As a certified, card-carrying gadget freak, I have owned various flavours of PDA from a basic Palm III, through higher-end Palms, Sony Clies, and lately an all-singing, all-dancing HP iPaq. The nagging problem all along has been the requirement to carry both the PDA and a cellphone at the same time. The inside pocket on my favourite jacket is stretched from overuse, and there’s no way I’m this much of a geek! I recently took stock of my requirements, and reluctantly admitted to myself that my PDA use was probably: 60% appointment and task checking, 30% offline web reading (via Avantgo), and 9% email checking. The last 1% was divided fractionally between gaming, wifi hacking, application development, and other tasks that I thought rendered the Pocket PC indispensable. Having admitted that my 4150 was in fact dispensable, I went on the hunt for a viable replacement for my PDA and phone.
So called ‘smart-phones’ have been around for a while in various incarnations. Smart-phones have never appealed to me due to their size, and the fact that they frequently seem to be a PDA with phone functionality tacked on. Witness the Kyocera 7100’s strangely aggressive screen redrawing when switching between phone and PDA modes; it’s almost like the phone is relu
ctant to relinquish control to the Palm OS and visa versa! I was however drawn towards Nokia’s Series 60 phones. The ‘Series 60‘ moniker describes a software platform based on the Symbian OS that is designed to run on cellphone-format devices.
Being mostly phone, with some PDA functionality (phone-smart as opposed to smart-phone if you will), the 6600 appealed to my sense of form following function. The early series 60 phones were, in my opinion, butt ugly. I imagine you could argue the same way about the 6600, but I have to admit that I find the chubby little phone quite cute. It is surprisingly light, and has a good sense of presence in the hand (although I tend towards the gorilla-handed, so if you have dainty digits then you may favour a smaller phone).
As a phone, there is very little to complain about with the 6600. All the standard things you would expect from a cellphone (dialing, talking, sms, etc.) work flawlessly. The only caveat is that because the phone has a full operating system on it, the initial boot-up time is very long (30 seconds++), and the first access of any application (e.g. Phonebook, Messaging) takes a good several seconds. Thankfully the OS is multi-tasking: if you use the ‘End’ button to return to the standby screen, the current application remains open in the background, meaning that subsequent accesses are instantaneous. I guess this is a tradeoff of having the extended functionality of the Symbian OS.
The phone comes bundled with all of the basic PDA functionality (Contacts, Calendar, To-do, Notes), plus some additional applications. Most notable are a full version of the Opera browser, RealOne player, and camera and video software for the integrated VGA camera. The Symbian OS is quite mature, and as such there are numerous third-party applications available from sites such as Handango and others. The default retail package comes with a 32MB MMC card with a number of demo (try/buy) applications pre-installed. Delete most of them and you have heaps of space for photos and additional software. Also included is Nokia’s PC Suite software that enables your PC (not Mac, but apparently you can do it via iSync) to connect to the phone. PC Suite allows you to syncronise PDA items with your desktop diary of choice, as long as it’s an Outlook or Lotus Notes variant.
An interesting point about syncronising this phone: the 6600 is one of the first Nokia phones to forego a data cable. Yes, you heard me. There is no way to connect the 6600 to another device with a data cable – you have to use either bluetooth or infra-red. I’m a big fan of this, possibly because I already own a bluetooth device, but also because I believe it is high time that bluetooth (or wi-fi, or telepathy) became the standard method for connecting transient devices. I have no problem with connecting keyboards, monitors, or fans via cables, because these things are designed to stay put. But I cannot abide by groveling around under the desk every time I want to sync my phone. If I had my way, my phone would poll for nearby devices and (securely) find its own data connection to my PC via some sort of intelligent mesh-network.
As for my 9% email checking, the integrated ‘messaging’ app performs Ok, allowing me to quickly check for any new messages on my IMAP-based webmail. The one issue I have is that it only seems to check the ‘Inbox’ folder, which is a problem because I have my webmail configured to forward messages into subfolders automatically. It seems strange to have an IMAP client that doesn’t appear to understand (or ignores) the folder hierarchy on the server. On the upside, I little birdy tells me that the Snappermail guys might be targeting Symbian in a future release!
One other annoying thing is that AvantGo works very poorly on this phone. For some reason, Nokia have disabled the method that AvantGo previously used to syncronise via the PC, meaning that the only option* is to syncronise via GPRS, kinda defeating the purpose of ‘offline browsing’. However even when I did manage to get AvantGo to syncronise, the layout was appalling, with text running off the side of the screen rendering the page basically unreadable. Opera provides a far superior browsing experience, and I find myself happily paying the 10 or 20 cents in data traffic required to catch up on Slashdot or Public Address, rather than bothering with AvangGo.
Lastly the obligatory:
*There is a workaround, but it’s not for the newbie.