E90 The Communicator

Nokia Communicator users and fans got used to always having to wait several years for a new model and always being slightly disappointed by the lack of some important features and reduced performance of new models compared to e.g. S60 smartphones announced/released at the same time. The 9210, the first Symbian OS based Communicator released in 2001, came with no GPRS and no Bluetooth, even though simple Nokia phones had both. 9210i and 9290 haven't changed much and we had to wait 3 years for the 9500 which finally delivered Bluetooth and GPRS/EDGE but (in 2004/2005!) still no UMTS, low-res camera and slow(ish) 150 MHz processor, compared to 220 MHz clocks of S60 smartphones (e.g. the 6630) announced at the same time... The 9300 and the 9300i provided improved WLAN connectivity but still the same processing speed and no UMTS support.

History often repeats itself.... but NOT THIS TIME! The E90 has almost everything you could dream of and provides the fastest processor currently used in Symbian OS smartphones and the largest operating memory (RAM) capacity ever used in a Symbian OS based device, with the recently announced UIQ3 based Sony Ericsson P1i being the only smartphone to offer the same amount of RAM. Yes, it's true, Nokia has finally created a Communicator that is as fast as other high-end Symbian OS devices and as powerful (and MORE functional) than high-end PocketPC Phone Edition devices! Read on.

The Nokia E90 Communicator is a workhorse. The brainpower behind the smartphone is provided by Symbian OS 9.2, Series 60 3rd Edition and comes packed with a host of applications for the business user. There's full support for viewing and editing Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents thanks to the Quickoffice suite. The E90 also features the Nokia Team Suite, which we saw debut on the Nokia E65, and lets you create "teams" and define members, conference call numbers, conference call PINs, and Web pages.

Other utilities and PIM tools include Adobe Reader, a Zip Manager, a calendar, notes, a calculator, a clock, a voice recorder, and a currency converter. Of course, with the openness of the Symbian platform, you have access to a large library of third-party applications. There's Download Catalog on the device or you can check CNET Download.com for more titles. The Nokia E90 has 128MB of user-accessible memory, and the microSD expansion slot can accept up to 2GB cards.

As for e-mail capabilities, the Nokia E90 offers support for Microsoft Exchange Server, POP3, IMAP, and SMTP accounts, and a full attachment viewer. You can get real-time message delivery through a number of push e-mail solutions, including Intellisync Wireless E-mail, BlackBerry Connect, GoodLink, Visto, and Seven Always-On Mail. Nokia offers additional help to business users by including a mobile VPN client so that you can securely tap into your corporate server.

The E90's phone features include quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, conference calling, speed dial, voice commands, and VoIP support. There's also text and multimedia messaging, and like the Nokia E61i, the smartphone has the text-to-speech reader that will read your messages aloud. The address book is limited only by the available memory, while the SIM card can hold an additional 250 contacts. Each entry has room for multiple numbers, an e-mail address, home and work addresses, a URL, and so forth. For caller ID purposes, you can pair a contact with a photo or a ringtone.

Wireless options on the E90 are plentiful, but it does disappoint in one area: it doesn't work on U.S. 3G bands. Unfortunately, it's only compatible with Europe's HSDPA/WCDMA 2100 band, but not our UMTS/HSDPA bands, so you're stuck with EDGE speeds. It's a true bummer for such a power-packed device. That said, there is integrated Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) so you don't have to solely rely on GPRS/EDGE for surfing the Web. You also get Bluetooth 2.0 for connectivity to wireless mono and stereo headsets, hands-free kits, file transfer, and dial-up networking among other things. And if all that wireless goodness wasn't enough, the E90 has a built-in GPS radio, which, along with the preloaded Nokia Maps application, allows for real-time tracking, driving directions, and the like.

As a business-centric device, some may be sad to see that the Nokia E90 has a camera, given that a number of companies are banning the use of camera phones at workplaces for security reasons. But for better or worse, the smartphone comes equipped with a 3.2-megapixel camera with flash, autofocus, and video-recording capabilities. In camera mode, you have a choice of various scenes and image qualities, and you can tweak the ISO, contrast, and color tones to get the best shot. User settings are a bit more limited in video mode, but you do have two scene modes (auto or night) and five choices in video quality.

Finally, the smartphone is equipped with a decent music player. It plays back MP3 and AAC files and can sort songs by artist, album, genre, or composer. You can also create playlists right on the device, set songs on random or repeat mode, and tweak the sound settings via the built-in equalizer. In addition, there's an FM radio, though you'll have to use the included wired headset since it acts as the FM tuner. For videos, RealPlayer is onboard and is compatible with MPEG-4, MP4, 3GP, RV, RA, AAC, AMR, and MIDI formats.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; GPRS/EDGE) Nokia E90 Communicator in San Francisco using AT&T service, and call quality was good. We enjoyed crisp sound and good volume on our end, and had no problems interacting with an airline's voice-automated response system. Our callers also reported good results. The speakerphone presented more of a mixed bag. While our friends were impressed by the clarity, voices sounded a bit weak and hollow on our end. It wasn't anything that prevented us from having a conversation, but it will pose a challenge if you're trying to talk on the speakerphone in noisier environments. On the bright side, we had no problems pairing the E90 with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset or the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.

Armed with a 330MHz Texas Instrument OMAP2420 processor, general performance was pretty swift. We did notice some lag when activating the camera and other multimedia applications, but we didn't experience any system crashes during our review period. Of course, the Web-browsing experience could have used the speed boosts from 3G support, but we were able to get by on EDGE. The device also had no problem finding and connecting to our Wi-Fi access point, and the E90 is equipped with an excellent Web browser. Multimedia performance could have been better. Music playback through the phone's speakers was weak and one-dimensional, though it's improved when you used the wired headset. Meanwhile, video clips looked pixilated and blurry, but it should be fine for short diversions.

The Nokia E90 is rated for 5.8 hours of talk time and up to 14 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, we were able to get an impressive 11.5 hours of continuous talk time on a single charge. According to FCC radiation tests, the E90 has a digital SAR rating of 0.59 watt per kilogram.


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