Nokia Communicator E90 Review - Page 2


...Continued from page 1

Memory card access has also been improved over the 9500. The E90 has a micro SD slot and my Vodafone model shipped with a 512MB micro SD card with SD adaptor. I already had a 2GB micro SD card and was pleased to find that the card slot is now on the outside of the device and is protected by a hinged cover unlike the 9500 which hid an MMC slot under the battery. The card can easily be removed and is instantly picked up by the software when reinserted (which didn't always happen on my 9500). The E90 also has a USB connection and can be plugged into any Mac/Windows/Linux PC where it will mount the storage card as a removable drive. No extra software is needed as it just uses the Mass Storage driver included with all modern operating systems (i.e. no need to install the Nokia synchronisation software just for file transfers). The handset has 128MB of internal memory available for end user data and applications (in comparison the V1640 left only around 40MB free for the user by the time the OS and bundled applications had taken their share).

Unlike the 9500, the E90 has a summary screen (aka a Today screen) – a display showing upcoming appointments and the like as sported by the Psion Revo and on Windows based PDA devices. While the older Psions also lacked this function, you'd have thought Nokia would have deemed it a good enough idea when the 9500 came out. A third party product is available for the 9500/9300 range (see http://www.rock-your-mobile.com/power-desk.php ) which I bought for my handset and can recommend. That said, Windows based PDAs have always done a poor job of their Today screen. If you have a Windows PDA you'd be crazy not to buy PocketBreeze (http://www.sbsh.net/products/pocketbreeze ) which does the job properly. The E90 summary screen still isn't as powerful as I would like and lacks customised options. For example, I would like a smaller font, the option of a calendar and for it to show more upcoming appointments. There are a number of program shortcuts that can be customised so you have quick-launch access to your common apps. The themes and colours can be changed and there is a choice of digital or analogue clock. It doesn't do a bad job and the screen is displayed on the internal or external LCDs with the same information (although the external LCD has a keypad lock and switches to just showing a non-backlit date and time after a short period).

Alternate E90 theme
An alternate theme and wallpaper in use on the E90

 

The E90 supports GPRS, 3G and WiFi whereas there was no 3G access on the 9500. The new Wireless Manager makes finding and connecting to a WiFi network a breeze and individual applications can be set to connect to specific networks or to prompt you for the access point to use.

One of my biggest annoyances of PDA's is with their web browsers. At a seminar I attended in February 2007 a chap from Microsoft Windows Mobile division admitted Pocket IE on WM5 was pretty poor. He said WM6 would be different though as Microsoft had worked out the top ten websites people visit on the WM platform and they had ensured PocketIE would work with those websites....

...Great! So Pocket IE on WM6 is guaranteed to work with ten websites then! I need a better guarantee than that which is why I invested in Opera on the V1640. Opera does an amazing job of rendering sites correctly and if they can do it, I don't know why Microsoft can't. The Communicator 9500 also used Opera (or Nokia's version of it) but my 9500 used to lock up all the time resulting in a soft reset being a common part of my web browsing experience.

I'm happy to report the E90's Web application is pretty good and renders difficult sites such as eBay, Outlook WebAccess and my secure internet banking flawlessly. It's fast too – much faster than Opera under WM5. The E90 browser seems to be much more reliable that the 9500's built in browser. I did have a problem initially with web navigation hanging when on my wireless LAN but this was down to 'Turbo Mode' being enabled on my Belkin access point. Once the Belkin was reconfigured, the E90 worked without any issues. You can define connections over WiFi or the mobile data network either permanently or on the fly. My only moan is that there is no option to change how the browser presents itself to websites which means some sites (such as BBC News for example) offer their 'PDA' version when you connect to them rather than the full version. I would prefer the full version when browsing on the larger internal screen. At the time of writing (Autumn 2007), there is no alternative browser for the E90 (that I know of). Opera is available for the Symbian platform but doesn't support the E90 'D' pad so navigation is impossible. I'm not sure when they'll fix it but so far the E90 broswer has coped with all the sites I've needed to visit so I'm pretty impressed with it.


