T-Mobile customers looking for a touchscreen smart phone on the cheap could easily be tempted by the Nokia 5230 Nuron from T-Mobile. For $69.99 after the mail-in rebate (or as low as a penny through Amazon), it's a small, lightweight device that offers great battery life and free GPS navigation via Ovi Maps. The Nuron also has an app store and even an FM radio. We have some complaints--like the lack of Wi-Fi and mediocre web browser--but at this price the Nuron is worth a look.
The lightweight Nuron, which resembles the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic, is a bit on the bulky side. At 4 ounces, you'd almost forget it was in your pocket if not for its 4.4 x 2 x 0.6-inch dimensions. The face features a 3.2-inch resistive touchscreen with a 640 x 320-pixel resolution, so images look clean and sharp. There is an ambient light sensor beside the earpiece, and down below the screen are the call, menu, and end buttons. Just above the display to the right is a touch-sensitive button that opens a menu for quick access to music, portraits, movies, and the web.
Up top is a power button, a charging port, a 3.5mm headset jack, and a mini-USB port (which we feel should have been used for charging, too). To the right of the face is a volume rocker, the love-it-or-hate-it Nokia screen lock switch, and a dedicated camera button. On the left side are two panels that flip open to reveal slots for microSD and SIM Cards. While it's easy to slip the SIM Card into the phone, you have to remove the back and battery in order to take it out, using a pen, pin, or other small and sharp object. On the back, there is a 2-megapixel camera with no flash.
The on-screen keyboard on the Nuron works in two ways: portrait mode with T9/triple-tap/handwriting or landscape with a QWERTY layout and handwriting recognition. Since the Nuron uses a resistive touchscreen, handwriting didn't work too well unless we drew letters perfectly. Despite being a resistive touchscreen, the keyboard was quite responsive and not too difficult to use while typing SMS messages and e-mails. Still, it took a while to get used to the layout of the landscape QWERTY keyboard. You're probably not going to write lengthy e-mails or frequent text messages, but it works well enough for moderate use.
User Interface and Performance
Even for those coming from S60 3rd Edition, the Nuron's S60 5th Edition user interface will feel completely familiar, though there are a few additions from T-Mobile such as visual voicemail and My T-Mobile where you can view your account info and even pay your bill. On the home screen, you'll find the basic S60 setup with customizable icons on the top and bottom of the screen.
Hitting the center button launches a menu screen that shows icons for contacts, messaging, applications, and more. One new addition is an icon for visual voicemail in the main menu. Everywhere else, the interface looks the same as it does on every other S60 device. It's very simple and intuitive, and compared to Android, Windows Mobile 6.5, and other smart phone operating systems, S60 5th Edition will make the transition for feature phone users very easy.
The Nuron's performance wasn't bad at all. While the phone sports only a 434-MHz processor, this operating system isn't the most demanding platform out there; applications opened quickly, and there was never any lag in navigating the phone.
Click to enlargeThe Nuron is the first carrier-supported phone in the U.S. that has Nokia's Ovi Store. Like other application markets, you can download games, ring tones, music, video, and much more. The interface for Ovi Store on the Nuron is clean, but it's not as intuitive or organized as Android Market or the iPhone App Store. It took us a while to find some apps we wanted, and others weren't available. For example, when we searched for Pandora, the only app that we found was an Avatar action game.
Nokia couldn't give us a specific figure for the number of apps in the Ovi store; while there seems to be a fair amount in every category, the apps aren't as attractive as the ones you'll find on webOS, Android, or iPhone, nor are their features as rich. The design and interface for many of the apps feels like they were developed years ago. For example, the Shazam application does everything you'd expect it to if you've used it on the iPhone or BlackBerry before, but the design definitely looks dated; compared to the iPhone and BlackBerry versions, which contain clean images and icons, the ones on the Nuron look a bit pixelated. Still, it gets the job done. We played Hall & Oates' "I Can't Go For That" at a very low setting on a laptop in our office, and Shazam was able to recognize the song and get our results in about 20 seconds. It appears that many of the apps, when compared to other platforms, favor function over form and style.
