Nokia 9290 Communicator Review

Nokia 9290 Communicator

“Compared to a normal cell phone, the 9290 is bulky, cumbersome and heavy.”
  • Mac and Windows Synchronization; sharp display
  • Bulky
  • office apps are not practical


So, does this phone do its job effectively?  The Nokia 9290 Communicator has lots of features.  It handles many of them well, and can be a great tool while on the road.  But, it is not effective in all its functions.  The messaging, internet, contacts and calendar applications are by far its strengths.  Most people who enjoy this phone will probably use those applications on a regular basis.

However, the office applications, while powerful, are not practical.  It would be extremely difficult to type a meaningful report or maintain a spreadsheet that was actually useful.  Don’t expect to use the office applications as your normal productivity tools unless you have a lot of time on your hands.


When imagining a cell-phone integrated with a PDA, the first thing to come to mind is probably an awkwardly large blocky device. This could be a basic PDA but with a hands-free set that plug into the side. The phone controls would be somewhat limited since the focus would be on PDA features. With the release of the Nokia 9290, the genre has changed. The balance between cell phone and PDA has been achieved quite nicely by Nokia, providing a large keypad, color screen, and a vast array of tools and applications to use.

One noticeable aspect of the phone is its’ raw size. At 6.22″ long, 1.06″ deep, and 2.20″ wide, it dwarfs many cell phones even from the last decade. The 9290 makes up for its large size and 8.6 oz. weight with excellent features, such as a contact list (which allows putting photos in for each contact), calendar, internet connectivity, messaging, an office suite, voice recorder, video player, and a fax modem.


In a sense, the Nokia 9290 is an extension of your computer with features that allow you to sync your e-mail and contacts with Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes; there is even a mulimedia card expansion slot. You can even store information, application and games on the included MultiMedia card. One noticable feature of this phone is the beautiful TFT display (640×200 resolution) capable of an astounding 4,096 colors making for a very visual experience, unique to the cell phone market.

Average Use

When considering the usage model for this device, several key features appear quite practical on the onset. The communicator could be ideal in meetings, where notes can be taken with its sheet feature (similar to notepad). Unfortunately our experience here was that the QWERTY keyboard was not adequate to do this with any efficiency. The keys are too close together for regular typing – yet unnecessarily large for single finger typing. Web browsing is somewhat painful as well, but the full color screen does make it look great! The pointer can be used to navigate around web pages, like a mouse. You can even save web pages. But the limited width of the screen makes viewing the pages somewhat scrunched unless you visit sites with little content. We also had some difficulty getting flash to load. Fortunately navigation is quite simple – a very redeeming feature considering all the applications available by default on the communicator. A typical user won’t find it hard to navigate around all the applications and menus without having to read the instruction book. With specific buttons for desk (like the desktop), telephone, messaging, internet, contacts, calendar, office and extras the organization is very tidy. There is also a menu button to bring up the menus for whatever specific application you are running.


An endless supply of contacts can be entered and viewed like a rolodex. Each contact has its own card with information such as mobile number, business number, pager, web address, company, title, fax, etc. This is perfect for keeping those business contacts that you call maybe every few months and don’t want to have to keep all their information in a notebook. You can also send or receive contact information as if they were business cards. The contact fields are completely customizable, allowing you to create contact templates and chose fields from a list of 20 different fields, enabling you to create different type of contacts for personal use and for work. You can even rename fields to add even more customization.


The office feature is actually quite impressive. You can create and edit documents, spreadsheets, presentations (like PowerPoint) and the suite even has a “file manager”. Of course, these are limited when compared to any type of document editing or spreadsheet software you may be used to using on your computer, but they are extremely powerful to be on a phone. The document application allows you to insert objects like images or spreadsheets. Other features you may be familiar with are: formatting (changing fonts, bullets, alignments, indents, tabs, line spacing, styles, and changing borders), inserts of line/page breaks, view outline of the document, zoom, and find. You can even send the document as a fax, email, short message, or to the printer.

In the spreadsheet application you can insert functions, create workbooks, sort the cells and create charts. Basically exactly what you would expect from a normal spreadsheet application. It’s extremely well done and easy to use.

The presentation viewer is pretty slim. You would not want to hold a presentation in front of colleagues on that screen – but if it is great for creating and displaying presentations on the fly! It doesn’t pack that many features, but at least it can do lists and bullets!


The desk feature, though practical on laptops, is not nearly as useful on a device of this size. It basically acts as a windows-like desktop. You can put your own custom background on it, create quick notes and put shortcuts to applications and web pages. However, all of this is extremely simple to access anyways via the application buttons.


The telephone application puts a new spin on cell phone use. Not only can you make and receive calls like a normal cell phone, but you can make conference calls as well and be able to do it with a great visual interface. When you make a new call during a current call, it will place the first call on hold. You will see both calls on the screen with their picture, name and status (on hold / active). This is wonderfully easy to understand what’s going on. Making conference calls is just as great on the eyes and easy to do. You can conference call up to five people and the display shows them as one single call. The display will show a participants box with the names of each person. You can even select a participant to talk to privately so the others can not hear what you say (the others are placed on hold.)


