Review: Long term test of the Nokia 9300 'Smartphone'

Steve looks back at the Nokia 9300 'smartphone' in real life and explains what works and what doesn't.

Nokia 9300Putting the Nokia 9300 next to its larger brother, the 9500, is somewhat shocking. The latter looks positively gargantuan by comparison. And, this time last year, we were all looking forward to the 9500 itself being smaller and sleeker than its predecessor, the 9210i. All of which goes to emphasise just how small the 9300 is, considering what it can do.

The 9500 is well known, of course, the 'ultimate' Nokia Communicator, with VGA width screen, proper leyboard, cutting edge comms and the full-on EPOC/Symbian multitasking application experience. But size is everything and the 9300 was Nokia's attempt to see how small they could make the same device, to get it down to the sort of dimensions that wouldn't cause people to stop and stare in the street. But what exactly did Nokia have to compromise in order to get the 9300 to its sleek silver 13cm form? And, should you be in the market, which should you buy? How does the 9300 perform in real life?

side by sideLet's assume you're already familiar with Series 80, Symbian OS and the Nokia 9500. We'll start with what's different. Apart from size, the most obvious change is the lack of a camera on the underside. Nokia claim that its target users were concerned about security, with many companies banning camera phones. This doesn't seem unreasonable, although going from a device with a camera to one without does mean a little head scratching now and then and a memo to self to 'bring digital camera along next time'. No doubt missing out the camera was also a factor in being able to slim the case down.

The other big change, compared to its bigger brother, was the absence of Wi-Fi. This one's been debated and debated, and Nokia are (according to the FCC) about to release a 9300i, with Wi-Fi, so perhaps its omission on the 9300 was a mistake after all. As with a camera, you either need Wi-Fi or you don't - for a business user, Wi-Fi can be incredibly handy for connecting up at broadband speeds to office and commercial networks, in which case hold onto your cash for the upcoming model. In the meantime, the lack of Wi-Fi in the 9300 means one less thing draining the device's battery.

Speaking of which, battery capacity in the 9300's BP-6M cell is 970mAh, a good 30% lower than that in the 9500 but then the size and weight are lower as well, fitting in with the overall 9300 concept. With no camera or Wi-Fi, battery life is pretty exceptional, with the 9300 easily lasting several busy business days on a single charge. With light use, you could easily go a week without recharging, making it good for keeping in touch on trips away.

The joystickAnd so to the logistics: the screen, the keyboard. The screen hinge is pretty tight and the display can be positioned at any angle, even beyond 180 degrees, flat on the desk. This extra flexibility is tremendously welcome and makes the 9300 more useable in awkward situations (e.g. on public transport). Despite having the full 640 pixels of width, I did find the screen's smaller size (compared to the 9500) a bit of a problem and found I would hold the 9300 closer to my face than the 9500. It's churlish to complain too much though, as this sort of display would have seemed a miracle only three years ago.

The keyboard's similarly reduced in size, at only just over 8cm from the middle of the 'q' to the middle of 'p', although it's not so much the size that makes typing tricky but the tiny key travel. You need quite a bit of pressure to push each key down and then it only travels a fraction of a millimetre, making it sometimes hard to detect when a keypress has been made or not. At least each key is domed, for accurate location, and there's a good sized Enter key. On the review unit, the two rubber ridges on the 9300's bottom weren't accurately aligned and there was an annoying wobble when typing.

The new infrared locationThe joystick is very low profile, almost sculpted into the main keyboard. A marvel of engineering but really, really tricky to use accurately. You do get used to it with practice, but it reminded me of those red 'nubs' in the middle of old IBM laptops, a not entirely positive association.

A final hardware difference I noted was the infrared port, now strangely and inexplicably positioned beneath the keyboard on the front of the clamshell, meaning that you have to turn the unit through 180 degrees every time you want to beam something to someone.

In terms of software, the 9300 is 99.9% identical to the 9500, meaning that all the tips, training material and third party software for the 9500 will be equally applicable. From the perspective of someone coming new to Series 80, whether they call this Nokia a 'communicator' or 'smartphone', the functionality is unmatched by any other device. Sure, there are a few quirks here and there (mainly in the area of absolute Office compatibility), but being able to run 20 (yes, I said twenty) applications at the same time and switch between them in a fraction of a second is something that leaves the competition in the dust. 

For most people though, it won't be the applications, OS and multitasking that impresses them (and their friends and colleagues), it'll be opening up the clamshell of what looks like a normal phone and revealing what is virtually a mini-laptop. The 9300 has plenty of the 'wow' factor.

Multitasking

Choosing between the 9300 and the larger 9500 is a classic case of choosing which is the best fit for your lifestyle. The one is small, sleek but fiddlier to use. The other is larger and an obvious 'brick' but has a keyboard on which you can type properly, a larger screen... and Wi-Fi. It remains to be seen whether Nokia will retain the 'classic' 9300 with the arrival of the Wi-Fi-enabled 9300i. Certainly the 'i' model will put the cat among the pigeons and let you select a Series 80 device based purely on form factor and ergonomics rather than comms functionality.

Steve Litchfield, October 2005
for AAS and 3-Lib

Published by Steve Litchfield at 14:42 UTC, October 23rd

Section: Reviews
Categories: Hardware
Platforms: Series 80