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Nokia 5300Nokia has been pushing their high-end N-Series "multimedia computer" handsets in the United States over the past year, going so far as to open flagship stores in New York and Chicago where consumers can purchase the devices unlocked for use on T-Mobile, Cingular, and other GSM networks.  The Finnish cellular giant's business devices have also been gaining a little traction here in the states, with the E62 holding a place down in Cingular's smartphone lineup.  Now Nokia looks to the mid-range customer with the arrival of the 5300 XpressMusic on T-Mobile.    A music-centric slider featuring a 1.3 megapixel camera, stereo Bluetooth, and a T-Mobile branded version of the Series 40 interface, the 5300 competes against other mid-range musicphones like Sony Ericsson's w810i (Cingular) and the LG Fusic (Sprint).  The 5300 offers a sporty (if somewhat chunky) design, a degree of customization not usually found in mid-range carrier-supported phones, and an included 1 GB memory card to load up with music from your digital collection.  While the 5300 isn't for power users, it is a solid choice if you're looking for a quality music phone that won't break your budget.  And I was honestly surprised at how many people who saw my review model commented on how cool they thought it looked.
 
Nokia isn't known for making ultra-thin, ultra-chic handsets, and while they clearly put some thought into designing the 5300, nobody's going to mistake it for a RAZR.  Instead, the 5300 has a sporty look: The phone Nokia sent me was finished in white with black and silver trim, and featured rubberized side panels for easier gripping.  It's an attractive device and its beautiful front-mounted display adds to its good looks.  At 92 x 48 x 21 mm, the 5300 has a small footprint but is rather thick; as such it's a little bulkier in a pants or jacket pocket than its competitors.  Still, everywhere I took the phone people commented on how hip it looked.  

The front panel of the handset is largely given over to a 2" LCD display.  Black rubberized plastic forms a border around the display, while the rest of the phone's front is framed in a glossy white plastic.  To the left of the screen, three small buttons raise up from under the rubber - these are the 5300's dedicated music controls (Play/Pause, Track Advance, Track Rewind), and they're labeled in white.  A white Nokia logo graces the black border on the opposite side of the display. 
All edges of the phone are rounded off, giving the 5300 a fun, youthful look.  Above and below the display, silver plastic insets house the earpiece (top) and navigational buttons and microphone (bottom).  The navigational array is made up of a four-way directional pad with center OK button that's flanked by four additional unlabeled, color-coded buttons: two softkeys and dedicated Call/Hang Up keys.  It's funny, with all of these buttons you might think the 5300 would look rather busy from the front; instead, it's got something of a Zen quality to it.  The white/black/silver color scheme and four subtly colored buttons make the handset look something like a small spaceship from a planet inhabited by young, style-conscious gadget heads with a sense of whimsy about them.

Sliding the front panel up is made easier by a raised thumb ridge along the display's lower edge, and an internal spring-assist mechanism.  The sliding movement ends with a satisfying click.  The dialing keypad revealed beneath is finished in matte silver with grey labels that glow a cool blue when the backlight is activated.  In fact, the entire "middle layer" of the handset is finished in silver, including a cool metal plate with reflective Nokia logo that's only visible from behind when the phone is in the open position (it's the back of the phone's front panel, if that makes sense).  Again, the effect is "Spaceship from Planet Fun."  The 12-button dialing keypad is easy to use, with raised soft-touch keys that provide good tactile feedback during dialing.
The left panel of the phone houses the aforementioned music player buttons as well as the 2.5mm headphone jack.  On the right we find three more small, raised buttons for Camera access and volume Up/Down along with an infrared sensor.  Additionally, a lanyard clip is housed in the top left corner of the phone.  A power button, mini-USB port and AC adapter jack grace the top of the 5300, while the bottom panel is devoid of any buttons or ports.

The back portion of the phone is finished in white with a wide black rubberized stripe that wraps around from the sides.  Above the stripe lies the camera sensor and a self-potrait mirror, while a speaker grille andT-Mobile's "MyFaves" logo are found below.  Nokia added one more of their logos, finished white, in the middle of the black band.

Features

Nokia 5300 Music is the main draw of the 5300.  Nokia's music player arranges your tracks in iPod-like fashion, letting you browse according to Artists, Albums, Genres, Composers, and user-deinfed playlists.  Songs can be loaded direct from a computer via USB or bluetooth, or using the included mini-USB cable. T-Mobile included Nokia's music management program on CD with the phone, though I found it just as easy to manually drag tracks to the memory card or device in USB Mass Storage mode.  Music can be played back over the integrated speaker or via wired or wireless (Bluetooth) headphones.  The Series 40 operating system allows for background playing of music during other tasks, and tracks can be controlled using either the dedicated music keys or the D-pad. 

