around the N96 long after the N96 had died down. Not so. See, it all has to do with power consumption optimizations, which brings us neatly onto…

Power consumption optimizations

Most Nokia phones (and mobile phones in general) have a ton of power-saving features. And as designers have added more features the engineers have had to optimize more. The N96 in particular has special hardware accelerators for music and video that are more energy-efficient than the same playback mechanisms on the N95’s, and brightness control during video playback. For what it’s worth, it also has an energy-efficient standby mode indicator light, a lock switch that dims light immediately, and a more energy-efficient camera, too.

Design constraints

A related question flying around is why the heck we didn’t just design the N96 with the 1200 mAh battery in the first place. Well, from what I’m told, that would have affected the real and apparent thickness of the product and maybe dropped the kick-stand. Based on market feedback, making the product thicker would have impacted seriously on sales. That’s why it was important to make sure the talk-time and standby time were on par with other devices, but that the video and music playback time be superior within this size and power constraint.*


Okay, keeping all this in mind, for the same usage pattern, the talk-time and standby time for the N96 should be comparable to that of the N95. But, the playback time of video and music on the N96 is far better than the N95 or N95 8GB. And considering that video and music is what the N96 is all about, this is the whole point of the story.

Who said designing super-phones was an easy task?

If you want to read a thorough review of the Nokia N96, go read what Steve Litchfield has to say. And yes, he does do some power usage analysis.

*Did you know that N96 has similar length and thickness as the N81 (1070 mAh battery)? It is wider than the N81, of course, due to the larger screen.