Review: Nokia E90 Communicator

One of the biggest drawbacks of the computer age is that journalists now spend much of their time stuck to one. Journalists from local weeklies to the nationals commonly complain they don’t get to go out on as many stories any more.

Could a portable device with PC-like capabilities, mobile phone, internet and stills/video camera to boot allow roving reporters to become roving again and throw off the shackles of screen-staring drudgery?

The Nokia E90 Communicator has been hailed by some as the answer.

It acts as a perfectly reasonable, if slightly heavy, phone and gives you built-in GPS internet access, wi-fi, email, an impressive 3.2 megapixel camera, video calling and internet phone calls using Skype.

The video playback is good enough to watch films and it has enough memory – via a 4GB memory card – to store at least a couple. You’ll have no problem keeping up with what Telegraph TV or what your own paper’s video journalists are up to.

As if it has a hidden superhero alter-ego, the E90 opens up to reveal a five- by three-inch (800?352 pixel) screen and a tiny keyboard. This feature is what got influential US blogger and former San Francisco Chronicle technology columnist Dan Gillmor excited about recently.

He called the E90 ‘the best device for journalists to carry around’and said it had ‘game-changing potential for journalism”. Gillmor says that if he ran a newsroom he would, if he could convince the money men, hand these out to reporters and see what they come up with.

If nothing else they’d certainly run up large phone bills.

But it is indeed exciting. Full web video, GPS map positioning – effectively a handheld satnav system – and an entirely useable and fast web browser. This could be great for researching something in the field when you’re without a laptop, or for viewing video online. Correspondents who rarely venture into the office may find it very useful.

The camera is easily good enough to take publishable pictures, particularly online, though the quality will deteriorate when the picture is blown up large in print.

The video capture is great, if slightly shaky. Depending on the subject, it is definitely possible to create live video from this which could be used online.

But the keyboard is just too small. The keys are significantly smaller than a regular finger, making typing anything meaningful a bit of a chore, and using the shift key for upper case letters is a drag. Ironically, texting with two thumbs the old-fashioned way on the front keys is probably quicker.

This problem may be solvable with the purchase of an additional portable bluetooth keyboard, also available from Nokia – priced £59.

The other big drawback is the lack of computer interface. There is no Windows or Mac compatibility – which means it’s not much use for journalists, because it is not compatible with word, Excel or many of the other commonly used office software applications.

Later versions of these phones-cum-PDAs that have Windows could indeed have ‘game-changing’possibilities for journalists.

But ultimately, there is still a vacancy for an affordable handheld device the work-a-day journalist can seriously use.

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