Friday, April 29, 2011

Nokia Nuron

Posted On 10:20 AM by choky bembenk | 42 comments

Nokia's first affordable touch screen phone, the Nokia 5800 Xpress Music, sold like hotcakes in Europe and was available unlocked with AT&T 3G in the US. No love for T-Mobile folks and no contract subsidies in the US meant not very wide distribution for this touch screen phone. The Nokia 5230 followed more recently in Europe as a "Comes with Music" phone, a subscription all you can eat music service that isn't available in the US. The Nokia Nuron shares much of the 5800's DNA and almost all the DNA of the Euro 5230 with an almost identical design and the same resistive 360 x 640 touch screen. The price is nice at $69.99 with contract given the phone's low to mid-range smartphone feature set that includes a GPS with Ovi Maps free navigation, Bluetooth with A2DP stereo, a 3.5mm stereo jack and a 2 megapixel camera. Alas there's no WiFi and that camera resolution is at the low end for a Nokia phone.
Nokia Nuron
The Nuron (Nokia Nuron 5230) is a Symbian OS 9.4 smartphone running Nokia's S60 5th Edition software. If you're already a Nokia S60 user, you'll likely feel right at home, even if you've never used the touch screen 5th Edition version. The icons, menus and metaphors are largely the same. That's great for familiarity, but the user interface still isn't ideally touch optimized as it is with the iPhone 3GS and Android (two mobile operating systems that were designed from the ground up for touch rather than being ports of d-pad centric product lines). Since Nokia has released six 5th Edition phones, starting with the high end Nokia N97, we'd hoped they'd have evolved the UI more. But the new ^Symbian phones are coming later this year, and we assume Nokia didn't want to spend much more development time with S60.
What exactly bothers us? It's not just the resistive touch screen, which has its good points: you can use it with gloves and fingernails and it's more precise. Yes, you do have to press a bit harder than on the iPhone or Motorola Cliq XT, but it's not a wretched task. What we don't like is that you actually have to use skinny scroll bars in some places, and those are certainly not finger-friendly and are terribly dated. In some cases you have kinetic scrolling and in others you don't. Since this isn't a capacitive display, there's no pinch zooming. In some places you must single-tap on an item and in other places a double-tap is required. Good gosh, these kinds of things should have been sorted out long ago. The on-screen keyboard isn't the easiest to use, but once you remember it's not capacitive and that you must pay attention and precisely tap the key you want, it's passable.
Nokia Nuron
But there are things to like as well: once you get used to how the UI works, it's easy enough to fly around the screen and get things done. It's a fun phone to use, though it gets sluggish at times running on an ARM11 434MHz processor with a lean amount of available RAM. The smartphone is compact and very light at 3.98 ounces, and it makes the Cliq XT look like a battleship.
Like the Nokia 5800 and 5230, the phone's hardware is laid out a bit differently from most phones. Nokia ships the phone with a sticker over the display that lets you know that the SIM card slot and microSD card slots are under rubber doors on the side of the phone instead of under the battery door.
Nokia Nuron
The Nuron has a screen lock slider on the right, a feature common in recent Nokia phones. It's easy to operate and saves you from the two step touch the power button then slide on the screen to unlock method that we find tedious. There are dedicated hardware call send and end buttons and a center key that opens up the programs window. These are mechanical buttons and work easily. A touch sensitive button lives at the top right corner above the display and this launches a shortcut bar to the multimedia apps. There's a standard 3.5mm stereo jack up top (music is one of the phone's strong points) and a dedicated camera button. The volume buttons are on the right and they control everything except ringer volume (you must use the Profiles settings to change the ringer volume which seems a little silly).

As we've come to expect from Nokia phones, the Nuron has excellent voice quality and strong reception. If making calls and holding a signal are important to you, the Nuron is definitely a good choice. It has better reception than the Cliq XT and Nexus One Android phones. Again, like most Nokia phones, the Nuron plays well with Bluetooth headsets, car kits and stereo headsets-- it's not finicky in the least. The contacts application is the usual Nokia affair with plenty of fields. The PIM applications sync with Outlook on the desktop, but there's no iSync plugin (at least not yet). Using the Ovi Store application, you can download Mail for Exchange which supports syncing with MS Exchange 2003 and 2007 as well as Google contacts and calendar.
Nokia Nuron
We're a bit disappointed that the phone has only 3.6 Mbps 3G HSDPA when most T-Mobile smartphones are now shipping with the faster 7.2 Mbps flavor. The Nuron is a quad band GSM world phone with 3G on T-Mobile's US 1700/2100MHz bands. It features Nokia's usual webkit-based web browser that really impressed us 3 years ago but now looks a little weak compared to the Android and iPhone browsers. It's not bad though and does a good job of rendering desktop sites (and it's much better than RIM's BlackBerry web browser). Email comes in the form of Nokia Messaging, which is functional but not sexy. The phone works with POP3, IMAP, Gmail and MS Exchange email (Exchange support is a free download).
Nokia Nuron

