Nokia 9500 Communicator Review, Tips & Links.

Executive Summary

The Nokia 9500 Communicator is an extremely powerful and feature rich PDA with a phone on the back cover. When closed, its styling can be generously called Retro or ungenerously "a brick". But when you open the clamshell, it reveals a beautiful color widescreen (640×200)
Photos of the Nokai 9500 Communicator, next to a Motorola V330, Palm T2, dollar bill, and 12oz soda can.
Side ViewNokia 9500 closedNokia 9500 open

The Nokia 9500, sideview, closed, and open, next to a Motorola V330 and Palm T2.

Important Specs

  • Tri-Band GSM, EGPRS (EDGE) support, 802.11b support, Bluetooth
  • 80MB built in RAM, MMC card slot for expansion
  • POP3 or IMAP4 Email support, HTML 4.01 / XHTML web browser, SSL 3.0/TLS 1.0, Ipsec, 802.11 WPA 1.0/WEP, VPN Client for corporate networks
  • 640×200 main screen with 16 bit color (65K colors), VGA Camera for JPG and (small) videos.
  • Weight: 230g (8oz) – Dimensions: 148 x 57 x 24 mm (BIG AND HEAVY!)

Review

The first thing that hits you when you see the Nokia 9500 communicator is that it is BIG! It still fits in the cell-phone pocket on my backpack, but the top flap was straining to get closed. Carrying it in your hip pocket is almost out of the question, although it does fit in cargo pockets (with a bit of flapping around) and side zip pockets on windbreakers. It fits well in your hand, and would make a good weapon! Closed, the styling is classic Nokia candy-bar, and nobody would mug you for this retro looking phone until they saw you open it.

Once you open the clam-shell, the phone goes from retro to super modern mini-palmtop. It has a very nice QWERTY keyboard with integrated 5 way select/mouse control on the bottom half, and a 640×200 wide-screen display and 4 soft buttons on the top half. The screen is glorious, clear, sharp and bright! The combination of the wide-screen and advanced web browser provided the best mobile web browsing experience I have had short of a full laptop. Pressing Ctrl-T switches the web browser to full-screen mode, allowing full sized web pages to be easily read without side-to-side scrolling. It even supports JavaScript and Flash (giving GoogleAds and Flash ads on the mobile browser, which is also the first time I saw an advertisement on a mobile web browser.)

The email support is very standards compliant, and is able to access IMAP4/SSL mail servers, which is my preferred method. I'm sure it also supports syncing with Outlook/Exchange when using a windows computer, as this phone is definitely designed for business-people. The office productivity tools are boring but very functional, offering the ability to open/edit/create word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations. (Apparently, with the correct bluetooth adapter, you can show presentations on a projector straight from the 9500.)

While not offering quite the volume of 3rd party applications as Palm-OS, Symbian series 80 had the important ones that I went looking for: SSH, Ogg Vorbis music player, and some games were all free. (See links below). Several companies sell more advanced software for the Symbian Series 80 devices. The phone also runs Java MIDP 2.0 and Personal profile 1.0 midlets quite well, including Gmail and Google Mobile (Maps).

The Nokia 9500 offers very good performance when used as a Bluetooth Modem. Using the T-Mobile EDGE network in an area with medium signal strength, I averaged download speeds of 25KB/sec with 32KB/sec peeks, and upload speeds of 4KB/sec average with some sustained bursts of 12KB/sec. This is a good bit better than the Motorola V330 provided on the same plan (15KB/Sec down, and 2KB/sec up). Of course, EDGE is only a stopgap measure between GPRS and the true 3G UTMS, so if you have the option of purchasing a 3G/UTMS phone to use as a data modem pay the extra for much faster transfer speeds!

The camera is what you would expect, not terribly good, but passable for taking a quick snapshot. By default the jpeg quality is set to medium (approx 40KB an image). Since you have 80MB of Ram on the phone, turn the quality settings up to High and you'll get slightly better results. Example images in Medium and High quality settings are below:

Low Resolution Example ImageHigh Resolution Example Image

Low (left) and "High" (right) resolution images from the included VGA camera.

