Mobile phone and PDAThe evolution towards a portable pocket-size device that does "everything continues with the arrival of the Nokia 9210 Communicator on the Australian market. Described as "the ultimate geek phone", the 9210 combines the functions of a mobile phone and modem with those of an advanced PDA (personal digital assistant). While this alone is nothing new, the features that set it apart are its excellent screen and the inclusion of an effective miniaturised keyboard.
With dimensions of 158x56x27mm and a weight of 244g, the Communicator is bigger and heavier than a typical mobile, though not as big and heavy as the analog phones we happily lugged around some years ago. The unit has a small LCD screen and standard phone buttons on the outside, but unfolds to reveal a tiny keyboard that is surprisingly easy to use, backed by a bright, clear, backlit colour display. Together, these features make operation much easier than a stylus-driven PDA for those of us who are used to typing.
The 9210 uses the Symbian operating system, with 8MB of onboard SDRAM as working memory running on a 32-bit low-power processor. This supports a family of useful applications and games, but a more complex operating system than that of an average mobile phone also has its vulnerabilities. The operating system crashed and froze once during testing - however, removing and replacing the battery to force a reboot fixed this problem.
The Communicator is pre-loaded with numerous programs including a fax application, e-mail, Internet access, WAP browser, word processor, spreadsheet, presentation viewer, calendar and contacts database, and even its own video player! Third-party vendors can write software for the 9210, and you can download free programs and demos over the Web.
The unit comes with a 16MB MultiMedia Card to hold data and extra programs, though it can take larger cards for future expansion. It has a serial connector and software for exchanging information with a PC, and its application files are compatible with major office applications from Microsoft and Lotus. It can use infrared to communicate with compatible cameras, PCs and even printers.
On the network side, the 9210 can access your e-mail account, and can read a huge variety of file attachment types as well as send mail through a variety of popular server types. More impressive, though, is the real Web browser, which comes in addition to the WAP (Wide Area Protocol) capability which is normally found on mobile phones.
Not only can the browser read normal Web pages, rather than the special limited ones for WAP, but the bright colour display makes a big difference from the usual black-on-grey/green colours of most mobile screens. This HTML browser is worlds ahead of WAP - but not perfect. For example, while it rendered the Google search page quite well, the text box was invisible and had to be found by guesswork. Once found, though, the search worked just as it would have on a larger computer.
The 9210 is further enhanced by its multimedia capabilities, including both RealPlayer and its own proprietary video player - it's a bit of a surprise the first time you see a music video playing on a mobile phone.
In Australia, this phone uses a single GSM data channel, so it's restricted to 9600bps, although theoretically it can transfer data at up to 43.2Kbps when used with compatible mobile networks. The HTML browser is noticeably slow to load pages, and the processor then takes a few more seconds to render them.
The ability to read clear text and see pictures on a bright colour screen - and, above all, to read all Web pages and not just the special WAP-enabled ones - makes the browser worthwhile despite speed limitations. If a significant number of mobile phones go this route, the future of WAP looks limited indeed.
The 9210 enjoys an excellent life from its surprisingly small lithium ion battery, despite the power consumption of the backlit screen and onboard 32-bit processor. The specifications claim a talk time of well over three hours, and this proved to be the case with our test unit, which was still going strong after four hours of portable Web surfing.
With its well thought-out integration of functions and good ergonomics, the Nokia Communicator points to a promising future for mobile access.