T-Mobile does not yet have a 3G network, so no streaming music or entertainment options are supported by the 5300, though an integrated radio picks up FM signals using a connected headphone cable as an antenna.  Video playback is available, but only the 3GP format is supported.  The phone also came with two games preinstalled, and more are available for purchase from T-Mobile.  Unfortunately, T-Mobile has closed the operating system to block installation of unsupported third-party apps; for instance, while I was able to download Opera Mini via the T-Zones WAP browser, I was unable to actually install and run it. 

The 5300 features a standard suite of PIM applications including a contacts manager with photo, video and ringtone caller ID, an organizer with calendar, appointment and to-do alarms,  alarm clock,  notepad, countdown timer, and stopwatch.  Perhaps the "hidden gem" of this handset is the Active Standby feature which allows for a Windows Mobile-esque home screen customizable with application shortcuts, notes, and calendar reminders.  I tend to rely on my phone's calendar reminders on a daily basis, so I really appreciated Active Standby - having my daily schedule accessible from the home screen gave the 5300 something of a "smartphone in a regular phone's clothes" feel. 

As a side note to fellow Mac users out there, while the 5300 is not officially supported by iSync on OS X, I was able to find a very easy hack online that made my MacBook recognize the phone.  After just a few minutes I was wirelessly syncing my calendar and contact entries via Bluetooth.  

MyFaves is also supported on the 5300.  MyFaves is a T-Mobile calling plan that allows for unlimited calls to and from five phone numbers that you pre-select.  The numbers can be on any mobile or landline network in the United States, and each number may be changed once per calendar month.  MyFaves compatible handsets support one-touch dialing and messaging to your five "faves."

Nokia built a pretty average 1.3 megapixel camera into the 5300.  The camera performs well in daylight and other well-lit conditions, and photos taken with the phone render wonderfully on its 262,000 color QVGA display.  However, as with most cameraphones, picture quality suffers noticeably on shots taken in low-light conditions, including most nighttime and dimly lit indoor scenes.  So you might have problems using your hip, young cameraphone inside of those hip, young, and dark nightclubs.  The upside is Nokia's software makes it easy to use your photos as wallpapers and caller ID photos, attach them to MMS messages, or transfer them to a computer via Bluetooth, Infrared, USB, or "sneakernet" by way of the included microSD memory card. 

The camcorder can shoot video with sound at 176x144 or 129 x 96 resolution.   Clips can go as long as you want, provided you have sufficient memory available in the phone or on a memory card; beware, though, as the default mode limits videos to just six seconds of recording time.  Cameraphone videos taken with the 5300 weren't all that great - just a bit below average for a mid-range cameraphone.


Display & Audio

Nokia built the 5300 with a gorgeous 2" QVGA (320 x 240) display that supports 262,144 colors.  The display actually looks a bit larger than it is thanks to the handset's compact body and the black border that frames the screen.  In any event, colors display richly and vividly on the display, and text, photos, graphics, and videos were all easy to see.  I took a few outdoor shots with the phone's camera and set one as my wallpaper, and honestly marvel at how great it looks on that screen. 

As mentioned, the Active Standby mode on the 5300's Series 40 OS allows for a great deal of home screen customization.  WIth a few clicks I set my phone up to display a horizontal shortcuts bar, text and icon links to the music player and radio, and a shortcut to today's entry on the calendar along with all of today's appointments.  Oh, and beneath that, I also have a customizable note (text and icons).  Again, the 5300 isn't a smartphone but it does offer quite a bit more power and flexibility than the average handset when it comes to customization. 

The 5300 also features a power save mode that dims the display after a period of inactivity, leaving only the time and date displayed in black at a very low brightness setting.  Optional animations can also be set to run when the phone is slid open and shut.

I tested the tri-band GSM 5300 on T-Mobile's network in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Voice quality through the internal earpiece was generally excellent.  I almost always captured a strong signal, and voices were almost always clear and loud on both ends of the conversation. The speakerphone worked well, though voice dialing is not supported by the 5300..  While I don't expect much from music playback through a cellphone's built-in speaker, the Nokia's speaker had plenty of volume for impromptu group listening sessions.

