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Nokia Surge

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What's hot: Affordable QWERTY smartphone.

What's not: plasticky, odd design not for everyone.


Reviewed August 4, 2009 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

Blame it on the US: this is the first Nokia we can recall that goes by a name rather than a number and it's one of the quirkiest looking phones out of their shop. Why is it our fault, fellow Americans? It seems that marketing departments have determined that we prefer names to model numbers and it's widely believed that we like oddly-shaped messaging phones. I imagine the fine Nokia folks back in Finland pondering our tastes and supposed inability to remember model numbers. But enough of that-- under its unique exterior, the Nokia Surge (6790 for those of you who like numbers) is at heart one of our favorite animals: an S60 smartphone running S60 3rd Edition, Feature Pack 2. It packs a slide-down QWERTY keyboard, 3G HSDPA on AT&T's bands, a strong HTML web browser and more robust email support than that offered on AT&T feature phones. AT&T and Nokia worked together to design this phone for the American market, though it is available overseas as the Nokia 6790 Slide.

Nokia Surge

The Nokia Surge is a compact phone, measuring 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.6 inches and weighing 4.39 ounces. It's smaller than the Quickfire and much smaller than the HTC Touch Pro2 (which would be named "The Tidal Wave" in comparison). For a smartphone, it's very reasonably priced at $79.99 with a 2 year contract. For those of you who are looking for a texting phone that does more than your last feature phone, yet works like a phone and isn't terribly complex, the Surge is a good choice.

Design and Ergonomics

This is a black plastic phone with a very high gloss front and medium gloss back. Both front and back attract and show fingerprint grease like mad. It lacks the chic metal good looks of the Nokia E71x-- also an S60 smartphone, but one that targets serious smartphone types thanks to its BlackBerry-esque design. The QVGA 320 x 240 pixel color display looks small at 2.4" diagonal thanks to the rather large surround. But the good news is there's room for a d-pad on the front face, along with call send and end buttons. In addition, there are two soft keys (hard to see unless backlighting is on) and a row of 3 application launcher buttons dedicated to the web browser, S60 applications screen and Nokia Messaging. The d-pad is very stiff and makes loud clicky sounds making it harder to use than it should be and annoyingly noisy.

The phone isn't ultra-ergonomic when held to the face for a call since it's wide but short. When in a call, the phone is meant to be held in portrait mode and when entering text in landscape mode. The phone has an accelerometer that automatically sets the display's orientation.

Nokia Surge

The charger port (under a rubber door, old Nokia round style), headset jack and speakerphone grille.

The volume keys are on the lower right side (when the phone is held in portrait mode) as is the camera key. The micro USB sync and charge port is on the left side and the 2.5mm stereo headset jack is up top along with the speakerphone (neither USB sync cable nor headset are included, typical of AT&T). The SDHC microSD card slot is under the battery door (but not under the battery) and that door comprises the entire back of the phone since the standard 1500 mAh high capacity battery is very large.

Nokia Surge

The keyboard is a pleasure to use: it's spacious with large keys and well-marked embedded numbers. If you want to dial a number from the home screen, you can use the embedded number pad without having to press the FN key. The black keys are backlit in white and offer good contrast, though the backlighting isn't very strong. The spacebar is oversized and there are shift keys on each side of the spacebar-- again, we like. The keys are flat rather than domed, but they give a good tactile click when pressed.

Nokia Surge




Phone and Web

The Nokia Surge is a quad band GSM world phone with EDGE that works on the all the world's GSM bands (850/900/1800/1900MHz). It has 3G HSDPA 3.6Mbps on AT&T's 850/1900MHz bands (it will work on EDGE overseas and when roaming on T-Mobile or in a non-AT&T 3G coverage area). Nokia's call quality and reception are in general excellent. In fact, the Surge has excellent reception on 3G and GSM, and very good quality. Calls aren't quite as sharp and clear as they are on Nokia N series and E series smartphones, but to be fair, those phones do cost more. Volume is good via earpiece and very loud with relatively little distortion via the loudspeaker located on the phone's bottom edge. The Nokia plays well with Bluetooth headsets and car kits (Nokias usually do) and we enjoyed good range and call quality with a variety of Bluetooth headsets including the Jawbone 2 and Plantronics Discovery 925.

