I’ve been testing the Nokia E90 Communicator, an powerful blend of hardware and software. It combines a number of functions into a portable computer/phone that, despite the inevitable compromises, strikes me as the best device for journalists — and lots of other business folks — to carry around with them.
It’s almost precisely what the Apple iPhone is not: a device designed with serious work in mind, where the keypad(s) are the data-entry systems and where multimedia creation carries a higher value than playback. There’s a fold-out keyboard and large, high-resolution screen. It still requires thumb-typing (making me suspect that Nokia could and should create a model of this that’s shorter and no less difficult for typing).
The communications array is astounding, as we’ve come to expect from Nokia lately: 4-band GSM, GPRS, HSDPA 3G, WiFi and more. The 3.2-megapixel camera takes more than good enough pictures, and the video and audio recording are more than acceptable. GPS is built-in (but the radio receiver isn’t very powerful), along with a variety of other excellent features. Web browsing is better than ever with the larger 800×352 inside screen.Video playback still lags behind the iPhone, but not by much — I ripped some TV episodes to the E90 and watched them on a plane with excellent results.
The main drawback is the size and weight, though it’s svelte compared to older models of the Communicator series. Storage is limited to 4GB with a (extra purchase) micro-SD card. Another, continuing Nokia blind spot — true for all its phones — is the company’s refusal to support the Macintosh except in fairly crude ways (including the serious problem of requiring a Windows PC to update the firmware).
The N95 has more sophisticated multimedia features, and upcoming 8GB model looks pretty terrific (a touch screen would make it nearly perfect apart from the lack of QWERTY keyboard). I may stick with the N95, but I’m torn, because I love the ability to do more serious work on the E90.
This device, not yet officially on sale in the U.S., has game-changing potential for journalism. If I ran a newsroom and could talk the money folks into it, I’d hand out E90s to some of my journalists and Web developers. I’d tell them to experiment like crazy, and to watch what other people are doing with these and other powerful mobile systems. I suspect they’d do some amazing things.