by April 1, 1998 0 comments
  Nokia
9000 Communicator With Enhanced Software:

Standard GSM cellphone integrated with
Internet-ready 386 PDA running GEOS 3. 8 MB RAM
(2 MB free), 640 x 200 grayscale LCD, plus 3-line
phone LCD. CD-ROM with apps and PDF
documentation. Mobile Internet access for e-mail,
Web, telnet, terminal dial-up; graphical browser
with SSL support, IrDA and optional serial
connection, calculator, converter and other PDA
utilities. POP3, SMTP and other standards
supported. A well-integrated, Net-ready PDA.
Though bulky for a cellphone, great for e-mail
and fax on the move, with the occasional Web
access. Useful utilities. Tiny keys take some
getting used to. Price: Rs 49,995
Mfr & Vendor:
Nokia, 5th Floor, Radisson
Complex, NH-8, Mahipalpur, New Delhi-110037 Fax:
6132838/984 Tel: 6134257, 6134300

This is a personal
digital assistant built around a Nokia cellphone.
It’s an Internet access device, a Web and e-mail
client, and it can send and receive faxes, all over the
GSM cellular network. It’s also packed with little
organizer utilities: scheduler, notepad, conversions, et
al
. The original year-old version was a whopping Rs
110,000. The model we tested has enhanced software, and
costs Rs 40,000. Its new name is a mouthful: “The
Nokia 9000 Communicator With Enhanced Software”.
We’re low on space here, so I’ll just call it
the 9000.

The 9000 integrates
cellphone and PDA functions well, though each has its own
keyboard and display. The computer is an Intel 386 (how
come this doesn’t say Intel Inside?), and it runs
the GEOS 3.0 operating system. Of the 8 MB of memory,
half is taken up by the OS and apps, 2 MB kept for data
storage, and 2 MB free memory for programs to run in. The
640 x 200 display shows eight grayscale levels
(there’s a separate phone LCD).

As a cellphone, the 9000
is bulky but capable, with most of the functions
you’d expect in a high-end handset. It really comes
into its own in speakerphone mode, where it’s loud
and clear, and doesn’t sound like a speakerphone or
cellphone to a caller. Even Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
sounded good on it, playing off a CD into a land-line
phone at the other end. It worked quite well as a
hands-free speakerphone in a car.

Internet access is standard.
A command to fetch a Web URL or your e-mail initiates a
connect. The dial-up is disquietingly silent. This is
digital, so no reassuring modem tones to tell you
what’s happening–so you have to keep staring at
it while it dials. It would have been really great to
have some audio feedback. And then you confront
VSNL’s TCP/IP login screen–which, believe it or
not, shows up in 3 point text! A so-called zoom key
expands this to about 5 points.

The big problem with the
original 9000, an inflexible automated login which did
not work with VSNL, has been “tackled” in the
9000 by making the login manual. So no scripts, no
automated login. This is a real bother. After years of
being used to PCs and notebooks logging in on their own,
I had to painfully enter a login, password, and a
“ppp” command at every mail fetch or send. This
one needs an urgent fix.

E-mail access is
simple and effective. The 9000 supports standard
protocols: SMTP, POP3, MIME, IMAP4. With airtime so
valuable (especially at 9600 bps), you can choose to pick
up just the headers of the messages in your inbox. You
can then select specific headers, and press Fetch to get
the mail. Simple–how nice if the Eudora genre on our
PCs could do this. You can also choose Fetch New, where
it’s going to fetch everything since your last
access. You have to go through the Fetch Headers process,
by the way, even if you want to ultimately pick up all
you mail.

Sending e-mail is equally
easy. You write your message in a notepad, and enter the
recipient’s address (or pick it up from an
addressbook). You can choose to send the message
immediately, or queue it for sending on demand. When set
to “Send during next connection”, it sends and
picks up mail in the same session. After you queue the
mail, you’re prompted to save the message
(there’s no separate outbox for sent mail). Forget
Websurfing: e-mail is the top reason to own the
Communicator. The only bother is the VSNL manual logon
each time.

We tested the Nokia 9000 on
Essar Cellphone’s network in Delhi, using a
connection (and SIM card) with voice, data, fax
and SMS enabled.

Data and fax is not popular yet
across the GSM networks in India, with less than
a third of one percent of subscribers taking it
up. Blame it to high cost, high airtime charges,
and low focus on this service by Indian GSM
networks. Not only is the monthly subscription
cost stiff, there’s also airtime charged at
full voice rates, which does not lend well to
hours of surfing or mail access. (Incidentally,
most subscribers who have take in up are using it
along with a notebook PC and data-ready
cellphone, rather than with the 9000
Communicator.)

All the services
worked smoothly on the Essar network, though VSNL
connectivity took the expected time, made worse
by the lack of audio feedback during the
9000’s connect attempts. Essar COO Andreas
Schelling told PC Quest that the company would
consider a direct Internet access service further
down the line.

 

If you do need to
access the Web, you can do it simply by entering a URL or
choosing one from the Hotlist, and pressing Fetch. The
9000 goes through its login, and fetches the page. The
display shows text and 8-level grayscale images, and you
have to vertically scroll to see a standard page. You can
quickly save and go offline to read a page in detail, and
go online again to go to another link or page. All this
is very well thought out, but impeded by having to
manually log in between pages (what a way to save
airtime!). A few sites are “Communicator
friendly”: shorter pages, quick loading. The
accompanying CD even has a whole manual (in PDF form) on
designing Web pages for the Communicator.

You can also use the
Telnet utility or the Terminal dial-up applet to connect
to a BBS or VSNL’s shell account or a PC. Again, you
have to ready some really small text, though you can zoom
in a bit.

The bundled CD has a
number of applications, both for the 9000 and for your PC
(such as Intellisync, et al). The utilities for
the 9000 can be installed from a notebook with a CD-ROM
and a compatible IrDA port, or via the optional serial
cable. More important, the CD has extensive documenation
in PDF files, including the 9000’s detailed manual
itself. The IrDA port also lets you print to a similarly
equipped printer, like a DeskJet 340 or LaserJet 6P.

There are some neat little
applets, including a measurements converter that does
currency, length, weight, temperature, etc. And a musical
composer which actually shows you the notes being played
(in musical notation)–a nice way to learn.

Battery life is
reasonable. There’s a small Li-ion battery, which
powers the entire device for over a day, voice/data calls
and all. The charger is light and fast. You can also buy
an optional battery charger unit, if you buy a spare
battery.

Fax works very well; you
can send and receive with standard fax machines or fax
cards. Graphics show up very well, though you have to
scroll, of course. However, try sending a WinFax cover
sheet with cute graphics, and you have several mintues of
airtime adding up.

As with most GSM cellphones, SMS is
supported, and in fact the Nokia 9000 is a great device
for this. SMS–GSM’s “short message
service”–is mostly used in one direction, to
inform cellular subscribers about received voice mail.
You can subscribe to SMS, but composing messages with a
standard phone keypad is a bother. It’s easy with
the 9000, and worked very well.

All in all, this is a
great prototype product that points to the future of
PDAs: a thoroughly connected, integrated device. For now,
it’s too little of too many things. It’s bulky
for a cellphone, and expensive and a bit fiddly for a PC.
There’s no direct land-line or PC Card modem
support, which would have helped make this a primary mail
device (try spending an hour a day on your mail on
airtime). E-mail is a great reason to own this device,
for a person really on the move. As for me, I’m
happy with a regular sub-notebook, along with any great
little data-ready IrDA-equipped cellphone like
Nokia’s 6110…

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