The phone comes with speed dial, call history and Nokia's voice command which isn't the most accurate.

Nokia Surge

The web browser is Nokia's usual very good webkit-based S60 browser (Safari on the iPhone is also webkit-based). It does an excellent job of rendering HTML sites, supports SSL, Javascript including advanced scripting, multiple windows and it has a virtual cursor. If you're moving up from the average feature phone, the Surge's web browser will be a big improvement, and if you're used to S60 then you'll feel comfortable with the web experience.

Nokia's Messaging client is on-board. Messaging handles SMS, MMS and email messages. It works with any POP or IMAP provider as well as MS Exchange email. Messaging can handle multiple accounts, automatically check for new mail, notify you of new mail and subscribe to IMAP folders. It's not the prettiest email client on the planet, but it gets the job done. It has a setup wizard that can simplify setting up new email accounts.

AT&T also includes their Java-based Mobile Email email client usually found on feature phones. It's much less capable than Nokia's Messaging and we assume AT&T includes it only for their feature phone customers who are accustomed to it. They also include OZ Instant Messaging for AIM, Yahoo and Windows Live IM.

Nokia Surge

The micro USB port lives under the rubber door on this side.

Software and Syncing

The Nokia Surge runs on the Symbian 9.3 OS with Nokia's S60 3rd Edition, Feature Pack 2. Like all S60 Nokia smartphones, you can sync with Outlook in Windows via USB (AT&T doesn't include a cable) and Bluetooth. Nokia usually develops iSync plugins for Mac OS X users, but they hadn't posted one on their website as of this writing. The Surge comes with Nokia's usual suite of PIM applications: contacts with myriad fields, calendar, tasks and notes. Quickoffice 4.2 is included and it can edit, read and write MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint files (but not MS Office 2007 format, which requires a paid upgrade to a newer version of Quickoffice). Adobe Reader LE is on board for PDFs, and there is a group of useful Nokia apps: calculator, unit converter, Message Reader (reads messages aloud), settings wizards, profiles and a file manager.

Multimedia comes in several forms from Nokia's own music player that handles MP3, AAC and WMA files to Real Player, CV, AT&T Music (Napster) and Flash Lite 3.0. The phone works with stereo 2.5mm headsets (not included) and A2DP Bluetooth stereo headsets and headphones. There's an SDHC microSD card slot to store tunes and video.

Applications are arranged in folders, as per S60's usual convention. You can move things around, create your own folders and customize the active home screen with calendar, messaging and other info along with adding 6 application/website quick launch icons. You can't remove the AT&T's horde of applications and trial-ware however. These include the usual suspects: AT&T Navigator, Yellow Pages, AT&T Mall, Mobile Banking, Mobile Email, XM Radio and many demo games.

The Surge runs on the same 369MHz single core ARM family CPU used on many other recent Nokia S60 phones. The phone is generally responsive, though we experienced occasional 1 to 2 second lags a few times per day. This is more pronounced when many applications are running in the background. The phone has 128 megs of RAM (program memory) and 256 megs of flash ROM with approximately 115 megs free for you to use as storage.

GPS and Camera

AT&T Navigator (a $10/month service or $5/month with a data plan) offers spoken turn-by-turn directions, POIs, traffic info and re-routing and more. It does a very good job of providing cogent directions and the maps are generally quite up to date. Thanks to the Surge's loud speaker, you should have no trouble hearing directions in anything more tame than a Ferrari. The GPS uses assisted GPS to speed location fixes and the phone was very fast at getting locations and even managed inside near a window. We didn't experience lag at highway speeds, which can be a problem with phone GPS. Though not terribly large, the display is sharp and is visible outdoors (though it loses some color and contrast). For those of you who don't want spoken directions, Google Maps works perfectly on the Surge.

