Reviewed March 28, 2006 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
The Nokia 9500 and its little brother, the Nokia 9300 series, are the successors to Nokia’s last generation of Communicator devices such as the 9290 Communicator. The new generation of devices continues to target the enterprise market with a wide screen and full QWERTY keyboard that resembles a mini laptop. These new devices run on Symbian OS 7 with Series 80 UI and are packed with full PIM applications, an office suite and easy synchronization with PCs.
The Nokia 9500 is the larger one of the new generation of Communicators equipped with a 640 x 200 pixel 4.5” display, Bluetooth and WiFi for connectivity and music and video applications for multimedia. The Nokia 9500 is a GSM phone operating on the 900/1800/1900 MHz bands and it has GPRS and EDGE for data. The built-in VGA camera isn’t going to impress anyone, but it’s good enough for taking photo IDs for your contacts database and it can shoot video with audio. Throw in an email client, a web browser and a full size MMC Card slot, you’ve got a powerful mobile devices that’s connected and expandable. The 9500 isn't offered by US carriers, but it's sold unlocked by importers and direct from Nokia's web site.
In the Box
The package includes the Nokia 9500, a syncing and charging desk cradle, USB 2.0 connectivity cable, AC charger, Pop-Port mono headset, 128MB MultiMedia Card, CD-ROM with PC Suite and bundled companion desktop software and a printed user manual.
Design and Ergonomics
Measuring 5.83 x 2.24 x 0.94 inches, the Nokia 9500 is the Goliath of phones. It’s noticeably larger than the Nokia 9300 (a large device in its own right) and is significantly bigger than its competitors such as the Cingular 8125. What does it offer in such a big package? A very nice 4.5” diagonal screen, a full QWERTY keyboard along with a dedicated row of application launcher buttons, a 5-way scrolling stick and a row of in-app menu buttons. Nokia also fitted a camera, a Bluetooth radio, a WiFi radio and a 1300 mAh battery in the phone.
Holding the Nokia 9500 feels about the same as when holding a small cordless phone. When closed, the Nokia looks like a large candy bar phone with a large number pad (which lights up when a key is pressed) on the front face and two soft selection keys, a 5-way scrolling key and the call send and end buttons above it. You will find the 128 x 128 color display above the keys and the earpiece above the display. The power key that sits next to the earpiece can turn on or off the cell radio. The loudspeaker that’s convenient for conference calls sits on top of the phone while the Pop-Port connector for the USB data cable and headsets, the charger connector, the mic and IR port on the bottom of the Nokia. On the back of the 9500, you will find the VGA camera lens and large battery door which hides the user replaceable battery, the SIM card slot and the MMC (Multimedia Card) slot. You need not remove the battery to swap the MMC card, but you must remove the battery door.
When opened, the Nokia can sit on your desktop like a very small laptop. You can use two fingers type on the 5-row QWERTY keyboard. The keys a slightly domed and have good tactile feedback. You will find a dedicated number row and a dedicated quick launcher row that launches Desk, Telephone, Messaging, Web, Contacts, Documents, Calendar and My own applications by one key press. There is a raised joystick on the bottom right of the keypad that you can use to control the cursor on the screen and a Menu key in the bottom right corner that can bring up in-application menu items. The joystick is easy to use and shouldn’t present you with a long learning curve, that is if you’re right-handed. The keyboard offers some additional shortcuts to the Euro symbol, quick launch keys for Bluetooth, IR and screen brightness. The only thing off-putting is the“period” key, which is located to the left of the spacebar.
Size Comaparison: the Cingular 8125 (HTC Wizard) Windows Mobile Pocket PC Phone, Nokia 9500 Communicator and the Nokia 6682 S60 smartphone
The Nokia 6682, Nokia 9500 and Cingular 8125
You can set the screen panel at various angles since the hinges are stiff enough to hold the screen at any position you desire, though the screen doesn’t open to 180 degrees flat. Next to the display on the right, you will find 4 quick action buttons which provide access to commonly accessed functions that change context depending on the current application. On the back of the phone, there are two thin rubber strips that prevent the phone from slipping on the desktop while you are typing on the keyboard.
The Nokia 9500 comes with a desk charge/sync cradle and can be charged via the cradle or directly using the AC charger.
