Yesterday was a rare day, a day during which I enjoyed playing around with a gadget purely for the sake of it. Getting to know it a bit, trying things out on it to see how it works. Generally, just having a great deal of fun with it.
The gadget is the Nokia N70 smartphone you see pictured here which I got last weekend as part of the package when I upgraded my mobile phone contract with Vodafone to take advantage of the new services now available with UMTS networks like Vodafone's, part of next-generation 3G mobile communications technology.
What this means is that I can do things with this phone that I'd have needed a computer to do until now. So the phone's a computer, not just a phone. More on that in a minute.
If you do want to see the formal tech specs, this Nokia document has them.
So I'm not going to talk (much) about the technical aspects of this smartphone - Jørgen and Nokia between them do that pretty well - but rather focus on what you can do with a phone like this that goes far beyond making and receiving calls.
Let's take a look at how the N70 matches up with the mobile device wishlist I posted last February. Here's what I said -
[...] What I'd like is a mobile device that, at minimum, has all these attributes:
And, all in a package no bigger than an iPod Mini.
Ok, starting with the package which is indeed not much bigger than an iPod mini, as this photo shows.
About the same width and thickness but slightly taller. The N70 feels as if it weighs a bit less than the iPod mini.
Of course this won't matter much to anyone who doesn't have an iPod mini. But if you do as I still do, then it's a good comparison.
So on to the 13 points from my mobile device wishlist. How does the N70 stack up?
1. Lets me make and receive phone calls wherever in the world I am, automatically finding the correct network type
This is largely dependent on your service provider as much as on the phone hardware you have. But the N70 is certainly capable of doing this. From Jørgen Sundgot's review:
[...] The N70 plays host to a range of connectivity options, at the base of which lies tri-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE 900/1800/1900 MHz connectivity along with WCDMA 2100 MHz based 3G. As always, legacy support is present through support for CSD, HSCSD and Fax.
I'd add that my N70/Vodafone combination means that the phone defaults to using 3G but will automatically use a GSM or other network type if a 3G network isn't present.
2. Has hands-free capability
The N70 has a speakerphone as well, so a 'yes' here, too. Sound quality is excellent.
More comment on hands-free capability in number 7 below.
3. No-hassle connecting with my service provider wherever I am (the closest to that in my experience is Vodafone - everywhere I go, I can find a Vodafone network)
This point is really connected with number 1 above. I've been using Vodafone for the past five years and have always had no-hassle connecting wherever I happen to be with very few exceptions (and those were always in the US). So I expect to continue no-hassle connecting with the N70 even in the US ;)
4. Sends and receives multimedia SMS messages
The correct way of describing this is actually just 'multimedia messaging' or MMS where you send and receive text messages with multimedia content (eg, images, audio, video clips).
The N70 does this admirably.
5. Takes photos and lets me record video
Taking photos is one of the coolest features of the N70. It has two cameras, one at the back and one at the front (which you can see in the photos).
The main camera is at the back, protected by a slide cover. It's a 2 megapixel camera - on a picture-quality par with low-end digital cameras - with 20x digital zoom and LED-based flash, and supports a colour image capture resolution of up to 1600 x 1200 pixels. The front camera is low-res VGA and very good indeed for making video calls, one of the phone's other very cool features.
From my experimenting during the past week, picture quality really is very good indeed - take a look at the photos I took at Les Blogs 2.0 in Paris with the N70 to get an idea.
I haven't tried video yet, either recording video or making a video call. But I'd expect that to be every bit as good and as easy to do as reviews and the user manual say.
6. Enables me to send and receive email, files, video, etc
That's precisely what the N70 can do. Email requires that your service provider offers it, which Vodafone does, so I have the capability.
However, email isn't a service very high up on my list of essential things in a mobile phone (it's actually been close to the bottom of my list). If I really wanted email capability first and foremost, I'd have got a Blackberry or perhaps a Qtek Smartphone. (As the N70 runs the Symbian OS, it is capable of connecting to BlackBerry services.)
So I can send and receive email with my N70, including file attachments, via my email account at Vodafone. What really excites me about that, though, is it enables me to moblog - more on that in a minute.
One of the things I really like about the N70 when creating emails and text messages is the easy typing. That may seem an odd thing to say if you study the photos and see how tiny the keys on the keypad are. Yet I have no difficulty at all in hitting those keys, and I have big thumbs!
The text interface is simply great with just the right elapsed time after hitting a particular letter so that you can hit the next one without overwriting the one you just typed. I found that a constant pain with previous mobile phones. The N70 naturally has the T9 predictive text system, which I've disabled as I have never liked using that.
7. Lets me easily synchronize whatever stuff I want to and from my PCs wirelessly - no cables, cradles or anything like that, nor Bluetooth, just wi-fi
I think including this statement in my original wishlist was just wishful thinking. The N70 doesn't have wi-fi but it does have USB cable connectivity plus Bluetooth. And connecting the phone with a PC really is very easy indeed, with either cable or Bluetooth.