The 2 megapixel camera has no flash and no autofocus-- so don't get too excited. The good news is that it takes very nice photos for a low spec camera, the kind that don't look grainy and atrocious when transferred to a computer. Colors are good, white balance is reasonable and there's little noise outdoors (plenty indoors). There's obvious image-twiddling and some healthy sharpening here, but Nokia does it well and the images look better for it. Video maxes out at QVGA 320 x 240 at 15 fps which isn't impressive but once again, colors and sharpness are good thanks to in-camera processing.

Nokia Surge


The Nokia Surge comes with a huge battery both in size and capacity. The Nokia BP-4L Lithium Ion battery is 1500 mAh, and that's about as high capacity a battery as you'll find standard in any phone. Given the lack of WiFi, the smallish display and lack of a camera flash, this phone is the Energizer Bunny among 3G smartphones. With moderate use, it easily lasted us 2 to 3 days. The GPS eats battery fast, and CV streaming video consumes more power than any other application.


This quirky looking Nokia is indeed a good budget smartphone. We get so few S60 smartphones in the US via a carrier (most are sold as unlocked phones sans contract) that it's great to see the affordable Nokia Surge join its more expensive business-oriented big brother the Nokia E71x in AT&T's lineup. Obviously it's meant as an entry-level smartphone and upgraded messaging phone rather than a competitor to the $700 Nokia N97, but for the price it offers a heck of a lot: a great QWERTY keyboard, strong reception, good call quality and a very good GPS. And the battery life is commendable too.

Pro: Very affordable smartphone. Very good QWERTY keyboard, excellent GPS. Strong reception and good voice quality. Great speakerphone.

Con: Unlike the overseas version, there's no WiFi. Ugly duckling design. Stiff and noisy d-pad.Once in a while the phone lags.


Web sites:,

Price: $79.99 with a 2 year contract, $279 without contract

Display: 24 bit color TFT LCD. Screen size diagonally: 2.4". Resolution: 240 x 320, supports both portrait and landscape modes. Rotates screen when keyboard is deployed and when the phone is rotated. Has accelerometer and ambient light sensor.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable, Nokia BP-4L. Battery is user replaceable. 1500 mAh. Claimed talk time is 4 hours on 3G and 4.5 hours on GSM. Claimed standby is 16 days. Claimed music playback time: up to 17 hours.

Performance: 369MHz ARM11 single core CPU. 128 megs RAM, 256 megs flash ROM with 115 megs available for storage.

Size: 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.6 inches. Weight: 4.39 ounces.

Phone: GSM quad band world phone 850/900/1800/1900MHz with EDGE and 3G HSDPA on AT&T's 850/1900MHz bands.

Camera: 2.0MP, 1600 x 1200 max photo resolution with 4x digital zoom. No flash or self-portrait mirror. Can record video at QVGA resolution 320 x 240, at 15fps.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 2.5mm stereo headphone jack (headset not included). Music player, CV support, Real Player and Flash Lite 3.0 Supports MTP music transfer. Has FM radio.

Networking: Integrated Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR. Bluetooth profiles: A2DP, AVDTP, AVRCP, BIP, BPP, DUN, FAX, FTP, GAP, GAVDP, GOEP, HFP, HID, HSP, OPP, PBAP, SAP, SDAP.

Software: Symbian OS 9.3. S60 3rd Edition, Feature Pack 2. Flash lite 3.0, Java VM and the usual S60 suite of applications including a full PIM suite, file manager, profiles, webkit-based full HTML web browser, Messaging (Nokia's email, SMS and MMS client), Real Player, Clock, Converter, Message Reader (reads messages aloud), Settings Wizard, Calculator, Adobe PDF viewer and QuickOffice 4.1(read, edit and create MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents). AT&T applications: CV streaming video, AT&T Navigator,Yellow Pages, MediaMall, AT&T Music, OZ Instant Messaging for AOL, Yahoo and Windows Live, AT&T's Java-based email client and a boatload of demo games.

Expansion: 1 SDHC microSD card slot.


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