Hands-on impressions of the AT&T Nokia Surge

956bb_nokia_surgeAs 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.

Specifications

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
  • Accelerometer
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.

Hardware

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.

Software

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.

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35 Comments to Hands-on impressions of the AT&T Nokia Surge

john socher
July 25, 2009

Seems that almost every phone that has a FM radio needs wired headphones to act as an antenna. The Samsung Omnia i910 for example uses a dongle that acts as antenna that headphones plug into so this shouldn’t seem so odd.

If it feels so toylike and creaky, why would you want to get one when there are others (E71x for example) that are much more solid devices? Particularly in your case, with all the devices you have already? ;-)

personally, the need to constantly be sliding the keyboard in and out would drive me nuts before long!

s4r
July 25, 2009

Good to see some (somewhat) decent phones that run Symbian hit the U.S. Nice job on the first look. It’s very appreciated.

Lee
July 25, 2009

The surge gives me a much better typing experience than the nokia e71 or 75. If you can live without wifi the surge is a good s60 device. If it can run Quickoffice for creating and editing ms word documents it will be my new best friend.

ave

Matthew Miller
July 25, 2009

The version of Quickoffice is a viewer, but you can pay the full upgrade too.

Kaiser Soje
July 25, 2009

Matthew: I understand the Surge may be a very good device. But with so many high end phones at your disposal, why would you even consider buying one? Isn’t it like taking your N97 and shrinking the screen, removing touch, knocking a few megapixels off the camera, removing 32Gb of memory and building it with cheap plastic?

Lee
July 25, 2009

When you attempt to purchase the full version of Quickoffice 6 on the Surge the Quickoffice website does not recognize the Surge correctly (shows it as the nokia 6708?). There is no listing for the 6790 yet. Just go to the change device option on the website and use the Nokia 6720 classic under other nokia devices and you will be able to download and activate the program on the Surge. Right now you can get Quickoffice 6 for 50% off at only 19.95! Any suggestions for backing up your programs and system files for the Surge? Under File Manager there is an option for backing up your data to a memory card but I am not sure how much of your data and system is actually backed up. Thanks

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[...] Hands-on first impressions of the AT&T Nokia Surge [...]

[...] Hands-on first impressions of the AT&T Nokia Surge [...]

[...] Hands-on first impressions of the AT&T Nokia Surge [...]

Michael
July 27, 2009

Is it just me, or are the send and end keys and the directional pad buttons extremely loud when they click?

[...] got his hands on a Nokia (NYSE: NOK) Surge and recorded a 10 minute video going through the device. He also posted his impressions of the device, in case you don’t want to watch. The Nokia Surge, known as the 6760 Slide by the rest of the [...]

[...] Hands-on first impressions of the AT&T Nokia Surge [...]

[...] Hands-on first impressions of the AT&T Nokia Surge [...]

[...] got his hands on a Nokia (NYSE: NOK) Surge and recorded a 10 minute video going through the device. He also posted his impressions of the device, in case you don’t want to watch. The Nokia Surge, known as the 6760 Slide by the rest of the [...]

[...] Hands-on first impressions of the AT&T Nokia Surge [...]

[...] Hands-on first impressions of the AT&T Nokia Surge [...]

[...] Hands-on first impressions of the AT&T Nokia Surge [...]

[...] the application. FYI, I tried sending the download link to the eval AT&T Nokia Surge (see my first impressions) and discovered that the device is not supported and thus the download will not proceed. There is [...]

[...] gave you my first impressions after spending a short bit of time with the AT&T Nokia Surge and now my buddy Lisa chimes in with her full review that confirms pretty much all of what I though [...]

JohnJ
August 16, 2009

Thanks for your articles and the review on this 6790 Surge Matthew. I just ordered one to replace a non-symbian we’ve got here. Actually got it after seeing your E71x tips and the video here. It won’t compare to the N82 but it’s compatible with pcsuite and has 3G. My ATT 3G works pretty good here in Charlotte, central FL (except at the cape) and up I-85 a ways. Sorry they have trouble where you live.

Where’s CCleaner for cell phones??

dmc
November 21, 2009

I have had it for 2 days and HATE IT. Looks like it has a lot of apps but even paying a hefty additional monthly fee for PDA bundle – most apps require additional $$$$$

There is this mysterious voice that I can’t shut off – and neither can the techs at the store.

It randomly shuts off – you have a nanosecond to view and press the right button or the phone goes dark.

You need a min of 4 steps just to make a phone call unless it is in your addy book – then you only need 3.

No one (chat, phone support and corp store) has yet been able to provide instructions (including the thin and not very useful manual)on how to have a voice tag to make a call.

YUCK YUCK YUCK

Run fast and far -

mike
January 9, 2010

Will ipod headphones work in this phone or is 2.5mm the weird kind where you need a converter?

Lisa
February 16, 2010

Ok, I hate the surge! I have to use it for work and it was the only smartphone that had a somewhat decent keyboard. I do not like the touch screen keyboards or the small little keyboards on the blackberry’s. I have the LG enV Touch(for personal use with Verizon) I love it! I love the keyboard and ease of this device! I wish the surge had a little bigger key board and the slide up screen would go up more, I have to turn my hands sideways to use the top row on the keyboard!! Boo!! Unfortunately, AT&T doesn’t have many other options!! How do I get the keyboard to light up? I appreciate your help! Thank You.

jean
February 24, 2010

i dont like the surge at all! It was great at first but then after a month of having it, it shuts off every 5 seconds. It gets irratating! I am using it still and i want to rip my hair out!!

fahim z.
March 5, 2010

Matthew, good review. It helped me in choosing what I wanted to get as my phone. So I ended up getting the surge…and I can’t be more pleased. Symbian s60 is an awesome OS and not only was I able to get all the yucky at&t preloaded software off, but I’ve found thousands of free apps available online that have been extremely useful. I personally don’t like the blackberries and found the iphone to restricting/kinda dumb as far as “what I’m able to and allowed to do” with it. So did a little more research and re-found Nokia. Now I know why everyone else in the world uses Nokia. This thing is awesome, light-weight, fun to use..the mini map browser is great. I’ve dropped it more than a few times and apart from once (where it “exploded” into its three parts…main body/phone, battery, & battery cover), it has stayed in tact and it works fine. Yes, sliding everytime was kind of a new concept at first but I set up my speed dial and adapted (I actually like it sliding it now, it’s like my lil mini computer buddy). So far…I’m loving it. Oh and I get compliments on it all the time as well. Here’s what I have kept on it app-wise so far: 1. skyfire browser 2. google maps (although now Nokia gives you their Ovi Maps as well) 3. youtube app 4. Mobbler for lastfm.com 5. Worldmate for currency exchange and travel info. 6. A guitar tuner 7. EA Games Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 07 8. X-plore (for file browsing and removing those retarded pre-loaded apps) 9. Facebook widget 10. Beat-ed (a super cool drum machine app.)

If you need the wi-fi..then yes…go with the e71x, but otherwise it’s pretty much the same cuz of the OS. Keyboards awesome as well :)

zach n
August 9, 2010

how do you put everything even pictures and music to your sim card

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February 25, 2011

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