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In today’s smaller-is-better world, no one wants to lug around a hulking 6.2-by-2.2 inch candy-bar style cell phone. It harkens back to the early days of cell phone technology when it looked like people held bricks to the side of their faces. History, however, can be kinder and gentler when it repeats itself, and there is no exception with the Nokia 9290 Communicator ( www.nokiausa.com/communicator/). Even though on the outside it’s a plain, bland, big cell phone, there are some fantastic surprises hidden inside. DON’T BE FOOLED BY OUTSIDE APPEARANCES … Anyone who is familiar with Nokia cell phones will immediately recognize the buttons and keypads on the outside of the Nokia 9290 Communicator. The first noticeable difference with the phone is that the front lacks a speaker or microphone. You have to flip over the 8.6 ounce phone to find them on the back. Intrigued, you might start searching for some other fascinating features of the phone — anything to let you know that the $600 you just paid for the phone gave you something more than just a fancy block of plastic. It’s not until you open the 9290 along its length that you discover the technological marvels inside this unassuming phone. … IT’S WHAT’S ON THE INSIDE THAT COUNTS Opened up, the Nokia 9290 Communicator reveals a complete keyboard and a color screen. Most jaws drop (including mine) at the sight of this fully functional PDA. We’ll start with the keyboard first, then move to the screen, which will lead right into the incredible array of software included with the unit. KEYBOARD A-PLENTY Nokia provides a full QWERTY ( www.webopedia.com/TERM/ Q/QWERTY_keyboard.html) keyboard with the 9290 Communicator. This means that you use the same keyboard layout that you use on your regular PC. In addition, the 9290 also has a small row of extra buttons at the top above the row of number keys and an odd-looking “rocker” or “joypad” button in the bottom right. The top row of extra buttons are labeled for PDA-specific applications that come with the 9290 like “Contacts,” “Calendar,” and “Tel.” I’ll describe those applications down below. The rocker-key in the bottom right of the keyboard has different functions. It can be used to scroll up and down in any application. It also operates a mouse cursor when necessary for applications like surfing on the Internet. The keyboard on the 9290 has a 12 millimeter center-to-center key spacing which is really good for a PDA. Conventional desktop keyboards have a 19 millimeter spacing, and many of the “thumb-keyboards” on PDAs like the Handspring Treo ( www.handspring.com/products/treo300/) have a 7 millimeter spacing. I found that I could hold the Nokia 9290 Communicator in both hands and use my thumbs to type comfortably, although I had to occasionally stretch across the keyboard. When I put the 9290 down on a table and pecked, it was great. There is no way that the keyboard will accommodate the regular two-handed typing position. A SCREEN DISPLAY TO CALL HOME ABOUT The screen display is where the Nokia 9290 Communicator shines the brightest. It measures 4.3 inches by 1.4 inches which obviously means that it is wider than it is long. I only bring this up because it differs so much from all other PDA units out on the market. The Nokia 9290′s screen is far superior for reading information and documents because you feel like you’re reading the full width of a page. If the size of the screen isn’t enough, the Nokia 9290 can support 4,096 colors with a 640 x 200 resolution ( www.webopedia.com/ TERM/r/resolution.html). I wish I could show all of you what that means in person because it’s one of those “see it to believe it” scenarios. I am continuously amazed at the sharpness and clarity of this display. I’ve read messages, played games, perused pictures and watched videos on the 9290 and have loved every minute of it. AN OS OF A DIFFERENT NAME Of course, the greatest keyboard and screen display wouldn’t mean a thing if Nokia didn’t provide a functional operating system for the 9290 Communicator. Fortunately for us, Nokia came through with flying colors, but not in the direction you might think. The 9290 does not use Microsoft’s Pocket PC ( www.pocketpc.com) nor the Palm system ( www.palmsource.com). It is based on the Symbian OS ( www.nokia.com/symbian/). If you immediately feel the urge to pull your hair out over yet another PDA operating system, allow me to describe the functionality of this interesting little niche. The word Symbian actually refers to a consortium of mobile phone companies like Nokia, Motorola, Siemens and Sony Ericsson. The members took the initiative to develop a basic, all-around operating system for mobile devices. While there are a few different products on the market that use Symbian today, the Nokia 9290 Communicator is the big success story so far. DESKTOPS, BUTTONS AND SPEAKER-PHONES The Symbian OS is based on the familiar PC environment. When you open the 9290, you’ll be looking at the “Desk” screen which you can customize with a graphic (just like Wallpaper in Windows). You also get a couple of icons that give you the time, your battery level and the strength of your cellular signal. The only other function of the Desk is that you can type in quick “sticky” notes. The notes feature comes in handy when you use the speaker phone feature of the 9290. As I stated above, you talk into the “regular” cell phone in the back of the unit. But while you’re on a call, you have the ability to open the 9290 and continue your conversation through the speaker phone. I love this feature. If I need to write something down while talking to someone, I can open the phone without interrupting the call, continue talking on the speaker phone, and type in a note! There are countless instances when this would have saved me fumbling around for a pen and paper. On the keyboard down toward the bottom, there is a “Menu” key. Pressing it brings up a small menu in the top left of the screen. The menu looks like the “File-Edit-View” menus that you see