It’s handy to have a phone that plays music, can find a restaurant review, and direct you to your hotel in a strange city. But not everyone wants (or can afford) to spend $200 on a cell phone that has all the trimmings. For them, a good option is the Nokia Nuron.
This candy-bar-style, touchscreen phone has enough features to make it a reasonable concierge and a first-rate navigator. The Nuron is the first U.S. handset from Nokia to feature the company’s free turn-by-turn navigation with Ovi Maps, and it also offers access to Nokia’s version of an app market, the Ovi Store.
The phone isn’t going to win any design awards, but it’s relatively compact, measuring 4.4 by 2.0 by 0.6 inches, and relatively light at about 4 ounces. It offers memory expansion via a microSD slot on the side (a 4GB card is included), has a standard 3.5-mm headphone jack, and includes features that are requisite today: a camera, GPS, and an accelerometer.
The Nuron’s resistive, 3.2-inch touchscreen is a bit cramped, so exterior buttons have to play more than just a supporting role. On the right side is a volume rocker, a screen-unlock button, and a camera button. Beneath the screen are talk, end, and menu buttons. Plus, a touch-sensitive media button is above the screen. Unfortunately, when you begin working with the screen you’ll realize why all this support is necessary.
Unlike more-sensitive capacitive touchscreens, the Nuron’s balky resistive screen can try one’s patience. Even with the benefit of vibrating haptic feedback, you’ll find yourself repeatedly tapping icons. (The inconsistent interface of the Symbian OS doesn’t help: Some functions require one tap; others, two taps.) The on-screen keyboard is similarly hampered, but the print recognition software is less error-prone and works well with one’s fingernail or the included guitar-pick stylus.
Despite the imperfect touchscreen, you’ll still find plenty to like on the Nuron. Its built-in video and music player handles all the major formats, such as MP3, MP4, AAC, eAAC+, MPEG4-AVC, and WMV9. It also has a built-in FM radio, although it works only when headphones are plugged in.
The Nuron has apps for YouTube and Facebook, too. And the WebKit-based browser does a good job of handling standard HTML pages. You can sync the phone to Outlook addresses and calendar entries.
Though Nokia clearly wants to bring the app store concept to all of its phones, the Ovi Store, unfortunately, is still very much a work in progress. It was down several times during my days of testing, and software updates for it were strewn with inscrutable file names as well as repeated, annoying confirmation requests. More important, the store’s offerings, paid or free, are still scant. There’s no dedicated New York Times app, for example, or Pandora, Slacker, or iHeartRadio app. Presumably, such programs will make their way to the Symbian OS store eventually.
In the meantime, one can while away the time taking pictures with the phone’s camera. It lacks a flash, but its shutter speed can handle most indoor shots. The camera also has a zoom function and adjustable white balance, a nice touch. Video recording is straightforward, though the clips I took looked slightly jumpy no matter how steady I thought my hand was (nothing I shot would make it as an iReport).
The best extra feature, however, is the phone’s free Ovi Maps. Tap on the compass icon, and you can pinpoint your location or get walking or spoken turn-by-turn driving directions (plus traffic updates!). Nokia owns Navteq, one of the leading map makers, so it’s not surprising the company has done a solid job in this area. For one thing, navigation works even if you go offline because the maps are downloaded to the handset. This also makes zooming in and out of maps much snappier. And you have the option of using 2D, 3D, or satellite views. International travelers will also appreciate the fact that the program covers 74 countries in 46 languages.
Oddly, the TeleNav GPS Navigator also comes preloaded on the Nuron, but it costs $3 for a day pass. I did find the TeleNav software very good at understanding addresses entered by voice–a nice feature for distracted drivers.
To make a data connection, the Nuron has quad-band EDGE and dual-band HSDPA support. Sadly, no Wi-Fi is built in, which can be a distinct drawback if you’re trying to connect in an area lacking 3G support.
That’s just one more trade-off you’ll have to make for the bargain-priced Nuron. But given how well its free navigation works and the promise of many other features, many will find such trade-offs worthwhile.
[Ginny Mies is an assistant editor for PCWorld.]