While at the CTIA Wireless trade show this week, I was given a demonstration of the upcoming 9500 Communicator, a cellular-wireless handheld that runs the Symbian OS.
The 9500 uses a clamshell design. It has been configured to be used as a phone when the clamshell is closed. There’s even a keypad and a small screen on the outside to display phone-related information.
Accustomed as I am to Palm OS and Pocket PC models, the 9500’s main screen took a bit of getting used to. It is 640 pixels wide, which is nice, but only 200 pixels high. Using it is a bit like looking at your data through a mail slot.
This screen uses Nokia’s Series 80 interface. This is nice, as it can run applications written for previous Series 80 devices. On the other hand, it isn’t a touch screen. Everything has to be done with the keyboard and D-Dad.
Though it has a lot to offer, this isn’t a small device. When closed, it is 5.8 inches tall, 2.25 inches wide and 0.9 inches thick and weighs 7.8 ounces. Still, it is somewhat smaller than previous 9000 series models.
The 9500 is one of several models from different companies that offer multiple forms of wireless networking. It has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GSM/GPRS. Fortunately, it will be a tri-band device, with the U.S. version supporting 850 MHz. It will even be able to connect to the new high-speed EDGE networks.
Unfortunately, I got to hear about all this wireless networking, not test it out. The show floor at the CTIA Wireless show where I was using the 9500 was a witches brew of RF interference.
Naturally, it is able to handle email (POP3, SMTP, IMAP4, and SyncML) and also SMS and MMS. It includes a web browser that supports xHTML.
At the heart of the 9500 is Symbian 7.0, but, as I mentioned before, its main screen employs Nokia’s Series 80 user interface. This decision has proved to be somewhat controversial, as Nokia unveiled last fall an updated version of this, called Series 90. The new version allows touch screens and higher-resolution displays, and some people are unhappy it wasn’t used in this model.
When I checked out Motorola’s MPx this week, it was definitely in prototype stage and very unstable. Nokia’s 9500, on the other hand, was rock solid. I had no problems with any of the applications when I was using it. I’m not sure why this model won’t be available for months; it seems ready to go now.
The 9500 Communicator comes with applications that allow users to view and edit Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. There’s no word yet on how well a native Office file will survive being edited on the handheld and emailed back to someone.
This wireless handheld has some serious corporate backing. It will come with IBM’s WebSphere Everyplace Access Client and WebSphere Everyplace Connection Manager Client. A 9500 version of the Lotus Sametime Instant Messaging Client will also be available.
Thanks to the WebSphere Micro Environment, it is able to run Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) applications.
There is plenty of room for additional files and software, as the 9500 has 80 MB of Storage available to users.
It also includes an MMC slot for additional storage. Be careful, this does not allow the use of SD cards. The slot is located under the same cover that protects the removable battery, but don’t worry, unlike some other Nokia devices, you can change cards without having to remove the battery.
The 9500 has a built-in VGA camera. It is used when the clamshell is closed, and the small outer display acts as its viewfinder.
I asked why a business-oriented model like this has a built-in camera, as so many companies are starting to ban cameraphones. The Nokia spokesperson I was talking to pointed out how many people need cameras to do their jobs, like real estate agents and insurance claims adjusters.
The 9500 seems like it is going to be a handheld that I’d feel comfortable taking on a business trip instead of a laptop. It could easily handle my email and web surfing needs, while still allowing me to access my Microsoft Office files.
Nokia hopes lots of companies will agree with me. Considering the 9500 Communicator is expected to cost about $1000 before any carrier subsidies, the target market for this device is large corporations who will buy them for their employees who need to stay connected on the road.
If you decide you want one for yourself, you’ll have plenty of time to save up. The 9500 won’t hit the market until the fourth quarter of this year.