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Review of GSM-smartphone Nokia 5500
Established high market segmentation, and constant attempts of manufacturers aimed at making up new niches have brought up to life a couple of cutting-edge projects. Particularly one of them is springing up before your eyes – so called sport-centric handsets, designed specially for people going in for sports. The first sign of this infant line-up is Nokia’s very own the 5500, which can be considered as a pioneer of the field not only in terms of feature set, but its announcement time.
To cut a long story short, all devices having knack for the sports are equipped with somewhat different casing, featuring splash resistance, media capabilities, built-in pedometer and other functions which may come in handy in course of exercising. The most elementary form of pedometer is a 3D-sensor detecting number of steps made. For instance is Samsung E750/E760 similar technology is applied to managing media player and several games, yet in sports it finds no application. If you turn the review of these handsets you will see us complaining about absence of steps counter – in fact that capability would have increased overall utility of the devices. But the chance missed by the Korean engineers was taken advantage of in Finland. However the truth is a couple of years ago we spotted Pantech introducing a phone with pedometer at CeBIT – in Asia these solutions even if not widely adopted, are at least well-recognized, while the Europeans were experiencing lack of these gadgets until now.
Sport-centric models have direct connection with a class of outdoor phones. These handsets have been known for quite a while and appeared in the first place as solutions for kind of people working in the open air in adverse environment. I remember my first stunning impression of a commercial starring Nokia 6250 where a doctor walked on dirty and worn out road in the rain, and the phone remained ok. In other words at that moment such devices were targeted at certain groups of consumers, where they were little success due to both pricing and physical aspects – where can you see a roadman showing off a phone at the cost of 400-500 USD?! The workers themselves could not found those among them as well, actually.
But these handsets did their own part and revealed certain interest in similar solutions, thus the manufacturers started developing a platform which would appeal to the mass market. Siemens M35 with its semi-proof casing proved to be a decent phone, since it featured acceptable price combined with the same set of functions as that found on Siemens C35. Siemens deserves a special credit; in light of the fact only owing to its efforts the market of Outdoor phones proposes wide model range. As a matter of fact on entering the market this company was looking for some free niches to fill, and therefore managed to start up a completely new trend in this field. In its turn, Nokia came up with its own protected models in reaction to corresponding developments by its major competitor back then, Ericsson. As these plans of Ericsson were slipping away, Nokia consistently canceled its activity as well, but eventually didn’t abandon this offshoot.
In 5000 series, retaining all signs of youth handsets, there were some splash-proof models up to now, namely Nokia 5210, Nokia 5140, Nokia 5140i. All these devices were promoted as extremely durable models with sporty capabilities, like Fitness Coach, Sport Diary and various additional accessories. Nevertheless in view of price at some sorts of extra gadgets and lack of advertising, these offsprings of the sport class were not much of hits.
Nokia 5500 adopts both rich sport-centric functions and proof casing, but the sporty applications bear the palm – in fact it’s emphasized in the index itself, which is unusual for Nokia (Nokia 5500 Sport).
Nonetheless uniqueness and highlighting of the phone are not only that – this model is also the first handset to incorporate smartphone’s capability into a proof casing.
Design, casing and keypad
The design found here is markedly youth, but by no means defiant. What really make it look youth-aimed is display’s edging, turning into pick/hang up keys. The frame’s color is striking only on titanic finishing (we are talking about trim, not the material used) – on black it’s painted into white and perfectly matches the outlook. Apart from aesthetic purposes, the edging protects the screen so that one can simply put it face-down without worrying for scratching or somehow damaging it.
The handset comes in two colors – titan with yellow framings and black with white ones. The first trim will look more appealing to youth or more active part of older people. The other finishing is not so flashy and thus will fit in office environment. Widening trim pool works fine and widens target audience – I suppose this handset will be bought primarily by men from 18 to 40 (as for the second color scheme – from 25 to 40), women will occupy nearly 20 percent of the audience, which is uncommon for a product of such type. This affinity originates from the fact that these are women who continue having a run every morning and badly need a gadget for counting distance covered and calories burnt.