Phone Features and Reception
The Nokia 9500 is a triband GSM cell phone that operates on 900/1800/1900 MHz. In the US, T-Mobile operates on the 1900 MHz band and Cingular operates on 850 MHz and 1900 MHz. No carrier is offering the Nokia 9500 yet in the US, but you can buy it unlocked and use it with any SIM (if you’re a Cingular or old AT&T GSM customer you may not get the best service due to the lack of 850 MHz support). We tested the Nokia 9500 on the US T-Mobile network and the phone got great reception in well-covered areas and decent reception even in areas where T-Mobile coverage is spotty. The voice quality is very good and volume is loud through the phone’s earpiece. The loudspeaker is very loud and works well in noisy environments. You adjust the incoming call volume by pressing left or right on the 5-way d-pad during a call, just as with non-Communicator Nokia phones. When you open the clamshell, the loudspeaker will turn on automatically. The voice quality is very good via the included mono Pop-Port headset and the volume is loud.
The Nokia 9500 supports quite a few phone features including speed dialing (it can store 8 speed dialing numbers), conference calls, diverting calls, call barring, last number redialing and more. All the numbers in your call log can be saved into you Contacts application or you can assign speed dial number key for any record in your log. There are 6 profiles (General, Silent, Meeting, Outdoor, Pager and Offline) on the Nokia 9500 and you can access to the Profiles anywhere on the phone. Most of the applications have a Profile icon on its manual bar, in case you need to change the profile in a hurry while accessing other applications.
The Nokia 9500 has multi-slot class 10 GPRS for data with EDGE support. We got an average of 55 to 60k in EDGE areas. That’s not terribly impressive, but data speeds were much better when using the 9500 as a Bluetooth modem over DUN (dialup networking). We tested it with the Nokia 770 and got 120-130k using the 9500 as a modem. So the Nokia 9500 is not that slow at data transfer, rather the browser and OS are the bottlenecks.
Messaging and Web
Targeting the enterprise market and power users, the Nokia 9500 comes with a native email client and a web browser. The Messaging application handles sending, receiving and managing your email messages, text message, multimedia messages and the cell broadcast messages as well as fax. The email client supports multiple email accounts as well as the SMTP, IMAP4 (rev 1) and POP3 protocols, and you can send and receive attachments. You can also choose to work online or offline. When you are in online mode, the Nokia connects to a remote mailbox via an Internet connection, and you can delete, rename or create new folders in your remote mailbox server. When you choose to work offline, you can create, respond and delete the messages on the Nokia, and when the next time you connect to the remote mailbox, your messages will be send and actions taken. The Nokia 9500 doesn’t come with the IM+ client found on the 9300 series for Instant Messaging.
The wide screen display is a luxury for web browsing in the world of cell phones. The Nokia 9500 bundles Opera with a custom Nokia UI that has a nice set of features including full screen viewing mode, bookmark management, a flash plug-in pre-installed and managing cache and cookies. While the features are desirable, the speed isn’t. On the EDGE network, the browser managed about 60k as measured using DSL Reports mobile speed test. Even WiFi browsing is slow relative to other WiFi enabled mobile devices such as the Cingular 8125, T-Mobile MDA and Verizon XV6700. The problem here isn't the fine browser or data transfer speeds, but rather the underpowered 150MHz CPU which ensures that complex web pages commonly found on the web render slowly.
Horsepower and Performance
The Nokia 9500 runs on an ARM processor at 150 MHz, which is not terribly powerful considering the feature-rich applications that phone can run (heck even the S60 Nokia 6682 has a 220Mhz ARM processor). However the phone doesn’t take long to launch applications and can run multimedia applications like RealPlayer and Music Player just fine. Certain tasks are very slow like web page rendering, as mentioned earlier. The device has 80MB of built-in memory, 46MB of which is free after installing most of the bundled software on the device. The Nokia has about 22MB of RAM free to run programs, and that is a healthy amount by Symbian standards. For more space to store your contacts, photos, videos and music, you can use an MMC card to expand the memory (yes, that’s the full sized MMC card, not the RS-MMC cards used by other recent Nokia phones). The MMC is hot swappable which means you don’t have to turn off the phone to insert or remove the memory card, however you will need open the battery door to insert or remove the MMC card. And do remember to put the door back on or the phone won’t see the card.
Display, Sound and Multimedia
The 4.5” wide screen display on the Nokia 9500 is sharp and bright. The transflective LCD is capable of displaying 65K colors and the images look color saturated on the display. The 640 x 200 resolution is great for viewing web sites, emails, documents, spreadsheets and panoramic photos. The outer smaller display also supports 65K colors in 128 x 128 resolution.
Sound quality through the earpiece and the included mono headset is quite good and volume loud. If you want to listen to music, you might want to invest in a $30 stereo Pop-Port headset that sound much better for playing music and video with audio. The bundled music player supports AAC, AMR (NB-AMR), MIDI Tones (poly 24), MP3 and WAV formats.
