Nokia 9300 front (view larger image)
Outside of the US, the Nokia 9300 is old hat. About a year after its global release though, the 9300 will gain fresh legs in the US. It is expected to be released in September on a yet un-announced carrier. Nokia is going in their own direction with the 9300, with the horizontal clamshell form factor and the Symbian OS (Nokia Series 80). While we may be used to Palm and Microsoft operating systems and more pedestrian design, Nokia has a device mobile professionals certainly need to consider before defaulting to more familiar options.
I may have already made a mistake by calling the 9300 a horizontal clamshell. That’s only partly accurate, when it’s being used in PDA/mini-laptop mode. As a phone it’s a larger version of the standard candy bar design. In fact, if you didn’t see the hinge on the left side, you might just assume it’s a large Series 40 phone with nothing more going on. What a mistake that would be.
9300 front (view larger image)
Opening the 9300 reveals a keyboard with 58 keys, eight program launch buttons, four input buttons, a 9-way joystick mouse and a brilliant 640×200 pixel display.
Nokia 9300 from the side (view larger image)
The unit is very well built; Nokia has done a good job making the unit feel sturdy without a bunch of extra weight. In converted mode it’s designed for two hand use. It fits perfectly in my hands, I suspect even those with small hands won’t have any trouble. Of course if you only have one hand free that’s a problem, one handed use simply isn’t feasible. Even in closed mode, the 9300 does not support T9 input; Nokia really wants us to use the keyboard…with two thumbs.
Nokia 9300 open (view larger image)
The 9300 weighs in at 5.89 ounces and measures 5.20″ x 2.00″ x .83″. So while it’s not small, it’s not huge. I’d call it manageable. Too big for a shirt pocket, fits in pants pocket, probably best suited for a belt clip or holster of some sort.
The 9300 has a fantastic interior display. Colors are vivid and pure. There are five brightness levels, with the 9300 defaulting to the lowest when the machine is idle to conserve battery life. It’s important to note that the display is not touch sensitive, but with the keyboard, arrow keys and mouse pointer, it’s not a deal breaker. Another huge benefit of the display is that it works very well outside, even in direct sunlight. It’s one of the best, if not the best, display I’ve ever seen outdoors.
Nokia 9300 display in the dark (view larger image)
Nokia 9300 in the shade outside (view larger image)
The 9300 features an integrated QWERTY keyboard with 58 keys and eight program launch buttons. The keys are quite large for a device like this. The letters for instance are almost a full centimeter wide. Other bonuses include two shift keys, a tall enter key and a wide space bar. While many Smartphones use at least one or more functions for each button, the 9300 is more clean by comparison. Some buttons have multiple functions, like the number row, but for the most part the keyboard is easy to use because there’s not much clutter. The keyboard is not backlit, but the display provides almost enough lighting in the dark.
Nokia 9300 keyboard (view larger image)
While the keys are rounded just a touch, I’d like to see a little more bump to them. They’re soft and smooth with little definition between keys, making it difficult to type without looking. That’s a pretty minor gripe though. I think since it feels so much like a small notebook we might have higher expectations for the keyboard. The biggest concern I have with the keyboard is the placement of a few of the punctuation keys. Nokia has placed the comma and period on the left side of the space bar, something that’s terribly counter-intuitive. There’s only so much space to work with and you’ll retrain your brain, but it takes some getting used to.
As noted there are eight quick launch buttons for things like web, telephone, calendar, etc. These are nice for fast access to the most common functions; one of them is user programmable. There are also four buttons to the right of the screen that have different values depending on the application, such as open, close and the like. They’re also convenient, a nice alternative to hitting a menu icon or button.
The Nokia 9300 uses a tri-band GSM radio with support for EDGE. It also includes Bluetooth and infrared, but does not offer WiFi. The EDGE network will offer fast download speeds if it’s offered in your area. At the moment this is limited to Cingular, though T-Mobile is rumored to be rolling out EDGE ever so quietly.
I was able to pair several devices with the 9300. The only problem is that to accept an incoming pair request, you have to open up the 9300. The same sort of thing happens when beaming business cards via IR. This isn’t a huge problem, but a minor annoyance if you connect with new Bluetooth devices or receive business cards over IR frequently.
The 9300 is powered by Nokia’s own Series 80 OS, which is based on Symbian 7.0. The idea of running an “alternate” OS might be daunting for some, but the interface is so intuitive there’s no reason to be scared. While there might not be the volume of software titles available compared to the Palm OS, Handango does list 488 options for the 9300, across all categories. There are several other places to find applications as well, should you need more variety. From what I can tell, the only third party shortcoming will be in the gaming area. Most larger software makers are involved in Symbian though, since it’s quite large outside of the US.