The casing’s protection isn’t just a marketing trick – it really fulfills its part and is almost alike that of Siemens’s best solutions residing in Outdoor class. Firstly, the handset itself is entirely made of metal, while the sides feature rubber as the main material used and the rear panel is composed of thick plastic layer. The battery cover is fastened with a screw. In view of all pros, there is a minor draw about the design – the interface connector’s hood (made of soft rubber) comes loose after a short period of usage and on top of that there is no way to remove it.
While made of rubber, the keypad is solid and don’t have any obvious flaws – the buttons are somewhat soft with good click sensation. The keypad is lit in bright white, and thus visible in various environments. The navigation block, measuring very little in size may cause certain inconvenience especially with pressing the OK key incorporated into the navi-pad. Personally I didn’t spent much time on getting used to the buttons without experiencing issues, one more thigh of note is that accidental presses are so rare that you can forget about key lock. Having checked out photos on the net, some users have expresses worries about size of pick/hang up buttons, though I assure you they are big enough to fit any finger.
Many have been at a loss where the correction key (pencil) is gone to, since Nokia 5500 is a smartphone and that key should be somewhere on the casing. Over limited space available on the front, the developers relocated it to the right side a bit lower its normal position. When working single handedly such mounting is not quite convenient, as you have to use your second hand to do corrections.
Infrared port, as well as function key for switching between player, sport and standby modes, can be found on the right side as well. The left side holds rocker volume key and Push To Talk dedicated button. Using the power button on the top rim, you can not only start up or shut down the phone, but also perform fast profiles switch. Just right here you will find a flashlight, basically it’s a separate LED, getting activated by pressing * key.
The rear feauter a 2 Mpix CMOS camera module, similar to those embedded in other smartphones of the company (no auto-focus and flash).
And now hang tight, because we are publishing dimensions and weight of this all-round protected device. So, It weights 103 grams, which is quite normal for a smarphone, while its measurements of 107õ45õ18 mm make the 5500 the smallest S60-powered powered device nowadays. It’s size which makes all the difference here – until today all smartphones were considerable bigger than standard phones, but Nokia 5500 breaks this tendency and obviously demonstrates possibility of an opposite. In future we are to see more smart handsets making use of compact casings – against that background Nokia 5500, Nokia E50, Nokia N73 seem to be only the first signs.
Screen, battery, memory, CPU, Bluetooth, USB
The handset carries a 208õ208 pixels (31õ31 mm) display capable of reflecting up to 262 K colors (TFT) – implementation of such screen results from considerably small dimensions and safety requirements (it’s widely known that display is the most fragile and unprotected part of any phone). Nevertheless it performs quite well and boasts fair color rendering and image sharpness, but if it comes to comparing the 5500’s screen with handsets by Samsung, Motorola, Sony Ericsson residing in the same price bracket, it would not be able to withstand. On the other hand we should set it off against smartphones – and if that’s the case, Nokia 5500 is way ahead.
Thanks to low screen resolution (relatively low!) it retains only 3x3 main menu grid therefore you’ll have to turn to scrolling pretty often; the icons themselves are good in quality-wise.
Moderate size of the casing didn’t let them to include better battery and thus the handset operates only with 860 mAh capable BL-5B. As the manufacturer claims it remains good from 2 to 4 hours of talk time and for 150-270 hours in standby mode. In conditions of Moscow networks the charge lasted for one day on average, at 1 hour of media player usage (radio of player), up to 45 minutes of calls and nearly 20 minutes of web-browsing. By the end of the day the charge was falling down it the very bottom and we had to recharge the phone. Though it’s worth saying that all smartphones based off S60 3td Edition consume pretty much and this model isn’t an exception. Some not demanding users may be able to squeeze almost 2 days of life time, but for the majority of audience everyday recharging is inevitable, on top of that recharging in course of the day may prove useful as well. On the whole the life time is the only critical flaw of this model, all other specs are great.
The bundled memory is may be expanded using microSD cards, which are plugged in a slot located under the battery – evidently there is no hot swap as it should be in a truly protected phone.
