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February 1999

Nokia 9000il Communicator
Nokia Corporation
6200 Courtney Campbell Causeway,

Suite 900
Tampa, FL 33607
Ph: 888-NOKIA2U

Fx: 813-287-6612
Web site: www.nokia.com

Price: Approximately $700; monthly service $30.00-50.00.

Installation: 5
Documentation: 4.5
GUI: 4.5
Features: 4.5
Overall: A

Nokia's 9000il Communicator represents a fascinating approach to mobile CTI, a CTI variant that seems poised for dramatic growth, both in terms of market success and sheer innovation. Nokia, in a single unit the size of a small cordless telephone, provides users a digital cellular telephone with a PDA, Web browser, SMS, and contact manager, plus clients for fax, e-mail, Telnet, and terminal.

Additional features include voice mail, an in-flight mode, a backlit LCD, infrared/RS-232 links, and a 9,600 baud modem speed. As for drawbacks, the only ones we can cite are bulkiness, expense, and the lack of a belt clip. Nonetheless, the Communicator is, all in all, a great product. Its only rival is the Qualcomm's pdQ series, which features the Palm III interface. Eventually, we hope to describe this series in detail. As of this writing, however, it is still unavailable for testing.

A user encounters a 9000 series Communicator if a service provider bundles the unit with the user's service. After performing the first battery charge using the included AC adapter, the user inserts a small SIM card into a slot accessed through the battery compartment. This card contains the service provider's network settings and some basic system information. Once the user switches the unit on for the first time, the user must enter the time and date, personal data, etc. Then, the Communicator is ready for use.

Our evaluation unit shipped with its SIM card already in place and the personal data already entered. However, we did have the opportunity to modify these settings, which was a simple exercise, thanks in no small measure to the helpful documentation. Our experience with setup, while limited, leads us to conclude that configuring the unit from scratch should take no more than 15 minutes.

Installing new software on a Communicator is just as easy. The user may download applications to a PC, or load them from floppies or CDs. Ultimately, the application on the PC is copied to the Nokia unit via a serial connection.

The user selects the system button on the Communicator's internal keyboard, chooses install/remove software, and selects the settings button. This last action lets the user choose the file exchange type (infrared or cable) and determine the path through which the file is installed on the PC. Finally, the user can press the install button.

When we followed the software installation procedure, the only problem we had was having to wrangle with an inconveniently short cord. Other than that, the file transfer/install technique was easy to master. It is a good idea, though, to check for available memory on the Communicator before installing anything. (Check the memory by choosing system-memory-details).

The Communicator comes with a user's guide, a quick start guide, and an accessories guide. Conspicuously missing is a wallet card that would contain shortcuts, commands, button explanations, etc., but the main user's guide is small enough to throw in a briefcase or pocketbook.

The user's guide and quick start guide are both well written, and they both have plenty of screen shots and illustrations and explanations. In general the written documentation was superior to the online documentation, which covered the bonus applications included on CD-ROM. Still, we were very pleased with the Communicator's built-in help feature. Pressing the help button at any time opens context-specific help, with a link to general help.

The online Communicator help was much better than the online help we experienced when we tested the Palm III (see the October 1998 issue). Incidentally, the bonus applications included a Communicator Web Developer's Guide, which discusses many issues related to creating HTML sites for the Communicator's grayscale 540-by-200 pixel browser area.

The front of the Communicator looks like a normal cellular telephone, with a keypad, a basic menu scroll/volume button, a few function keys, and a small LCD screen. Of course, the first thing you do is press the power button. After the power button has been depressed for two seconds, the telephone turns on, at which point you can't help but notice the extra-large text display. Here, you see the time and date, a battery indicator (on the right), and a signal strength indicator (on the left). The speaker and microphone are actually on the unit's back, so you have to be careful not to press any buttons on the keypad while talking.

If you press a latch on the unit's right side, the case unfolds into two halves lengthwise, revealing the PDA, which had a 71-button keyboard and a 640-by-200 pixel LCD screen. Opening or closing the PDA, like a refrigerator door, automatically turns it on or off, so there's no worry about leaving it on and draining the included 800 mAh lithium-ion battery, which provides about three hours of usage time or 30 hours of standby time.

Telephone Options
Options for the telephone include speed dial, volume, ringer/ring tone, search by name, simple dial and hang-up buttons (which are clearly labeled in green for dial and red for disconnect), a fold-down antenna, and a display that can tell you how much the call costs.

PDA Options
The PDA functionality is divided into nine sections. From left to right on the keyboard's function row, these sections cover telephony, fax, SMS, Internet, contacts, notes, calendar, system options, and extras (utilities and add-on software). We liked that regardless of what mode we were in, the left side of the display always showed the time, date, current mode, and remaining battery life.

Telephony Mode: Pressing the telephony button displays the directory, a search option, voice mailbox options, recent calls, and settings. Choosing settings provides options for ring tones, call waiting, calling cards, and other features. Users can place a call directly from this menu.

Fax Mode: The fax option brings up multiple folders; by default these folders are labeled saved ("own") texts, received faxes, and outbox. The fax settings buttons include choices for headers, send time, resolution, logo file, and .SIG file.

SMS Mode: The SMS screen has folders for original texts, received texts, standard messages, business cards, and information messages, plus nine option settings for configuring the service, including seven kinds of message conversion.

Internet Mode: Terminal, Telnet, e-mail, and Web are the four choices in Internet mode. We admired the e-mail editor's uncluttered look, but it seems some functionality was omitted along with the clutter. For example, there were only three fonts to choose from.