Before you purchase your apps, you can check out user reviews and ratings to see if they're worth buying. Some apps are free, but most of what we found ranged from 99 cents to $9.99, and can be purchased with a credit card or added to your T-Mobile bill. That's more convenient than BlackBerry App World, which requires you to set up a PayPal account.
E-mail & Web
The Nuron supports IMAP4, POP3, and Sync (for PC Sync or T-Mobile Sync). Setting up e-mail was relatively easy, though not as simple as Android or BlackBerry. Again, composing e-mails and messages wasn't too pleasant because of the keyboard, but it works well enough for when absolutely have to read and respond to messages.
The web browser did a decent job of loading most pages, but it isn't as nice as Android or iPhone, even though it renders pages using the WebKit engine. Sites still looked like something you'd find on an older Nokia handset, and most of the time the menu takes up a good chunk of the screen. In a pinch, the browser does just fine if you're trying to kill time or look up info. While browsing over 3G in our Manhattan offices, NYTimes.com, ESPN.com, and WSJ.com loaded in 14, 18, and 14 seconds, respectively. Unfortunately, the Nuron does not support pinch-to-zoom, but you can double-tap to zoom in on sections of a web page.
While TeleNav is available for $9.99 a month on the Nuron, you may want to opt for Ovi Maps instead, which offers free navigation. It picked up our location almost instantly in Manhattan, and gave us driving directions just as quickly. Turn-by-turn voice navigation is loud and clear. Maps looked clean and were very easy to read, much like the TeleNav maps, so there was never any confusion. If you're a frequent international traveler, Ovi Maps also works overseas and shows points of interest on the map. However, one thing we'd like to see in Ovi Maps is the ability to use voice commands to find directions or locations, as with Google Navigation.
Camera & Multimedia
The Nuron's 2-megapixel camera won't be replacing your point-and-shoot. The colors looked washed out; a shot of our desk with some colorful gadgets on it looked like it was passed through some kind of fading filter. Outdoors, a picture of brick buildings with flowers in front had an equally hazy look. Video records at 30 frames per second at 640 x 480 resolution, but colors continue to look washed out. We also noticed that the lighting tended to go from very bright to very dark when panning around, though the effect wasn't extreme enough to be annoying.
As far as multimedia options go, the Nokia Nuron has a 3.5mm headphone jack and microSD Card support for up to 16GB, which is plenty for a sizeable music collection on the go, and T-Mobile includes a 4GB card in the box. There is also a built-in FM radio player that works quite well without too much static or hiss. Both the music player and FM radio sounded clean and bright using our in-ear headset. Sound quality was acceptable with the included stereo headset, but nowhere near as good as our own pair.
Battery Life and Call Quality
Click to enlargeCallers came in loud and clear on the Nuron, and we never had any issues understanding them whether we were in a quiet room or out on the street with traffic whizzing by. On our callers' end, they said we sounded like we were on a landline while indoors, and clear enough while outdoors that background noise didn't interfere with our conversations.
The rated battery life on the Nuron is 4.5 hours of talk time, but with frequent phone calls, e-mails, text messaging, and light web browsing, it took three days to run the battery indicator down to one bar.
The Nuron isn't a bad smart phone for the price. It has a high-resolution touchscreen, and though we're not fans of resistive displays, the Nuron's worked fairly well. Battery life was epic, and call quality was very good on T-Mobile's 3G network. In some ways, though, the Nuron feels like My First Smart Phone, including the relatively crude browser and basic interface, which is fine given the target audience. However, if you want a better selection of apps and a more responsive keyboard, get the T-Mobile Cliq ($149 through T-Mobile; 1 cent through Amazon). And if you desire a bigger screen and better entertainment options, check out the HTC HD2 ($199 through T-Mobile; $99 through Amazon).