The model runs the same platform as other smartphones of the company – the CPU works at the frequency of 220 Mhz, while amount of RAM reserved for applications equals 32 Mb, thus nearly 10 Mb of internal memory are at user’s disposal, yet it’s not a big deal since all data may be stored on the memory card.
The Bluetooth 2.0 connectivity features supports EDR as well as the following profiles:
Unfortunately A2DP profile standing for transmitting sound to wireless headset is not on board here. On the other hand, in light of the device featuring pedometer, I doubt someone would put somewhere else but on his body when exercising (otherwise what’s the point of buying it?), so necessity of a wireless headset is unclear.
On USB connection the handset requires you to check one of the following options defining which mode you would like to use: Data Transfer, Media Player, PC Suite. In many ways the handset shares many of Nokia 3250 capabilities by being able to get tunes via Windows Media Player (curious fact – only the N91 features Microsoft’s Janus DRM support, while neither this nor any other device does). The phone also takes advantage of USB 2.0 and USB Mass Storage.
Of troublesome aspects, common for this platform, I should note the following one: when synchronizing messages with a desktop, data transfer mode does not get activated until you select memory card as main storage type. Although this approach is justified in 100 percent of cases due to minor built-in storage size, the system has several annoying bugs. Switching destination place without copying data from the mail box allows activating data transfer. However there is one serious “but” in all this – in this mode all mail boxes tied to the memory card become invisible and appear again only when memory type is changed. Such way of moving data puts into question full-fledged usage of all handset’s functions at the same time.
The built-in 3D sensor makes it real for the Sport mode to exist in this model. Observation accuracy is just enough for most cases, yet similarly to other phones with a pedometer on board, there is a certain measure of error possible, including random start ups when driving in a car (it’s a drawback of all sport-centric devices). But for routine trainings the 5500 provides more than satisfactory accuracy.
The key found on the right side allows starting up the sport mode – this key also stands for switching between player, sport and standby modes (or the last launched application). The button is very handy in use – it would really nice to see something of this kind on other phones by Nokia as well. While in standby mode the navi-pad is lit in while, but once Sport mode has been started up it turns into red. Such visual alterations are essential when running – there you don’t have time to cast a glance at the screen. A very fetching peculiarity.
The main menu of Sports mode holds three icons, which are: Quick Start, Diary and Tests. Let us reverse the order and start from the end, namely from Tests. There are two tests available on the phone – cooper and bike test hard. In the first case you’re offered to run a certain distance in set time and then compare the acquired result with special table to clearly see you optional goals. The test itself is meant to determine your physical state. So all you need to do so is to find a stadium where you can precisely evaluate the distance. One more thing of note – the handset does not provide individual adjustment, in other words you cannot set the functions according to you liking as on Sony Ericsson W710i.
To go through a bike test hard you are going to need an exercise bicycle, where you can see both load and pulse, but many are more likely to find this test useless.
And finally, if you choose Quick start, you can start measuring right away – on the home screen you will distance covered (0.0 km), calories burnt and total duration of you exercise. There are several tabs available showing duration only and pedometer’s data only. There you will find average speed, amount of steps made and spent energy. Here you may not set up anything and proceed to exercising right away – the application works fine in background for the whole day or even several days. After the counters have been initialized, you can start marking Laps – this parameter may be useful while running, since it enables saving results for each lap (distance, time etc.).
If you care, you can choose exercise type in extra settings, so evaluation of calories burnt will be more precise. User may pick one of the following activity types: walking, running, cycling, rowing, stair stepping. Three traditionally intensity levels are also on board. And finally you are at liberty to create your own exercise with setting own goals (like calories burnt, distance covered, exercise length).
Completed exercises are saved to the Diary, where you see their titles marked in special colors (greed spot – completed work-out, blue – scheduled, red – missed). Basically such calendar is a perfect method of planning all trainings are setting objectives for each of them. Monthly and weekly views are available as well as list-appearance of the schedule.
Those you go in for sports actively will find this system just marvelous, as it allows tracking progress through-out months. The company has even released Nokia Sport Manager for desktops, which can accumulate all sport-related data from the handset, store it, and perform some other functions. All in all the phones proves to be a real power-house for exercises and load monitoring.
