Mobile technology should not be about cramming the office into your pocket but a way to enjoy your everyday life.

The most misunderstood phone of all


I recently saw someone in middle management write a text message with a Nokia 9500 ... using the external numerical keyboard.

It turned out she didn't even like the phone, the phone she had been hoping to get was "the one with fabric". That's the Nokia 7200 "fashion phone" that was quickly discontinued. However, since she is manager, she got the "business phone" Nokia 9500 Communicator.

"It's so clunky!"

I have heard that one a lot about the Communicator since I started using one back in 1998. Few phones have been as misunderstood as the Communicator. And Nokia is certainly to blame for a lot of the confusion. All that "executive" and "business" branding meant the phone was marketed exactly to those least likely to even try to learn how to use it and most likely to end up whining about it being clunky.

I paid 1100 Euros for my Nokia 9500 and one gigabytes of memory a year ago. I bought it myself, as a private person, even after I tried prototype of the "less clunky" Communicator, the 9300.

I chose the 9500 simply because there is no other phone/PDA with a decent keyboard on the market, it is one of a kind.

I got my first Communicator, a 9110 prototype, from my boss who, after some failed attempts to set up the e-mail client in the phone, tried to use it just as a ordinary cell phone but soon grew tired of it because "it's so clunky" and gave it to me.

I was POP:ing mails and typing replies on the small but usable keyboard in a heartbeat. A cell phone with a built in telnet client, good e-mail client and word processor as well as a keyboard could not be compared to any ordinary cell phone. Sure, it was two or three centimeters (one inch) taller and and perhaps 50 grams (two ounces) heavier, but that was negligible considering it allowed you to do things that where simply not possible with other phones.

The biggest drawback was the lack of software, there was no market for software for a device that every executive owned but hardly anyone used. Executives got it, not because they wanted it or even had any intention of learning to use it, but simply because they where executives and the Communicator was marketed to "business decision makers" and it was the most expensive model on the market. And just like my boss at the time, they never used it for much more than ordinary phone calls.

There where probably more software being made every day for the Palm than there was for the Communicator in a year, simply because the Palm was aimed at people who used it: ordinary people with a digital lifestyle.

The software situation is getting better, a bit better, but compared to a PocketPC or a Palm, the Communicator still has very little to offer when it comes to software.

So why am I sticking with the Communicator? The keyboard.

Show me a PocketPC with a keyboard and a screen as big (or bigger) and I'll switch faster than you can say "brand loyalty". The Qtek 9000 looks promising with its 3G/UMTS phone and 640x480 screen, but the keyboard is significantly smaller than that of my Communicator.

I have also owned a Palm and a PocketPC, and although they are better than the Communicator in many respects, they can not replace my Communicator and it's keyboard. And since I want just one device, the Palm and the PocketPC have ended up collected dust.

If you think the 9500 is clunky, you don't get it. The reason for getting a 9500 is the keyboard and if you want a keyboard, the you don't want anything smaller than a 9500. The 9500 is already pushing the limit of how small a keyboard can be before it becomes a "thumb-board" and the 9300 even more so.

And if you don't want the keyboard, there are lots of really nice PocketPC thingies out there that works as phones but also have 640x480 pixel touchscreens that makes web browsing a pleasant experience.

And if you just want something small then you will probably be happy with just an ordinary cell phone.

Now there are news about a Nokia 9300i Communicator reaching the market:

"It's hard to see the 9300i and 9500 being sold side-by-side for any length of time, as the 9500 adds only a rather rubbishy VGA camera to the features of the 9300i, is larger and clunkier (and uglier)"

Most opinions on the web about technology seems to be written by people who judge devices as great or rubbish and not much in between.

I like the built in camera. It can not compete with a glass-lens digital camera, but it is not rubbish either. If I know I am going to need a camera, I bring one along. The beauty of the built in camera is that I always have it with me at the cost of carrying around only a few extra grams (fractions of an ounce) and without having to separately recharge it or remembering to bring it along. Thanks to the built in camera of the Nokia 9500 I have taken photos of unexpected events like this of a hot air balloon landing, a photo that would other vice have been left untaken.

There is nothing rubbish about that image, nor is there anything "business critical" or "executive". It is just a fun moment in life and a good example of what a digital lifestyle is.

Another reason I wanted the 9500 and got one gigabyte of memory for it was I wanted to use it as an MP3/Ogg player. There are good and quite cheap MP3 players out there, but I want just one device. When I was waiting for the 9500 to ship, I was reading discussion forums about the phone where some who had already gotten it, was answering questions about it. Someone asked, how well it works as an MP3 player and the reply was something like this: "I will not even answer that question since it is so off-topic, the 9500 is a serious business phone for business users and not an entertainment device."

Unfortunately the answer was correct. Even with a built in media player that supports MP3 and AAC and a compatible Ogg player, the lack of a ordinary 3.5mm headphone plug makes it unusable as a MP3 player. Nokia's headphones for the "pop-port" are not good enough for listening to music, and I am not very demanding, I belong to those who think 128 kbps is enough for MP3. Now Nokia seems to be adressing this issue and recently released an adapter with makes it possible to use ordinary headphones with a 3.5mm plug. Unfortunately you still have to plug that adapter into the pop-port and it is surprisingly difficult to get the adapter in and once you got it there, it tends to fall out all by itself. I ended up buying a 1 GB Creative MuVo instead of having to fight with the pop-port every day on my may to and from work.