There is even a calendar where you can create “events”, reminder lists, and set reminder alarms for almost anything you can think of. You can even synch the calendar’s tasks and events with Microsoft and Lotus applications. The calendar allows up to four different types of entries: appointments, events (whole day), annually repeated events (like birthdays, anniversaries, vacation), and to-do type task entries. There are various views for the calendar (7 in total) so you can view your entries by year, month, week, day, by task, etc.


One of the cool features of the phone is the internet access it provides. Just like a normal desktop, you create a dial-up account to an ISP (provided by the reseller of the phone usually.) When you try to load a webpage, the phone will automatically dial-out and connect to the ISP. You can set the phone with various proxy configurations – and allow it to disconnect after being idle to save minutes. Through the internet application button, you have access to a web browser and a WAP application. And the LCD display of the 9290 is great for viewing web pages.

The browser acts as a toned down IE or Netscape (in features) where you can enter URL’s, browser secure sites (SSL), supports frames, and allows saving of web pages, and bookmarks. You can even use the built in pointer to click on links instead of tabbing to them. The communicator’s browser also supports Java applications, so you can use web based Java applications to further enhance your experience.

One notable feature of the browser is that you can break out of frames in a page by using the file menu (File  Open  Frame as new page). This is handy since the screen is usually not wide enough to accommodate the width of a page with frames.

There are a plethora of other useful settings for the browser – such as the ability to turn off image loading to increase load time of pages, frame options like show all / show frames one by one, do not use frames, changing font, size, and turning cookies off.

The WAP application is pretty much the same as the browser application, except that to connect to a WAP service, you need to define the access points.


There are 3 Messaging applications: fax, mail and SMS. The fax application is something definitely note worthy as a Geek feature, but would probably not be used extensively. Without the ability to scan a document – few may want to type up a fax on the phone. On the other hand, the mail and SMS applications appear quite useful. SMS is simple to use and acts just like it would on any other phone. To SMS someone that is already in your address book, just select them from a list and it automatically fills in the to: line with their name and phone number. Then, just type your message and click send.

Email is pretty much the same except you can also CC and create a subject. You can also format your sent email in HTML, plain text (no mime) or just standard plain text.

Reading is simple as well. Just open your Inbox, where not only your SMS messages are stored, but so are your Email and Faxes as well, and select it. You can sort by date or size to make it easier to find one. You can also create folders to store those important messages/faxes/emails. The inbox utilizes various icons to show the status of each message, priority, and what type of item it is.


There are applications that don’t fit into any of the above categories, so Nokia provides them under the application button “Extras”. These include the clock, help, control panel, imaging, calculator, recorder, video player, cell broadcast, fax modem, and some games (Snake, Snowboard and VRally.)

The imaging and video player are interesting features but require software to connect the phone to the PC. The downside of the video player is that it only plays video clips of the type NIM, which Nokia declares as Nokia Interleaved Multimedia. Like AVI, these files can be converted to the NIM format using software from the included CD-ROM. As for imaging, you can browse your images in thumbnails so that you can easily see which on you want to view. The imaging application supports JPEG, TIFF, GIF, BMP, MBM AND WBMP.

For those interested in the entertainment aspects, unfortunately the games were not the highlight. Given the power of the 9290, one would expect that the games could look a little better and have more depth. Instead they resemble an older Atari. The VRally game looked like a rip off of Pole Position. Not only was it extremely hard to play since it’s impossible to take a corner in a smooth way, but the graphics were far from impressive. Our hope is that better games are released later for download from the Nokia website.


So, does this phone do its job effectively? The Nokia 9290 Communicator has lots of features. It handles many of them well, and can be a great tool while on the road. But, it is not effective in all its functions. The messaging, internet, contacts and calendar applications are by far its strengths. Most people who enjoy this phone will probably use those applications on a regular basis.

However, the office applications, while powerful, are not practical. It would be extremely difficult to type a meaningful report or maintain a spreadsheet that was actually useful. Don’t expect to use the office applications as your normal productivity tools unless you have a lot of time on your hands.

Most people looking at this phone will want to use it as a possible replacement to a bulky, cumbersome laptop. If you are an average cell phone user then this phone is probably not for you. Compared to a normal cell phone, the 9290 is bulky, cumbersome and heavy. You also might be somewhat embarrassed to use it for phone calls, unless you have the hands free set, due to its bulky size. It conjures memories of old white cell phones from the 80’s – so huge you couldn’t carry them with you unless you stored them in your briefcase. The price does not justify using this phone as a general purpose phone.

The phone is not practical in the sense that it’s a large phone to carry around and its steep price. I would not recommend this phone for a typical teenager or someone who’s a casual cell phone user that does not have a need for its powerful features. This phone will shine with the business minded people on the go, enabling them to keep in touch with the home office and other work related people by using a combination of email, SMS, calendar and the contact list.

Editors' Recommendations