The settings menu holds fields for personal data such as sex, age, height, weight, load level and pulse (normal and maximum). Even though the handset doesn’t make use of pulse parameters at the moment, I can make a guess that soon the model is going to obtain accessories by Polar, similarly to Nokia 5140. And these let you see not only pulse rate, but also blood pressure and a number of other useful parameters.
In main settings you can define measuring system (metric, US, imperial) as well as check whether backlight will turn off or work constantly. During exercises this parameter is not so minor, in case you want to check your status.
Memory status shows for how many trainings there’s space left, usually that’s around 250-330 hours. Considering fact that data goes straight into calendar, it isn’t few at all. With daily trainings this will be enough for at least 6 months.
What I want to say briefly is that there are no similar products like this one, Nokia’s product is a unique handset. Sony Ericsson W710i can be used for more simple measurements, like for people who walk a lot and need pedometer. At same time Nokia 5500 is a more advanced tool for those who plan their trainings and look at the progress. These are two different audiences of consumers, and they do not cross.
In case you are thinking that Nokia decided to add only steps counter as usage of built-in sensor – you are wrong. Similarly to Samsung E750 and E760, you can control several phone’s functions, but not with moving the phone, tapping is done instead. When listening to player, for example, you can tap twice on front panel in order to pause it, or activate again. After you received an SMS – you can tap in order the phone to open it. You can switch tracks by tapping on the right or left side of the phone, depending on action you want to perform. In training mode you can control functions too, like start of new lap.
Presence of such control for player and sport mode is important for those who are not able to be distracted during their trainings for setting up their phone. Handset has been optimized for such situations, and this is very interesting.
One of games installed has tap-support, it is called GrooveLab. You control the ball in a labyrinth, a very interesting game, though it will not be liked by everyone.
Text to Speech (TTS). Nokia is upgrading voice functions in their platforms sequentially, both S40 and S60 receive those updates. Latest generation of devices has voice dialing which is not voice-dependant, the algorithm can also synthesize speech, in this context this goes for a name stored in phone book. Synthesize quality for different languages does not have any problems algorithm is available for all languages supported by handset. It’s important to highlight the fact that this algorithm works on S60 smartphones as well as S40 models, such as Nokia 6230i.
Basically Nokia’s research go into two big directions: Text To Speech (which means transferring what was written into sound), and Speech to Text which is basically reversible situation. A particular case of Speech to Text is voice dialing which does not depend on voice of user, and it does not require voice tags.
Unlike other manufacturers who prefer using 3rd party technologies for voice actions and transferring text into speech, Nokia decided to go their own way and develop the whole system themselves. Let me remind you that most popular solutions come from VoiceSignal, they are used in Motorola and Samsung handsets. Today several of those phones have fully voice-controlled menu, ability to access any function without preliminary voice training and so on. Of course there’s also chance to announce all data that is viewed by user, weather it’s SMS or memo in Organizer. Basically the system is combined and offers both speech recognition and its synthesis. Nokia is not trying to acquire leading position on the market at once, instead it prefers to improve voice functions in its platforms step by step. Unhurried development cycle creates impression that Nokia’s solution is simplified and does not have any unique features. In my opinion the company is only at beginning of its journey, and we should not expect everything being presented at once. Considering the fact that Nokia entered this race kind of late, we can say that its solutions are successful, even though they are not as powerful as competitive ones.
Another important aspect is positioning of devices. It’s a not a secret to anyone that Nokia dominates smartphone market, its devices have great market share. At the same time VoiceSignal’s solutions are used mostly on simple phones, and they’re not so performance hungry, it’s a good thing. Particular case is usage of VoiceSignal on Linux-powered devices, this is what Motorola is doing (for Europe, for take ROKR E2 for example). There are two different markets that do not intersect with each other. Another special case are Windows Mobile devices, here other solutions are used, and they’re optimized for Microsoft’s products only, which seems logical.