Video playback has decent quality using the included RealPlayer. You can play 3GPP standard H.263 profile 0 level 10 video codec with audio encoded in narrowband AMR, MPEG4 SVP level 0 video using the 3GP file format for playback only, and RealVideo 8 RealAudio 8 for video streaming. Videos recorded with the 9500 shows some blocky frames, but audio is in sync with the video.
In today’s booming imaging phone market, the meager VGA camera on the Nokia 9500 is much dwarfed by the 1.3 megapixel cameras found near on all smartphones and many feature phones. Nokia’s own Nseries of devices and even the Nokia 7610 and 6682 have set such high standards for camera quality that it makes one wonder why Nokia bothered with a VGA camera for the 9500. Naturally the VGA camera on the 9500 reflects its class when taking photos and videos. The camera can take photos up to 640 x 480 resolution with 1 level of digital zoom and can take videos with audio in 3GPP format (H.263). You must use the camera while the phone is in closed position since it used the exterior display as the viewfinder.
The Nokia 9500 camera offers a limited set of options for take still photos. You can set the camera to capture photos in VGA resolution or smaller thumbnail size for your photo caller IDs; there is also a night mode for taking photos in very dark places. You can set the image quality to default or high and adjust the brightness and contrast of the photos to certain extend. The photo quality is about what you expect from a VGA camera. In high quality mode, the camera takes the best photos in an indoor environment with ample balanced lighting. Sunny outdoor shots are often over exposed not only in white parts of the photo but also in color-rich areas. The color saturation is good in indoor well lit areas and outdoor shots (where colors aren’t over exposed), but the camera tends to lose color saturation in low light conditions.
The Nokia can take videos up to one hour or when the available memory maxed out. You can set it to save the videos to the card or internal memory as you can with photos. Using the default length, you can capture 10-second videos with or without sound. The video quality is as good as a VGA camera can manage. The videos are bright and reasonably color saturated, but show ghosting. The audio is loud and in sync with the video. You can view the videos using the bundled RealPlayer, send them as MMS or copy/save them to the flash card.
The Nokia 9500 has integrated Bluetooth 1.1 and supports many profiles including Generic Access profile, Serial Port profile, Dial-Up Networking (DUN) profile, GOE (Generic Object Exchange) profile, Object Push profile, File Transfer profile and Handsfree profile. What do all these profiles mean? They mean that you can wireless transfer files to and fro the Nokia to desktop machines and other mobile devices, sync the Nokia wireless, use the 9500 as a modem for your laptop, and use Bluetooth wireless headset.
If you PC Suite installed, you can sync the Nokia 9500 to your PC wirelessly. Using the device as a modem for your notebook proves easy on both Windows and Macs and throughput is quite good.
The Nokia 9500 works well with variety of Bluetooth headsets. It reliably connected to all headsets we tested it with and has support for features such as last number redial, call waiting and more. Once you paired the Nokia with a headset, you can authorize the headset by pressing on the Edit button. This will allow your headset to connect with the Nokia when a call comes in without asking for permission to connect with the handset. The voice quality via headsets range from good to great; the voice quality preformed the best with the Motorola H700 Bluetooth headset and achieved the longest range (about 12 feet between the phone and the headset) with this headset as well. The voice quality on the Cardo Scala 500 and the Gennum nXZen headsets was good, but lacks a bit of the clarity found on the Motorola headset. The incoming call volume was loud via all headsets in our tests and the outgoing volume is high on the H700 and a bit lower on the nXZen. The call hand-off between the Nokia and the all headset worked smoothly. The Bluetooth radio does has some impact on the battery life, but not by much.
The Nokia 9500 has integrated WiFi 802.11b, and supports 64 and 128 bit WEP data encryption. As mentioned, web browsing isn’t lightening fast despite WiFi’s broadband speeds but mail download is downright speedy.
The Nokia 9500 comes with a generous 1300 mAh Li-ion battery (3.7V). The battery is user replaceable. It lives under the battery door next to the MMC and SIM card slot. You can charge the battery using either the desk cradle when it’s connected to the AC or a computer via USB while in the office, or you can charge the phone using the travel AC charger on the road.
The Nokia 9500 has an Offline mode, when it’s activated it will turn off all the radios on the phone including the cell phone radio, Bluetooth and WiFi radios. You can reactivate the Bluetooth and WiFi radio by exiting the Offline mode and hold the power button on the upper right corner of the front face to activate the cell phone radio. You can still use the PIM functions and office applications even when the radios are turned off.
