Mere mortals will need to wait until the third quarter of the year -- if not longer, depending on their region and tolerance for some probable price gouging in the early going -- to get their hands on the mighty Nokia N96. On the other hand, Mobile-review apparently knows the right hands to shake and eyes to wink to get hold of a prototype unit extraordinarily early, and they're taking full advantage of the opportunity. A few hours of your time devoted to the novella of a review will net you a deep understanding and appreciation for the N96's strengths and follies, but in a nutshell, the site seems to come away with a pretty ambivalent opinion of a device that should be knocking everyone's socks off -- especially for a sticker price that'll hover in the $800 arena. Problems included a penchant for picking up dirt and fingerprints (the price you pay for a beautiful glossy face, we suppose), a cramped nav key layout with the tricky touch-sensitive Navi Wheel front and center, audio performance that wasn't bad but was expected to be far better in light of the dedicated DSP, and a "shovel"-like feel in the hand, a symptom of the phone's generous dimensions. Everyone owes the production version of the N96 a chance to show its true form when it's released later this year -- and hey, at least Nokia's got a checklist of things that need improvement in the prototype now -- so we're keeping our chins up that this'll still make the N95 8GB a proud daddy when it comes time to hand over the crown to the Nseries kingdom.

[Via Tech Digest and NokNok]