Joni's Nokia Surge 6790 review

Joni Blecher
Editor Director - from  San Francisco, CA
| July 21, 2009


At first glance with it's slide-out keyboard and black plastic casing, you might think the Nokia Surge is intended to be a high-end messaging phone and perhaps that was the case. However, this Nokia is a smartphone and includes all the features expected to be found on one: office apps, the ability to send/receive corporate e-mail, Bluetooth, and even flash support. It also offers impressive call quality, we just wish the Surge was a bit more phone friendly. That said, if you want a messaging centric phone with all the functionality of a smartphone, but not the form factor, check out the Nokia Surge.

Design & Features

Look and Feel: At first glance, the Nokia Surge looks like a touch screen phone, but it's not. Instead the smartphone sports a slider design, with a full QWERTY keyboard that slides out of the side of the cell phone. Athough there have been quite a few cell phone released lately that sport a smiliar design, the Surge is different. Unlike other cell phones that have a narrower profile, the Nokia Surge is similar in shape to a deck of cards. Additionally, the Nokia and AT&T brands are positioned in landscape ? meaning it's meant to be held more like a pager than a cell phone. Yet, you can use this cell phone in portrait mode, as well. Everytime you turn the Surge in either direction images on the display realign itself. It might sound a bit confusing, but really it just takes some time to become familiar with it. Still, it's not exactly intuitive.

As for the overall design of the smartphone, the front is all screen with a 4-way navi-key and a few dedicated buttons. The black plastic casing of the cell phone gives it a durable feel and it is comfortable to hold, as well. Adding to the style is its minimalistic use of buttons on the smartphone spine. On one side there's volume controls and a dedicated camera key and on the opposite side is a Micro USB port. On the top of the cell phone is the 2.5mm headset jack and a charging port. As for the display, it is crisp and visible in bright sunlight. However, you might want to adjust the backlight setting. Out-of-the-box it extinguishes itself a little too quickly for our tastes. As expected with a phone that has a screen that comes so close to the side of your face it does tend to attract face grease, so you might be wiping it off on your shirt or pants to keep it clean.

Nokia Surge for AT&T

Keypad: The slide out QWERTY keyboard sports some of the larger keys we've seen on a smartphone to date. The white backlit keys are easy to read in any lighting situation and we particularly like that the function key needed to activate the numeric keys is far enough away that it's easy to insert numbers when texting. Navigating through the menu is done via the 4-way black rocker that encircles the black OK or Select key in the center of the device.

Usability & Performance

Call quality: Calls and Speakerphone: Call quality on the Nokia Surge is loud and clear, even in places where it's typically hard to hear callers. For example, in a windy environment, callers still came through just fine. We?re also happy to report we rarely used the side volume keys to adjust audio on this cell phone, and the speakerphone works well, never cutting off when two people speak simultaneously.

Audio Playback: The Nokia Surge sports a MP3 player. We found playback of MP3s over the Nokia Surge speakers to be loud and clear. This smartphone sports a 2.5mm headset jack, so you?ll need to use cell phone-compatible headphones or a stereo Bluetooth headset if you want to listen privately.

Ease of Use

Menu/Phone Book: Since the Nokia Surge runs Symbian S60 (3.2 edition), it's likely you might not have seen this menu interface before. However, don't let that dissuade you, it's actually extremely easy to use. Along the top of the main screen are icons of the most recently accessed applications so you have fast access to your favorite applications. When something is running such as a song playing you?ll see it listed just below the row of icons. There are three quick launch keys to Menu, Messaging, and Web on the face of the smartphone. In addition to music applications, AT&T Navigator is on board to help you get around town, there's also Adobe PDF, a Message Reader application that reads messages aloud, QuickOffice for versions of word, excel and power point. You can download more applications as well from the Nokia site and other Symbian application sites. The real plus here is that if it will not work on your device, the cell phone lets you know before you download it to the device. Now, that's smart. The Nokia Surge also supports flash, which means you can access web sites that use flash technology as well as watch videos on the web. However, we should note, the video quality could be sharper.

Transferring music, apps, contacts and more to the Nokia Surge is extremely easy via the Nokia PC Connectivity Suite. There's also an e-mail application that walks you through setting up e-mail. There's one for Microsoft Exchange users and another, XpressMail, for other web-based e-mail services such as Yahoo or AOL mail. All accounts can be separated into separate e-mail folders, so they don't get combined into one overall e-mail folder.

Although, the Nokia Surge is loaded with a ton of applications we found navigating through some applications a bit cumbersome. The Surge doesn't sport a touch screen, so you?ll need to use the buttons on the display to navigate through features when the cell phone is closed. To send messages, you?ll need to slide open the cell phone to use the QWERTY keyboard. For example, if you want to make a phone call to a number not in your phonebook, you?ll need to slide open the phone, dial, press the send key, and slide the phone closed to have a conversation unless you?re using the speakerphone. Additionally, the display reorients itself when you turn it to landscape or portrait mode. This means navigating features when the Surge is in landscape mode is different then when the cell phone is positioned in portrait mode.

Camera/Video: The Nokia Surge sports a 2-megapixel camera. It doesn't have a flash or a tiny mirror located next to the lens to help frame self-portraits. The camera does have a few customizable settings including 4x digital zoom, night mode, sequence mode, self timer, white balance, color tone (normal, sepia, black and white, and negative), image quality and resolution. Shutter speed is acceptable on the Nokia Surge and we found images displayed colors well. The Nokia Surge also does double duty as a video camera/player. When you download video to this cell phone and play it back through the included RealPlayer, quality could be better: audio quality is great, but playback is a bit digitized and lacks sharpness. That said, the Nokia Surge does support video share, which means you can be on a call and share live video simultaneously. Note: If you plan to use this feature a lot, definitely get an unlimited data plan.

Music: As noted, the Nokia Surge has a MP3 player, however, this smartphone only has 120MB of memory on board, which is shared amongst all the applications. If you really want to use this smartphone as a MP3 player, we recommend getting an external MicroSD card for storing songs. The Nokia Surge will accept up to an 8GB MicroSD card ? not as big as what is supported by other cell phones on the market, but still that's plenty of extra storage space. The smartphone supports MP3, AAC (Apple iTunes format), and Microsoft WMA9 music files. As for music player features, it has shuffle, repeat, playlists, and an equalizer with predefined settings. You can also adjust balance, loudness and activate stereo widening. Another plus: you can save songs as ringtones.

There are other music features included, as well. You can stream X/M radio if you have a subscription or with the appropriate 2.5mm headset attached you can listen to FM radio. Speaking of FM radio, Music ID (a service that can identify the name and artist of songs playing) is pre-loaded onto the smartphone, but you?ll have to purchase a subscription if you?d like to use the service. Getting music onto this Nokia is fairly straightforward. If you?re using the Nokia PC Connectivity Suite you just select music and follow the prompts.

Connectivity/Bluetooth: The Nokia Surge is Bluetooth enabled and we had no problem connecting to a MacBook Pro and were able to receive pictures and files on the Nokia Surge. We also had no problem connecting the Surge to a Jawbone headset with ease (call quality was great, by the way). This is a 3G cell phone, so you can easily place a call on this phone and surf the web simultaneously.

Battery Life: We?re happy to report that the Nokia Surge battery life is impressive. Heavy texters, Web surfers, message addicts, constant callers, and videographers will likely need to charge the cell phone every two to three days. But if you use the cell phone to send/receive a few text messages and e-mails, snap some pics, or make a couple of calls, you?ll need to charge it every three to four days.

Products mentioned