Nokia's 8290, which works on GSM 1900 networks, looks similar to its tri-mode TDMA brother, the 8260. But make no mistake; the 8290 weighs 0.6 ounces less and has a couple of features--interchangeable Express-on faceplates and infrared--not available in the 8260. Let's start with the dimensions. The 8290, which sells for $150 to $170, measures 3.9 by 1.7 by 0.7 inches and weighs a mere 2.8 ounces. Like the 8260, it doesn't have a slide-down dial-pad cover found on the 8860 and 8890; the 8290's keys are always exposed. There's nothing wrong with this design. But if you're accustomed to using a longer phone that has a mic that rests close to your mouth, you might initially find the 8290 strange to talk on since the bottom of the phone rests pretty high on your cheek. However, callers will be able to hear you just fine.
From an ergonomic standpoint, the biggest problems with the phone are that the dial pad is cramped and the keys are a bit slippery. Those with bigger fingers will be prone to accidentally hitting two keys at once, thereby misdialing numbers. The on/off button is small but slightly raised, so you can activate it with your finger instead of your fingernail.
Speaking of fingernails, we didn't break any changing the faceplate from blue to red and back again (as we did with the 3390). Currently, Nokia offers seven different colored faceplates ($20 each) for the 8290. As long as wireless Web access isn't part of your mobile plans, you should be pretty satisfied with the 8290's feature set. An ample 250 names and numbers can be stored in the phone directory on the 8290's SIM card, along with 50 appointments. The phone offers voice-activated dialing; you can attach up to eight voice tags to names in your phone book. It also supports Short Message Service (SMS), which allows you to send and receive short text messages from SMS-enabled phones. To help compose messages, the phone has predictive text input (the phone attempts to finish words for you as you type letters using the dial-pad keys). If that isn't thrilling enough, you can trade Picture Messages with the handful of other Picture Message-enabled phones on the market.
The coolest feature on the 8290 that isn't on the 8260 is the infrared (IR) port, which is more useful than you might imagine. First, you can wirelessly receive business cards from Palms and Pocket PCs via IR beaming. You'll get only the sender's name and phone numbers, but as soon as you select Accept on the menu, the name and number(s) are stored in your phone book. Just as important, the 8290's IR port can serve as a wireless modem (14.4 kbps) for your laptop or handheld. Like most Nokia phones, the 8290 shines when it comes to battery life. The company says you'll get up to 3.3 hours of talk time or six days of standby time, and our tests didn't dispute those claims. The 8290 took a little more than an hour to fully recharge, but if that's too long for you, there's an optional fast charger ($25) available.
We tested the phone on the VoiceStream network (formerly Omnipoint) in New York City. Call quality was generally good, although on several occasions, the network was busy, and we couldn't make calls. But that's not the phone's fault.