Nokia Astound: Hands On

24 Mar

The Nokia Astound, also known as the Nokia C7, could be T-Mobile’s best feature phone. Never mind that it’s a smartphone; it makes more sense if you ignore that it’s a smartphone.The phone appears to have a great camera, terrific GPS, a pretty good music player and just enough apps that you’ll be able to find some games you like.

The C7 is the last gasp of a doomed operating system: Nokia has said it’s phasing out Symbian in favor of Windows Phone 7. But that mostly affects things like the app catalog. It doesn’t affect any of the built-in features—Symbian’s death won’t make a sharp 8-megapixel camera any fuzzier, and it won’t make a music player stop pumping tunes.
The device is targeted at “first time feature phone-to-smartphone users,” Nokia said at the product launch, and that makes sense.

Like many Nokia devices, the C7 is a beautiful piece of hardware. It sits in the hand like a balanced oval stone or a piece of jewelry. The glass AMOLED screen shows sharp images and has unusually rich blacks. The back is made of cool metal. The touchscreen is very responsive, and you don’t have to repeatedly stab at things to get them to work. This feels like an expensive, classy phone.

As I noted in my review of the Nokia N8, Symbian^3 can be a bear to use. But Nokia has made the C7 much easier than the N8, because it comes preconfigured with a bunch of useful features right on the home screen. There are some new features here, too, like a very tight but usable portrait-mode QWERTY keyboard, Swype, a supposedly faster Web browser (which I couldn’t check because the phones were stuck on 2G) and an improved version of Ovi Maps with preloaded North American maps and free driving directions for 90 countries.

I really like some of Ovi Maps’ features, like the ability to use a range of voices for your driving directions and the new live traffic data feature. The maps look great, too. But the GPS app is missing one key feature: it can only give you directions from your current location, not route you between two arbitrary points. If you want to establish routings, you have to set them up on the Web first, a Nokia rep told me.

T-Mobile adds in a very easy-to-use app store that looks like the carrier deck from a feature phone; it pulls out high-quality third party apps like the Kayak travel app and Gameloft games.

I suspect the real star here will be the camera, an 8-megapixel unit which records HD video. Nokia’s cameras tend to be very, very good. At a mere $79.99 with a two-year contract, this could be a great bet for photographers.

I took a few pictures and videos with the 8-megapixel camera and had mixed results. The camera snaps quickly. But in low light it shows the usual blurriness you find in a mobile-phone camera. The bright flash helps, but it gives everything a bluish-yellow cast. I also recorded and downloaded an HD video. It was surprisingly smooth in low light at 25 frames per second, but it was pretty dark.

At $79.99 with a $10/month data plan when it launches on April 6, the Nokia Astound/C7 is a great alternative to a dumbphone. No, it isn’t as flexible as an Android smartphone – it certainly doesn’t have as many apps, and its OS won’t see much future development. But it’s good-looking, with lots of features, at a great price. That could be a winning combination.


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Posted by on March 24, 2011 in Nokia, Smartphone, T-Mobile


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