T-Mobile markets the Nuron as a navigation phone since it has a GPS, TeleNav and the now free Nokia Ovi Maps. Ovi Maps has come a long way for US navigation and it does a good job of providing turn-by-turn directions for driving and walking. The POI database is weak though and we couldn't get the phone to reliably find popular chain supermarkets and stores like Walmart and Safeway. It did guess at stores located 6,000 miles away in Europe though! For POIs, we suggest Google Maps and TeleNav. Note that TeleNav is a $10/month subscription service but it does have an excellent POI database and excellent spoken driving directions.
Nokia Nuron
The GPS hardware performs well and the phone got a quick fix and it held onto it with aplomb. The display is moderately visible in sunlight, but if you use a dash mount and locate the phone where it catches lots of sun, the screen will appear washed out.
Battery Life
The Nuron has a 1320 mAh Lithium Ion battery that performs better than higher end smartphones on T-Mobile. The Symbian OS and Nokia's old school ARM 11 CPU are easy on the battery and there's no WiFi to drain power like mad. With moderate use, the Nuron should have no problem lasting at least two days on a charge. If you use navigation the draw of the GPS and 3G will shorten battery life and we suggest a car charger.
The Nokia Nuron is a pleasant entry level touch screen smartphone. The touch screen and UI aren't up to Android's level but the phone is easy to learn and use, and it's more pocketable than most smartphones. There's social networking for Facebook and MySpace on board, a good web browser and decent email support and you can download more apps from the Ovi Store. The Ovi Store doesn't have the wide selection of apps you'll find on iTunes or the Android Market but the staples are covered well enough. We're a little disappointed that there's no WiFi on board to compensate for T-Mobile's relatively smaller 3G coverage area but the phone performs decently enough on EDGE for email, web browsing and navigation.
The screen's resolution is good at 360 x 640 and it's sharp and clear. It's hard to beat the Nuron's one-two punch of great voice quality and reception too. But the 2 megapixel camera is a let down, especially from a company like Nokia who makes such impressive imaging phones.

Price: $69.99 with a 2 year contract, $269 retail with no contract.

Nokia E71

Posted On 10:17 AM by choky bembenk | 2 comments

The Nokia E71 was an iconic phone that even as an unlocked and unsubsidized phone, sold well in the US. Late in its life, AT&T picked it up as the Nokia E71x where it enjoyed modest success though it was long in the tooth by then and a bit overrun with AT&T bloatware. T-Mobile customers, left out of the 3G love nonetheless bought the unlocked E71, especially early in its life when many T-Mobile smartphones still shipped with EDGE 2G data. The phone-loving world waited with great excitement when Nokia announced the E72, the successor to the E71 boasting improved specs and who knows what special sauce Nokia might throw in. By the time the phone made it to the US, again unlocked, in February 2010, it didn't add much to the once-proven E71 formula. It had a better camera, a significantly faster CPU and a slightly newer version of S60 software on top of Symbian OS and nothing new to rave about.
Nokia E73 Mode
Four months later, T-Mobile US has picked up their version as the Nokia E73 Mode. While Nokia usually goes with a numeric appendage to indicate it's the same phone with different 3G bands (e.g.: Nokia E72-1, Nokia E72-3), this time they've created a new model number for the T-Mo version. The Nokia E73 is basically a Nokia E72 with T-Mobile 3G bands and carrier software (not much carrier software since T-Mobile doesn't muck up their phones with bloatware). Parts of this review are taken from the E72 review given the near identical hardware and software.
Nokia E73 Mode and BlackBerry Bold 9700
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 and the Nokia E73 Mode.
The good news is that you can get a very capable Nokia S60 QWERTY smartphone not too long after the US unlocked release for a very attractive $69.99 with contract. The bad news is that the E73, like the E72, doesn't bring any features to the table that will set the world on fire. The other good news is that the E73 Mode has stunning hardware: a metal back, very solid build, superb keyboard and an incredibly thin design. This is a very, very nice looking and feeling phone. No plastic BlackBerry Curve 8520 here, despite the low price. Kudos to Nokia for finding a way to sell high end hardware at such a competitive price.
The Nokia E73 Mode has a QVGA non-touchscreen display, an optical trackpad, 3G HSDPA, WiFi, a GPS, Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR, an SDHC microSD card slot and a 5 megapixel autofocus camera. It runs on a 600MHz ARM11 CPU with 128 megs of RAM (we'd like more RAM) and 512 megs of flash memory with 250 megs available.
Nokia E73 Mode

