I’ve had the T-Mobile Astound, essentially the USA version of Nokia’s C7, for just about a month as I’m reviewing it for Brighthand. I don’t receive compensation for posting my views on devices to this site (I do for Brighthand), and so I wanted to write up an overview of my experiences with the Astound in a bit different of a format than what appears in my Brighthand review.
Positives and Evolutions of Thought
Many, many months back – when I reviewed the Nokia N8 – I generally had some positive opinions about Symbian, though I didn’t feel that it was quite the device for me at the time. The N8 grew on me though, and by the time my Brighthand review was published, I had started to like the N8 a good bit. The Astound builds on those impressions positively for the most part.
First off would be the design of the mobile itself. It is really hard for me to state that mobile devices have some sort of sensual appeal. But, you know, the Astound has it. Its an attractive device to look at and to hold. Even though its mostly plastic, the heft of the device, and the chrome(-like) bezel lend a professional yet fun feel to it. Never once did I feel embarrassed taking it out of my pocket.
The screen was also something to marvel at. I really had small expectations of the screen quality since I already use a mobile with a similar resolution. However, the screen’s technology (AMOLED) really makes a difference in readability and general usefulness. I’ve still got some qualms about the type of touchscreen (capacitive), but in a month, I’ve adjusted to how it works differently than my N97.
The operating system used in the Astound is the latest version of the Symbian 3 operating system which first came out on the N8. I remember how much that the N8 was polished over my N97 (which uses a weird mix of the Symbian 1 and 2 operating systems), but also remember how much was missed in the little details. The Astound benefits from what the N8 learned, and seems to have tightened up things a good bit. For example, I didn’t notice too many places where a notification prompt came up and that there was only one item on the notification.
Part of the reason for the polish with the Astound has to do with the fact that its using pieces of the yet-to-be-released Anna update for Symbian 3 which includes things such as a new web browser, improved graphics, and several fixes with performance and memory usage. The Astound seems to have gotten the best of these changes-to-come and it makes it a pretty livable device. I did appreciate the web browser, when I used it, not just because T-Mobile had its moments of speed, but it was generally just a better browsing experience than on my N97.
Negatives and Devolutions
Now, not everything was positive. I’ve lived with a QWERTY-equipped mobile for the better part of the past half decade (Treo, Nokia E-Series, and now N97). Getting used to not having a physical keyboard is hard. Using a QWERTY keyboard that’s really too narrow for the device is harder. I am thankful though that Nokia (and T-Mobile) saw fit to have the Swype input method as something installed by default. It helped, a lot.
The camera, even with its 8 megapixel and quick snapping goodness, isn’t something that I could live with. Not that I’m a professional photographer or anything, but I do like a great macro shot. Even better, I just like pictures that look good. The quality of the Astound’s pictures (see my gallery) looked great on the device, but when viewed over my iPad, there was a ton of dithering and noise in them. Proving that it wasn’t just my iPad, I viewed them on a PC as well and the same artifact also occurred. Video was great however, really great. Just mind what it is you are shooting you know.
Other than that, the only other thing was a performance niggle. I didn’t notice it except when playing Fruit Ninja (a Lite version of the game is included with the Astound), but there are moments when if there are a few too many fruit on the screen, the device slows down a good bit. It would be one thing if it were just me, but my little cousin (7yrs old) also experienced it and it got her quite peeved after the first time it happened. Little ones have little patience for performance issues (adults have patience for the wrong things ya know).
To that end, I think that the Astound probably doesn’t fare as well as it could. Those are really the three main bugs that I’ve had with it, but they take down its excellent value proposition a few pegs.
Back to the Positives and a Conclusion of Sorts
But, let me get back to the positives. I’ve actually had a pretty nice time with the Astound. The battery life has been excellent, I get about two days to a charge because of how I’m using it. The FM Transmitter ranks with TV-Out ranks as one of my favorite features of any mobile device, and Nokia once again proves that these aren’t bad to include on a $300 ($80 with 2yr contract, or $50 if you go to Nokia USA) smartphone.
I did get a bit of a chuckle when people asked me if it was a new Android device. Nokia really did add a lot of polish to Symbian 3, and its a shame that the new kid has that much shine over the old. But, that’s the case of mobile today. It was also pretty neat at hearing how some people, after holding the Astound, were reminded of the tank-like, brick Nokia’s of old (and not so old) that they used to own. To see a modern device evoke those kinds of feelings, just from being held is pretty decent of a reputation to have.
I’ve not talked about the phone aspects, and that’s probably because I almost never talk much about that feature with Nokia’s mobiles. They don’t do things wrong there. Voice quality is clear, the Wi-Fi hand-off feature (UMA) that T-Mobile’s Nokia’s have had helps when this guy is traveling through areas where T-Mobile doesn’t have the best footprint. The address book is helped with the smart-dialing feature, though I really miss SkyeQKey that I used to have with my N95 (could not just dial, but SMS contacts, while also launching applications by just typing). The things that are done well, are just done well. That’s certainly the case here.
And really is the case all around with the Astound. No, there’s not the application library of iPhone or Android. And those used to and IT department securing their devices will grow a bit tired of seeing just how much you can do on the Astound without an IT department’s permission. The pieces that work, just work.
You can’t argue too much with that. And honestly, in a day where people are shipping alpha and beta products (hardware, software, and otherwise), to get a mobile in your pocket that you don’t really have to worry about, its just there when you need it, is pretty astounding after all.
I’ve enjoyed my time with the Astound. There’s most likely going to be some Symbian 3 device in my future (I’m a multi-device person) because it just settled into my hand and pocket just nicely. I don’t think it would be a bad option for others either.