I have been a PDA user for many years (since the Psion 3 although I’m no Psion groupie … I’ve been through Palm devices and the Sharp Zaurus on the way to the E90), and have carried a separate phone. This of course has disadvantages in that the PDA is not generally “connected” and it is all too often left behind when you don’t think it will be needed … for instance on the little 70 minute stroll I’ve just taken. I’ve always been intrigued by the Nokia Communicators not least because they had more or less evolved from the old Psion 5 (which had the best damn keyboard that a PDA has ever had and probably will ever have), but had always steered clear because I had always stuck with the phone provided by my mobile provider.
I eventually (early 2007) went SIM-free mostly because the free phones provided with a phone contract were getting nastier and nastier, and got myself a Nokia N80i. Then I heard about the E90 and kept thinking about ‘converging’ my PDA and phone, and when it became available hit the button to get one. It turned up yesterday afternoon (after a whole day of waiting in for it 🙁 ).
Opening The Box
After clearing away a few freebies provided by the phone seller … including a pointless piece of ribbon for dangling the phone around someone’s neck (not mine! Being a little more paranoid than most I don’t like providing an attacker with a ready made garrotte), and a mysterious 10cm circle of sticky silicon, I find the phone. Big and red.
Take a 3cm thick A5 pad and chop into three equal sized pads and you get something more or less the same size. Small enough that it will still fit in my front jeans pocket, but big enough that it is now difficult to take notes out … time to rethink how I organise my pockets or possibly get one of those quaint belt cases. Picking it up and you instantly realise that you are holding something that is not cheap and nasty.
The battery compartment cover is a bit fiddly, but not so much so that if you swap batteries regularly you will dread that time coming. The slot for the SIM is great … just slide it in rather than have some kind of nasty bracket in there to make things fiddly. Put the battery in and you’re ready to go … nice that the battery is provided with some juice in it unlike some high tech gadgets where you are supposed to charge the battery overnight before turning the device on.
Getting the 1Gb mSD card inserted is no more fiddly than any fiddling with mSD cards is. Who decided mSD was a good idea anyway ? SD cards themselves are small enough themselves, mSD is too small; accidentally drop it onto a shag-pile carpet and you’ll spend half an hour hunting for it. Not that I have such a carpet of course!
And no Nokia pop-tart connector! Instead you get a mini-USB connector and a 2.5mm headphone/microphone connector. That is a relief … the engineer who came up with the pop-port was obviously coming off a 10-day bender … ok concept, awful execution.
I plunged straight in … just opened the clamshell and started using the big screen and keyboard. Kind of a surprise seeing the old Nokia startup graphics on an 800-pixel wide screen. The screen itself is bright and sharp, and probably perfectly readable outside. The default font is kind of large on such a screen (but is tweakable so you can see more on screen). The keyboard is pretty good as well. Although not a particularly full travel each key does give positive feedback, better than the Zaurus! However it is kind of small and it is all too hard to miss the key you are aiming for and hit another by mistake (although I have noticed my accuracy towards the end of this ‘first few hours’ has improved). Odd because by reducing the over-sized ‘special’ keys at both sides of the qwerty pad it should be possible to make the main keys ever so slightly bigger.
Straight from the beginning, the E90 was perfectly functional as a phone; a quick delve into the “Data Mover” and my contacts from the N80i (and gallery contents, notes, etc) were flashed across bluetooth onto the E90. A quick bit of configuration and the phone is online using my WifI router. Following my own instructions and my calendar was synced to the corporate calendar. At this point I was effectively finished at setting things up with the exception of figuring out some way of getting my iqnotes data onto this phone (some hacking with Perl to import them into ActiveNotes).
Shut, the phone actually works better for receiving or making calls than an ordinary mobile; the size is more comfortable and unlike the N80i it doesn’t try to rip out my beard. The keys on the top are larger than modern phones and easier to use; with the exception of the “green” and “red” buttons which share space with a total of six buttons and the navikey. It makes it difficult to hit the right key and there is plenty of space for an additional row of keys. Kind of irritating as I can see myself using the “smartphone” functions in closed mode very rarely and the additional keys are only necessary when using the “smartphone” functions.
However the screen whilst relatively small for a smartphone (it is after all, effectively just a secondary screen) is pretty good and perfectly visible outside (I did test the small screen outside) although I have not had the opportunity to test it in bright sunlight (currently rather rare in the UK). It is even readable enough in powersave mode to read the time (something I sometimes found tricky on the N80).
Following the instructions to ‘re-install’ Truphone (my VoIP provider of choice seeing as it is a UK company, and currently gives me free calls to UK landlines in addition to many other destinations) and it was on the phone and ready for testing. A quick phone call showed everything was working fine. The provided headset seems to be even better than the one provided with the N80i and would probably work perfectly well for listening to music.
Truphone itself is almost invisible disappearing seamlessly into the native interface, just allowing the “Internet” option to the “Call” menu to function via Truphone. I only use Truphone at home, but I see there are multiple profiles to allow Truphone to work in multiple locations with different Internet connections.
I am not normally one for browsing the web on a small screen, but the Nokia web browser on the E90’s screen works well enough that I used it to visit my Del.icio.us bookmarks for the Nokia smartphones (mislabelled Nokia_N80) to download additional tools (well I also used the native “Download!” thing as well). Incidentally if you haven’t already tried it, using Del.icio.us for your bookmarks is quite useful when you have more than one computer to use them from … assuming you don’t mind your bookmarks being public of course!
The browser will “zoom out” to display an overview of the entire web page if you keep travelling around the page too long. Possibly more useful on a smaller screen than the E90’s where it does seem to get in the way. Another oddity is that the “Back” button we find in all browsers does not just go back to the previous page, but gives you a scrollable list of overviews so you can travel back more than one page easily. Perhaps it is just something one needs to get used to, but I frequently found myself going back further than I intended.
This one is definitely a keeper, and I’ll probably be keeping it for quite a long time. It does pretty much everything I need although a serial port would be nice for those odd occasions when I need something portable to connect to the console of a Sun E6900 (there is something oddly perverted about using a handheld computer for controlling an enterprise computer with more CPU cores than is easy to count and is the size of a full rack). Many of the “rough edges” I have noticed so far, are things I will get used to like the size of the keyboard, etc.
The only disappointment has been the GPS device which won’t work although that is probably because mostly I’ve been trying it indoors … not wise!
Now I’m off to throw that mysterious silicon circle against the wall for amusement … it sticks!