Nokia 9000 to E90 – RIP Communicator, Hello Smartphone

Nokia’s communicator range differed and pioneered by combining cellular data and a PDA with a phone, rather than a dedicated radio modem. All of the Communicator models bar the E90 operated as a GEOS or EPOC-based PDA with an attached GSM telephone, with sufficient integration that they appeared almost seamless to the end user – contacts from the PDA were accessible on the phone, when open as a computer the handset went into speakerphone mode. The GEOS models had very little third-party support; what was available reflected the high-end nature of the devices and the “enterprise” client base.

Nokia Communicator

Nokia's Communicator models since 1997
9000/i9110/i9210/i95009300/b/iE90
Year1997
1998 - i
1999
2000 - i
2001
2002 - i
200420052007
NetworksGSM 900
GSM 1800
GSM 900
GSM 1800
GSM 850 (9290)
GSM 900
GSM 1800
GSM 1900

HSCSD data
GSM 900
GSM 1800
GSM 1900

GPRS
EDGE
GSM 850 (9300b)
GSM 900
GSM 1800
GSM 1900
GSM 850
GSM 900
GSM 1800
GSM 1900

WCDMA
HSDPA
BluetoothNoNoNoYesYesYes
IrDAYesYesYesYesYesYes
RS-232YesYesYesYesYesNo
USBNoNoNoNoNoYes
WiFiNoNoNoYes9300: No
9300b: No
9300i: Yes
Yes
RAM2MB2MB128MB
Storage
Memory
2MB2MB
Memory
Expansion
MMCMMC1/2 MMC1/2 MMCMicro SD
Processor386
24MHz
486
33MHz
ARMOMAP
ARM 9
150MHz
OMAP
ARM 9
150MHz
OMAP
ARM11
330MHz
Front
Display
MonoMonoMonoColourColourColour
Main
Display
Mono (4 shades)
640 x 200
Mono (4 shades)
640 x 200
Colour (8-bit)
640 x 200
Colour (8-bit)
640 x 200
Colour (8 bit)
640 x 200
Colour (16-bit)
Operating
System
Computer:
GEOS 3.0/DOS
Computer:
GEOS 4.0/DOS
Computer:
EPOC
Computer:
Symbian S80
Handset:
Symbian S40
Computer: Symbian S80
Handset: Symbian S40
Symbian S60v3
Firmware
Versions
9000
v6.70
9000i
v6.70
9110
v6.01
9110i
v6.08
9210
v4.13
9210i
v6.00
9290
v3.35
9500
v6.72

Firmware updates from Nokia Service Centre only.
9300
v5.22
9300i
v5.50

Firmware updates from Nokia Service Centre Only
400.34.93

Unlike previous Communicator variants, the E90 shares the OS with a wide range of mid-range and high-end Nokia handsets, providing it with additional competition from within Nokia’s own product range. The N95 soon undermined the E90’s position as Nokia’s flagship smartphone, whilst the Blackberry-like E61/E71 model provided the hardware keyboard at much lower cost and without the style-challenged quirks of the “butterfly” E70/6820 models.

With an initial UK RRP of £625 (typical selling prices from outlets such as eXpansys being just under £550) and limited availability on contract (Vodafone and O2 were the only UK providers carrying this handset, on business tariffs only, and both are providers that offer exceptionally poor value Voice & Data packages), the E90 didn’t stack up when compared with Windows Mobile based devices for value – at least on paper. The specification runs to a 3.2Mpixel camera with AF and flash, A-GPS (GPS when bought with operator branded firmware), WiFi and Bluetooth, the usual acceptable-but-not-stunning memory allowances (in context, the 128MB/80MB free is really only impressive if you have come to the E90 from previous Communicator models), and an unusual 800 x 352 internal screen resolution. The processor was clocked at 332MHz, when high-end (and cheaper) Windows systems like the HTC Athena/Universal were sporting 624MHz CPUs. Adding to the E90’s woes, early models suffered microphone problems and marks on the screen from the keyboard; a later revision can be identified by a raised section below the space bar rather than a consistently chamfered edge.

Initially the new paradigm met with resistance, but looking back Nokia had pulled off a masterstroke. Bringing the Communicator inline with the Series 60 handsets (at the time, rarely viewed as “smartphones” across the board) gave the business applications of S60 a boost and brought a wider range of apps to the Communicator.

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