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The Nokia 3650 GSM/GPRS Phone with Camera, Bluetooth, and More

by Todd Ogasawara
09/11/2003

A few years ago I started a discussion about Palm vs. Pocket PC sales figures with a wise friend. He stopped me and told me that real battle will not be for the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) market. The real battle, he said, will be between Nokia and everyone else in the wireless phone market. I think you will agree after learning more about the Nokia 3650.

The Nokia 3650 became available worldwide in February 2003. It has a color screen, 4MB internal RAM, a bundled 16MB MultiMediaCard (MMC), a built-in camera capable of taking still photos and video, an XHTML browser, and support for both infrared and Bluetooth personal area, wireless communications. Although it has a feature set that sounds like that of a PDA, it weighs 4.59 ounces (130g) and is only a bit wider (5.1 inches x 2.24 inches x 1 inch) than a typical mid-sized wireless phone. This GSM/GPRS (Global System for Mobile Communications/General Packet Radio Service) phone can be used on the AT&T Wireless, Cingular, and T-Mobile wireless networks in the United States.

The Nokia 3650 camera phone with its unique circular keypad.
The Nokia 3650 camera phone with its unique circular keypad.

Hardware Information & End-User Features

The Nokia 3650 has so many features and feature subtleties that this review will only focus on the features that caught and held my attention. Nokia provides detailed feature lists and demonstrations on their web site (refer to the list of links at the end of this article).

  Nokia 3650 Specifications
Wireless Capabilities GSM (Tri-band 900/1800/1900 MHz)
GPRS
Infrared
Bluetooth
Size & Weight 5.1 x 2.24 x 1.0 inches
4.59 oz.
Screen Backlit
4096 colors
176 x 208 pixels
1.38 x 1.63 inches
Audio Speaker/Microphone
Speakerphone
Headset Jack
Camera: Still 640 x 480 maximum image size
Fixed lens
No flash
35 to 75KB observed typical still image file size
Camera: Video 320 x 240 frame size
15 frames per second (fps)
10- to 15-second maximum clip size
Video Recorder Update installation required to capture sound in video clips
94KB observed maximum video file size
Memory 4MB internal RAM
16MB MultiMediaCard (MMC) bundled with system
Power 200 hours standby
4 hours talk time
4 hour charge time for Lithium-Ion battery

Keypad

The first thing you notice about the Nokia 3650 is its unusual, circular rotary-style keypad button arrangement. It took me a while to adapt to this keypad arrangement. It caused me two problems even after spending a few days using this arrangement:

  1. I normally press wireless phone buttons with my left thumb. The Nokia 3650 is a bit wider than the mid-size wireless phone I sometimes use (2.24 inches vs. 2 inches). A quarter-inch difference may not seem like much; however, it caused a small problem for me since it increased the amount I had to bend my thumb. This caused a bit of discomfort when pressing the buttons on the left side of the phone.
  2. The second problem may be unique to me. Instead of remembering long sequences of digits or alphabet translations of the DTMF keypad (2=ABC, 3=DEF, etc.), I tend to use geometric visual patterns. I trace visual patterns with my thumb on the conventional DTMF keypad arrangement. The circular keypad prevents me from using this strategy.
O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference.

The more familiar four-way compass rose navigation button (Nokia calls it a scroll key) is larger than the keypad number buttons and sits at the top of the circular pattern between the 1 and 0 keys. It serves double duty as navigation tool and selection button. It seemed to require more pressure than compass navigation buttons on other phones. The other thumb-skill you need to develop is the ability to press the scroll key in the center to select an action. I tended to press it off to one side and move the menu selection instead of selecting the action. I recommend playing one of the embedded graphical games to improve your thumb coordination.

The power button at the top of the Nokia 3650 is also a little unique. Pressing it part of the way down brings up an option menu that lets you select from a variety of functions, including changing the audible ringtone.

Color Screen

The next thing you notice is the big color screen (4096 colors, 176 x 208 pixels, 1.38 x 1.63 inches (35 x 41.5mm)). It accounts for nearly half of the front surface of the phone and is reasonably easy to read under all kinds of lighting conditions (including bright sunlight). The text displayed when browsing the Web is much smaller than the text displayed for menu items. However, the small web browser text is clear and easy to read.

Still & Video Camera

The phone's camera can take both still photos and video. The maximum resolution for a still photo is a VGA-sized 640x480 pixels (one-third mega-pixel). The photographs are stored in standard JPEG files. The files I generated ranged between 30 and 75KB. The still images were quite good for a sub-mega-pixel image captured with a very small lens that sits behind a clear plastic cover. You can see test images that compare the Nokia 3650's image quality to comparable CompactFlash sub-mega-pixel cameras used with Pocket PCs in a review article on my personal site: REVIEW: Casio, HP, and Nexian Pocket PC Add-on Cameras.

