capsule review

Nokia E90 Communicator PDA Phone

At a Glance
  • Nokia E90 Communicator

When you're shopping for a cell phone, what will $800 get you? For that amount, you can have a Nokia E90 Communicator, a boxy PDA phone with more features--including Wi-Fi support, built-in GPS, and a 3.2-megapixel camera--than you'll find in most phones. Unfortunately, this handset is hard to use, and even harder on the eyes.

The front of the clamshell-style Nokia E90 features a numeric keypad, a few basic navigation controls, and a small display inlaid in a red rectangular case--the device looks almost like a small, standard cell phone that has been laid inside a brick. And when you pick it up, it feels like a brick, too: At 7.4 ounces, this is one of the heaviest phones we've seen.

It's a quad-band GSM phone, but since it isn't available from any U.S. carrier, you'll have to buy an unlocked version for about $800 to $850. Voice quality was decent, and talk-time battery life was excellent. The phone lasted a full 10 hours in our lab tests (the maximum amount of time we test).

The E90 flips open horizontally to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard and a big (4-inch), beautiful display, looking almost like a laptop. While the full keyboard and its complement of navigation controls are useful for accessing all of the phone's features, the design is poor. First, flipping the phone open is difficult with two hands, and nearly impossible with only one. Second, the keys are flat (not convex, as on other phones), hard to press, and too close together.

Luckily, the phone's software is better than its hardware. It runs the Symbian OS, and includes the QuickOffice suite for working with office documents and Adobe's Acrobat Reader for viewing PDFs. Its excellent messaging options include BlackBerry Connect (even though it isn't a BlackBerry) and Nokia Intellisync Wireless E-mail. It supports POP3, IMAP, and SMTP e-mail accounts.

The 3.2-megapixel camera took snapshots that were markedly clearer than those I've taken with other phones, but using it was more difficult than necessary. I somehow managed to invoke the video camera when I meant to take a snapshot; if this had happened only once, I wouldn't have thought it was a big deal, but I did it repeatedly over several days. I had to go in and manually select image mode each time, even though I'd been in image mode to start. Nevertheless, the results were good, and the built-in flash and autofocus worked well.

The phone's features don't end there. The E90 plays audio and video files (via a proprietary player or the included RealPlayer and Flash Player apps) and includes an FM tuner. Its built-in GPS includes Nokia's worldwide mapping application. It also supports Bluetooth, voice dialing, and--overseas only--the truly 3G HSDPA network. (Users in the United States are stuck with the slower EDGE network when away from a Wi-Fi connection.)

With its full complement of business software and multimedia tools, the E90 is almost like a portable office. But even its significant capabilities can't overcome its unfriendly design and its steep price.

--Liane Cassavoy

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At a Glance
  • Built-in Wi-Fi can't compensate for a boxy design and a hard-to-use phone.


    • Built-in Wi-Fi and GPS
    • Excellent e-mail options


    • Ugly, boxy design
    • Keyboard is hard to use
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