Things PocketIE can't do properly - render a My eBay page


Unlike the Communicator 9500, the E90 supports Push mail without the need to purchase third party applications or services. Push mail is Microsoft's own 'Blackberry-style' service which, in basic terms, allows synchronisation software (such as ActiveSync on the PocketPC) to synchronise mail, calendar, contacts and tasks with an Exchange server over the mobile network instead of over a USB cable plugged into a computer. My handset is provided by Vodafone UK and came with Vodafone Business E-Mail (VBE) which is Vodafone's twisted version of Push mail. I've played with VBE which requires a dedicated server that sits outside of Exchange and uses it's own client on the end user handsets. Unfortunately, my experience of VBE is a bad one with Vodafone's technical support being non-existent and the client side proving unreliable at best. VBE was a new service when I trialled it at my company in autumn 2006 and maybe it's improved since, however it's unnecessary because if you already have Exchange 2003 server you can potentially run Push mail without any third party middleware involved. The E90 needs the 'Mail for Exchange' Push mail software to be installed but a .sis file can be downloaded directly to the handset for free and then installed from http://www.businesssoftware.nokia.com/mail_for_exchange_downloads.php

With Mail for Exchange installed, configuration merely involved entering my company Exchange details with my user name and password and installing my company certificate. It was so easy, my E90 was synchronised with my Exchange mail, calendar and contacts within ten minutes of being out of the box.


Push mail in action. My only moan is that I'd like the option to reduce the huge font size - only possible through third party software.


I also configured my POP mail account and took the option of allowing it to check for mail automatically every thirty minutes via whatever access point I had set to default (mobile data or WiFi depending on where I am). One nice touch to the POP mail that the Psion lacked is the ability to delete messages from the server (the Psion just removed them from its own inbox and I'd have to delete the junk whenever I got back to my computer). Now I can delete the junk while on the move and before it reaches my computers mail client which means I can intercept and remove the viruses before they end up in Outlook.


Goodbye junk mail!

My V1640 running WM5 used to do about 48 hours between charges before I installed Push mail. The constant data connection reduced battery life to 24-36 hours generally, meaning I had to drop it on charge every night. Not terribly inconvenient but it meant I had to be careful when taking a trip as forgetting the charger or using the device heavily could mean getting caught short later in the day. The battery does better in the E90 with the same daily use pushing recharges to about 48 hours. Part of the improvement is because the E90 is fully switched off at night while the V1640 was just put into flight mode (i.e. the memory in the V1640 was still live and running applications in the background). The E90 uses the new standard 2mm Nokia charger (the older Nokia models had a 3.5mm charger). Converters (model CA-44) are available from places like Expansys which allow you to use your collection of older ACP-12X 5.7V Nokia chargers but the (even older) ACP-7X 3.7V chargers and USB cable chargers don't deliver enough oomph for the E90. Personally I would have liked to have seen the USB port act as a charging port (as with Blackberry and HTC devices).

The E90 comes equipped with Quickoffice for word processing, spreadsheet and presentations. I hear a lot of Communicator users are disappointed with the power of Quickoffice on the E90 and the fact that only two softkeys instead of four make navigating menus more cumbersome. Quickoffice is fine for basic word processing and spreadsheets but it has it's annoyances and limitations. You're never going to be able to fully display or edit that Office document on a PDA with one hundred percent compatibility because of the smaller screen aspect ratio, missing fonts, problems with embedded objects, etc. Hell, even Pocket Office on the V1640 had trouble with a lot of Office documents I opened on it. Investing in the Premier upgrade makes for a much more powerful solution if you're happy to splash out a few extra quid on your new toy.

One curiosity of QuickOffice is that it only opens documents that are stored in a 'Documents' folder either on the handset memory or on the microSD card. I'm used to having my files and folders structured in a certain way however my file structure must sit under one of these Documents directories if I want QuickOffice to see it. There is no File/Open command in QuickOffice, instead when you open QuickOffice it scans for and then displays all the compatible files in the Documents directories (and their subdirectories) of both the internal memory and microSD card. If your file is outside of Documents, QuickOffice isn't going to see it. Also, more bizarrely, you can't edit a document created in QuickOffice by selecting it via the File Manager. If you create a Word Processing file (a .txt file) using QuickOffice and then save it, you can only reopen it for editing by opening QuickOffice and selecting that file from the found-documents list. If you open the file directly from the File Manager, it instead opens in the Notes application as read-only. The weird thing is that this doesn't happen with files created outside of QuickOffice. For example, if you select a .doc file created in Word from the File Manager, it will open in QuickOffice and you can edit it! This limits the power of File Manager as I use that a lot to navigate through my ordered directory structure to find the file I want. Instead I have to open QuickOffice and pick my file out from the list of compatible files – which can be quite a big list to scroll through. Added to that, there seems to be no quick way through the list. The files are listed alphabetically and if you want one that begins with a 'z', pressing the 'z' key does not take you to the 'z' filenames as you would expect. Instead you have to scroll there. The Premier upgrade dispenses of this and provides you with a file explorer so you can burrow through your directory structure wherever it may be on your phone memory or expansion card and find the actual file you want.


