First Impressions of the Nokia 9300 - Mobile Perfection?
My first encounter with All About Symbian was back in the day when I was surfing around for info on what my new Nokia (7650) could do. At that time I slowly discovered the great potential in the new Series 60 platform, but the small(ish) screen size and the annoyance T9 can be for text input left me wanting more. So I found myself constantly browsing in on the Series 80 section of the forum, thinking; "if only that brick had GPRS"...
More mobile reminiscence
Then came the P800. Finally a decent sized screen. And being touch sensitive it gave me a better way of inputting text. Although I didn't care much for the handwriting recognition, I found the on screen keyboard to work like a charm - well, anything is better than T9 really. And as many of you long time readers of AAS will know, I became a big fan of the UIQ platform, and later moved on to the P900. But still, despite all that, during all this time I was still browsing the Series 80 forum thinking the same; "if only..."
Nokia later on announced the 9500, and I became ecstatic. Not only was it a Communicator with GPRS, it also had EDGE and Wi-fi. I instantly put it on my shopping list. But then comes confusion - another Communicator is announced. A really tiny one at that, only lacking a camera and WLAN from it's older brother. Oh the decisions... I kept going back and forth in my mind trying to decide, and eventually it became a matter of form winning over function - which was a first for me. I think though, that I would have gone for the 9500 if only it became available in my country a little sooner. But now I'm glad it didn't.
At the time of writing I have now used my new 9300 for three days, rather intensively I might add. I am left with the feeling that I have finally gotten practically everything I ever wanted in a mobile computer/phone. You see many "gadget freaks" on the forums looking for that one device that does it all. For me and my use the 9300 does indeed seem to be that device. It is the closest thing I've come to mobile perfection yet.
If you've only seen the 9300 in pictures, you won't believe just how small it is in real life. I'm not the type of persion who thinks the smaller, the better, as I think most mobile phones these days are actually too small, but the 9300 is just the right size in my opinion. I Used to think the same thing about the P900 as well, and the 9300 is roughly the same size. Although the 9300 is a bit longer, it is both thinner and narrower. Overall I feel more comfortable carrying the 9300 because of the "fatness" of the P-series (with the keypad attached).
Keyboard and hardware
So small yet packing a full QWERTY keyboard. I find it amazing how they've actually managed to make the keyboard useful in such a small package. Well, you won't be doing any touch typing on this thing of course, but you can type quite comfortably using two fingers while the device is lying on your desk. You won't find many PDAs these days allowing you to do just that. Unless you're a kilt-wearing Scotsman who's still lugging around a Psion, that is. But I think one of the strongest points in favour of the 9300 vs. the 9500, is that the smaller size makes the keyboard excellent for thumb typing. In fact, that's how I'm writing this little article right now, chilling on the couch whilst typing away on my new toy/tool. The perception on the use of a keyboard is very much a matter of personal preferences though. And it must be noted that the 9300's keyboard doesn't give you much tactile feedback, which might take some getting used to.
Although I'm not a big fan of the silver-looking colour, I think the 9300 is a really classy looking phone, reminiscent of the old-school Nokia phones. Another thing that is reminiscent of the older and larger Nokia phones is the build quality. Although not quite as excellent as my old 6110, the 9300 is very well built, giving you a real feeling of quality. Which I've found to be a rare thing in todays mobile phone market. I do wish Nokia would quit using those exchangeable front covers though, because it cheapens the look and feel somewhat, and it also makes the backlight shine through the cover a bit. As to the backcover, it is a little tricky to open, but at least it fits very well (unlike in the P800). The lid and hinges feel very solid too, and unlike the 9500 the lid is kept closed by a magnet. It is nice to be able to push the lid all the way back, and I find that it requires just the right amount of force to open and close. The whole design of the unit and the materials used leads me to believe that this is one device that has been given some serious thought before unleashing it upon the market.
And lets not forget the inside of the phone. During my three days of ownership, I've spent a lot of time learning how to use the interface in the most productive way. Which basically means messing around with a bunch of settings/options, memorizing keyboard shortcuts, organising applications on the desk and getting familiar with the task manager. As with keyboard use, a user interface is also very much of a personal preference thing. For me, the UI is another thing that shows great sign of being given a lot of thought. I actually find it to be one of the most intuitive interfaces I've come across. I just love all the keyboard shortcuts, the various navigation options and the full screen toggle and zoom options within each application. Not to mention the usefulness of keyboard shortcuts such as turning Bluetooth and IR on/off, adjusting the screen brightness and opening the Help application wherever you are in a menu. At first I found it stupid how one had to scroll all the way down to reach the last item on some of the lists, in stead of simply scrolling up/backwards, but then I discovered that one can navigate menu options and applications by pressing the first letter in the name of the application/option - which is actually a quicker way of navigating than having to use the joystick or arrow buttons all the time.
I also love the quality of the built-in applications in this device compared to the UIQ and S60 counterparts. But I'm not going to go into detail about that, as it is mostly covered in reviews and can also be seen by downloading the Series 80 v.2.0 UI Style Guide from forum.nokia.com. Just to mention a few though; I love how easy it is to navigate through the file manager, using the on screen cursor in the web browser, all the options in the Clock application and how well the e-mail client handles HTML e-mails. And lets not forget the excellent Settings Wizard which lets you set up your e-mail accounts and have you browsing the Internet in no time. There are too much to mention and my thumbs are becoming sore, I just generally feel that the software is top notch for such a device. Oh yeah, and it is rock solid as well - I haven't experienced any crashes or other weird behaviour (touch wood).
The screen is extremely bright, and I am most comfortable using it at the second lowest brightness level and the lowest contrast level. I love the 640 pixels width of the screen since one of my most used applications is the Mobipocket eBook reader. I find reading text to be most comfortable on a wide screen. Using the font I'm most comfortable with, I am reading 10 lines of text with each line consisting of around 16-17 words, all in one view. Believe it or not, but reading and writing text have actually become two of my main criteria when choosing a smartphone. That's precisely why the 9300 is so perfect for me. The wide screen is also great for web browsing as it allows you to see many websites in their true form without the need for horizontal scrolling.
I haven't had it long enough to really get a feel on the battery life yet, but I can certainly verify that it at least handles 24 hours on a charge - with really extensive use. I'd estimate an average of 3 days with moderate use.
So are there really no bad sides?
Nothing is ever really perfect, but for me the 9300 is cutting it pretty close. I'm not crazy about the inside joystick though - it's a bit fiddly and far too sensitive for my liking, so I end up using the arrow keys to navigate a lot of the time. There are also a couple of keyboard arrangements I don't care for, but nothing major. The phone side is a bit slow and basic, but I only use it for calls and checking the time anyway so it is not a major inconvenience for me. I can however see the phone side slowness being an annoyance for those who have thousands of contacts for the phone to plow through during a quick lookup.
The lack of a spell checker in the word processor also becomes a glaring omission as I am now determined to finish this article on my 9300, without using a PC for alterations before I send it off to Rafe. So what I'll do when I've finished typing, is crosschecking the words I'm most uncertain of with the dictionary I use in the MobiReader. A pretty cumbersome experience, but still, thank goodness for multitasking, and apparently for me having too much free time on my hands.
So basically, I am more than happy with the 9300 thus far and reckon I've got myself a keeper here. When (if) Nokia comes up with a touch screen commie, that'll be my cue to upgrade. And yeah, please give me Wi-Fi next time. Thanks.