Just in time to meet the threat of the Apple iPhone, phone makers have been improving the music player experience in their products. One example of this is the unpretentious 5300 XpressMusic, Nokia’s latest slider cell available for a mere $99.99 USD from T-Mobile (with the usual rebates and contract requirements). Instead of fancy touch-sensitive buttons or a copycat iPod control array, Nokia has placed three practical hard music transport keys on the side of this soap bar-sized phone. Additionally, the 5300’s music application has true random shuffle and a wide selection of EQ settings, and the microSD slot can handle cards up to 2GB. Sure, you can find a similarly capable MP3 player for 99 bucks, but not one with a cell phone and camera.
Design and Features
You almost can’t help thinking of a panda bear upon first spying the black-on-white version of this cuddly slider (not so much with the red-on-white version). This cosmetic comparison is not mere empty prose, however. The distinctive look of the 3.64 x 1.9 x .8-inch, 3.75-ounce Nokia 5300 goes far in differentiating you from your style-conscious mobile peers.
In the midst of the color-banded middle is a bright, 2-inch 320 x 240 pixel, 262k color LCD. The menu graphics are more Atari 2600 than Xbox, but they’re easy to read. Finding what you want in these menus, however, is often problematical; for instance, we were unable to find backlighting or screen brightness controls.
On the left curved side of the top slide half are three hard dash-like keys beneath icons for rewind/track back, play/pause and fast forward/track ahead. On the right are similar dash keys marked + and – to identify the volume controls, along with a slightly recessed camera activation/shutter key. Until you get used to the phone, you’ll make the mistake of pressing the identifying control icons instead of the actual raised slashes just below. These hard keys require a solid pressing, which is a good thing — it’s nigh impossible for them to be accidentally activated while you’re toting the 5300 in a pocket or pocketbook. But you will have to disengage the keypad lock to use them.
Pressing the play/pause key starts the music playing, but not the actual application. Whatever you were doing stays on the screen as the music starts to play. You also can continue to navigate the varying phone features while the music plays largely uninterrupted. The music application doesn’t boot unless you specifically choose it from the menu.
Beneath the screen are two soft menu keys (color-coded Send and End keys) and the navigation array, which serves double duty as music control keys when the music application is running and as camera control keys when you’re snapping snaps.
Up top on the rear half of the slider are the power jack and the mini USB PC connection. Where’s the microSD slot? Unfortunately, it’s under the stubborn battery cover.
Underneath the slide is a grey keypad with slightly raised keys. But the blue character backlight blurs the numbers and letters and is effective only in complete darkness, which results in a bit more time and squinting for texting.
Although the 5300 is listed as myFaves compatible, we could not figure out how to turn on this handy T-Mobile feature, which posts pictures of the five people you call the most on the home menu screen. MyFaves may have to be activated at the carrier store.
Running the Symbian Series 40 OS, the 5300 is a semi-smart phone and offers voice dialing/command, e-mail, and instant messaging. The 5300 is also equipped with an alarm clock, calendar, to-do list, notes, calculator, countdown timer, and stopwatch functions. When the phone is powered up, the cute flight query prompts you to see if you want to turn off the radio but leave the other non-phone options running. If you turn the flight query option off, you can simply select the “Flight” profile.
Image Courtesy of Nokia
Setup and Use
Voice quality on T-Mobile’s tri-band EDGE network is crisp with plenty of volume, and ringtones are loud and the vibrating is violent. Our test model did not have EDGE service, but even in GPRS mode, the 5300 only lagged a few seconds behind other EDGE and EV-DO phones for Web browsing.
But that’s not why you came.
The music application on the 5300 acts more like an MP3 player than most music phones, especially when it comes to random/shuffle play. Most music phones create a so-called “random” playlist, but this random list becomes frozen and never varies. The phone starts playing songs in the same exact order as the last time you listened, forcing you to skip through everything you’ve heard thus far before getting to an unheard track. But the 5300 either starts playing right up from where you left off, or starts from a new spot on your list. There is also a variety of track categorization view choices (i.e. track, artist, most recently added) when searching for a particular track.
The 5300 also offers triple codec compatibility – MP3, WMA and AAC and its variations, but all non-DRM; the 5300 is not PlaysForSure compatible, which means it won’t play tracks you buy from online sites. And T-Mobile does not offer its own online music service.
You transfer tracks to the phone from a PC using the included USB-to-mini USB cable, or you can slip the generously included 1GB MicroSD card (the phone can handle up to a 2GB card) into a PC or Mac card reader and simply drag and drop tracks. The included radio function was not operable.
For listening, you have three options: the bundled ill-fitting wired earbuds with an in-line mic, stereo Bluetooth headphones, or the external mono speaker. We recommend the in-ear Plantronics Pulsar 260 ($109.99 USD), which can be used as stereo Bluetooth earphones or be connected via the 2.5mm jack. While not stereo, the external speaker is as loud as most inexpensive clock radios.
As good as the music section is, the 1.3 MP camera is poor. Ergonomically, all is well. Holding the phone horizontally puts the recessed camera/shutter button directly under your right index finger. In camera mode, the voice toggle keys become the 8x zoom controls.
Unfortunately, the shutter button is recessed and difficult to manipulate, which virtually assures camera blur when trying to snap. Even using the phone’s navigation “select” key as the shutter release shifts the phone enough during capture to blur pictures taken indoors. While images are automatically saved once they’re taken, you have to tell the phone that you want to take a new picture. At the highest 1280 x 1024 pixel resolution, you’ll have to wait around 5 seconds for the picture to process before you can proceed. There’s a self-portrait mirror, but no flash.
While outdoor shots are average for a 1.3 MP camera, indoor images are grainy and lack both color and contrast.
Battery life is a mixed blessing. For music, you get 12 hours of play time, a bit shorter than other music phones, but still plenty robust for most commuting, errand running, and exercising. However, you get a below-average talk time of 3.2 hours.
The Nokia 5300 XpressMusic is a great compact and inexpensive solution for those who need a single music/cell device with unusual styling that is both unpretentious and eye-catching. Even if it had less style, its MP3 player-like music playback functions would still help differentiate it from its rivals.
• Excellent music player application
• Stereo Bluetooth and 2.5mm headphone jack
• USB cable and 1GB microSD card included
• Poor camera images
• Not PlaysForSure compatible
• Poor key backlighting
• Short talk-time battery life