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Nokia Communicator 9290: GSM Phone and Symbian OS PDA

Reviewed in 2003 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

(Discontinued. The Nokia 9300 and Nokia 9500 Communicators are the replacements and the 9300 is available in the US)

And now for something different: it's combined PDA and cell phone that's neither a Palm OS device nor a Pocket PC. Folks in Europe have had the pleasure of using the Nokia Communicator 9210 for quite a while, and it's been enormously popular there. Now it has come to the US as the Nokia Communicator 9290. Combining a GSM cell phone, mini-QWERTY keyboard and a Symbian OS color screen PDA into one, the Nokia may be just the thing for folks who are tired of stylus input and lugging around an external keyboard.

Nokia Communicator 9290

Comparing size

Comparing Size: Motorola V60 phone, Palm m130
and the Nokia 9290.

 

There is no stylus and the screen is not touch sensitive. Instead you'll use the keyboard and the 4 buttons to the right of the screen. These buttons aren't labeled because their functions change depending on which application you're using. Text indicating current button functions is displayed on the right side of the screen, aligned with the buttons. The menu key on the keyboard brings up an application's menu and you'll use the directional pad on the right lower corner of the keyboard to navigate menus, as well as web pages and documents.

The keyboard is very usable, though it's a bit small to be described as truly touch-typeable. Still I find it easier to use than thumb keyboards, and better than some of the old Windows HPCs that have been on the market. I do have slim fingers, so if you're a thick-fingered fella, you may find yourself hunting and pecking rather than touch-typing.

The screen displays 4,096 colors and is quite bright and sharp, though a bit hard to see outdoors in bright daylight. It is still usable in bright light, but the screen washes out a bit.

Symbian OS

Remember the Psion? The same folks who brought you the Psion's OS are now developing Symbian for cell phones. Symbian is fast, efficient and very stable. The 9290 reminds me of the Psion: keyboard-centric, strong built-in Office apps (though not as full-featured as the Psion's) and a web browser rolled into a very user-friendly interface. The Nokia also supports Personal Java, adding to the range of application possibilities.

 

 

 

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Phone

The 9290 is also a GSM 1900MHz single-band phone. This is the band used in the US for GSM. Carriers include T-Mobile and Cingular. While T-Mobile offers the phone, you'll also see it at retailers such as Amazon and CompUSA: it is not a provider-locked phone, which means you should be able to use it with any GSM carrier in the US. The data transfer rate is 14.4k, as the phone sadly doesn't support GPRS for faster data rates. The phone section can be turned off for in-flight PDA use.

When using the Nokia as a phone, simply close the clamshell, use the front number pad to dial your number and hold the phone against your head with the display facing away from your head (you hold the backside of the phone to your head). Reception is good, and there's a short swiveling antenna at the top you can pop up in weak reception areas.

The front LCD display is large and crisp. You have access to standard cell phone features using the display and numeric keypad. You can view text messages, access your phone book (which integrates with the PDA phone book), control call forwarding, and change phone settings.

Data, Faxing, Web and email

The 9290 can communicate at 14.4kbs for data and fax transmissions. You can connect to the Internet using your cellular provider's service, or you can connect to your ISP or corporate dialup VPN. With its relatively large landscape view and capable browser, I only wish that the phone supported GPRS for faster data rates. Web pages are not quick to download at 14.4. You can turn off images to speed up page load times. The Nokia uses Opera for its web browser (excellent choice!). The web browser supports frames, cookies, bookmarks and SSL. The Nokia also comes with a WAP browser so you can access your favorite WAP sites.

The included Messaging mail program supports POP3, SMTP and IMAP4 protocols. You can connect to most ISP email accounts along with MS Exchange, Lotus Domino R5, Netscape Messenger Server and Oracle InterOffice Mail Servers. You can also use it to send and receive SMS messages and faxes.

The 9290 can function as a fax/modem for your laptop computer. Simply connect them using a serial cable or IR after installing the included driver on your PC (no Mac support).