Hmmm... two Multimedia.doc files sit under the Documents directory in different subfolders. Quickoffice can see them, but there's no way to tell which is which without opening one.

I haven't mentioned the phone yet. The first thing to notice is that it's fast. What I mean by that is that it's WM5 counterparts tend to be a bit tardy when it comes to taking calls. If I someone calls my V1640, it seems to take a few seconds just to wake up the screen, display the callers number and fish out it's ring-tone for playback. By the time it's done all that, it's missed two rings. Added to that, it takes a second to register that I've pressed the button to pick up the call. This means that on too many occasions a call has gone to voice mail just before I get to answer it. I had the same problem when using a Qtek 9100 and I've seen the same thing happening on the SPV M3100. Microsoft need to improve call handling (and maybe they have under WM6 – I haven't seen it yet). It's no surprise that Nokia know how to make a mobile phone work correctly though and we don't get that problem on the E90. You get the usual missed/incoming and outgoing lists for quick callback and there's a speakerphone option when you're on call. A small camera allows for 3G video calls when the handset is open in landscape mode and I tested this - once. It worked but it's generally expensive to use and I don't see much point in it. My Vodafone coverage isn't so good where I live and both the E90 and V1640 lose the signal in certain areas of the house although the Blackberry 7130 I used to use seemed to maintain a pretty good data connection wherever I was.

The Calendar application is competent and Exchange synchronisation (if you have it) works well. My only complaint, as with the Messaging application, is that I would like the option to use smaller fonts.



The E90 is equipped with Bluetooth which is easily accessed from the summary screen. I paired my E90 with two headsets, a Nokia and a Motorola without difficulty. Once paired, the E90 automatically connects to to a headset when the headset powers on or (if supported) when it is in range. If you walk out of range (for example if you wander off with the handset and without the headset), the phone will warn you when it has gone out of range.

Did someone say Sat-Nav?? Yes, those clever Nokia boffins managed to lever a GPS receiver under the bonnet too! Maps are downloaded from the Internet so ensure your tariff supports it. Sadly, the out-of-the-box software does not include direction voice prompts and I haven't found any menu option to orientate the maps to the direction you're facing (meaning North is always at the top of the screen), but you can still
route plan, search for landmarks and view your GPS position. It can be painfully slow to locate satellites though and I would have happily done without it.

RealPlayer is worth a mention as it supports streaming. I don't bother with streaming video but I do make use of the Listen Again or Listen Live features of BBC radio so being able to drop the E90 onto my WiFi and playback a show through the speaker while sitting in the garden is great!


Streaming audio from www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/dance. The browser moans that it hasn't got the right plug-in but it still worked if you clicked the 'Listen in stand-alone player' option. Unfortunately the BBC have now switched to iPlayer which is rubbish.



... and the little internal speaker packs enough volume for you to sit outside on a summer evening and enjoy the choonz. .....Nice.

Nokia have crammed a lot of technology into this unit. Just when you think you've found everything it has to offer you discover the FM radio! Headphones need to be plugged in to act as an aerial but the sound can be played back through the speaker. Normal headphones can also be used (yay!) although it's not a standard 3.5mm jack but instead a 2.5mm. Converters are available on the high street and cost a quid or so at the most. Much better than that ridiculous Pop-port the 9500 used.

You'll also find a 3.2 MegaPixel digital camera supporting a resolution of up to 2048x1536 pixels. The camera is supposed to be able to read barcodes too but I found this only seems to work on the '3D' barcodes. The camera can take some time to get up and running so it's no good for quick snaps and it has a puny LED flash which is poor in low light conditions but for a well lit posed picture or landscape scene it works well. Click the following thumbnails for full size unedited pictures taken with my E90 camera (your browser may shrink them to fit your screen - hit the magnify button or view at 100% in an image viewer application for actual size)....

