Of the major U.S. carriers, Nokia seems to get along best with T-Mobile. Though Nokia continues to disappoint us with its relatively small presence here, T-Mobile adds a new Nokia handset to its lineup every few months. In the second half of last year America's fourth largest carrier launched the Nokia 6086, the Nokia 2610, and the Nokia 6263, and now it gives us the Nokia 3555. Cut from the same mold as AT&T's Nokia 6555, the 3555 also offers an attractive, if slightly reworked, flip phone design. The feature set is a something of a mishmash; though the 3555 offers a music player, stereo Bluetooth, and voice dialing, its camera has only VGA resolution. But on the upside, the call quality is decent and it beats the 6555's dismal battery life. The 3555 is affordably priced at $149, but you can get it for as low as $49 with service.
The 3555 inherits many of its 6555's design elements. We continue to consider the slender shape to be attractive, and we like how the phone feels in the hand. The 3555 is almost the same size as the 6555 (3.92 inches by 1.75 inches by 0.81 inch), and it weighs just about the same (3.32 ounces) as well. The hinge felt just a tad loose, and some surfaces had too much of a plastic feel, but on the whole, we approve of the design.
Yet there are a few differences between the 3555 and its predecessor. Unlike the 6555, which came in multiple hues, the 3555 sports only an eye-catching royal blue color. Also, the 3555 has a unique design on its front and rear faces. You don't see it until the phone is open, but at that point you should notice that the stripes on the front and rear faces join together to form one long stripe. Another important difference lies with the internal and external displays, but unfortunately it's not a good change. While the 6555 had a 262,000-color external screen, the 3555's display is monochrome. It still shows all the important status information, but it doesn't support photo caller ID and it won't work as a viewfinder for the camera lens, which sits just above.
The 3555's internal display is also a step down. Though it also supports 262,000 colors, it's a bit smaller (1.8 inches) than the 6555's screen, and it has a lower resolution (128x160 pixels). Unfortunately, the change is more than noticeable; graphics and photos were blocky and colors were washed out. On the upside, the menu system was easy to understand, but the animated icons weren't very sharp. You can't change the brightness, but you can alter the font size and color.
The navigation controls assume an interesting design that consists of a series of rounded squares. The outermost square holds two soft keys, and the Talk and End power controls. Inside that is a navigation toggle, while inside the toggle is a square OK button. It's a spacious and mostly easy-to-use arrangement, though the controls are flush. In standby mode, you can choose to access the MyFaves application with the toggle or you can designate the toggle to serve as a shortcut to four user-defined applications.
The keypad buttons are also flush but the individual buttons are large, and they're paced far apart from each other. We didn't have any misdials but dialing by feel was a tad difficult. Also, while a bright backlighting made it easy to dial in dim situations, the numbers on the keys are rather small. Callers with should test the 3555 before buying.
External controls on the 3555 are very few. On the left spine are a volume rocker, a camera shutter, and a mini-USB port, while a 2.5mm headset jack and the charger port sit on the right spine. In a change from many flip phones, the volume rocker sits on the front flap. That means that the up and down orientation will change as you open the phone. But that shouldn't be a problem for many users, and in any case, the rocker is easy to find when you're on a call.
The 3555 has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers, an e-mail address, a Web site, a company name, a job title, a formal name, a nickname, a street address, a birthday, and notes. You can save callers to groups and pair them with any of 15 polyphonic ringtones. You can pair contacts with a photo as well; however, keep in mind that the image won't show up on the external display. An additional feature is the capability to change the phonebook font size--nice.
Other basics include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calendar, a to-do list, a notepad, a calculator, a timer, a world clock, and a stopwatch. As previously mentioned, you'll also find stereo Bluetooth and voice dialing, both of which are welcome on a midrange phone. Additional applications include PC syncing, USB mass storage, a speakerphone, a voice recorder, instant messaging, and e-mail.
The music player (MP3, AAC, eAAC+) has a generic Nokia design. It's easy to use, but it doesn't support album art or visualizations. On the other hand, there's a decent selection of features including shuffle and repeat modes, playlists, an airplane mode, an equalizer, and stereo widening. Getting music on the phone is easy. You can add tracks via a USB cable or the microSD card slot. It appears the 3555 is even equipped for wireless music downloads and streaming video. That's rather strange, considering T-Mobile doesn't have a 3G network. See the Performance section for more on this quandary.
It's odd that with all its other features, the 3555 has just a VGA camera. Perhaps Nokia was aiming to keep the cost down, but it's not what we were expecting. It takes pictures in just two resolutions (640x480 and 320x240), which is low even for a VGA shooter. You can choose from three quality modes, three color effects, and four white-balance settings. There's also a multishot mode, a brightness control, and a 4x digital zoom. Photo quality was pretty good. The shots were fuzzy, just as you would expect with a VGA camera, but colors were bright.
You can personalize the 3555 with a variety of wallpaper, color themes, and alert tones. You can download more options form T-Mobile's T-zones service with the WAP Internet browser. The handset comes with demo versions of four games: Petz, Tetris, Are you smarter than a 5th grader?, and Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man.
We tested the quadband (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Nokia 3555 world phone in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. Call quality was on a par with the Nokia 3555. We enjoyed clear conversations and adequate volume. Voices sounded natural most of the time, and there was little static or interference. In a change form the AT&T handset, the 3555's sound quality was more mechanical, with a tinny quality to some conversations. Though the 6555 had a touch of this effect, it was more prevalent on the 3555.
On their end, callers said we sounded fine, but a few of our friends mentioned a bit of wind noise in the background. Also, our callers could tell we were using a cell phone. Speakerphone calls were satisfactory for the most part. The sound was a tad muffled, and we had to stand close to the phone to be heard, but that's hardly unusual on a cell phone speaker. We had the best performance when we used it in a quiet room.
Though T-Mobile doesn't say so on its Web site, Nokia's site shows that the 3555 does support 3G networks. At the time of this writing, T-Mobile is the only major carrier to lack a wireless broadband network, so it may seem strange that the carrier is offering a 3G-capable handset. No doubt, T-Mobile is preparing for its 3G launch, which could happen by the summer of 2008. And in any case, the 3555 is just one of a series of 3G handsets that T-Mobile has introduced. The first was the Samsung SGH-T639.
As you might expect, music quality is nothing special. It's not terrible by any means, but it's suitable only for short stints. As with most music phones, a headset provides the best experience.
The 3555 has a rated battery life of five hours talk time and 10 days standby time. In our tests, we fell short of the promised talk time by 10 minutes. That's about average, as GSM phones go, but it is much better than the 6555's tested talk time of just 2 hours. According to FCC radiation tests the 3555 has a digital SAR of 1.04 watts per kilogram.