Nokia's Astound joins a superb hardware package with the clunky Symbian operating system, marring what could have been a very solid smartphone with another OS.
made the right decision to abandon Symbian.
The Nokia CEO
generated some controversy in early February when he announced a new
partnership with Microsoft that would see Windows Phone 7 ported onto the
Finnish manufacturer's smartphones. That followed the leak of a 1,200-word
internal memo, ostensibly penned by Elop, suggesting Nokia needed to make a
"radical change" and leap from a "burning platform" in order to revive its
apparently weighed the merits of embracing Google's Android operating system
before embracing Microsoft. He could have chosen either, really; what the new
Nokia Astound makes clear is that Symbian needs to be retired with extreme
said, the Astound-offered exclusively from T-Mobile in the United States-is a
nice piece of hardware. Its 4.4-ounce body sits well in the hand, feeling
lightweight but not cheap like some Android smartphones. The 3.5-inch AMOLED (active-matrix
organic LED) high-definition touch-screen is sharply defined and responsive (if
a little dim in sunlight). And the 8-megapixel rear camera (paired with a
1.3-megapixel front-facer) zooms smoothly and takes serviceable images and
video. The battery is good for roughly a day of moderate Web-cruising, email
answering, map-zooming and game-playing. The processor (680MHz with a 3D
graphics accelerator) is adequate, although the device also became noticeably
warm during prolonged, intensive use.
Astound succeeds in its hardware, though, it utterly fails in software. Symbian
3 is the best mobile operating system of 2002. Between the antiquated built-in
browser, the inexplicable crashes and lockups, the near-indecipherable icons
and menus, and the tragically overstuffed home screens, it plays like a
graduate-school programming project that somehow managed to escape into the
wild. It will make you appreciate anew how Google Android, Windows Phone 7 and
Apple's iOS have all emphasized simplicity and ease-of-use in their respective
desperately needs to improve its backend infrastructure supporting its
smartphones. Registering for a Nokia account involved not only an overlong form
on its Website, but also:
A. Inputting a
code into the smartphone to retrieve the serial number, a required space on the
B. Having that
code fail, requiring the user to power down the device, pop out the battery and
read off the serial number from the sticker underneath.
completed the form on Nokia's Website, receiving a four-digit code texted to
the smartphone, to be inputted on yet another screen on Nokia's Website.
Nokia's Website refuse to accept that four-digit code.
mileage on this part of the process may vary. But compared with the process of
signing up for a Google or Apple account, and then having that account
"activate" a smartphone, Nokia's signup is excessively convoluted.
for that little bit of micro-drama, you have full access to the Ovi Store,
which offers a healthy collection of both name-brand and little-known applications.
(Yes, Angry Birds is here.) The storefront is relatively easy to navigate and
the applications themselves are hassle-free to download, although it lacks the
sheer size of Apple's App Store or Google's Android Marketplace. As with
seemingly most things Symbian, navigating between menus or downloading applications
comes with various "downloading" or "loading" screens. That's a feature
designed to give you time to fetch a cup of coffee.
comes pre-loaded with the T-Mobile Store, 3D Wooden Labyrinth, Slacker streaming
radio, YouTube, the Ovi Store and the game Fruit Ninja Lite. The YouTube
interface is streamlined and clean, even if the videos themselves are sometimes
grainy. With video, calls and games, the Astound's speaker boasts superior
sound quality-yet another example of the excellent hardware.
rival offerings, Symbian's virtual QWERTY keyboard feels practically Stone Age.
The tiny keys (even in landscape mode, but especially in portrait) will likely
drive bigger-fingered users to distraction. Swype is supported. Activating the
keyboard has the disturbing tendency to blank out the original screen.
To be fair,
Symbian offers three bright spots. One is gesture control, including
pinch-to-zoom, which is remarkably fine-tuned. The second is Ovi Maps, which
offers a smooth interface, some impressive detailing work (a map of New York
City features impressive renderings of the Empire State Building and other
famous landmarks, jutting from the otherwise 2D landscape) and navigation
tools. The third is the multitasking interface, which offers a swipe-through
menu of your open applications (with the ability to easily close any of them).
Setup with email
(the Astound supports Exchange, AOL, Gmail, Yahoo, and a variety of POP and
IMAP services) is also simple. That being said, Symbian missed the boat when it
comes to a streamlined user interface. Instead, Symbian got on the boat that
suggested nearly every menu come with a bewildering array of options (pressing
the power button on top of the device brings up a menu with 10 options-compare
that with Android, which offers three), often burying useful functionality four
or five screens in. If you're a power user who enjoys a high degree of granular
control over your device's function, then Nokia's interface may boast some
appeal; otherwise, it comes off as something designed by a committee in which
everyone had an input.
offering the Astound for $79.99 (after a $50 mail-in rebate) with a two-year contract.
Given the device's solid camera, superior hand-feel and great sound quality,
that might make it a deal for someone who basically wants a regular cell-phone
capable of email and flinging the occasional irate bird at a pig. Those in the
market for a robust smartphone, though, might do better to stick with an
offering from Apple, Microsoft, Research In Motion or Google.
Nokia may have
made the right decision in dumping Symbian in favor of a new system. Barring a
total revamp, the platform feels outdated in comparison to its rivals.