Nokia 3230 Review: Looks are Deceiving


Yep, I couldn't have been more wrong about this phone. Serves me right for getting all excited about the design and posting before I actually used it. But I'm glad I actually bought this phone rather than having Nokia loan it to me, so I feel absolutely no guilt when I say: this phone pretty much sucks. I've been using it for just over 48 hours and I want to throw it out the window and go back to my beloved 6620.

First, my big misunderstanding: This phone is not coming to the Americas (nor a version like it). I was pinged by someone who got it officially from Nokia: This phone is a 900/1800/1900 phone and they have no plans to launch an 850Mhz version in the Americas any time soon. The phone that's going to come here is the 6682, which is like the 6680 without the extra camera, supports the 850Mhz range and is EDGE only (no 3G). So my biggest reason for getting this phone was completely wrong. Serves me right for late-night eBaying.

Okay, now for the phone itself. Keep in mind that I'm moving from the fantastic cutting edge 6630 3G phone to the 3230 "mass-market" phone. I didn't realize it would be such a huge step backwards, but I can definitely feel that it's a far inferior phone in many ways.

First some good things: The 3230 supports "normal" RS-MMC cards, not the dual-volt kind. So I was able to take the 512MB RS-MMC out of my 7610 and just pop it into the back of the 3230 and it worked. That's great, as the 256MB DV-RS-MMC I bought for my 6630 is flaky as hell: the phone understands it fine, but both Macs and PCs have a hard time writing to it. Also, the phone is very thin and has a 6670/7610-like feel in your pocket: A little weighty, but nothing like the 6620/6630 in terms of bulk.

But though keys on the keypad are big, rounded and friendly... they are totally unreadable. It's a good thing I've pretty much got the keypad memorized as the letters on the keys are completely unreadable in anything short of total darkness. They're white letters on silver keys being lit from behind! You can't see the damn letters! It looks fine in the pictures because they're not lit and therefore are black, but as soon as you start to use the phone, the backlight turns on and the letters disappear. Insane.

I could bitch about the soft buttons as well - they're placed too far towards the center for my tastes. Though they are raised a bit so you can feel the difference, any newbie user is going to be completely bewildered when they want to click on the left menu option, and tap the menu button by mistake and go off to somewhere completely different. I think anyone who user-tested this phone could see that happening. I mean, I like how the designers were trying to get the seven function keys (left/right soft buttons, menu, clear, pencil, pickup and hangup) and the joystick in one area, but they definitely made the soft buttons too small and too ambiguously placed. I've seen that before on the 6620: the function keys are all kitty-cornered around the bottom of the screen and newbies can't figure out which button to push to get a menu. They'll hang up the phone (the button to the right of the menu) just as readily as choosing the soft button (to the bottom). The 3230 just added to this confusion. Which is too bad, as the keypad *look* so user friendly at first glance.

Beyond the physical design is the actual functionality of the phone itself. First, the reception is horrible. My other phones get four bars here in my office at home. This phone gets one bar (if that) and yesterday in the garage at work, it lost connectivity completely and then took 30 seconds to get it back once I drove out. Why? I have no idea. It's not just the frequency - the other phones don't support 850Mhz either, so something is just badly done.

Also, this particular phone has "white screened" on me twice since I've owned it, rebooted spontaneously, and given me the dreaded "App.Closed" message. Urgh. I have to test this more as I got this thing off of EBay, right? So it could have an older firmware version or it could have problems with the software on my 512MB MMC transfered over from my 7610. But it's not a promising start - I mean I've only had the phone for like 48 hours.

I'm not sure what OS version is on this phone, but it's *weird*. For example, moving the joystick up/down/left/right will launch apps. But the option in the OS where you tell it which apps to launch (in the Standby Mode settings) are missing. It only shows you the left/right soft menu changes. Also, the icons are *horrible*. Have you seen the nicely drawn images on the 6630? The ones on the 3230 look like they were done with a bitmap editor. The Web icon in particular is horrible: there's a bunch of white pixels on the border of the globe which looks like the designers forgot to go in and clean up. I mean, it really looks like crap. Also comparing with the 6630, the speed of this phone is almost intolerable. Clicking on the camera takes a few seconds to come up, and navigating through menus can be tortorous. I'm not sure if it's the processor or the OS or what, but it's a noticeable difference.

Let me also confirm that the audio sucks on the phone. In the Year of the MP3 Phone, this is a huge blunder. Whoever decided to skimp the 5 cents per phone it would've cost to put in stereo sound should be fired (or better, stoned). The amazing thing is that the phone comes with a pair of Pop Port headphones, not just the normal one-eared hands-free earpiece. But I had some MP3s on my RS-MMC and tried them and they sound like shit. I use ColdPlay's "Clocks" as my sound test because it's got a great enveloping crescendo right at the beginning that you can really use to compare sound quality with. On my 6620 and 6630, the sound is great - maybe not as rich as my iPod, but 95% there. On the 3230 it's like listening to the music over AM radio with two tin cans: flat, tinny and mono. I knew this before, but confirming it with my own ears is depressing.

So in all, I pretty much hate this phone. It's basically a 7610 with bad reception, unreadable keys, buggy OS and ugly icons. It's also not coming anywhere near the US Market, so using it to show off apps is a bad idea as well. I'm resetting this phone, putting it back into the box I got it with and selling it on eBay as soon as possible. I love my Nokia 6620, so this isn't actually a bad thing - it'll do quite fine until I get the 6680 that I'll be buying in short order.


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