The Nokia 3650 camera mode
The Nokia 3650 camera mode.

The Nokia 3650's video recording feature is relatively unique even among the current wave of new phone-cameras. It records video in the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) video format for wireless multimedia. The camera can record both video (15fps in a 320 x 240 pixel frame size) and sound. The recorded video can be played back on the phone. It can be beamed to another device using infrared or Bluetooth, or it can be mailed to a desktop or notebook PC. Nokia does not provide a way to connect the phone to a PC using a cable. Nokia advises that you must have infrared or Bluetooth capability to copy the files. However, you can also do this with an inexpensive SD/MMC storage card reader, if you store the still photo and video files on the Nokia-provided 16MB MMC card.

Nokia provides a free multimedia client that can play back the video on a Microsoft Windows-based PC (Nokia 3650 Multimedia Player). I found that Apple QuickTime 6.3 with an optional 3GPP component and RealOne can play back the 3GPP video files. I have not, however, found a way to play the 3GPP video files on a Pocket PC, even with RealOne Player for Pocket PC installed.

It takes a few quick clicks to get to the point where you can take a still photo or a video with the camera. The video camera setup takes what seems like 15 to 30 seconds before you can start recording a video. This means that you need to plan a bit if you want to record a video clip.

I had never used a phone with an integrated camera until I tried the Nokia 3650; now, the whole phone-camera and photoblog frenzy makes a lot more sense to me. In fact, during my 10-day evaluation and testing period I probably used the camera option (for both still photos and videos) more than the phone itself. The phone let me email a photo very quickly to anyone in my contacts list. It was easy to pull the phone out of my pocket to take a quick photo. The quality is nowhere near that of a multi-mega-pixel camera; however, I was able to capture many photos that would have been missed completely, since I do not always carry my digital camera. And it takes more time to pull a camera out of the case, remove the lens cap, turn it on, and take a photo.

Note: Photoblogging or blogging with pictures can be done without a camera phone. However, a camera phone brings a new kind of immediacy to this kind of blogging. A number of photoblog sites are linked below. Please be aware that while most material appears suitable for nearly everyone, you may find photo blogs that you find offensive.

Nokia configures the phone to save still photos and video to the internal 4MB storage RAM. However, since they also provide a 16MB MMC storage card, you should install it and modify the camera settings to store files to the storage card.

Memory

The Nokia 3650 has 4MB of internal memory for application and storage use. Nokia also provides a 16MB MMC card that can be installed in the battery compartment area under the battery. This is the same area where the SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card is placed.

The Nokia 3650's battery compartment exposed.
The Nokia 3650's battery compartment exposed.
Note: MultiMediaCards (MMC) preceded the more popular Secure Digital (SD) cards. It has the same length and width as an SD card, but is thinner. The largest currently available MMC card is 128MB, while the SD card is available in capacities up to 512MB, with a 1GB card announced for availability in the near future.

Personal Area Wireless: Bluetooth & Infrared

The Nokia 3650 has both an infrared emitter/receiver and a Bluetooth radio. Both are cable-replacement technologies that work in the two- and 10-meter ranges, respectively (around three to 30 feet). I have always disliked the infrared line-of-sight requirement, so I focused on testing the phone with a HP iPAQ 2215 Pocket PC 2003 device that also has an integrated Bluetooth radio.

The Pocket PC's Bluetooth discovery function found the Nokia 3650 and set up connectivity between the two devices. After entering the authentication information on both devices, I was able to move files using Bluetooth easily and quickly. My attempts to use the Bluetooth bonding to browse the Web from the Pocket PC was less successful. I received assistance from others who have configured the two devices for GPRS web browsing. However, after a number of days of trying different configurations, I was unable to ever web browse using the bonded devices. The Pocket PC had other problems that appeared due to hardware issues. I returned the Pocket PC and am waiting for a replacement device as this article is being written. I plan to test the Pocket PC with another Bluetooth phone in the near future. I will report back on this progress in my O'Reilly Network blog.

I did not have a Bluetooth headset to test. However, there are reports that the phone does not support all Bluetooth headset profiles. This means that you should verify compatibility before purchasing a Bluetooth headset for this phone.

Nokia and Hewlett-Packard are working together to let the 3650 print to Bluetooth-enabled printers. However, as this review is being written, the HP Mobile Printing site does not have information other than the press release about this solution.

Web Browsing and Email

The Nokia 3650, like many current-generation smartphones, can browse the Web on its color screen. It supports XHTML MP (WML 1.3 browser in China) and WAP. You also have the option of purchasing the Opera browser. GPRS wireless service sustained throughput peaks at around 40Kbps. This means that you can expect an experience similar to using an analog modem. I found that using any GPRS device to surf the Web requires a shift in the way I think about the activity. This is not, after all, a broadband connection measured in megabits per second. That said, it is very useful to have web access nearly everywhere. News updates, weather, and movie schedules literally appear in the palm of your hand.

