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Nokia 9300: our long term test

High class tech in a non-nerdy case

I'm used to canvassing a wide range of opinion for phones, and women don't usually pull their punches with technology. The Nokia 9300 proved to be far more popular with women professionals than any piece of loan kit I can recall. Why? Because of the discreet design. It isn't loaded with buttons, so doesn't look macho or geeky. But it does offer the user the ability to send a text much quicker than a T9 keypad - and women send more texts than men, typically conducting more conversations too [2]. The messaging application's ability to perform a lookup from a couple of characters was also popular. (For example, type in "Ele" and it will complete the rest, or give narrow it down nicely. So you can type quickly, and put it right away. This factor alone, rather than any of the touted multimedia or web features, or EDGE or Bluetooth [3] was the big draw.

In addition, I was assured that a good set of fingernails made the keyboard, which I found awkward, to be easier to type on. And in a handbag, the prize screen was going to be protected from keys and accessories because the lid is closed.

At the start of the long term loan, I'd have put very long odds on this phone having any kind chick appeal, but there you have it.

In fact, on several occasions opening the 9300 up caused some surprise - amongst technical and non-technical users. Nokia's designers used the model 6310 phone as a design template to try and shrink the Communicator into something more pocket friendly - and this has evidently been more of a success than they can have anticipated.

"I thought that was just an ordinary phone," was a remark I heard more than once. In fact the 9300 is exactly the same thickness, and only a tenth of an inch longer than a 6310. It comfortably fits into a breast pocket.

There are cases where the limitations of the Series 40-like, lid-closed interface really hurt. One is music playback, which can't be controlled without opening it up. Although the 9300 supports large and cheap MMC cards, giving you the capacity to carry some music around with you, there's no way to control playback without opening the case. That said, things aren't much better with the native Symbian Media Player that ships with the phone. This appears to have been designed by someone from another planet. It either doesn't pick up ID3 tags, or when it does, it doesn't display them.

In common with all Nokia phones using the accursed PopPort, it's more difficult to use than it should be. (This accessory might help - any reader reports?) I suspect Nokia called its audio interface the PopPort because headphones Pop Out so easily. Then they're really hard to get back in again. It's difficult to design something quite as bad as this, and the PopPort should merit some kind of Anti-Engineering award.

The 9300 is clearly a business phone, and we don't expect killer music features: but Nokia can do so much better than this.

Having got so many of the basics right - reliability, battery consumption, ease of use - it's odd to find the absence of one small feature so annoying. Living in a city, we take phones' vibrate functions for granted. I continued to curse its absence well into the trial, and it was only when it was paired with a vibrating headset that I stopped missing incoming calls. If you're seriously looking at the 9300, you should consider the Jabra BT800 too - it's mandatory.

The verdict

The 9300 takes some pretty forbidding technology and puts in a very discreet and unassuming package. Businesses may appreciate the lack of a camera, and while it doesn't really shine as a multimedia cache, the calendar and messaging applications are well-lived in and like the machine itself, rock solid. The software portfolio isn't as rich as for Palm and Microsoft, but it is well supported by enterprises, particularly IBM. But it's the first device to be a Nokia quality phone with genuine BlackBerry software, a combination a long time a coming.

Today's smartphones try to do too much, most of it not very well, but the 9300 does three things very well indeed: phone calls, messaging, and an alarm clock you can rely on.®

Nokia 9300 Communicator

Original gravity 90%
US price $299.99 after rebate from Cingular from November 2005.
More info Nokia US: 9300 page


¹ Paul Fussell's book on American class explains this title inflation very succinctly. It's all about the number of syllables. So moving from being a "garbage man" to a "waste disposal technician" offers a 175 per cent increase in syllables, while "information architect" is 233 per cent better than "web monkey".

² I suspect men like using text to avoid talking, and women use text to keep several non-verbal conversations on the go, but I'm no anthropologist. If you are, well, drop us a line and we'll share it.

³ Sometime between our first 9300 review appearing and now, Bluetooth has caught on over here in quite a big way. Just like that.

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