Examples of the 9300 menu screens
The 9300 does come bundled with several applications, most notably a web browser, email and office document management.
The Opera-based web browser is quite remarkable. It’s easily the best experience I’ve ever had on a Smartphone and in many ways better than most PDAs. The trick really is in the high resolution widescreen and the input options. While most Smartphones opt for a square display, the 9300 is wide, which is much more suitable for web use, since sites are designed to be viewed on a display that’s wider than it is tall. Of course it’s a little short top to bottom, but that’s a trade off given this form factor. I’d also like to see an option to turn of the side menus, to give even more space, maybe that’s something we’ll see in the future.
The main way to navigate web pages is with the joystick. This largely works well, but when scrolling the stick is too sensitive. A slight push will move the display quickly and there’s no way I could find to reduce the scroll speed on the pointer. You can use the navigational arrows though, which does mitigate the concerns of using the joystick to scroll.
Main browser launch screen
Google, scrolled down a bit
BargainPDA.com works on this broswer, but the tables are a little askew
The office section of the 9300 includes software for browsing office documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Files can be stored on the 9300 in internal RAM or on the memory card in native form. When opening files, the 9300 runs a quick conversion program. The included software is best used for managing and viewing files, the editing is a bit limited. The interface isn’t that great either, but for quick access on the run, it gets the job done. The 9300 also comes with a PDF reader that does a respectable job.
Word document seen in the 9300
File management on the 9300
The 9300 email client supports a wide variety of clients including POP3, SMTP, IMAP4, SyncML and BlackBerry Connect. There is no support for Exchange though, something that’s becoming standard even in Palm OS devices like the Treo 650. Lack of support for middleware like this is something Nokia is going to have to resolve in the near future. Thankfully this won’t require a hardware update, but it does mean some serious negotiation with Microsoft and other providers to get a deal done. Through the messaging application you can also send SMS messages and faxes.
For audio/video needs the 9300 comes with an image viewer, voice recorder, music player and RealPlayer. While some things like movies do well on the widescreen, there’s a drawback for static media like images. A lot of scrolling or shrinking is needed to view pictures, which is a little bit of a drag. Even if the display could rotate it would be too narrow to work well. The end result is that some things work great on the wide, but there are a few sacrifices.
The 9300 is powered by a 150MHz ARM9 CPU. Before you think it’s vastly under powered, remember that the OS is much lighter than something along the lines of Windows Mobile. Applications load quickly, overall the device is snappy, I rarely longed for more power. I didn’t do a lot of multimedia work, but even so, the 9300 runs very well.
The 9300 comes with 80Mb of internal non-volatile memory that is usable, and an MMC slot to add more. The MMC slot is under the battery cover though, so it’s really limited to more RAM, since accessories won’t have room to sit under the cover. While it’s a little inconvenient to access the card slot, at least it’s not underneath the battery.
The battery is a 970mAh Li-Ion unit. It is user replaceable, so if you’re away from power at long intervals it’s easy to swap in a new battery. Nokia quotes 200 hours standby or 4.5 hours of talk. I got a touch less than two days with moderate usage, which is about par for a device like this.
Battery on left, SIM card middle, MMC slot right (view larger image)
As a Phone
The 9300 does a great job as a phone, in the default candy bar form. The main display is 128×128 pixels, powered by the Series 40 interface. But to leverage many of the advanced tools, like conference calling, you need to open it up. The speaker volume is great and people I talked to heard me clearly with good volume.
The 9300 comes with an earpiece, and get ready for this, a desktop cradle. In the age where less is more, or at least that’s what we’re told by manufacturers, Nokia has opted to include a stylish USB cradle. It has a clean smoothed “V” design with integrated sync button.
Nokia 9300 cradle (view larger image)
No one-handed use
No vibrate option
Poor use of screen space at times
The Nokia 9300 is a well-made device, another of many that promise to do it all. I enjoy the 9300 for the most part. The display is great; it works well as a phone and does a pretty good job as a PDA. The software package is a little limiting, but depending on what you need, this may or may not be an issue. The web browser is strong and could be even better if there were a full screen mode. The biggest oversight that keeps me from pushing this device hard though is the lack of integration with middleware email systems like Exchange. For a device that’s geared toward mobile business users, this alone might be enough to knock it out of contention, as it does for me, at least as a full time all in one device. It’s a well made product though, certainly something that should at least get consideration, in a market dominated by ho-hum devices.