OK, so my first full phone review. Also it comes in slightly odd circumstances, which I will explain towards the end.
- 3.5″ AMOLED screen with Gorilla Glass
- 8MP EDoF camera with dual LED flash
- Symbian 3
- 680Mhz ARM 11 processor with Broadcom graphics accelerator
- 8MB on board memory with SD card slot
- 3.5mm headphone jack which also supports TV out cable
- Bluetooth 3.0
- WiFi calling (UMA) support
- FM Radio
- FM Transmitter
- Micro USB port for charging, Data connection and USB on the go
- Proprietary charger port
- Quandband 3G GSM phone (not pentaband like normal C7)
The look of this phone is quite nice. It’s thin, sleek and to be fair, is quite a looker. It’s shiny surfaces do reflect back a lot though and some people don’t like that. The front has the screen as well as Call, End and Menu keys, with the menu key rounded and slightly sunken, whilst the call and end keys are level with the screen. All 3 are easy to find and press. Above the screen are light and proximity sensors, plus a front facing camera.
The left has a proprietary charger port, the bottom has a place for a lanyard.
The right and top are more interesting – the right has volume and mute keys, the lock switch and camera keys. The Mute and camera keys are flush to the phone surface whilst the other 3 are slightly raised. This means the camera key especially can be trickier to find, though you do get used to it.
The back has a large silver metal battery cover, and towards the top you find the 8MP camera module, the dual led Flash and stereo speakers. Beneath the battery cover is also the SIM card slot and the SD card slot is beneath the battery itself, so you do have to turn the device off to insert/remove memory cards.
If feels strong, is very comfortable to hold and use and basically feels great in the hand. The sales box from t-mobile also includes a proprietary charger, a short Micro USB data lead, and a set of stereo hands free headphones. Relative to some other devices, this is not an impressive sales box.
So all in all, hardware wise, it’s a solid device.
The Astound runs a modified version of Symbian 3 with many of the Symbian Anna features. This includes an updated browser, plus the portrait qwerty with Swype, plus menu menu simplifications and other tweaks.
Symbian 3 features up to 3 home screens which can each take up to 6 widgets. The main menu key brings up a menu of applications and sub menus and menu folders and whist easy to navigate, at times can be many layers deep so the Shortcuts widget can be very helpful for getting some of those deeper things to your homescreen. When locked, being an AMOLED screen, there are several options for different things to display including the simple Big Clock (and a clock is part of all options), the current music track playing, or you can take advantage of things like Nokia Sleeping Screen for more interesting lock screen displays. One other change is when swiping between screens, it follows your finger, unlike previously when the screen switched after the completed swipe.
It’s a phone
So first and foremost, how is it as a phone – it does pretty well here. The call and end keys make it quick to get the dialer up to type a number or look up a contact. People in calls sound clear and it was easy to pair to a Bluetooth hands free kit. WiFi calling seems to work OK, though i think i did drop one call that started out that way – i say I think because it’s so seamless you don’t really know if it’s a WiFi call or not. WiFi calling is a huge boost as T-Mobile has just made all WiFi calls free – i.e they won’t deduct from your minutes, which the used to, so this could help save some people some money. There are Fring and Skype apps from the OVI store as well (though not video calling in this version of Skype). T-Mobile tacked on a Visual Voicemail app which is easy and intuitive to use as well, and the notifications widget shows missed calls and texts on the home screen.
Speaking of texts, the conversations widget is well implemented and the portrait qwerty with Swype is good for helping get a quick text rattled off, though there is T9 if you prefer. I have to say the keys on the portrait qwerty are a little on the small side, and I found myself miss-typing a bit, though did better once I was using Swype. The email application and widgets were good and I have enjoyed having access to my British Yahoo account for the first time on a phone. Bizarrely, Nokia’s own mail service isn’t one of the quick setup options and you have to manually configure it a bit more than I thought you would have to.
Music and Media
That 8GB is a little bit limiting if you have a big music collection but it is still a good music payer, and can be expanded to being a great one by installing Mobbler (Last FM) or Nokia Internet Radio from the Ovi Store. It also comes with Slacker Radio, though I haven’t tried it as I’m not a subscriber. The stereo speakers on the back are decent and when the phone is face up, the curve of the back of the phone means those speakers don’t get too muffled. I enjoyed using the FM transmitter to transmit the current track to my car stereo (an excellent feature and one that is important for me), and that the lock screen can be set to show the current track.