In context of S60 solution dominance on market we can say about lack of alternative solutions from Nokia today. We as users will have to wait until company will fully integrate its product in all current applications, and enrich their functionality. 3rd party developments will not be able to integrate themselves with basic functionality of S60 3rd edition, and its usage causes even more questions. A curious fact is that Nokia 5500 is first device that has preinstalled, integrated Text to Speech function. We can recall communicator line-up, where such features were accessible with help of 3rd party applications starting from Nokia 9200. But bigger interest is presence of preinstalled packet from VoiceSignal is Nokia 6822. This is an exception of rules made for American market, reason for that is that voice features are in big demand and they are well-spread too. Company is using flexible policy on markets where its share is not so big, or it has to be aggressive. Another exception of rules is presence of UIQ-communicator in Asia (ODM-product).
More information about VoiceSignal feature can be acquired by reading links provided below, meanwhile we shall move on from theory to practice of Text to Speech feature realization in Nokia 5500.
Nokia’s developers say that Text-To-Speech function can be implemented into almost any standard application, it’s only a matter of expediency. Nokia 5500 is mostly about sport part of phone, as result text to speech function is present in two applications: for SMS messages and in sport mode for standard application.
Once you receive an SMS you have 30 seconds to activate text to speech function, you have to tap twice in order to do that, it does not matter on which part of case you tap. Application that is used for transferring text into speech will be launched automatically, and you will be able to listen to message. In phone’ settings you can disable automatic message reading via two taps, everything is for your consideration. Greatest thing about realization of this feature comes from the way this phone is positioned. When you are doing your exercises, you are able to listen to music by wearing headphones, and when you do that you might actually hear sound of incoming message, and only thing you will have to do in order to hear this message, is tap. This way you will not have to stop doing your activities (bicycle, running, and so on). An elegant solution that is ideal for focus group.
In main menu there’s Message Reader application which allows listening to all messages starting from first and finishing with last. You can also choose message that you are interested most in at the moment, and it will be first one that application will read, and later on go on with the rest, you can pause this activity at any time you like.
And it’s not only message that gets pronounced, there’s also sender’s name. In case there’s no such entry in the phone book, you will hear “Message from unrecognized number” phrase. System can pronounce numbers quite nicely, and here this solution was probably ergonomics-based. And it’s true, it is kind of hard to listen set of digits, you will not memorize phone number, and in case you will, it will not do any use either. A sort of simplification of sound interface in a positive way.
In TTS settings you can select language in which this application will work, a wise solution. A lot of users are using English as their Menu language, at same time they prefer reading messages in their native language. Other text recognition applications do not have such settings, and they’re strictly attached to menu language, this is definitely a disadvantage for them. Some Samsung products are missing Russian voice pack, and as result there’s no voice dialing at all.
Strongest aspects of algorithm are modular concept, this means that its packets can be downloaded separately from main software. There are several language packs shipped with standard package. As a rule, files with voice packs are stored on memory card. Our sample had following languages:
Each language pack is around 1.86mb big. As you have guessed, there can be several voices for every language, for example, a male voice, or female or childish (it’s not a trivial case for realization, as it may seem at first sight). This means that user will be able to choose the voice that will cast messages or exercises. A pretty neat addition that makes TTS functionality even bigger. In case Nokia will provide SDK to 3rd party manufacturers for voice profile creation, there can appear a lot of them in short period of time, as a result this will give a competitive advantage.
As for additional voice settings, you can select volume and speed. Speed can be adjusted from 1 to 10, in this case 1 will be very slow and 10 will remind you of a tongue-twister, as a result you will not be able to comprehend it at all.
It’s not hard to understand that all extreme settings are not comfortable, and their pretense is just a possible reserve for future. For example, realization of pronunciation speed will be interesting in case speech will remain comprehendible. In sound editors for desktop PCs this algorithm is at place, and considering today’s processors in S60 smartphones, there are no barriers for this one being present here too.
A little feedback for current system:
After completing feedback list, I have unintentionally created a plagiarism towards Loquendo company, that has developed such system for Symbian OS (previous S60 2nd edition phones). Unfortunately I was unable to find samples of this system being used in the real world. That’s why we believe that this still remains an internal development. But those items and improvements are extremely important and acceptable for developers in Nokia’s plans..
