Hands-on impressions of the AT&T Nokia Surge
As you know this site is primarily focused on Nokia devices that I use in the United States. Thankfully, we had the Nokia E71x launched by AT&T a couple of months ago (check out our Nokia E71x Starter Guide. AT&T has launched another Symbian S60 smartphone, the Nokia Surge and I was able to get an evaluation unit to try out for a while. I may add a Nokia Surge Starter Guide page eventually if it seems like readers are interested in it. So far I am pretty pleased with the device and may have to soon pick one up for myself.
The Nokia Surge (6790) is a device with a rather interesting form factor. It has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard and quite a compact shell. There is no keypad or anything in the closed position, but there are some handy shortcut buttons. The Surge launched on AT&T for $79.99 after $50 mail-in rebate with a 2-year contract. The full, no-commitment price is $279.99. This device is $20 less than the E71x. I am sure we will soon see this available for free through Amazon as well.
You may not think much of the Nokia Surge when you first see it on the AT&T site (the form factor is a bit unique), but it really is a pretty powerful Symbian-powered S60 device. Check out the specs:
- Unknown processor speed
- Quad-band GSM (850/900/1800/1900 MHz)
- 850/1900 MHz 3.5G support
- 120 MB internal storage memory
- MicroSD card slot
- S60 3rd Edition, Feature Pack 2
- 2.4 inch QVGA (320×240 pixels) display with support for up to 16.7 million colors
- BP-4L 1500 mAh Li-Ion battery (Yes, you read this right!)
- Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR
- Integrated GPS receiver
- 2.5mm headset jack
- MicroUSB port for syncing
- Standard Nokia charging port
- 2 megapixel camera
- FM radio with RDS support
There is no WiFi radio and the camera is not as good as we are used to on Nokia devices. However, it looks to be targeted to the teen messaging crowd where such a functional QWERTY may be the most important factor.
In the box
Inside the AT&T retail packaging you will find the Nokia Surge, 1500 mAh battery, standard 2.0 mm Nokia wall charger, CD with User Guide, Getting Started Guide, and warranty card. There is no headset or microSD card included in the package, which may have helped reduce the cost.
After opening up the slim AT&T retail box and pulling out the Nokia Surge, I have to say there is a significant difference in the build quality and feel of the device compared to the Nokia E71x. The E71x is sleek and built like a tank. The Nokia Surge has a rather cheap feel to it with thin plastic, a very difficult to remove back battery/SIM card cover, a creaky keyboard, and overall “toyish” feel. The slider mechanism actually appears to be quite strong with a solid thump into closed and open positions.
The Surge is always shown in landscape mode and actually on the front of the device the words Nokia and AT&T are in landscape position. Thus, I wasn’t sure if you could even use it in portrait mode, but it does have an accelerometer and works just fine in portrait mode. On the front of the Surge you will find the 2.4 inch 320×240 display that is actually the same as the Nokia E71x display. It looks very nice and works well in sunlight conditions since it is not a touch screen device.
Below the display is a central control area with a left and right soft key, send and end buttons, and directional pad. The controls around the directional pad are on a single button that presses down in the four corners. The end key is also used to power on/off the device and switch between profiles. You cannot tell what each area is for unless the backlight activates. One cool option you can enable is to have the entire control pad pulse light with a notification.
To the left of the central control area are three hardware buttons in a line, set by default for the S60 browser, Menu button, and Messaging. You can actually custom select what you want the top and bottom buttons to do in case these are not your most used applications.
On the top of the Surge you will find the mono speaker (actually quite loud), 2.5mm headset jack, and traditional Nokia charging port (under a black cover). The right side contains the volume controller and a camera button. The microUSB port is found on the left side behind a cover. The only thing on the bottom is the back cover release button.
The 2 megapixel camera is found on the back upper left of the Surge. The microSD card and SIM card slot are both located under the battery cover, which is quite difficult to remove and made of rather thin plastic. I feel lots of creaking and movement of the back cover when it is in place due to this think plastic.
The major focus of the Nokia Surge is the QWERTY keyboard found by sliding the display up (from left to right in portrait mode). The keyboard actually has fairly large buttons (about double the size of the E71x buttons) that have definite division between each other. There is pretty good feedback when you press a button, but again the plastic does feel a bit cheap and creaky when you press them. I do like that there is a period (.) key that does not first require a function press. There are also left and right shift keys, large central space bar, and rather large left function key. I spent a lot of time texting with my wife and found the keyboard to be very functional and allow me to fly.
If messaging is your focus, that seems to be the intent of the device, then you may be very happy with the Surge because the QWERTY keyboard is quite good.
Nokia does include a FM radio with RDS on the Surge, but there is not included 2.5mm headset so you can’t use it out of the box. You need to have a wired headset attached to act as the antenna and use the radio so I thought this was a bit odd.
All the expected features of S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 2 are integrated on the Nokia Surge and pretty much every AT&T piece of bloatware I listed for the E71x can again be found on the Surge. I haven’t yet tried the steps to clean it up, but may have to soon if it starts to drive me crazy.
AT&T Navigator (see my review) is included on the Surge so you can use it as an in-car navigation system. This may be just perfect for my teenage daughter who starts driving soon since she doesn’t have her Dad’s great sense of direction 😉
When you go through the initial email setup, you can choose to get your Exchange email on the Surge and MFE is configured. I did not expect this on a basic Nokia device that doesn’t seem targeted to the person with Exchange so this was a nice surprise.
Nokia really needs to implement threaded SMS (using something like Free iSMS) to make this an even better Messaging device. With the focus on messaging they really need to improve their default client and get with the program here.
One application being promoted on the Surge that I really need to get into and try out is JuiceCaster. This application allows you to post messages, images, videos and comments to sites like Facebook and MySpace, but I admit to never having used it before.
Final first impressions
I thought the photos of the device made it seem a bit odd and in person it really is a bit different. However, the keyboard is very functional and useful for messaging. Symbian is quite powerful and works well as a phone operating system, especially compared to the proprietary or limited feature phone crowd. The Surge looks to be competing directly with these QWERTY messaging feature phones and is a nice alternative.
The build quality could definitely be better than it is (I don’t like all the creaking and thin plastic feel) and if you want a rock solid messaging device I recommend you look at the E71x instead.
So far the battery life appears to be excellent and one of my happiest moments came when I realized it has the same BP-4L battery found in my N97 and E71x. 1500 mAh on a device like this should keep it rocking for a long time.
Please post any questions you have for me with the Surge and I will answer them after spending more time with the device.