The Nokia E73 Mode is so named because it allows you to create modes to match your lifestyle. This feature has been available on Nokia S60 phones for some time, but it's the first T-Mobile Nokia phone to offer it. With modes you can have a work and home mode with a specific set of home screen shortcuts, ringers and wallpaper. It's handy and unique to Nokia's phones. The E73 is a QWERTY messaging smorgasbord with Nokia's own IMAP/POP3 email client, SMS/MMS and T-Mobile's IM client that handles MSN Live Messenger, Yahoo, AIM, MySpace IM and Gtalk. You can download Nokia's Mail for Exchange client for MS Exchange support as well. The mail client handles HTML email well, but we found email a bit more trying to configure than on BlackBerry phones. Gmail email support is available and you can download Google's S60 sync software too.
Nokia E73 Mode
If you're a serious email addict who wants instantaneous email delivery and a unified inbox and notification system, the Nokia won't tempt you. Likewise the current Bold 9700 and Curve 8520 have higher resolution displays and sharper fonts (Nokia needs to update their system font). But for the less addicted and tied to work, the E73 works acceptably for email. The E73 Mode scores a big win in the web browser department: Nokia's Webkit-based web browser is still top notch while RIM's browser is notoriously weak with full HTML sites. Both the E73 and BlackBerry phones running BIS (personal rather than enterprise email) cost the same in terms of monthly data plan fees. Since this is a smartphone with 3G, T-Mobile requires that you sign up for data if you purchase the phone with a contract.
Nokia E73 Mode
The BlackBerry 9700 and Nokia E73 Mode.
Both BlackBerry models have excellent keyboards, as does the Nokia Mode. The Nokia falls short in optimization for ease of use. While BlackBerry OS and non-touchscreen hardware are exquisitely well designed to work with the trackpad and keyboard (lots of keyboard shortcuts, text fields that are optimally handled to reduce keystrokes and hand movement), the E73's optical trackpad is better than prior Nokia phones but still not quite there and text fields don't sense number vs. alpha input masks automatically, and you sometimes have to use a softkey instead of the enter key to register text in a field. If you're a Nokia person, you're used to this and won't be bothered. If you're converting from a prior BlackBerry it will drive you bonkers.
Phone and Internet
The quad band GSM E73 will work anywhere in the world GSM service is available for calls and data on GPRS and EDGE. It has 3G HSDPA up to 10.2 Mbps for use overseas and with T-Mobile in the US. Call quality is very good, as per usual for Nokia E and Nseries smartphones. The rear-firing speakerphone, powered by a large mono speaker, is too quiet but it is clear. We tested the phone with several Bluetooth headsets including the Jawbone 2 and Plantronics Discovery 925 and it worked well in terms of voice quality and connection reliability. Bluetooth range was average, and we got about 15 feet before voice quality began to degrade.
Nokia E72
Nokia's excellent Webkit browser is on board with Flash support, and it does a good job of rendering full HTML sites accurately and quickly. Since this isn't a touch screen phone, you use the d-pad to move a virtual cursor around web pages. At QVGA resolution, you'll only see very small sections of desktop-oriented sites, so plan on plenty of scrolling. Though the browser is capable enough, the low resolution means we wouldn't recommend this smartphone to someone who plans to spend a lot of time web browsing. 3G HSDPA speeds on T-Mobile's network in the Dallas area were excellent and too fast to test using mobile speed tests. When using the phone as a modem for our MacBook Pro, we got speeds nearing 4 megs down and 1.5 megs up!
Nokia E73
GPS and Camera
The E73 Mode has a built-in GPS with aGPS, and both Nokia Maps 3 and TeleNav are on board. Ovi Maps gives the E73 and other recent S60 smartphones an edge against other smartphones that require you to pay for turn-by-turn spoken navigation. Nokia Maps' routing is acceptable, but their POI database is very spotty in the US. TeleNav, a $10/month navigation service with excellent POIs and spoken directions worked very well on the E73. We had no trouble with the GPS hardware at all, in fact it performed quite well and managed fast fixes and solid satellite locks.
The 5 megapixel autofocus camera is a vast improvement over the E71's lower resolution shooter. It isn't just the higher resolution; images are sharper and clearer with better exposure. The E73 still can't compare to Nokia's own Nseries phones and their superior cameras, but for a business phone, this is a decent camera. The phone can also shoot VGA video at 15 fps and there's a flash that's useful for close range shooting.
Nokia E73

If you're a Nokia S60 person and want a QWERTY smartphone, the Nokia E73 Mode is likely to please. And if you want a candy bar form factor smartphone with a keyboard but dislike BlackBerry phones, the E73 is also a hot pick. But for those who just need a QWERTY phone and don't care about the smart part, the E73 will require a more expensive data plan than T-Mobile's QWERTY feature phones like the Samsung Gravity. While the E73 Mode's hardware design and quality are top notch, S60 is showing its age and it lacks the extreme email handling and optimized OS that are hallmarks of RIM's BlackBerry OS (aging though it too is). And Nokia's excellent web browser is wasted on the low resolution QVGA display, making it hard to recommend this smartphone to serious web users (consider a touch screen phone like the Samsung Behold II , MyTouch 3G Slide or the HTC HD2 instead). But it's not all doom and gloom: the Nokia has a very good camera for a business phone, a great keyboard, the usual excellent Nokia reception and call quality and the phone comes with free navigation courtesy of Ovi Maps. The Nokia E73 Mode is an excellent voice phone that's quite capable for messaging too.

Price: $69.99 with a 2 year contract after rebates.


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