capsule review

Nokia Surge for AT&T

At a Glance
  • Nokia Surge (AT&T)

The Nokia Surge ($80 with a two-year contract; as of 8/10/09) is a great starter smartphone for teenagers or those wary of high-priced handsets. It has a few design quirks, and the construction is a bit flimsy, but you get a solid set of features for an affordable price.

The Surge is incredibly pocketable, measuring 3.8 by 2.2 by 0.6 inches thick. It's light, too, weighing a feathery 4.3 ounces. But it isn't exactly eye-catching: The phone's dull, all-black body is almost completely plastic except for metal trim around the keyboard. While this construction keeps it lightweight, it looks a bit cheap. And for a phone that's aimed at a young, hip, and socially-connected audience, I wish Nokia had offered more fun with the colors.

Nevertheless, the phone feels really nice in the hand and caused no discomfort during a long phone conversation. Call quality over AT&T's 3G network sounded great, too. But the Surge has one very annoying design quirk: It has no separate numeric keypad; you can only access it from the slide-out keyboard. This means you must have the keyboard open every time you dial a number. Too bad Nokia didn't make this phone a dual-slider like its N97.

The Surge's hardware buttons are laid out horizontally, suggesting that you'll mostly use the phone with the slide-out QWERTY keyboard open. A 2.4-inch display dominates the face of the phone. While the display was bright and crisp enough, I wish Nokia had used the real estate of the phone's face more wisely--it has quite a bit of room for a bigger screen.

To the right of the display lies the Talk and End/Power buttons, with a directional pad between them. Unlike other Nokia smartphones I've seen, this d-pad is easy to press and comfortable to use. To the lower right of the display are three shortcut keys: Browser, Home, and E-mail. Unfortunately, these rigid, flushed keys are not as tactile as the d-pad. I preferred taking the extra steps to access these apps via the phone's software menu rather than pushing these small plasticky buttons.

The keyboard slides out easily and feels very sturdy. Again, I found the keys quite stiff and difficult to press. The keys were quite large though, so the keyboard didn't feel cramped. I also liked the generously-sized, centrally-placed spacebar.

Like other Nokia smartphones, the Surge runs on the Symbian S60 platform. The interface lacks the pizzazz of other smartphones and phones with advanced features that we've seen, like the Samsung Impression (also on AT&T), for example. Still, the interface packs in an impressive amount of features. In particular, the social networking aspect of the Surge comes from a preloaded app called JuiceCaster. This app acts as a portal for other social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Twitter, and JuiceCaster's own social network. You can post status updates, photos, and videos all from one seamless application, and I can see its appeal to the younger set that is the phone's market.

The Surge is not all fun and games, though--it has productivity apps, too, such as the QuickOffice suite, a PDF reader, and a calendar. You can also set up your business e-mail account using Microsoft Exchange synchronization or your personal e-mail accounts, such as Gmail.

The media player supports a wide gamut of file types including AAC, AAC+, WAV, MP3, WMA 9, and RealAudio10 files. You can also listen to FM and XM radio stations. Audio quality is good, but I was disappointed by the lack of a standard 3.5-mm headphone jack.

Perhaps the Surge's strongest point is that the browser supports Flash Lite. Unlike with the iPhone, viewing pages with heavy Flash content is no problem. CNN.com, Hulu, and YouTube were a bit slow to load (this may have been a network issue, not a problem with the handset); eventually, however, I was able to watch streaming video without any issues.

The 2-megapixel camera is adequate, but not on a par with some of the other Nokia smartphone cameras we've tested. Colors looked washed out and details lacked refinement. Video recording quality was also just average with some blurring and pixilation.

The Nokia Surge offers a lot for the price, but I wonder if the younger audience it is aimed at will be turned off by its boring (and awkward) design and lackluster interface. The $99 iPhone 3G, also on the AT&T network, is slightly more expensive, but is a much more tempting buy thanks to its sleek design, its fun interface, and its plentitude of apps and games.

--Ginny Mies

Note: See our Top 10 Cell Phones.

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At a Glance
  • The Nokia Surge is surprisingly feature-packed for its price, but the design has more than a few flaws.

    Pros

    • Very slim and lightweight
    • Excellent call quality

    Cons

    • No separate numeric keypad
    • Poor tactile feedback from shortcut keys
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