- Well integrated communications facilities
- remarkably usable keyboard
- Relatively large and heavy
- uses proprietary expansion port
Nokia’s Communicator range of smartphones has had a long history, and the new 9500 model (like the more 'prosumer'-oriented 9300 due next year) shares a basic hardware design with its predecessors. Although some maintain that the Communicator, with its non-touch-sensitive screen and 'phone outside, handheld inside' clamshell form factor, is too large to be an everyday phone and not usable enough to be a handheld, others disagree. Nokia clearly believes the product has a large enough following to warrant an update, and the 9500 Communicator brings the range bang up to date.
Design The 9500 Communicator is like no handheld you’ve ever seen -- unless it's another Communicator. At first glance the device looks like an oversized mobile phone, and indeed you can hold it to your ear and make voice calls. But you need to open it up, clamshell style, to see its full array of features. Inside is a QWERTY keyboard and wide, narrow screen. Not surprisingly, the case required to house all this is big, although Nokia has managed to slim down this new Communicator compared to its immediate predecessor, the 9210i. The 9500 Communicator measures 148mm wide by 57mm deep by 24mm high and weighs 222g. That's not the kind of device you can slip into a shirt pocket and forget about. This is a tool designed primarily for business people who require access to data and communications facilities on the move. It's certainly no fashion accessory, as is immediately apparent in the hardware design, which is suitably utilitarian. Three-tone grey, black and silver with nothing too obtrusive or ostentatious are the key look-and-feel characteristics.
Features The 9500 Communicator runs on Symbian OS 7 and the Series 80 platform, and should cope with software designed for previous Communicators. It's important that a business tool provides a full range connectivity options, and the 9500 duly offers GSM/GPRS (plus EGPRS or EDGE), Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Nokia has also chosen to also add a camera, even though many companies may see this feature as more of a drawback than a benefit. Nokia has been clever when it comes to RAM. Business users are likely to have relatively heavy data requirements, so it's good to see 80MB of storage memory. This is Flash storage, so it will survive if the battery drains completely. You can augment this using memory cards, although it's a shame Nokia has chosen MultiMedia Card, which doesn't allow you attach peripherals. For this, you’ll have to rely on Nokia's Pop-Port interface, which limits your scope. The memory slot sits under the battery cover, but not under the battery itself, which makes cards easy to swap yet relatively secure. The main screen is 640 pixels wide by 200 pixels tall, and measures 110mm wide by 36mm tall. It offers 65,536 colours (16-bit colour). The 16-bit colour screen on the front of the device, which comes into play when using the Communicator 9500 in phone style, has a 128-by-128 pixel resolution. Within many applications you can choose to use the full width of the screen or just 90mm of it. In the latter case a margin to the left shows information such as battery charge level and radio signal status, while one on the right offers application-dependent options. Up to four options are possible, and they are selected via four buttons on the right-hand edge of the device. The idea is that you get manoeuvrability within applications without having to call up the menus that are also available and provide a fuller range of options. It's an intuitive system, unchanged from earlier Communicators, and we appreciate the fact that the user has control of which of the two modes to work in. The supplied software range reflects this device's target market well. There's a contact manager, calendar and an integrated messaging tool that copes with email, MMS, SMS and fax; you get a word processor, spreadsheet and presentations tool -- all three compatible with Microsoft Office; a calculator, Web browser, image viewer, voice recorder, music and video players are also present. The software suite is topped off by a notes application that lets you save short texts to the main screen -- which Nokia calls the Desk -- with the minimum of key presses. The Installation CD offers a ZIP file manager and a PDF viewer among its additional tools, as well as desktop synchronisation software.
Performance Our test device was not quite a final version, so we were not able to benchmark the battery. In general, though, we found this to operate within Nokia’s suggested range of 4 to 10 hours of talktime, 200 to 300 hours on standby with Wi-Fi off, and 180 to 240 hours Wi-Fi on. We survived for a couple of overnight trips between recharges. We were able to test the device's general usability and the software. On the usability front, it's the keyboard that impressed us the most. This includes full QWERTY keys, a number row and above that a row of application shortcuts (one of which is user customisable), along with a range of extra buttons incluing a navigation key. The QWERTY keys are small (10mm wide, 7mm tall) and there's no air space between them. They are too small for touch typing, but we found them plenty big enough for reasonably fast two-fingered or two-thumbed typing. Connectivity options are well thought-out. We had no difficulty joining our wireless network or using our T-Mobile SIM to access the Internet, and we paired with a Bluetooth headset (Motorola’s new HS850) and successfully made voice calls, all very easily and with no fuss. Wireless connections are managed via a common interface, so that, for example, you open the Web browser, tap in a Web address and are then asked which available option you would like to use -- your wireless network, your network operator or whatever else might be around. Nokia even offers a public Wi-Fi hotspot finder that will locate the nearest ones. True to its corporate focus, the 9500 Communicator incorporates SSL, VPN, Ipsec and WPA. The software is, for the most part, intuitive to use, and what it lacks in bells and whistles it makes up for in continuity of use across different applications. It's possible, for example, to configure groups of contacts in one application and then write a single message to go to each member of a group in another. As already noted, the £499.99 (inc. VAT) 9500 Communicator is designed for a specific market -- the mobile professional requiring good access to contacts, basic office documents and communications. It manages these functions very well, and although it's large and somewhat unwieldy, the 9500's clean-cut, functional approach is appealing. Outside its niche the 9500 Communicator feels clunky and lacking any 'wow' factor. Within its niche, though, it covers the bases very nicely.