“Sadly, for many, it's ergonomic awkwardness will easily overwhelm the Surge's many other multimedia positives.”
- crisp 2.4-inch LCD; slideout QWERTY keyboard; excellent music and video players; fast and easy to surf Web browser; accelerometer
- No touchscreen; awkward direct dialing; microUSB jack isn't for charging; no 3.5mm jack; no threaded messaging
At first glance, the Nokia Surge 6790, available from AT&T, vaguely resembles all other touchscreen phones with either slide-out or flip-down QWERTY keyboards. Just one problem, however: The Surge doesn’t have a touchscreen. As a result, some cell phone gymnastics are needed to make direct dial calls and navigate the menus. Sadly, for many, this ergonomic awkwardness will easily overwhelm the Surge’s many other multimedia positives.
Features and Design
We’ve never seen a phone that looks quite like the Surge. The 320×240 2.4-inch screen floats on a black surface with an irregular rectangular fluted border. Above the screen (when held vertically) is an unusual vertical slot earpiece. Below the display is a backlit rocker panel with two soft keys plus Send and End, with a four-way navigation frame bordering an action button.
Stacked on the bottom left of the face are three user-definable action keys, which nonetheless have imprinted function icons: MediaNET, Menu and Messaging. Up top you’ll find the power and headphone jack pack, as well as a mono speaker. Located on the right of the phone are the camera access/shutter release and the volume/zoom toggle, while on the left is the microUSB jack.
The black tile/white-backlit 3-line QWERTY keyboard features large, easy to tap keys with comfortingly tactile response, but there is no threaded messaging. The display’s accelerometer is highly reactive, but not overly sensitive.
Inside the phone can also be found the by-now familiar array of traditional cellular conveniences. For instance: 3G connectivity up to 3.6 Mbps; a 2MP camera and QVGA video recorder; IM, text and email (but no pre-sets for Gmail) including support for Exchange 2.9 and attachment viewing; AT&T Navigator A-GPS; AT&T’s CV and MobiTV video services (with Flash support) plus music player; XM satellite and FM radio; games including Guitar Hero III; an HTML Web browser; and stereo Bluetooth 2.0.
Ports & Connectors
The Nokia Surge 6790’s microUSB jack is a tease – it can’t be used for juicing up, merely for PC connectivity. This is a major annoyance and completely unnecessary.
For charging, the Surge is equipped instead with Nokia’s needle-like 2mm jack, which is one jack too many, next to the equally onerous 2.5mm (instead of 3.5mm) headphone jack.
Can a Phone Serve as a Workable PMP?
While smaller than most multimedia phone screens, the Surge’s 2.4-inch display nonetheless is among the sharpest and most vibrant we’ve seen, acceptable for both video viewing and photo framing even in direct sunlight. And since both AT&T’s CV and MobiTV video services are accessible, there’s plenty to see.
Happily, the Surge’s above-average music player continues to play uninterrupted behind other apps. There are no external music controls, however – you have to circle back to the music player to skip, pause or stop play. You can adjust music volume anytime, however.
Using AT&T’s 3G network in New York, conversations were clear and smooth with plenty of volume. Alas, dialogue was a bit muddy at both ends, although not undecipherable. Music playback from the top speaker was plenty loud as well, with AM radio/cheap car radio speaker-like quality.
As noted in the introduction, to make a direct dial call (as opposed to dialing from the easily accessible contact list), you have to slide out the QWERTY keyboard, punch in the numbers, hit the Send button on the phone’s face, slide the keyboard back in, then turn the phone from portrait to landscape mode to hold it to your ear and actually talk. Without a touchscreen, there’s simply no other solution other than providing a slide-down dial pad.
Getting to the menu is also a challenge just to begin with, though. With the QWERTY slide closed, you first have to unlock the phone: Except the “unlock” instruction pop-up is displayed on a still-dimmed screen that doesn’t light up until you blindly press the first unreadable key of the “unlock” sequence.
Nokia’s MiniMap browser combined with AT&T’s 3G network produces mobile-optimized Web pages in a zippy 3-5 seconds, non-optimized pages in less than 10 seconds. Default text is thankfully large and bold, while the QWERTY makes it easy to surf specific URLs and the software makes it easy to add bookmarks.
Photos taken with the handset’s built-in 2MP camera are large, colorful and clear, but lack the crispness of photos from cellular cameras with bigger and better imagers. Indoor shots, however, are among the best we’ve seen from a 2MP phone, devoid of the usual dull blurriness. Major controls – shutter release and zoom – are further easy to manipulate right under your right index finger. The 4x digital zoom lets you get quite personal with subjects as well, although resulting close-ups are fuzzy and out of focus.
In our unscientific tests, we got 4.5 hours of battery life from the handset, a bit shy of the rated 4.7 hours. Both actual and rated battery life, however, is a bit below-average for a phone with such a relatively small non-touchscreen.
Had Nokia put a touchscreen on this baby or a slide-down dialpad, and we’d be talking about a first-rate phone. But by making it so awkward just to access the handset’s prime function – dialing to make a call – and piling on a host of assorted minor niggles, the Surge can’t help but take a few hard knocks.
- Bright, crisp 2.4-inch LCD
- Slideout QWERTY keyboard
- Excellent music and video players
- Fast and easy to surf Web browser
- No touchscreen
- Awkward direct dialing
- microUSB jack isn’t for charging
- No 3.5mm jack
- No threaded messaging
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