The Nokia Astound is running the latest version of the Symbian operating system. In this third iteration of the touch-edition of the platform, there have been several enhancements in device stability, power management, graphic capabilities, and user interface. The smartphone benefits further in that it has also received several additions: the new Nokia Web Browser, an updated Nokia Email application, and better integration of the Nokia Social application with the default address book.
Because my daily device also runs Symbian and has a touchscreen, there was no learning curve with the Astound. I did notice that many of the interactions and transitions are faster and smoother, and, aside from one instance, I never ran into a situation where the device closed applications or locked up because too many apps were running. I was really surprised since the Astound has only 256MB of RAM. Truly, Symbian is still efficient in its usage.
Among the bigger problems that someone might have with the Astound, and similar Symbian devices, is the non-uniform nature of the menu system. With many applications, and especially the homescreen, it is not apparent that a long-press brings further functionality. This causes the user to dive into, and sometimes get lost within, a few layers of menus. Thankfully, the amount of layers has been significantly reduced in the new version of Symbian.
The Astound is pitched as an entry-level and general purpose smartphone — this is because of its price point more than its feature set. That said, it comes loaded to the gills with software to keep you productive and connected.
As with many smartphones, there’s the Calendar, Contacts, Messaging, Clock, and Search applications. The Calendar application includes a Memos and Tasks feature. Messaging handles SMS, MMS, and email — MMS and SMS being shown in conversational threads if preferred. The Search application is able to (quickly) search the entire device for any content that’s been created, and can also go out to the Web and search there if the item isn’t on the device.
From the side of productivity apps, there’s a file manager, dictionary, calculator, voice recorder, note pad, zip extractor/compressor, QuickOffice Viewer, Adobe Reader for PDF files, and a Intranet (VPN) application to connect to corporate networks. On the games side, Action Bowling, Labyrinth 3D, Fruit Ninja Lite, and Doodle Fit are included. For either of these kinds of applications, the Ovi Store is available to download other applications, media, or device themes.
Mapping is taken care of by either Nokia Maps or TeleNav. Nokia Maps has gotten much faster than previous versions, and the UI changes work to using it better with one hand than before. POI and the ability to “go social” by checking in or sharing a location on a social network are added to the feature set. If syncing to a PC, you can use the Ovi Suite application to download maps to the Astound to view them on device without a data connection — handy for certain types of international or domestic travel.
The Nokia Astound is a very capable multimedia and web device. I came away most surprised at just how much is packed into this package on this level.
On the Internet side, you’ve got Wi-Fi to compliment the T-Mobile 3G compatibility. In either case, the Astound is very speedy. I’ve also spent some time in EDGE and roaming situations and even then data speeds were tolerable.
One note: I did try my AT&T SIM, but it seems that the Astound is SIM-locked to T-Mobile, so for you whom are international travelers, you will need to get it unlocked to play with other SIMs.
The new web browser had me wishing that I had it for my Nokia N97. It is much faster at rendering web sites, though there are some usability quirks on some pages. There’s no means in which to quickly scroll to the top or bottom of the page, but the abilities to save a bookmark, send a URL, or find a word in a page remain. Unfortunately, the built-in RSS reader is gone (there are several third-party apps that can handle that feature). Flash Lite 4 is supported, and the pages that display Flash content don’t seem to slow down much — at least not on faster connections.
Music is handled by the (refreshed for Symbian version 3) Music Player. The newer user interface first seen on the Nokia N8 is also here. The ability to quickly view artists by album or genre or to just see podcasts is present. Albums are viewed with a mix of album art and artist-listing views. Its pretty simple to swipe and get quickly to an artist. The music library refreshes new content much faster than before as well.
I can’t tell if its a single speaker split into two, or a true stereo speaker, but the sounds, whether games or music player, are plenty loud. Even when setting the Astound on a surface that covers the speaker, there’s still a good amount of loudness heard from the speaker in the rear.
If you choose not to use the Music Player, there’s a trial version of Slacker Radio, an FM Radio tuner (wired headset needed) and Gig Finder (to get to live music shows). Per my travels while having the Astound, I got a good amount of use out of the FM Transmitter to pipe both Internet streamed and locally stored music through my car radio. The battery did very well in this use – and unlike my N97, could be plugged in while playing without signal interference.
From a specs perspective, the 8-megapixel camera sounds impressive, but this is the one case with this device where numbers don’t match ability. Shutter speed is great, but any motion of your hand is also captured. There’s no ability to control the type of picture, as with Nokia’s devices which have auto-focus cameras. The pictures generally look very good on screen, but as soon as you get to a larger screen, you see a high amount of dithering. I also found that the camera in my review unit had a slightly cool temperature for every photo taken. It is definitely the kind of camera that takes practice in order to nail the right shot.
Video, on the other hand, is pretty slick. All recording is done in high definition, and there’s no jerkiness with playback at all. All I wish that I could have figured out was how to get the LED to come on when recording in low light areas. I was very impressed by both the video and sound.
Of note with the Nokia Astound is its battery life. It took a very hard day to get the 1200 mAh battery to not be usable the next day, and even when the battery was at 20% or lower, enabling the Power Saving Mode gets you another full day, making extended weekend trips no problem unless you need to use the GPS, FM Transmitter, or camera often.