iPhone vs. Nokia E90 Communicator

(photos by Blackhorn and DanieVDM)

The arrival to the second installment of RailsConf Europe – this time in Berlin – meant even more for me than hanging around with friends from all over the world. It also meant the first time I was able to hold an iPhone in my own hands.

See, about the same time people in US got their hands on the first iPhones, I also got a new phone, a Nokia E90 Communicator. The situation in Finland with the Communicators was almost the same as the one in US with iPhones, it was almost impossible to get one. I was lucky enough to get one in about a week, as a part of a 24-month contract. Here’s the first-quarter report about my experiences.

First things first. E90 is a pretty impressive device. With full keyboard, Wifi, 3.5G, GPS and dual screens (of which the larger one is really good) there’s hardly anything more you could hope. But that’s just on paper. Much more important to me is how useful the phone is in day-to-day use.

The browser (which uses webkit) is fairly good, certainly one of the best in the mobile world. However, the lack of a “real” mouse makes some things really hard, one of the most annoying being the fact that you can’t scroll an iframe or a div with overflow: scroll. There is no notion of dragging.

One of the most disappointing aspects is the general coherence of Symbian, which unfortunately came as no surprise. Used to OS X, I just don’t find Symbian stable or slick enough. One example of that is the selection of a Wifi network. In theory, you click the web button, select a Wifi or 3G network and continue to the browser. In practice, about half the time you just end up back to the desktop after selecting the network.

A thing that I was really disappointed by was the GPS. I’m not quite sure if it’s just my device or if it’s a “feature”, but it just takes too long for the device to find itself on the map and there’s no real feedback on what’s happening. All the UI says is that there’s no GPS available, even though in reality it’s negotiating with the satellites all the time. If you’re moving at the same time, the phone won’t ever be able to locate itself. Therefore, the GPS function has so far been totally useless for me.

Now that I got to use an iPhone in real life, I can say the two UI’s are like from different planets. It’s nice to hear that Nokia and others are coming out with touch screen phones, but I wonder if they ever get it when it comes to usability. Symbian in E90 doesn’t really reassure me in that regard.

Would I swap my omnipotent Nokia for a device using years-old phone technology? In a heartbeat. While the E90 is really nice and all, it’s an epitome of feature list competition where the more buzzwords your feature list contains, the better your phone is. And while getting 3.5G speeds is really cool, the coverage is still so bad around Finland that just having Edge for a while (until the 3G iPhone comes out) wouldn’t be too bad.

It kind of hurts me to say this as a Finn, but at the moment it seems that a newcomer in the mobile phone market has beaten the current leader pretty badly. For the customer and the market in general, that’s all but certainly a good thing.