So I can connect via USB with my desktop PC and, when on the road, connect wirelessly via Bluetooth with my trusty ThinkPad T30 which has Bluetooth. A perfect situation for me.
And in terms of synchronization, the companion Nokia PC Suite software for Windows enables me to synchronize everything in my Outlook PST file so I'll always have the up-to-date essentials I want on my phone - diary and contacts.
The N70 definitely meets my needs for easy synchronization.
And speaking of Bluetooth, yesterday I bought my first accessory - a Nokia HS-56W wireless Bluetooth headset that's just come onto the market. With up to 10 hours talk time and 250 hours standby time, this is a perfect hands-free accessory.
8. Be Windows Mobile based
No, the N70 is not a Windows Mobile-based smartphone - it runs Symbian as I mentioned above.
The interesting thing for me when I was discussing the N70 with the Vodafone sales rep, and learning about all its features, was that the last thing I cared about was which operating system the phone uses.
The N70 lets me do everything I want with a smartphone - and some.
9. Has loads of memory (storage) capacity
Out of the box, the N70 has 22 megs of available phone memory and 64 megs on a separate reduced-size MMC flash memory card.That's plenty to start with. I can buy bigger-capacity MMC cards (up to a gig) if I want to increase memory/storage capacity.
10. Lets me listen to podcasts and music with nice comfortable headphones
Yes, it does that. The earbud headphones that come with the phone are at least as good as the ones that come with your iPod. They're also white :)
The N70 supports a wide range of audio file formats, not only MP3. Nokia has a long list which includes image file formats. Hard to tell which some of these are, image or audio, so here's the complete list - MP3, AAC, Real Audio, WAV, Nokia Ring Tones, AMR, AMR-WB, AMR-NB, AU, MIDI, H.263, JPEG, JPEG2000, EXIF 2.2, GIF 87/89, PNG, BMP (W-BMP), MBM, MPEG-4 and eAAC+.
11. Maybe play a game or two
The phone comes with three games. There are hundreds out there which you can check out online, buy and download using the phone's web browser.
12. It must look really cool
Well, I think it does!
13. Be truly affordable
Getting the N70 as part of a contract deal with Vodafone here, which included a variety of discounts and rebates, made it completely affordable. Part of that contract deal means that I have to keep this phone for the next 20 months before I can change it without incurring a financial penalty.
Not only that, the phone's hardware is rigged in such a way that it will not work with a SIM card that isn't from a service provider in The Netherlands. So, for instance, if I did offload the phone by selling it to someone in, say, the UK, it wouldn't work if the buyer used a SIM card from a UK service provider, even Vodafone in the UK. Of course, you can find tools out there via the internet that would let you hack the phone to remove that restriction if you really wanted to although that would invalidate the warranty (not something that would likely worry a grey market buyer, though).
But I'm ok with all of Vodafone's conditions as I'm quite sure that a lot will change in the next 20 months in terms of what comes to market with mobile devices. So by the time mid 2007 comes around, I'm sure I'll then be ready to upgrade my device to whatever is the latest tool. And I'm sure I'll still be with Vodafone.
Configuring the phone was a breeze, too. Create an account online with Vodafone, punch in the phone brand and model and wait for a couple of SMS messages with the configuration info that sets the phone up to use the full range of services Vodafone offers.
If you were to buy this phone in Europe today, ie, not as part of any contract deal with a mobile service provider, you'd be looking at paying around €550 ($650).
There is only one negative I can see about the N70 that some people might not like - its start-up time. When you turn the phone on, it takes a good 30 seconds to boot up. Having been used to a quick start-up from my previous phones (most recently a Samsung SGH-S100, which booted up in about 12 seconds), this is a bit long.
But it's a minor negative and you get used to it quite quickly. If you use Windows on your PC, you're already used to a 30-second (at least) boot time from a device you use a lot, so it's not really a big deal at all.
So, that's how the Nokia N70 stacks up against my 13-point mobile device wishlist. I make it a positive count of 11½ out of 13 - a resounding 'yes' to all points except number 8 and half of number 7. That well exceeds an acceptable rating.
14. But there's more!
Included on the software CD that came with the phone are the Nokia Lifeblog applications for the PC and for the phone.
With the PC app, I haven't yet got much beyond installing the software and taking a quick look at it. But I have immediately dived into the app on the phone.
This is so very cool. With Lifeblog on the phone, I can take a picture and immediately post it to a blog. It's very simple indeed to use and works perfectly.
What I did next was create a new blog on TypePad simply called Neville's Moblog. I'll be using that to chronicle pics I post from the N70 from wherever and whenever I happen to be. Next up - posting pics from the N70 to Flickr.
Why? Because I can!