Mon, 17 Sep 2001

Nokia 9210 blends status and utility

By Zatni Arbi

JAKARTA (JP): Since I started using my IBM WorkPad C3, I have been hooked up to the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). Each time I need to call someone but forget their mobile phone number, I can quickly check the PDA's address book.

If someone asks me whether they can set up a meeting with me Wednesday two weeks from now, I can check the calendar. If I need to make a quick calculation, I can use the calculator.

Most important of all is that each time I sit in a seminar or presentation, I can use it to take down notes with the optional foldable keyboard that I have bought. I don't need to read what I write as I keep on typing, and therefore the tiny display screen does not bother me at all.

The WorkPad could be coupled with a modem, and it would allow me to send and receive e-mail messages without hooking it to a PC. Newer PDA models from Palm, Handspring, HP and Compaq can even be equipped with modules that will enable us to make calls, access the Internet and send or receive e-mail messages anywhere the service is available.

Unfortunately, the modules are quite costly and they make the PDAs bulkier and operating them is far more complicated. Why not combine a PDA and a cellphone in one usable unit?

Obviously, such an idea is not a novel one. A lot of cellphones now have some PDA functions, including an alarm that can be set to remind the user of an upcoming appointment. The phone book can store hundreds of phone numbers. Even my Siemens S25 has a calculator. But in most cases the cellphone's PDA functions are still limited and the screen is too tiny for comfortable use.

So, when inTouch offered to show me what Nokia's top-of-the- line Communicator 9210 could do, I said I was interested.

The third attempt

Unfortunately, Nokia does not provide a demo unit for reviews, so I only had one and a half hours to touch and play around with this Rp 8.3 million (US$902) status symbol at PT Integra Solusindo Telematika's office in the Kuningan area, Jakarta. David Lim from inTouch patiently went through its features with me as I learned most, or if not all the functions of the Nokia Communicator 9210.

The 9210 is actually Nokia's third attempt at combining a PDA, a notebook computer, a fax machine, a WAP device, an Internet access device and a cellphone. The first attempt was the Communicator 9000, which was much bulkier and heavier. Then there was the Communicator 9110. The 9210 is the smallest of the three and unlike its predecessors it has a screen with 4096 colors. Specifically for the U.S. market, the model number will be 9290 and it will not become available there until next year.

Why did I mention a notebook computer as part of its functionality? The 9210 also includes a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation viewer, a built-in Internet browser as well as an e-mail client application-device that we normally consider as must-haves on our notebook computer that we tote around.

The operating system is provided by Symbian, a U.S.-based company that has done a lot to develop a common operating system for wireless communication devices.

In the 90 minutes or so that I spent with David, I was unable to really test the Office application on 9210. I was told that the applications could open, edit and save files in Microsoft Word and Excel formats but it could only view PowerPoint files.

"Soon we will have the necessary accessory that will connect the 9210 to a video projector and we will be able to give a PowerPoint presentation out of this small device," David told me.

But first, let us take a look at the hardware. It is much bigger than today's tiny cellphones, but it is actually as big as the old cellphones of four years ago. In fact, it reminded me of my first cellphone, which was made by Alcatel.

When the clamshell is closed, it can be used as a normal cellphone, although I guess people with smaller hands will have difficulty holding it against their ear.

"A good thing about this cellphone is that the sensitivity of its microphone is very good. I can place it on the passenger seat next to me while I'm driving, and I can still communicate with the person on the other end easily," said David. Unfortunately, I do not believe driving and talking on the phone is a great idea.

Opening the clamshell reveals the trendy screen and keypad. The screen is bright and sharp. On the right of the screen there are four command buttons that can be pressed to activate the commands on the screen adjacent to each of them.

Pressing the Menu button on the keypad will invoke the system menu. A round cursor control is also available for quick navigation. On the top of the keypad are six buttons to enter the Desktop, telecommunication application, Internet application, etc.

The memory can be expanded with a tiny memory card with a capacity of up to 128 MB. That will be more than enough to store different ring tones for dozens of different callers. The battery lasts realistically up to three days with heavy use.

On the software side, the collection of applications is quite impressive. In addition to several games, you can receive, create and send e-mail messages or faxes with this gadget. When someone calls, all the callers personal data can be automatically displayed on the screen-complete with their picture.

The available cellphone functions are also more than what is needed. You can check incoming, outgoing and missed calls very easily on the screen, which is much larger than ordinary cellphone screens. Writing SMS on the 9210 is definitely much easier too.

What can be added?

Firstly, although not many people are comfortable with Grafitti or other types of shorthand, I believe that Nokia should consider at least adding an touchscreen capability or handwriting recognition to their next generation of Communicator.

Secondly, the keyboard is still too small for touch-typing, making the 9210 unsuitable for note taking. David told me that there was still no plan to release foldable keyboards like the one I have for my IBM WorkPad.

The fact that the 9210 already has a keyboard should not exclude such a plan. In fact, the moment I hear there is a foldable keyboard for this cellphone, I will certainly seriously start considering buying one.

Cellphones with such a rich array of capabilities have been appearing from other cellphone as well as PDA makers. Among the front-liners are the Ericsson R380 Series and Motorola's clip on Organizer.

Siemens also makes the SX45, a PocketPC-based PDA with built- in cellphone capabilities. However, it seems that today the Communicator 9210 still has by far the most complete functionality and also has the status to go with it too. (