Nokia's e-mail is compatible with SMTP, IMAP4, POP3, MIME1, MIME2, and even SSL. The Web option opens directly into Hotlist, the Nokia equivalent of bookmarks or favorites. Here, you also can enter a URL manually, adjust connection settings, clear the cache, review cookies or history, set an automatic disconnect time, or configure plug-ins. Pressing the retrieve button begins URL browsing, but the browser does not support frames or Java, although there is primitive image support. The browser most resembles Lynx, a text-based but highly functional predecessor to today's GUI browsers.

Telnet and Terminal allow for faster but more primitive connections to e-mail or databases used with many organization's UNIX-based servers. Such connections, however, are becoming less popular, in part because of technologies like RAS and Web-based e-mail.

Contact Mode: The contact option offers powerful features such as the ability to log all voice and data calls, a utility for converting all manually called numbers into contacts, and even an option to determine which fields appear in which records. Best of all, using the Communicator's file synchronization options, users can import several types of database files from PC contact managers like ACT! and Goldmine.

The contact mode alone adds a lot of value to the Communicator, since it means your cellular telephone can have the same contacts list as your PC, and records added to either the telephone or the PC can be easily upgraded on the other device. Inside the Communicator's contact manager, users can even sort records by all contacts or by individual or filtered contacts, and the search bar is another option.

Notes Mode: The notes feature is primitive, but it works well for short and simple messages. It's divided into several folders, and the only formatting options are for the font, font size, and margins, but it's easier to type a message in the notepad and then open the SMS, fax, or e-mail options to send it. There is a full complement of special characters, plus an option for sending files directly to a printer, and note size is limited only by the available memory in your Communicator.

Calendar Mode: The calendar option is a very simple, clean utility that includes daily, weekly, and monthly calendar views as well as a to-do list. There is an audio alarm and a password option for setting new appointments, and you can use SMS to invite other users to meetings and to send reply messages.

System Mode: The system option controls user preferences and wireless connection options. The main menu under the system heading includes choices for security passwords, user data, fax modem options, file transfer, install/remove software, backup/restore data, import/export contacts, import/export calendar data, data removal, and system memory. The system menu is also where users can adjust the screen contrast, power-down time, system sounds, time/date format, and unit of measure.

Extras: The extras menu resembles Windows' accessories menu. There is a built-in clock, calculator, sound composer, wireless data backup, and text Web. There is also an excellent conversion utility, used for converting currencies (with programmable rates for about 40 nations), lengths, area, volume, mass, velocity, temperature, power, and energy. Engineers will love it.

Other features of the Communicator include:

  • Optional car kit with external microphone and mounting unit. (Automatically mutes car radio when telephone is turned on; automatically turns off when ignition is off.)
  • Optional extra batteries/charger.
  • In-flight mode. (Restricts telephone use.)
  • Music composer.
  • 8 MB memory. (4 MB devoted to operating system/applications; 2 MB, program execution; 2 MB, data storage.)
  • Embedded Intel 386 processor, GEOSTM 3.0 operating system.
  • 2.5-hour battery charging time.
  • Weight: 397 grams.
  • Network availability: GSM 900/1900 (PCS 1900), PCN (DCS 1800).

The Communicator's interface, like any new interface, demands a little study and practice, but we got used to it quickly. It is definitely easier to use than the Palm interface; in fact, the entire GUI most resembles Microsoft Excel, saving screen space by using plenty of tabs and having consistent menus throughout.

The default text yields about nine lines per screen, but the screen is proportionally much wider than a standard PC monitor, so you can fit more text on each line. For example, we imported several documents into the notes feature, and we found that about 90 words fit on one screen. We also liked the left-side screen pane, which always showed the time, date, mode, and remaining battery life.

We're not sure if it is possible, but we would like the Communicator be but a little smaller. Perhaps the unit's designers can save some space by shrinking some of the function buttons, which are unnecessarily large. However, that suggestion doesn't account for space requirements within the unit!

Even if the unit can't be made smaller, we would like to see it in a lightweight version. Also, the unit definitely needs some kind of heavy-duty belt clip.

We think the telephone receiver and speaker should be on the same side of the unit as the keypad, because it's very easy to accidentally press a keypad button when you're talking on the telephone. We'd also like to see a charging accessory that attaches to a car's cigarette lighter.

Anything that can be done to increase the modem speed or decrease the unit's price tag would obviously be a huge plus. Finally, we'd like to see an increase in the memory allocation for applications and for user data. We also wonder why nobody has developed a USB interface to attach a Zip drive to a PDA.

Since it is the first device of its kind, the 9000 Communicator is an obvious pick for our Editor's Choice award. We certainly grew fond of it during our short time with it; indeed, we were reluctant to return it to Nokia after our review was finished.

Still, we wouldn't suggest that anybody go out and spend $700 (plus tax and the monthly service fee) without doing serious homework first. For example, the potential user would have to decide whether they'd be better off spending that money on a laptop PC, or on a conventional cellular telephone and Palm or Windows CE device.

We hope to better address this issue when the Qualcomm pdQ finally debuts. This series is eagerly awaited, at least in part, because the Palm device already enjoys good reputation, having served as the platform for countless shareware applications. However, if price is not a huge issue (or if the space savings is a priority), the Communicator may be a very wise purchase. Look for an explosion of similar devices within the next six months.

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