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Nokia Surge Review: An Incredibly Affordable Smartphone

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Nokia Surge

The Nokia Surge, when open.

Nokia

Nokia's phones are usually thought of as bland, boring business devices. But not the Nokia Surge: this petite, attractive smartphone packs in plenty of features for both work and play.

Price and Availability

The Nokia Surge is available from AT&T Wireless for $29.99 when you sign a new two-year service contract. That's an almost unheard of price for a full-featured Nokia smartphone. Without a service contract, the Surge costs $229.99.

Design

The Nokia Surge is something of a departure from typical Nokia phones. It's small and cute, but not obnoxiously so. It measures 3.8 inches tall by 2.2 inches wide and .6 inches thick. The phone has an accelerometer, so the display automatically reorients itself when you turn the phone, but, based on the Nokia and AT&T logos on its front, the Surge is designed to be held horizontally.

Holding the phone horizontally is advisable, as it helps you get the most out of the Surge's smallish 2.4-inch display. Below and to the right of the screen, you get a variety of controls, including send and end keys, two programmable soft keys, a four way keypad, an enter key and three short cut keys for accessing the browser, messaging, and the phone's main menu.

The Surge is a slider-style phone, and a full-sized QWERTY keyboard slides out neatly from beneath the display. The keys themselves are surprisingly large for such a small phone, but I found them a little too flat and slick for my taste.

My other complaint about the design of the Surge is that it's almost entirely made of plastic; it looks notably less refined than most of the smartphones available today. Still, it's also significantly cheaper than most other smartphones, too.

Making Calls

Notably missing from the front of the phone are the number keys. That means that you need to slide the Surge open to dial a number and then close it again to hold it comfortably against you ear. It's a bit annoying. Call quality, was good, with voices coming through clearly on both ends of the phone. I did wish for a bit more volume, though.

Browsing the Web

The Surge supports AT&T's high-speed 3G network, but not Wi-Fi wireless networks, so you'll have to rely on the cellular network for speedy Web browsing. That's the bad news. The good news is that the Surge's full-HTML browser supports Flash Lite. That means that sites that use flash, like Hulu and YouTube, are viewable right in the browser. That's almost enough to make up for having to watch them on the Surge's small screen.

Messaging

The Surge will sync with corporate Microsoft Exchange e-mail accounts, and also supports the usual complement of personal e-mail accounts, like AOL, Gmail, and Yahoo, among others. Set up is easy, and the interface, while a bit drab, is perfectly serviceable.

Software

The Surge runs the somewhat outdated Symbian operating system, which lacks the polish and pizzazz of rivals like Palm's webOS and the iPhone OS -- it's even outdated compared to Microsoft's Windows Mobile platform. The Symbian interface is drab, and finding the applications and features you want isn’t always intuitive.

But--once you know where to find it--the Nokia Surge does come with a pretty impressive selection of software. You get the QuickOffice suit for editing Microsoft Office files, an Adobe PDF reader, a calendar, and a notepad, among others. You also get JuiceCaster, a social networking app that allows you to post updates and information to sites like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace.

Also of note: the Surge includes access to AT&T Navigator, a full-featured GPS app that delivers spoken turn-by-turn driving directions to your phone.

Multimedia

The Surge's 2-megapixel camera is a disappointment. While it does offer some decent options, including a self-timer and the ability to adjust the quality, the pictures it captured could use some improvement. Most of my shots looked hazy and slightly dim.

The Surge offers access to some of AT&T's music and video services, too. You can use the phone to access the CV video service, which offers a selection of video clips and TV shows for viewing on the phone. Watching any video on the Surge is sure to remind you of just how small the 2.4-inch screen is, though.

It also lets you access AT&T Mobile Music, where you can purchase songs for download directly to the phone. The built-in music player will play back a variety of audio files, including AAC, MP3, and WM files, but Nokia does not include a USB cable with the phone, so you'll have to supply your own if you want to connect the phone to your computer for transferring tunes. The Surge does include an FM radio, though.

Bottom Line

The Nokia Surge isn't perfect. Its Symbian operating system needs a facelift and its screen is small. But the phone packs in plenty of features for work and home use -- so many features that the Surge's $29.99 price really is quite remarkable.

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