Another option is to install AvantGo (a free application) to synchronize specially formatted web pages to the phone. The downloaded web pages are stored locally on the phone. This lets you to browse through web pages faster than you could over a live wireless connection. AvantGo is also popular among Palm OS and Pocket PC users, since it allows browsing web pages when not connected to a network.

Nokia supports the standard email gateways and server types: SMTP, IMAP4, IMAP4P4-SSL/TLS, POP3, and POP3-SSL/TLS. You can receive and work with many kinds of attachments, including picture messages, calendar entries, contact information, and ringtones. The phone's folder structure lets you move messages from internal memory to the MMC storage card.

Personal Information Management (PIM)

The phone's contacts manager is separate from the phone number list stored on the SIM card. You can, however, copy information from one to the other. The contact manager can store a photo along with the usual business card information. You can also add a voice tag to a contact entry to enable voice dialing. Another useful feature is the ability to specify unique ringtones for individuals or groups.

The Nokia 3650 calendar application.
The Nokia 3650 calendar application.

Voice Features

It may seem strange to mention a phone's voice features so far into an article. However, wireless digital phones have evolved quickly in the past few years. Good voice quality, usable speakerphones, and ringtones are all features that we expect from nearly all high-end, current-generation phones. The Nokia 3650 does not fall short in any of these areas. Like many ubiquitous things these days, if you do not really think about it, it is probably working up to your expectations. In this case, the phone simply worked as I expected it should. Surprise is a bad thing in telephones. There were not any phone surprises that I recall.

Adding Software

Nokia has a web page with links to free downloads to supplement the applications on the bundled CD-ROM disc. This free downloads area includes the Nokia 3650 Video Recorder Update that adds sound capture to video recordings. This is also where you can download the documentation and software to let Windows-based PCs to use the Nokia 3650 as a wireless fax/data modem.

Nokia 3650 Phone Free Downloads

The Nokia 3650 main menu.
The Nokia 3650 main menu.

Software can also be purchased through the Nokia software store, serviced by Handango. Note that there are two application types that can be selected. Native Symbian OS applications must be downloaded to a desktop or notebook computer first. The application is then installed using an infrared or Bluetooth wireless connection. Java MIDP applications can be downloaded and installed directly (over the air) to the Nokia 3650.

Nokia Americas' Software Market

Developer Information

The Nokia 3650 is part of Nokia's S60 platform family. This family consists of the Nokia 3650, 7650, and N-Gage Mobile Game Deck. Developers can download the 313MB Borland C++ Mobile Edition for Series 60 tool to develop native Symbian OS applications. The Nokia Developers Suite 2.0 for J2ME can also be downloaded to develop Java MIDP 2.0 (SUN Mobile Information Device Profile) applications. The Nokia Mobile Internet Toolkit 4.0 gives developers tools to develop mobile Internet content.

Issues

As I used the Nokia 3650 over a 10-day period, two issue classes crystallized. The keypad issues (unusual circular arrangement and navigation button accuracy) were discussed earlier.

The second set of issue focuses on the case. The Nokia 3650 shell is a lightweight plastic. It literally feels different from the heavier body shells commonly used in phones made as recently as a year or two ago. The battery cover is very thin, with a simple clip arrangement that appeared as if it might come loose in everyday handling. Finally, the camera lens is covered by a clear plastic that appeared as if it might scratch from daily handling (pulling in and out of shirt and pants pockets). However, during my testing period, these concerns appear to be unfounded. The case appeared to hold up well under heavy usage as a phone and camera. The battery cover never slipped off by accident. And the clear plastic lens cover did not appear to scratch in the course of daily handling. It should also be noted that this evaluation unit had been loaned to other people before me. So it had been already gone through some real-life handling experiences before coming to me, without any apparent physical trauma.

Summary

The Nokia 3650 is one of the most feature-rich wireless phones introduced so far in 2003. And, while it blurs the line distinguishing smartphones from PDAs, it does not necessarily pose an either/or choice for consumers and developers. Its ability to communicate with other devices using infrared or Bluetooth makes it a capable partner to a Palm-OS- or Pocket-PC-based device. Although we are seeing both Palm OS and Pocket PC devices converging with wireless phone features, there is still much to defend the idea of choosing best-of-breed products and carry more than one device.

Where to Find More Information About the Nokia 3650

Todd Ogasawara is the editor of MobileAppsToday.com. He has been named a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in the Mobile Devices category for the past several years. You can find his personal website focusing on Mobile Device Technology at www.mobileviews.com.


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