at the top of Windows applications. Each application on the 9290 has its own menu which allows you to perform common tasks like Copy, Paste, Delete, etc. There are also four buttons down along the right side of the screen. These buttons are application-specific and their functions change depending upon which program you’re using. APPLICATIONS THAT ANY SELF-RESPECTING PDA WOULD HAVE … The fastest way to launch applications on the 9290 is to use the small keys above the keyboard. You can access your contacts by either pressing the “Contacts” or “Tel” button. “Tel” simply gives you a list of names and phone numbers from your Contacts Directory, and it also gives you the ability to type in new numbers. Your Contacts Directory provides all the information affiliated with each entry. The “Calendar” button is self-explanatory, but I have to say that I really enjoy the views provided in this Calendar. When you select “Month,” you get a full monthly calendar on the left, and can see the details of your selected day on the right. You can hit the Tab button to move between the two sections. Other views include weekly, daily and yearly. I should have mentioned this earlier, but all applications on the Nokia 9290 will sync up with Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes & Organizer, but not with Novell GroupWise. So just like any PDA, the Nokia 9290 will let you walk around with your entire calendar and contact collection, completely synchronized with your desktop PC. Lastly, like any other PDA, the Nokia 9290 also provides you with a calculator and some fantastic-looking games. OFFICE APPLICATIONS The Nokia 9290 Communicator comes with what appears to be generic office-type applications. You can create and edit documents and spreadsheets, and even look at presentations. If you don’t feel like creating those documents on the 9290, you can move Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint files over from your PC and edit at will. The 9290 even features a “File Manager” to help you keep everything organized. I am very impressed with the capabilities of the office “suite” included with the 9290 and found everything fairly easy to use. WILD, EXCITING WWW The most exciting feature of the 9290 Communicator also includes its most disappointing complaint. Since the 9290 is a cell phone, you have the ability to use it as a modem for accessing the Internet. Not only does this mean you can literally surf to any Web site just like on a PC, you can retrieve e-mail from various accounts wherever you are. And like most cell phones, the 9290 will also access WAP enabled sites. The disappointment comes in the fact that the unit only works on GSM ( www.webopedia.com/TERM/G/GSM.html) networks and cannot be upgraded to GPRS ( www.webopedia.com/TERM/G/GPRS.html). In simple terms, this means that the fastest data connection you’ll enjoy on the 9290 is probably only going to be 9.6 kilobits per second. If you can get past the slow-as-molasses speed issue, then you’ll enjoy full World Wide Web access, something that hardly no other PDA can boast about. Since Nokia does not provide wireless service with the product, you’ll have to separately sign on with either VoiceStream (now called T-Mobile ( www.t-mobile.com)) or Cingular ( www.cingular.com). To surf the Web, you’ll have to set up a connection for the phone to call — just like a dial-up ISP for your PC. Since my firm uses Citrix ( www.citrix.com) for remote access, I was even able to install the Citrix client on the 9290 Communicator. The client dialed up the programmed ISP and I was checking my work e-mail and working on my documents in a matter of minutes, from a little screen walking around downtown. Honestly, it’s not feasible that you can do real work on such a little screen, but in a bind, it’s a great tool to have. MESSAGE HERE, MESSAGE THERE The “Messaging” button on the 9290 takes you to a central communication area. From here, you can 1) read and send e-mail, 2) send and receive so-called “short messages” via short message service ( www.webopedia.com/TERM/S/ short_message_service.html), and 3) send and receive faxes via the internal fax modem. Setting up e-mail accounts is easy and the 9290 Communicator provides a great interface for storing, sorting and organizing your e-mail messages. Using SMS is a good alternative to an e-mail message, especially when you want to send someone a text message to their cell phone. It’s much easier to type a short message on the 9290 than on a regular cell phone where you have to press the “7″ button four times to type an “S.” I was really impressed with the included fax modem capability. You can choose to compose an original fax on the unit and send that, or you can bring over a document from your PC and attach that to a fax. You can also receive faxes. This capability is amazing. THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE WIRELESS As stated above, the biggest disappointment with the Nokia 9290 Communicator is that wireless access speed is not fast enough (the response time of the unit for applications was fantastic). This is really too bad because everything else about this product is incredible. After saying that, however, many people will be turned off by its heftiness. This isn’t a cell phone that you can clip on to your belt. But if those two issues don’t bother you at all, then you may have found your ultimate PDA/cell phone combo. The Nokia Web site for the 9290 Communicator ( www.nokiausa.com/communicator) is a tremendous resource. You’ll find links to all kinds of software available for the PDA, along with FAQs, demos, and accessories for sale. Head on over there to get a look at more pictures of the phone and its various functions. Brett Burney is the Legal Practice Support Coordinator at Thompson Hine LLP (www.thompsonhine.com) in Cleveland. He also reviews products for Law Office Computing magazine (www.lawofficecomputing.com) and writes a monthly legal tech column for LLRX.com. He can be reached at [email protected].

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