Smartphone Round Robin – Highlights from the SPE editors on Nokia
This is the final week of the Smartphone Round Robin event and later in the week I will be posting an article on Nokia devices and platforms. Before we get to that though let’s take a look at some highlights from the past several weeks and see what the other Smartphone Experts site editors had to say about Nokia.
Casey Chan posted an excellent review of Nokia on Android Central in late January. Casey quickly noticed that the Nokia devices I showed him had hardware that was unlike most devices he has seen before and he stated:
There’s an odd button arrangement (what’s up with that diagonal button), the keyboard is strikingly different from most smartphones (there’s a ctrl key, space is shifted to the right side, etc), and even though the form factors are in line with what we’re used to, the overall shape veers from the normal course of smartphones. That’s not to say it’s bad, it’s just different.
Yes, the hardware is different than other platforms and the keyboards do appear a bit odd. However, I personally find the offset space bar to be more efficient than a center space bar. QWERTY was not designed for thumb keyboard usage so I like that Nokia actually did some research to optimize the keyboard a bit. They have taken heat for being different, but if you honestly use it you should find the offset space bar to be quite good.
Casey also pointed out a common theme for those who don’t come from a history of using Nokia devices and that is:
Both Nokia platforms are intimidating, unfamiliar, complex, and any other synonym for difficult. In fact, I still feel like there’s still much to learn. But both Nokia platforms are so feature rich, powerful, and unique that it can be fun to use. It’s almost a shame that it’s not readily available to the US.
I often see the US media slamming Nokia’s interfaces for being old and outdated and in some respects they are. However, they are also very familiar to the millions of people who use them who do not want to see major changes in the device platforms they love.
Kevin at CrackBerry.com stated the following:
I didn’t know what to expect at all when I sat down with Matt Miller of NokiaExperts.com, but quickly learned that Nokia’s smartphone offering is actually pretty intense. Who would have thought they’ve had a Webkit-based browser for years (before Apple’s Mobile Safari browser even) or that 5 megapixel cameras with double LED flashes that take pretty frick’n amazing pictures are sort of a standard thing.
Most of the Smartphone Experts editors were unfamiliar with Nokia’s offerings, but I think Kevin was the one who had the least amount of exposure to these devices and he seemed pretty impressed with what we have in Nokia devices. The N900 was probably the most compelling, but I highly doubt anything I showed him will be able to sway him from his trusty BlackBerry devices and I completely understand that given the lack of Nokia’s presence in North America.
I was very pleased that Dieter gave me the opportunity to join the Smartphone Experts team with the Nokia Experts site and am having a good time bringing as much as I can to those of us who enjoy Nokia products. Thus, I was very interested in reading what Dieter thought of Nokia in his review on PreCentral.net.
Dieter has used a LOT of different phones and platforms like me so I liked his statements about the N900:
The end result is a phone that appeals to the power user and the geek in me, but still feels a little to unpolished and unwieldy for day-to-day use. Watch this space, though, because the N900 appears to only be a few UI refinements and square-inches away from being a really compelling phone instead of a geeky-cool tablet that doubles as a phone.
I stated before that the N900 is one of those devices you have to use for at least a week to 10 days before you really discover how great it really is. I enjoyed using the evaluation device so much I bought my own and as apps and functions are added each week it just gets better and better.
Dieter closes his review with some true statements that I think Nokia needs to address moving forward:
Nokia is making really cool phones with great hardware and decent software that very few people in the US seem to notice. Nokia looks to continue to refine S60 into Symbian^3 and beyond while also continuing to release high-end table/phone hybrids. The good news is that this long-term confusion doesn’t really matter when you’re picking up a Nokia phone because most of their phones aren’t on the exact same operating system anyway and so the long-term outlook doesn’t really affect the phone you’ve purchased. That’s also the bad news.
Like Microsoft, Nokia’s message to consumers needs to be clearer rather than more confusing and fragmented, but I wonder if these large companies will be able to relay such a message.
The iPhone Blog
It was a pleasure for me to meet with Rene Ritchie at the Smartphone Round Robin weekend retreat. He was also the first SPE editor to cover the Nokia devices and platforms with his review on The iPhone Blog. Rene was the one who told me it wasn’t fair to bring a netbook to a smartphone comparison event with the Nokia N900.
Rene was pretty pleased with the excellent quality of Nokia’s products, as he stated here:
Last year I had some misgivings about the sliders as they generally felt “squeaky” and unmistakably two parts even when closed together into one. Nokia’s felt solid (so solid Matt had to help me open them up the first time). If physical keyboards are a must for you, and you love the landscape, this by itself gives both one huge advantage. (Big fat camera lens with blinding LED flashes gives both another.)
The sliders on Nokia’s devices are indeed solid and quality of the hardware and RF reception is not an issue in most cases.
I have to agree a bit with Rene when he stated:
The real crux of the two Nokia platforms, however, comes down to the fact that there are two Nokia platforms — one struggling to remain relevant and the other working to become credible. That Nokia is the world leader in smartphones with a fortune in the bank means there’s no real risk in adapting either — Nokia isn’t going anywhere.
Nokia does have to tell the story clearly for each platform and needs to show people why they are still relevant and actually leading the smartphone market in technologies and innovation.
I had a good time talking with Phil Nickinson about Nokia and Windows Mobile since these are my two most used platforms, that also happen to be the two oldest smartphone platforms around. Phil posted his review of Nokia on WMExperts.com back in early January.
Phil kicked off his discussion with his thoughts on why Nokia devices are not popular here in the U.S. and it comes down to carrier support as you can see in this quote from his review:
So what’s keeping Nokia down? The plain and simple fact that U.S. carrier support is just about nil. That’s not to say that you can’t buy Nokia smartphones in the U.S. You can do so without paying the import penalties. But you’re going to buy them outright and unlocked, which save for the very early days of the iPhone is still pretty unheard of here. We love our carrier subsidies, and so the Nokia lines get little love in these here parts.
The funny thing is that unlocked Nokia devices are really not that unreasonable and in many cases are cheaper than buying a phone from a U.S. carrier as an existing customer without a subsidy. People paid $599 for a LOCKED original iPhone and $529 now for an unlocked Google Nexus One. You can pick up Eseries devices for $300 or so in many cases so I do get frustrated by the American public’s understanding of subsidies and prices paid for such devices.
Phil understood my belief that the N900 offset space bar is actually a good design feature when he stated the following:
The N900 really is more like a MID than a smartphone. Not in size — it’s plenty pocketable — but in overall feel. The keyboard is a horizontal slider, and the keys have the same feel as the original HTC Touch Pro, though they’re bigger and spaced a little better. Don’t freak out about the space bar not being in the middle of the layout. It looks funky, but it works just fine. You’re typing with your thumbs, after all, and at least for me it fell in exactly the right place. Probably the biggest concern, however, is that the keyboard only has three rows. Type a lot of numbers and you’re going to be wishing for that extra row real quick.
I guess it helps that Phil comes from using the excellent QWERTY keyboard on the Touch Pro2 as well.
Thanks SPE editors
I want to thank all of the guys on the other sites for giving my Nokia devices a fair shake all around. All the editors were pretty impressed with what I showed them and can see that Nokia does create some compelling devices and just needs to try to get across a consistent message to consumers. They all are as frustrated as I am about the apparent lack of interest in the U.S. market and I sure hope that changes in the future.
2010 should be a great year for Nokia with Symbian Foundation-based devices and more Maemo devices hitting the streets so stay tuned for news from Mobile World Congress in a couple more weeks.
Do you have any additional comments on these five reviews of Nokia devices?