Sound playback quality in Nokia 5500, well, its synthesizing to be precise, is typical for today’s systems in my opinion, I mean it’s not very different from VoiceSignal’s solutions. Of course synthesis quality is better than it was few years ago, it became more human-like. According to feedback right here , realization of interfaces in other languages is more human-like than in English version. I shall not judge the quality on the whole, for me it’s still too robotic, but it does not make you want to turn it off at once, it’s pretty comfortable to listen to (this goes for all solutions).
And this is how a message written in Russian but with English letters sounds like (“Ya v metro, ne slishno”, which stands for “I am in metro, can’t hear you”). Of course we have used Ellen’s voice as well as Marie. I believe that you can clearly hear French accent, and it’s possible to understand the text in both cases.
From practical moments I should also highlight the fact that usage of TTS function in first place is possible with headset usage, you will be able to hear speech via loudspeaker too, but it will not be so good, even in relatively quite location. I won’t even start talking about car, I mean you will not hear anything even if windows are shut and sound isolation is at good level.
As for other applications where you can access voice commentaries, I should probably tell you about sport mode, here you will be able to hear your achievement, or new lap and stuff like that. On the whole information is strongly predefined, and there’s no big need in TTS, but its presence saves some resources.
In future we should expect TTS being used in standard applications, a logical integration in web-browser, or at least for Web Feeds section, which stands for RSS feeds (some samples already have it though). TTS support in GPS section is important too, e-mail can be added as well, and so on. I think that today we can see only first steps that Nokia is making in that direction, and we’ll definitely see more in future.
This handset has 2mpx CMOS camera, it is identical to one installed in Nokia 3250, and it’s a good solution for average user.
Resolution – 1600x1200 pixels, 1152x864 and 640x480 pixels. The picture’s quality can be one of these three: High, Normal and Baisc. Shooting mode can be either normal, or a series of photos, you can also setup timer (10, 20 or 30 seconds). Night mode is available too. White balance can be setup by three options: Sunny, Incandescent, Fluorescent. Color settings / SFX are standard: Sepia, Black&White, Negative. There’s no LED (flash) in this phone. When you are in the shooting mode digital zoom can be activated with joystick. There’s no reason to use zoom, since you can scale the photo in the built-in editor, and later on save it, the quality will be higher.
The video recording quality is mediocre, the only available resolutions are 176x144 and 128x96 pixels at 15 frames per second. The recording format is 3GP, you can disable sound if you like. There are no length limitations, unless you setup MMS mode. I’d like to remind you that this camera module is capable of 352x288 pixel video recording, although the quality won’t be very good.
The model does not have any problems with network reception quality, the voice of interlocutor is clearly heard, as well as yours. The volume of 64-tone polyphonic ring tone is high in case you use mp3 files. In this case the quality of polyphonic ring tones is not so important. Vibrating alert’s power is below average, it cannot be felt all the time.
Handset will be released in beginning of September and its price will be around 300-330 euros. Considering filled bundling and its unique status this price is more than justified. At the moment we can define following unique points of this solution:
This list can go even further, but we should stop here. Nokia 5500 Sport is starting point for whole new line-up, it is interesting too. Integration level for sport mode, phone’s design and erognomics level are amazing, they deserve separate praise. It’s been a while since we had a masterpiece at our hands, well-thought interface and particular functions, their integration, the whole thing is amazing. This phone is very neat looking and after two weeks you feel sympathy towards it.
As a bonus for those who already acquired Nokia 3250, we should tell you that Nokia 5500 has identical music part, although it is not positioned as music solution. Same number of settings and other minor things, as well as sound quality. I will highlight the fact that since Nokia 5500 is not a music solution, it’s capabilities are great, and this gives additional advantage.
In the end we have a perfect niche solution (this is not a mass-market, just like any other phone with protective case), it does not have direct competitors, and there’s little chance that any will appear in nearest future. This model is extremely successful and deserves special attention. This is one of the best smartphones in Nokia’s and S60 history. In case the company will be able to provide same level of integration for other niche products, we will see a rise of those, and a horde of clones too, attempts to replicate Nokia’s success. The way in which company is moving becomes clear now, these are first successful products for S60. There’s only one disadvantage for this product – battery life.
Published 25 May 2006
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