The battery life is amazing considering it needs to power the large color display and the 9500’s cell radio, Bluetooth radio and WiFi radio. The digital talk time is good for a device this size and you should get at least 4 hours of talk time. The standby time is very long. Depending on the tasks you perform with the device, the device should last you for 5-7 days with moderate use of talking on the phone, PIM access and light music playing. If you are a power user who uses the WiFi, Bluetooth consistently, talks over an hour on the phone and play some videos, you will probably need to charge the device every 2 or 3 days. We played MP3s for 40 minutes with Bluetooth on and WiFi off, talked for 20 minutes, paired 3 headsets with the phone and worked on a document for 10 minutes, and we barely managed to use up one bar of the 7 bars in the battery indicator.
Like the Nokia 9300 series, the 9500 runs on Symbian OS v7 with Nokia’s Series 80 user interface. Past Communicator users will be familiar with the “Desk” screen that is the starting point for accessing all functions on the phone. The applications and functions on the Nokia 9500 are filed into 5 Desk folders. The Personal folder includes Telephone, Contacts, Messaging and Calendar. You can set up your phone’s profiles, ringtones, speed dials, voice mails and more in the Telephone application. Contacts application is where you can create, edit and manage your contact database. You can store the database on the internal memory, the SIM card or a flash card. You can insert photos as photo caller ID to a contact record and assign a ringtone to a record as well. The Contacts applications also supports groups where you can create a group for a number of contacts, and it has support for building your own templates should you find the default template inadequate for your contacts data. Messaging launches the messaging center where you can download and access your email messages, text messages and multimedia messages. The email system on the 9500 supports SMTP, IMAP4 (rev 1) and POP3, and you can check multiple email accounts. You can also choose to download or send attachments with your email messages. The Calendar application offers 7 views including month view, week view, day view, weekly time schedule view, year schedule view, anniversaries view and to-do lists view. For each calendar entry you can add notes, alarms with repeat options and completion and synchronization options to the event.
For road warriors, the Nokia 9500 offers a nice set of Office tools that allow you to create, edit and manager your documents, spreadsheets and presentations on the go. The Document application allows you to create text files with support for tables, objects and provides font, bullets, borders, spacing and more options for the look and feel of your text. You can use the Sheet application to work with your spreadsheets. The application supports creating and importing Excel files and charts. The Presentations tool can not only view presentations but also create presentations right on the Nokia, and the software allows you to insert images, shapes and tables along with text. Like PowerPoint on the desktop, the Nokia’s Presentations provides you with multiple view options such as slide view, outline view, notes view and slide master view. You can hook up a compatible project to show your presentation (if the projector has a driver) or print your slides when you’ve set up a printer for your Nokia.
In addition to the Office applications, the Nokia 9500 also comes with a File manager which allows you to manage your files, folders stored on the device and on the memory card. Search function works well in the File manager and you can even set a password for your memory card in File Manager. Other software tools include Acrobat reader, Zip manager for compressing/decompressing zipped files, calculator, unit converter and more.
Like all high-end Nokia phones, the 9500 comes with a full version of PC Suite for syncing and file transfer with Windows desktops. You can use PC Suite to back up the data on your phone using Nokia Content Copier, synchronize your phone with Outlook or install any application that supports Series 80 devices. In addition, you can burn music CDs and copy songs to your Nokia via PC Suite, add contacts, store images and perform more functions. There is also a connection manager that can walk you through setting up your phone as a modem for the desktop/laptop in the PC Suite. Combine the feature-rich PC Suite desktop software and the USB cable included with the phone, you’ve got a powerful phone plus data device that can handle extensive business tasks on the go and share data easily when docked.
A full-featured communications device backed by a solid hardware built and a large library of Symbian applications. Large screen, software suite and the QWERTY keyboard give road warriors an experience that's closer to a mini-laptop.
Pro: It’s like having an office in your pocket. The 640 x 200 widescreen display makes viewing documents, web sites and email a pleasure. The QWERTY keyboard with dedicated number row and quick launch buttons are a rare find on a cell phone. Phone reception is good and data speed is good when using the phone as a modem. WiFi and Bluetooth keep you connected and hands free while the full suite of PIM software and Office apps keep you working even on the road. Synchronizing using the PC Suite software is sweet!
Con: The device is very large and heavy, and it certainly won’t fit in your shirt pocket. Web browsing is slow, even using WiFi thanks to the relatively slow CPU. No push email support and no IM client bundled. No 850Mhz band makes this a poor choice for Cingular and AT&T Wireless customers (fine for T-Mobile and those outside the US). No vibrate feature.