A review of the Nokia 5230 (Nuron) Touchscreen Smartphone

I have been waiting for a sub 200$ smart phone which is either Linux based or Android based and can work seamlessly in Ubuntu. For some weird reason I have been extemely stingy about paying for smart phones – I really don’t see a point in shelling out 30k (Rs) for a phone, when you can buy a laptop for a similar price or a netbook for half the price. Dell Netbooks are available for as low as 300$, and there are a few android tablets such as the OlivePad being introduced for even cheaper prices. Considering this I feel it is a stretch to even pay 200$ for a phone.

So when I learnt about the Nokia 5230, I was excited. It was neither Android based nor Linux based, but I could atleast keep up with the developments in the mobile space at a cheap price. It didn’t take me long to decide to buy one.

This is the first smartphone I have owned, so needless to say I am excited about the features. All I really care about in a phone (other than the regular call/messaging features) is the browsing and PDA capabilities of the phone. I had earlier decided to go for the Nokia 5233, but it does not have GPS, and the 5230 comes with AGPS for an extra Rs. 1000/- so I decided to go for it.

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Having used this phone for more than a month now, I am ready to write a review of the phone. The opinion is biased, since I don’t really care about the camera and audio capabilities – I really don’t see a point in providing these when they are not state of the art.

So here goes:

GPS and navigation

The Nokia 5230 navigation edition comes with builtin OVI maps. When I took it for a test ride in Bangalore, I found the reception to be decent, although the routes are not necessarily the shortest. Further, it is not completely updated, so there were places where I was asked to take a right turn, but there was a divider right on the road. The OVI maps data is only available in huge cities, and is pretty useless even in moderately sized towns.

I also have Google Maps installed and I have found it useful atleast a couple of times. In our last trip to Bharachukki and Gaganachukki, we lost our way and Google Maps helped us identify that we are heading in the wrong direction. However, the route that it suggested to get out of the wrong way was not optimal. All in all, it is a wonderful attempt at providing navigation services in India.

The GPS does not require the mobile signal. Unfortunately, the Google Maps software expects mobile signal. This is one thing that I don’t understand. I know that Google Maps caches the maps sprites, so I would have expected them to atleast show me the route trails if the signal is low or not present. This makes it completely useless in remote trekking places where you cannot expect mobile signal.

One final issue with the GPS is the lack of a mechanism to record trails and then export it as GPX/KML. This is however a software limitation and I am still on the lookout for some application that can help me do this. The closest that I have come across is Sports Tracker which ironically is not specifically meant this purpose.

GPRS/Web Browsing

The next thing that matters to me is the browsing capabilities. This is one thing that I am increasingly getting used to. I started off with the default browser that comes with the phone. But it is slow, and the font sizes are just too small to be comfortable. It does not do any screen optimization, and I really hate to scroll horizontally when I need to read.

I started looking for alternatives and the only alternative that I could find was Opera. There are 2 versions of Opera browsers available for Symbian phones. One is the Opera Mini – this makes use of a proxy server to optimize the pages for mobile browsing. It has a small footprint, and loads pages extremely well. However, it is pretty limited in its Javascript capabilities.

The other is the Opera Mobile – this is a bit heavy in its footprint, but is a full-fledged browser. With the Opera Mobile, I can feel the limitations of the ARM 434 MHz processor that the phone is equipped with. It makes the scrolls feel a bit sluggish. But the browser is awesome! I am increasingly getting used to this way of browsing and have my daily cup of BBC and other news via the phone. In some cases I find it easier to read news on the phone than on my laptop and this is no exaggeration! The screen optimization is amazing, and coming from the web world, I sometimes wonder how well they have done it. Most sites that I visit on a regular basis, work fine on my phone.

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The Opera Mobile also has a sync capability (Opera Link) so you can sync your bookmarks and history with the browser on your laptop. I don’t use Opera in my laptop, but I find this a good way to transfer interesting content over to the laptop.

I am yet to find a good, free office and note taking suite. Considering that the world is moving towards browser based applications, I would expect someone (Google is already almost there) to soon provide full-fledged mobile based editing capabilities. As of this writing, there is limited spreadsheet editing capability from Google, and viewing for Google word documents. Google Notebooks allows you to take notes, but doesn’t allow you to edit an existing note. I have tried Zoho, but didn’t find it good enough.

As far as Google Applications are concerned, I have tried the following: GMail, Google Maps, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Buzz, Google Reader and Youtube. The mobile version of these apps work neatly in the phone.

All said, the official applications for the Nokia phone are not comparable to other smart phones in the market (Android or the iPhone). There is no good official messaging application, there is no application for Twitter, there are no good mail clients. But considering the price at which this phone is available and comparing it to the other touch phones in the market, I feel it is totally worth the price.

Music

Let me be quick on this one. It sucks.

The music quality is not comparable to other phones which are available at a cheaper price than this phone. When I listen to music on my iPod, I feel like learning music and enjoy it every bit. But on this phone, I am ‘trying hard’ to listen to the subtleties of the instruments.

Camera

Not much here either. Having come from the SLR world, I find this to be a toy.

However you might find it good enough to quickly click a snap of something – say a board that you came across, some whiteboard full of writings, a notepad scribbled with text that you don’t want to lose etc. But if you want to capture the beauty of a place that you have visited, don’t even bother.

Battery backup

This would be my biggest complaint. A lot of the applications suck battery. There is some bug in the Opera Mobile, where the battery can be sucked up completely in less than an hour’s time even though you have quit the application. The only solution is to restart the phone.

The Maps application also sucks a lot of battery and if you keep it open during a trip, you will be out of power in less than 5 hours.

Processor

I already mentioned the sluggishness of the processor when you use some application like Opera Mobile. But the biggest issue is this: Suppose you are browsing some site and you have the phone held horizontally and you receive a call, you tilt the phone and answer the call. The processor now has to reset the orientation from horizontal to vertical and change the packet switching so that you can receive the call and do the necessary processing for this. It took me a while to get used to the sluggishness. My old phone didn’t have any smart phone capabilities, and I could receive a call and get talking in less than a second, but this phone requires atleast a couple of seconds (sometimes even more) to receive the call and start speaking. If you hold the phone in some weird angle between horizontal and vertical, there are chances that the phone is completely confused and it tries to shift between horizontal and vertical orientations repeatedly. Opera Mobile crashes when this happens. 🙂

Other experiments

I have tried a few other experiments with the phone, right from installing Putty and logging into a remote server, to sending out SMSes by connecting the phone via bluetooth to my Ubuntu system. The lack of the PC suite application for Ubuntu makes it difficult for me to sync my contacts with my laptop, but I managed to find ways to do it. I have also played with video format conversions using mencoder and optimizing it to be viewed on the phone. These are just geeky experiments, and I will perhaps post a few of these sometime.

All in all, I find the Nokia 5230 to be a good entry level smart phone for people who need basic GPS and GPRS capabilities. If you are looking for a sub-10k (Rs) range phone with GPS capabilities you should check this out.

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