Gotchas and Tips

Installing files via bluetooth: If you use OBEX Object Push to send an install file (SIS or Jar) to the 9500 it appears to disappear after the transfer! If you go to "Messaging" you will find that each object was entered as a "message" in your inbox, and you can Open them to start the install process.

J2ME Midlets & Soft-buttons: When running Java applications, the soft buttons on the side of the display are mapped to the "actions" that are displayed on the bottom of the display. So, unintuitively, the far left "action" is triggered using the "top" soft button, while the bottom soft button triggers the far right "action". (Why Nokia didn't display the actions along the side of the screen next to the soft buttons is a mystery to me, perhaps the J2ME specifications forced them to put them on the bottom, or perhaps they really wanted to use the full width of the screen. Google Maps looks very nice on the super wide screen display, but really, it's almost too wide, and I wouldn't have minded trading some of the side real estate for a butter UI.

Using the 9500 as a bluetooth Modem: When you are using the 9500 as a bluetooth modem, it may be necessary to initialize the modem with the correct provider (even though the same settings are already entered in the Tools-Control Panel-Connections-Internet Setup dialog). For example, when using T-Mobile VPN Internet connection, I must use the following AT commands (from the laptop) to get a successful connection, even though "internet3.voicestream.com" is already programmed into the phone, and the phone can successfully use that to get to the web and email itself:
ATZ
AT+CGDCONT=1,"IP","internet3.voicestream.com",,0,0
ATD*99#

Cell Phone vs Communicator: The 9500 appears to have two different CPU's running the PDA and Phone features. Although the PDA can access the Internet via the phone, and the contact list is shared, they can operate separately. For example, it is possible to turn the phone off (using the external power button) and have the PDA still running (open the clam-shell). I was unable to find a way to turn the PDA off (or reboot it) other than removing the battery, but as long as the clam-shell is closed it appears to be in a power saving standby mode. The two screens work well together, but the small external screen is not a usable substitute for the larger internal screen. For example, you can open your IMAP4 inbox using the external (phone) display, but when you try to read a message it gives you a message to "Open the telephone cover", not even trying to display the text of the message on the small screen. The PDA takes longer to boot than the cell phone, so you can have the external display up and running, while the internal display is still showing the Nokia Hands. (This only affects you if you've removed the battery however, normally the PDA is ready to go whenever you open the phone.)

Very Useful Software for the 9500:

  • Nokia Software Support Page – Updates (worldclock), applications (eBook reader) & free games (Bounce, Golf)!
  • puTTY – Free SSH Cleint (Also has versions for Series 60 & 90 phones)
  • Symbian OggPlay – Plays Ogg music files. (Installs OGG MMF plugin, so the built in music player can play OGG files. I couldn't actually get OggPlay to work [kept crashing] but it enabled the phone to play ogg music by installing the correct MultiMedia Framework plugin.)

1 thought on “Nokia 9500 Communicator Review, Tips & Links.

  1. Nokia made a mistake when they designed the “log duration function” of the ff: communicators 9210/i, 9300/i, 9500. Under the log duration menu, the software allows the user to select a value from 0 to 999 days of log duration! Normally when you use the cellphone in a day, you can receive and send back numerous calls and text messages and data transactions. But Nokia R&D people never considered that idea. Instead they just alloted 1,000 lines of log and not 1,000 days. Any owner/user can testify that their communicator can only log a maximum of 25 to 29 days that is to safely say that they have used up at least a minimum of 30 lines each day. Nokia after receiving so many complaints on the log made a very minor correction. With the E90 communicator the user can set the log to a maximum of 30 days(no longer 999)! Nokia is still making the same mistake because the log is still based on the alloted 1,000 lines. The correct thing to do is to modify the program and assign at least a maximum of 50 communications per day x 30 days. If the user of the E90 uses up 40 to 60 lines per day then even if you set the log at the max of 30 days you will end up having a log of only 17 to 25 days max! If I were part of the Nokia R&D team the least cost solution is to modify the log menu by simply removing the log duration setting. Nokia is fooling people again and again.

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