Office Applications and More

The 9290 comes with its own Office suite. This is comprised of File Manager, Document, Sheet and Presentation Viewer. These allow you to create original documents and save them as Word and Excel files. You can also transfer documents from your PC to the Nokia to work with existing documents. While you won't find all the features of Word and Excel, such as headers, footers, table of contents, all the basics are there, such as formatting, inserting images, borders and functions. As you might guess from the name, Presentation Viewer allows you to view but not edit Powerpoint presentations.

In addition, you'll get an image viewer/album app (works with many popular formats), a video viewer (only views movies in Nokia Interleaved Multimedia format, but you can use the included desktop app to convert common video formats such as AVI to NIM), a voice recorder that allows you to record phone conversations and voice memos in WAV or AU format (length limited by the amount of available storage), a calculator and a few fun games. If you're a gamer, there are many 3rd party games available for purchase.

Syncing, Calendar and Contacts

The Nokia PC Suite for Nokia 9290 Communicator allows you to sync to and transfer files to and from a Windows PC. Windows 95/98, 2000 and NT are supported. The Nokia connects via a serial cable and syncs fairly quickly. PC Suite syncs contacts, calendar and email (if desired), and supports Microsoft Schedule+ 7.x, Microsoft Outlook 97/98/2000, Lotus Organizer 97 5.0, 6.0, and GS 4.0, Lotus Notes 4.5, 4.6, and 5.0, and SyncML remote synchronization. After installing PC Suite you'll see an icon on your desktop representing the Nokia. You can click on this to browse the contents of the 9290, move, copy and delete files.

The Calendar is very full-featured and I found it a pleasure to use-- it reminded me of the Psion's excellent calendar. You can set repeating events, alarms and view the calendar in year, month, week and day view. The calendar includes a Tasks feature which allows to create a list of prioritized tasks. The Contacts app is also excellent and it integrates with the phone. You can assign individual ring tones to each contact in your address book, and include a picture for each contact if you wish. You can also beam contacts and accept vCards you may receive in email as well as send SMS messages directly from the contact screen. The contacts app also allows you to view contacts on your SIM card.

Conclusion

A very full featured device! It's nearly impossible to list all the features and capabilities of this PDA + phone combo. Despite the number of applications and features included with this unit, it's very easy to operate and likely won't overwhelm you. If you're looking for a PDA + cell phone with a built-in QWERTY keyboard, this is your only choice at the moment, and it isn't a bad one at that. However, compared to current cell phones it's neither light nor small. Don't expect web pages to download quickly since the 14.4 connection is as good as it gets. Emails are very manageable at this connection speed. I hope the next version has GPRS!

Suggested list price $599 with activation.

Pro: Good price for a PDA that also includes an integrated cell phone! Very good phone book integration between cell phone and PDA. Ingenious design: closed it resembles a large cell phone, when open it resembles a mini-laptop. Lots of useful included software. Expandable with an MMC slot. Con: This is not a small unit, no GPRS support is a shame given the large screen size and excellent web browser included.

 

Specs:

Display: TFT color LCD, 12 bit, 4096 colors. Screen resolution: 640 pixels wide x 200 pixels high.

Battery Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1300 mA. Claimed battery life: Talk Time 10 hours, 9 days standby, 160 hours of PDA-only use.

Performance: 32 bit ARM9 RISC processor. Processor speed: not disclosed by manufacturer. Total memory: 56 Megs, 12 megs available to user. Can be expanded using MMC cards.

size: 6.1" x 2.25" x 1.03". Weight Approximately 8.6 oz.

Phone: GSM 1900MHz band (standard band for US GSM). 14.4k for data transmissions. No GPRS.

Audio: Built in speaker. Mic with voice recorder functionality.

Software: Symbian operating system. Personal Java, C++ support. Symbian Office for working with Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents. WWW & WAP browsers, Messaging application for email, Image viewer, video player, Real Player, several games, Calendar and Contacts.

Expansion: MMC (Multimedia card slot). 16 MB memory included.

 

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