A stereo headset is included with the 5300, as is a 2.5 to 3.5mm stereo adapter.  The headset is of standard "included earphones" quality, which is to say that if you listen to a lot of music you're not going to want to use it for very long.  I used the 3.5mm adapter to connect my Ultimate Ears earphones to the 5300, and also to connect it to my car stereo system.  The UE earphones are ... well, they're pretty awesome ... and they uncovered a fair amount of background hiss coming from the phone during music playback.  Generally speaking, however, the hiss was only noticeable between songs or during very quiet passages.  And I didn't really notice the hiss at all when the phone was playing music back over the car stereo.

I should also mention that any phone marketed as a "music phone" should really have a 3.5mm headphone jack built-in.  The 5300's adapter works, but it's both cumbersome and easy to lose.  Nokia's N76 has a 3.5mm jack, so it's not like they don't know how to build one into a handset. That being said, I'd rate the 5300's audio quality for music playback somewhere just below that of an iPod or a Sony Ericsson Walkman phone: It's really very good, but not quite on par with the best in the business.  Nokia's built-in graphic equalizer is great for tailoring the sound to your own tastes, and it features several factory presets and two more that you can customize to your own liking.   Bluetooth audio devices are also supported, including stereo over Bluetooth.  I had no trouble pairing a Bluetooth earpiece with the phone, and voice quality with the earpiece was good.  Stereo music over Bluetooth also sounded quite good.


Messaging, Internet & Connectivity

Nokia 5300Messaging on the 5300 includes SMS and MMS as well as IM support for AOL, ICQ, Windows Messenger, and Yahoo!; Email is not supported by a dedicated client, though T-Mobile's T-Zones service does provide a very rudimentary email service accessible via WAP browser.  As such, the 5300 is just fine for occasional messaging, but certainly not the device for anyone who needs mobile Email on a regular basis.  Text entry is made easier by Nokia's predictive text input system, which I found to work pretty well.  Photos and Videos can be attached to MMS messages with relative ease, as can short audio clips.  Message composition was a snap on the handset's rich, clear display.

Mobile Internet access is T-Mobile's glaring weak spot right now, and it's not a strong suit of the 5300, either.  Data rates are limited by the carrier's EDGE network (3G is coming from T-Mobile, but it ain't here yet), and your browsing experience is limited by the handset's WAP-only browser.  T-Mobile's optional $5.99/month T-MobileWeb plan brings News, Weather, Sports, and Entertainment updates to the phone, as well as clunky Email access. As previously mentioned, T-Mobile has blocked the installation of unauthorized applications on the 5300.  Consequently, I was unable to install the Opera Mini browser on the phone (even though I was able to download it from Opera's WAP site).

A tri-band GSM phone, Sync supports the 850/1800/1900 bands as well as EDGE data transfer.  The phone is locked and so may only be used on T-Mobile's wireless network. Bluetooth is supported on the 5300, including file transfer and contact/calendar sync with a PC.  The phone also paired easily with mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets and worked well for voice calling and stereo music playback. The 5300 also features a microSD slot for expansion via removable memory cards.  A 1gb microSD card is included in the retail package.  Note that the microSD slot is "hidden" beneath the rear panel of the phone, making it difficult (if not impossible) to swap memory cards without turning the phone off.

Conclusion

I've always been a fan of Nokia handsets.  They're generally built to high standards and feature attractive, logical menu systems, and solid features, even if they're a little less trendy than their competitors when it comes to style.  The new Nokia 5300 XpressMusic for T-Mobile brings a little bit of flair to the Finnish phone maker's sturdy style, combining a sporty color scheme with rounded edges, external media controls, and an easy-grip rubberized exterior.  The result is a handset that's both compact and thick, with a pleasant heft and snappy slider mechanism. 

Though it's not quite up to the standard set by Sony Ericsson's Walkman phones (or some of Nokia's own N-Series devices), the 5300's music player is elegant, intuitive, and turns out good sounding music to all but the most discerning of ears.  When you take the included 1GB memory card and benefits of Active Standby on the Series 40 interface into consideration, the 5300 really represents a sweet spot in T-Mobile's lineup.  It's a quality handset with excellent music player and PIM features at a price much lower than a smartphone.  If you're looking to combine your music player with your phone and like the 5300's "fun spaceship" look, it's definitely worth a look.  And a listen.
Nokia 5300 assorted colors
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