Convergence. A word loved by PR companies and feared by nontechnical consumers. If you believe industry pundits, we'll all be carrying combination mobile phone-PDA-TV-toasters in the next few years. You'll be able to make a phone call, write a memo, watch the morning news, and cook your breakfast all at the same time while on your way to work. How close reality comes to the dream (or nightmare, depending upon your point of view) is anyone's guess, but the first devices that might fit a definition of "convergence" are emerging on the market. Nokia's 9210 Communicator is one such combination - a mobile phone and PDA.
The first thing you'll notice about the 9210 when you get it out of the box is its size. It's a fairly large phone, not quite retro/'80s size but bigger than the average. For example, a common (cheap) phone over here in Europe is the Nokia 5110, which measures 132x47.5x31mm and weighs about 170g. By comparison the 9210 measures 158x56x27mm and weighs in at 244g. Of course, we're not just talking about a phone here since it's also a PDA. So if you're currently lugging around a PDA and a phone - a Palm IIIc (for example) weighs around 190g - add the weight of the two together and you may already be carrying significantly more than Nokia's Communicator.
The 9210 runs Symbian's EPOC operating system, which will be familiar to loyal Psion users (alas, poor Psion, I knew him well...), and comes with a number of useful applications, such as a WWW and WAP browser, e-mail, word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation viewer. The screen is not touch sensitive - all control is done by a very small keyboard - but there are "quick" buttons on the right-hand side of the screen, for easy access to essential functions. For example, if an icon is highlighted, the word "Open" may appear beside the first button.
The mail system is one of the cooler applications on the 9210 as it integrates SMS as well as e-mail into the one program, rather than different apps for different mail types. An SMS message that's longer than 160 characters will be automatically sent as multiple SMS messages. Mental note: How to annoy your friends - send a 50-page text as an SMS message...
Less useful is the video player. Personally I'm not sold on the whole "watching videos on your mobile" thing. Don't get me wrong. I think it will be brilliant once organic displays become the norm and resolutions are so sharp you could slice through the door of a car quicker than you could say "Ginsu." But on a 640x200 screen with over 4,000 colors, we're not exactly talking cinematic quality.
The important issue is the 9210's extremely strong Java support. The 9210 comes with a PersonalJava VM built in, and there's also a beta of a MIDP VM available for download. Java applications can be downloaded to the phone as straight class files and executed if they're in the default package (which is a hack and shouldn't be used as a "production" deployment mechanism). The alternative and recommended method is that they be packaged as Symbian install files (.SIS) and installed as with any other application onto the device. You can run applets, but unfortunately not through the browser.
I can already think of a couple of real-world situations where the Communicator, using Java applications, might prove rather handy. For a company with a large, roving sales force, outfitting their entire staff with mobile phone, laptop, and mobile Internet connections would prove costly (to put it politely). A laptop solution seems overkill when you consider exactly how much use the staff of this fictional company is likely to get out of a full-blown PC. However, the 9210 is already connected and contains most of the applications the salespeople might use, and company-specific apps (a product catalog, for example) can be written in Java and quite easily installed on the device.
How well does PJava work on the 9210? It should be noted in advance that the processor, while more powerful than most mobile phones, is still only 52MHz. So performance on certain graphics operations won't be console quality, to put it mildly. However, when you consider the intended market and the above example, this doesn't really seem like that much of a negative point.
AWT Component Test
Here we place a number of AWT components (buttons, text fields, etc.) on the screen using a couple of Layout Managers. While the 9210 displays all the components as expected, one slight problem is that with the default (white) background color of the panels, it can be quite difficult to see which component has the focus. This may be an issue when porting PersonalJava apps without modification to the phone. Of course, it's not a problem if your user-interface color scheme is configurable.
Triangle Drawing Test
Here we draw four randomly sized, filled triangles using multiple calls to the drawLine graphics method. The PersonalJava VM on the 9210 takes 200-600ms to draw the four triangles onto the 640x200 screen. Note that these are random triangles, so the slower time is indicative of a larger triangle to render.
Pixel Blit Test
Here we blit random pixels to the screen as a single image for 500 frames. On the 9210 the test runs at about 1.1 frames per second (fps) on a 320x200 window (which is half the 9210's screen size).
This test draws 20 50x50 pixel images per frame for 500 frames, and then works out the frame rate from the time taken. This test runs at 4.4 fps.
If you've seen Nokia's TV commercial for the 9210, you'll probably agree that the company appears to be targeting businesspeople, the kind of people who are constantly on the go, perhaps have a need for a PDA, but are less likely to be interested in lugging a laptop around.
In my opinion, if you're intending to buy a PDA and are already carrying a mobile, you should look at the 9210 as a convenient alternative. Corporations that are tooling up their management/executive/mobile staff with PDAs and/or mobile phones should definitely consider the Communicator option.
It's a fairly large phone, as it has to support a keyboard that could be used by people bigger than a 5-year-old child; so if you're looking for a small device, the 9210 may not be right for you. However, it weighs less than an average mobile phone and PDA together, so I believe it rates highly on convenience factor alone.
With a free SDK available, and built-in and downloadable VMs, Nokia's support for Java on the 9210 is very good. Graphics performance is not mind-blowing because of the CPU speed, but it doesn't need to be when you take into account the people who are likely to be using the device.
It's a solid little unit, and the only negative point I noticed during testing was Symbian's typically lackluster PC connectivity (at least on Windows ME). Not that it didn't work; rather, it occasionally decided not to connect without a reboot. Having owned a Psion in the past, my opinion is that this is somewhat par for the course, and it happened infrequently enough that it wasn't a huge bother.
After seeing the 9210, I'm looking forward to the new Java-enabled products Nokia has up its corporate sleeve.
Phone: +358 7180 08000
Processor: 52MHz 32-bit ARM9-based RISC CPU
Memory: 14MB application, 2MB User (+ 16MB application card), 8MB Execution memory
Display: 640x200 pixels, 4096 colors
Size: 158x56x27 mm
Power: High power Li-Ion battery
Talk time: 4-10 hours
Standby time: Up to 230 hours
Ports: Infrared, DLR-2L Cable, MultiMediaCard memory slot
Operating system: Symbian platform
Java support: PersonalJava preinstalled; download beta of MIDP
Availability: First half 2002 as 9290
Price: Estimated $700-$1000
Jason Briggs works as a Java analyst programmer in London. He's been
officially developing in Java for three years - unofficially for just over four. [email protected]