 


Ryton Pools, 05/08/07


Ryton Pools, 05/08/07


Warwick Castle 09/08/07


Warwick Castle 09/08/07
Full zoom

River Avon 09/08/07

Mill Street, Warwick 09/08/07

Warwick East Gate 09/08/07
 

 

Once other nice point is the language – none of that American-English nonsense here! Having it set to UK means the menu options show words such as 'analogue', 'customise' and 'colour' in a way that would bring a tear of joy to the eye of Her Majesty. Third party apps may not support that but it's great to see the OS behaving in this tailored and polished way.



There are down sides – though relatively few and minor....


One thing I'm not so impressed with is the calculator. Like on a Windows based PDA the built in calc offers only the most basic functionality. The Psion Series 5 and Revo had a choice of basic or scientific options and writing a similar calculator application can't be that hard for the Symbian boffs. It is more useful than the Windows PDA equivalent as it supports the good ol' 'till roll' which shows the result of your last calculation although a scrollable till roll showing the last ten (or so) calculations would have been better. A separate application called 'Converter' offers conversion options for currency, measurement, temperature, etc. Maybe that could have been combined with the calculator to offer more functionality from a single application. Either way, I'd have liked access to some of the engineering functions I commonly use such as binary/hex/decimal conversion or exponent doodads. As it is, I still find myself fishing out my old GCSE Casio which isn't always so convenient.

On a similar note, the clock is also of the most basic functionality. One of the most popular Psion downloads was Clock5 (http://www.pscience5.net/Clock5.htm) which offered features such as password protection, screensaver timout, full screen clock/calendar display, and stopwatch – all for free. A similar program (called Digital Clock) is available but you have to buy it separately. It only costs a fiver but this functionality should really come as standard with the OS. That said, the alarms work well – much better than the blink-and-you'll-miss-it alarms on WM5 (for a decent clock/alarm app for WM5 I can recommend Chronos from Activekitten).


Another feature that really should be included as standard is the option to leave the backlight on. Sometimes I want to plug my PDA into the mains when sitting at my desk and leave it running so I have quick access to information. The Psion had an option to stay on when connected to mains power as does the V1640, however the E90 times out and turns off after 90 seconds max. The way around it is to purchase the Lights On application which can be set to keep the screen on when power is applied and once installed this works well – but really, I shouldn't have to fork out £4 for a simple menu option that should already be there!

Another problem, this time with File Manager, is the Find feature. If you give it a filename to find, it will find and list all instances of that filename and provide you with information about that file such as size and created/modified dates, but it doesn't tell you what the path to that file is. In my example below, I have four files called Multimedia.doc which are all very different and sit in various directories in my organised file structure – but without opening them individually I have no way of knowing which is which! There is a rather good Search application but it sits outside of File Manager. Why not have them integrated into the same application?


Four different files named Multimedia.doc and stored in different nested directories with two in phone memory and two on the MicroSD card - but File Manager won't tell you which is which.



The Search application which sits outside of File Manager does a great job of finding your search text wherever it may be.

I know the Communicator faithful are also mourning the lack of fax, (the E90 being the first Communicator to not support it), however these days I send about three faxes a year and I can live without the functionality. Besides, if fax is still your bag you *could* go to the trouble of installing a fax-mail solution. It's a bit of messing around but it could get around the problem for those who do still rely on fax.

The music player is also too basic and lacks playlists or even fast forward or rewind controls making skipping the boring bits of a long podcast impossible. An alternative is FIVN which offers a very basic text interface for MP3 playback but has the missing controls and better audio output quality. Playlists can (sort of) be set up in FIVN by storing MP3 tracks in different folders and setting the FIVN preferences to access the folder you want to play. It's no iPod interface though and like the other missing 'useful but necessary' tweaks on the E90, it costs extra.

Nice though the email application is, it doesn't support HTML. Not a particular problem for me but it doesn't look pretty when you do receive a HTML message and you see the coding mixed in with the senders text.