I haven’t actually watched much video yet so I feel harsh in judging
There is much debate on Nokia blogs everywhere about if EDoF cameras are any good and if people should get a phone with such a camera. I took some very good pictures with the C7 camera, mostly of my dog, but also some long distance landscapes across a lake came out very well. Close up shots are not possible with the C7 as it doesn’t have auto-focus but things should be sharp from about 60cm/2 ft to infinity. Still, the lack of a Macro/close up mode could be a problem for some people. I did also take some pictures which showed a distinct line around the edges of some objects or had edges that were not at all crisp however. There are several picture sizes, and I used 8MP and 6MP (widescreen) ones. There’s also the full array of Scene modes except for Macro. The shutter button is single stage as it isn’t an auto focus camera, which does allow quickly taken shots to be sharper than they might on other devices, and enables for a high shot rate if you have to take several shots quickly.
Camera samples are in the Nokia Camera Contest – C7 vs N8 vs N900 though I also should say that it was surprisingly sharp for indoor night shots, though very poor outside at night, and shots of distant buildings across a lake also came out well. The photo of the dog is one of those that looks OK on the one hand, but there does seem to be an outline around him.
Video taken by the C7 Astound was alright too though I only took one video to date so don’t want to say too much, but it seems decent.
The browser looks nice, though it defaults to going to a T-Mobile launch page, which can’t be accessed via WiFi. However, once away from the T-Mobile page it is easy to use, though perhaps not as quick or rich as Opera Mobile. It also defaults to show the mobile version of pages, though i didn’t experience any particular problems browsing full pages with it. On a related note, whilst connecting to WiFi network was easy, it didn’t hold the connection as well as other devices.
Other apps and features
Maps: Ovi Maps on Symbian as a pleasure to use for the most part and it’s a shame that the Meamo version was never close to having the functionality that the Symbain one does. The phone comes pre-loaded with the maps for USA and several countries and so I was able to turn to offline mode the first time I used it. T-Mobile also put Telenav on, their GPS service which costs money to use. I suggest taking it off as soon as you are sure you will keep the phone.
Games: It comes preloaded with Fruit Ninja light, and Labyrinth 3D light, as well as 14 day trials of Action Bowling and Doodle Fit. Fruit Ninja plays smoothly and I also really enjoyed Doodle Fit and Labyrinth 3D. Action bowling not so much, though i did like the idea of doing the physical bowling motion to bowl, but controlling it wasn’t the easiest.
T-Mobiles Additions: T-Mobile Mall, Telenav, My Account and Visual Voicemail are the bit’s added here by T-Mobile and only the last 2 are worth bothering with, and the My Account is really a link to a web page so that leaves just one. And as I said earlier, it’s nice and easy to use.
NFC: Didn’t use it as basically, very little in the world right now is enabled for NFC use. I even expect it to take at least a year before much is, so whilst it’s nice the C7/Astound has this, it’s a bit of a non-feature for now.
Aside from that, I should say the screen is good and responsive and my presses seem more accurate on this to some other devices, the proximity sensor means I haven’t yet hit the hold button with my cheek during a call (which I did on the N8), and for the most part, it handled everything well. Even the EDoF camera, one of my big concerns, is pretty good really, and I was able to take some good clear, crisp shots with it. Battery life was OK, but not great, and came in at about 18 hours medium usage (I let it run down one day) though i will charge both by USB and with the proprietary charger.
The updates to Symbian have improved it, even the minor stuff like the menu refactor which has just taken away a few superfluous layers make everything work well. For the most part, it played games, streamed music and handled everything I threw at it very well.
Here’s the key bit, “For the most part”. In general it was pretty good, but I did have a few problems. I have seen quite a few crashes, times where the lock screen wouldn’t come on, or wouldn’t go off (in both cases it did lock/unlock), applications not open properly or be able to be closed. Once it say there were headphones connected when there were not and I missed a call as the voice went to a non existent headset. I also saw an out of memory error, and when connected via USB some times it would charge, other times it wouldn’t and I’m not sure why.I tried to reset the firmware on it via Ovi Suite, and still had issues after that.
85% of the time it worked well, but I have had one too many hiccups with it in terms of stability, and I’m not sure if the issue is due to anything I did with the device, or if the software (remember, a newer version of Symbian) wasn’t really ready – we’re still waiting for Anna after all, which is supposed to contain many features already seen on the Astound. Looking through T-Mobile reviews of the device, it looks like I am not the only one to have this sort of experience, but plenty of people have had a much better experience too. So i could just be unlucky – a coworker of mine also has an N900 and has had issues with that that I have never experienced, and so this could be the same thing here. I hope most people have a better experience.
This is a nice phone and good value (right now free with contract, or $300 without ) given the spec sheet. I really want to recommend this phone and would certainly do if it wasn’t for some crashes and other issues I had that I mentioned in the performance section. So what I’ll say is this – if you are interested, get one, try it out and return it if you are getting crashes (the return rates may be going up May 22rd though so watch out). If i was just unlucky, then what remains here is a great phone, media player, navigation tool, and a good camera too. As for mine… sadly it may be heading back to the store in the next day or so.