Camera Phone Shootout

I've had the Nokia 3650 and T-Mobile for a week now, and my first impressions are very positive. Here's a quick review. Service

Both T-Mobile and AT&T offer the Nokia 3650, but I was able to get the phone from FONCentral for $150 with a $150 rebate from T-Mobile for signing up for a year. You can't beat a free phone. And T-Mobile offers unlimited Internet access for $19.99/month. As of this writing, AT&T has no flat rate data offers. It was clear that if I wanted the 3650 I was going to have to go with T-Mobile.

I was worried about their cellular signal, but I needn't have been. T-Mobile's coverage in the SF Bay Area has been much better than I expected. I had a bad experience last year with a Microsoft Smart Phone but apparently it was the phone not the service. The 3650 gets adequate signal strength everywhere I go. Since it's a tri-band GSM phone it should work just about anywhere in the world.

It supports GPRS, too, and the data download and upload speeds are much faster than Sprint's. Customer service is better, too. The T-Mobile service reps have been friendly and helpful so far. A marked contrast to the Sprint PCS folks who seem put upon every time I talk to them. (My impressions may be colored by the fact that Sprint still can't find my last $400 in payments to them.)

Software

The phone itself is a dream, with more features than any other phone I've used. It runs the Symbian OS - a direct descendant of the lovely Psion operating system. It also runs Java. There's a lot of Symbian and Java software out there that works with the 3650. Some of the sites I've bookmarked so far are:

http://nokia-3650-software.epocware.com/ http://www.nokiausa.com/phones/software/3650 http://www.symbianware.com/index.php?pl=n3650

There are plenty of good color games available for the 3650, including Doom! In general the Symbian native games work better than the Java only games.

One commercial program I like very much is a desktop replacement called Active Today from Cibinex. It completely changes the phone's starting screen to show calendar and to-do items (the phone is a PDA, too), pending messages, SMS, etc.The company makes the more elaborate Active Desk, too. Both have 30-day trial versions so you can figure out which one you like best.

(I'm taking these screen shots with the free ScreenTaker from SymbianSoftware. I've replaced the T-Mobile operator logo with one of my own. That's one of the features of the must have freeware FExplorer.)

You might think all this software would completely overrun the phone's scant 3.7 MB RAM, but the 3650 supports MMC memory cards (not the similar SD form factor - it's too thick) and unlike many PDAs, programs can run off the memory card.

Ringtones and Wallpaper

The phone supports 64-channel polyphonic sound and can use any MIDI or WAV as a ringtone. That mean's there's no reason to pay for ringtones, since it's just as easy to download a MIDI file and transfer it to the phone. You could even record your own ringtones using the built-in sound recording software.

The 176x208 4096 color display is clear and legible in any light, perfect for customizing your phone with wallpaper. The huge collection of free tones and wallpapers at 36Fifty.net should be enough get you started.

Camera

I initially looked at the phone for two reasons: the built-in camera and Bluetooth connectivity. I have to admit I didn't really get the purpose of a cell phone camera at first. It wasn't until I realized that it's not a cell phone with a camera, but a camera with wireless Internet access, that the true value of the device became apparent. It's totally cool to be able to take a picture and instantly post it on the web. And thanks to the gang at TextAmerica I can do so for free.

When Henry and I went to Disneyland, Jennifer was home watching us go through our day. The picture quality is only mediocre, but it's more than made up for by the immediacy of the medium. In this respect the Nokia is no better than my old Sanyo 5300. Both shoot 640x480 pictures and are subject to all sorts of weird artifacting. The Sanyo couldn't handle bright light very well at all and tended to smear images. On the other hand, it was very grainy in low light.

The Nokia handles bright light better, but its JPEG compression creates all sorts of weird color effects. Take a look at the flowers at the bottom of this image for an example.

When it comes to uploading the pictures the Sanyo has a three click advantage. After snapping a picture I need only to click seven times: Options -> Share Phone Book -> Email -> Up Arrow (to navigate to the email address) -> OK -> Up Arrow (for no caption) -> OK to send. Sounds more complicated than it is - I could do it with one hand on the steering wheel without taking my eyes off the road. On the Nokia I click ten times: Options -> Down -> Down -> Select -> Select -> Select -> Select ->OK (to select the address) -> Options -> Select. It takes a little more attention, too. On the other hand, the Nokia supports messaging groups so I can send a picture to all family members with only one extra click. I can use T-Mobile's GPRS connection to upload the image in just three seconds. Sprint would often take minutes.

The 3650 wins hands down, though, for its support of (low-framerate) video and audio. I can send those from the phone, too. I'm can't wait for TextAmerica to add video and audio blogging capability.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth was my primary reason for buying a 3650. I can connect wirelessly to my Powerbook with its built-in Bluetooth support. Pairing the two was a snap, and once connected iSync automatically copied the entire contents of my Apple Address Book to the phone in just a few minutes. The Bluetooth connection runs at a fairly consistent 22 KBps and works out to 10 meters. iSync 1.2 will sync iCal with the 3650's calendar and to-do list. (The version that comes with Panther works great). Until then there is a hack to the iSync plist that works for some folks (but failed miserably for me).

You should also download and install Veta Universal on your phone. When coupled with Romeo running on your Powerbook you can use the phone to control iTunes, DVD Player, PowerPoint, Keynote, and more. When you wander out of range Romeo can mute and lock your Powerbook and it can turn the sound back on when you return. You can also link the phone to your Address Book so that the appropriate record pops up when your phone rings.

In theory I can use the phone as a wireless modem, too, for those times when I can't get Wi-Fi access. I haven't been able to get this working yet, despite following these instructions from Broadband Reports, but I know others have it working, so I'm sure it's just some obscure setting I'm missing.

The phone comes with a Windows software tool for managing the 3650 over Bluetooth or IR. I haven't tried it.

I also use Nokia's Bluetooth headset for wireless handsfree operation. It works ok, but seems to lose track of the phone from time to time. You also need to keep the phone within a foot or two or the sound quality deteriorates.

I'm still futzing with the Bluetooth settings to get it to do everything it's supposed to, but even with its current flaws, it's a very exciting technology that does a lot more than just replace wires.

Usability

Upon first inspection the 3650 seems too big. It's light, but bulky. I don't mind that at all since I look like a fool using a tiny cell phone with my massive head. I bought an inexpensive horizontal case to hang on my belt and the phone is conveniently tucked away. The unconventional round keypad takes a little getting used to, but I don't dial all that many numbers. It turns out to be slightly better for text keyboarding since the keys are all close to the rim for easy thumb access.

The sheer number of features on the phone do make for some UI complexity. But considering all it can do, it's very easy to use. This is not a cell phone for someone who just wants to make and take calls, but if you're a gadgeteer like me, you'll be very happy with T-Mobile and the Nokia 3650.