 

The bottom line.
I'm very pleased with the E90. I finally feel that Nokia have come out with the kind of device that the geniuses at Psion would have produced if they were still in the market. Suddenly the Windows Mobile platform seems awfully clunky, slow and unreliable in comparison to the flowing functionality of Symbian. It may be some time until a gadget knocks this off the top-spot for me as it's just like having my Psion back - except now it has all the 21st Century whizzbangs that I've come to expect from a PDA.

 

Recommended software.
I found the following applications were worth buying to increase the functionality of the E90. I got most of the paid software from Nokia Software Market (http://www.softwaremarket.nokia.com/) which seems to have competitive pricing and offered me a 15% discount off all purchases in my first month after registration. Note that all prices are correct at the time of writing and may change. Some prices have been converted to UKP from Euros and were correct at the time of conversion.

Jmirc
Available from http://jmirc.sourceforge.net/
Price £Free
A basic but neat little Java based IRC client - although if IRC is your game, take a look at...

mIRGGI
Available from http://mirggi.net/
Price £Free
A better IRC client - but don't believe what it says about SSL support (mine says Feature Not Supported when I try and use it which is a shame as it's a good little IRC app otherwise). Still, there is better (if not free) in the shape of...

WirelessIRC

Available from http://mobileways.de/products/wirelessirc/wirelessirc/
Price £16.08
The ultimate IRC client with all kinds of fancy features - and it does work with SSL.

Mail for Exchange
Available from http://www.businesssoftware.nokia.com/mail_for_exchange_downloads.php
Price £Free
Push mail synchronisation software

Screenshot
Available from http://www.antonypranata.com/screenshot/
Price £Free
Screen capture application

Lights On
Available from http://www.softwaremarket.nokia.com/
Price £4.74
Backlight control software

Quickoffice Premier 4.5 (upgrade)
Available from http://www.softwaremarket.nokia.com/
Price £25.41
Upgrade to Quickoffice for better functionality and compatibility

Virtual Radio
Available from http://www.softwaremarket.nokia.com/
Price £10.16
Internet streaming radio software

Advanced Personal Wallet
Available from http://www.softwaremarket.nokia.com/
Price £3.37
For password protecting sensitive information should your E90 fall into the wrong hands.

Mindp SSH

Available from http://www.xk72.com/midpssh/
Price £Free
Java based SSH application

Font Magnifier
Available from http://shop.psiloc.com/en/Application,262290,Psiloc+Font+Magnifier
Price £7.77
Allows the system font size to be reduced or enlarged.

FIVN
Available from http://www.fivn.com
Price £4.71
An alternative MP3 player, basic text interface but contains more functionality than the inbuilt player.

Joikuspot
Available from http://www.joikuspot.com/home.php
Price £Free (basic version)
Turns your mobile into a WiFi hotspot allowing you to connect a laptop to your mobile data connection without messing about with Bluetooth

SymbianThemes
http://www.symbianthemes.us
Free and non-free themes to customise your Nokia

One word of warning - watch out for 'screensaver' themes. In the case of the one shown here (and there are many more like it), Nokia are flogging something for EU4.99 which appears to be a replacement clock for the standby screen. What Nokia don't tell you is that any screensaver on a Nokia phone (not just the E90) will time out after 60 seconds maximum. This means the useful and stylish clock Nokia are charging you a fiver for will only be active for one minute between the idle timeout and the screensaver timeout making it pointless. These timeouts are another example of silly settings Nokia don't let you change so don't bother wasting good money on screensavers no matter how functional or pretty they may be as you'll rarely catch sight of 'em.

Update 07/06/09
I finally got around to upgrading my E90 firmware today. I'm hoping that it will sort out a couple of niggles such as inability to detect certain wireless networks and better acquisition of a mobile signal around my house (I'm in a fringe area). I've been reluctant to perform the upgrade as it means having to reinstall all of my applications, track down my licence codes, fiddle about setting up my preferences again, etc. Interestingly, my Quickoffice Premier upgrade doesn't seem to like the new firmware and trashes the phone. When starting up the phone I get an 'Phone startup failed, please contact the retailer' error! Fortunately there is a factory reset key sequence that will wipe out any dodgy software and bring the phone back to life. Hold down the green key, star key (*) and number '3' key together, then switch the phone on. Keep these three keys held down until the handset shows it is wiped and asks you for a country location (as it does when first out of the box).