If you think that all Nokia cell phones boast the same candy bar-style design, you haven't been paying much attention. In reality, the Finnish company has always had a wacky side that often manifests itself in such unusual style elements as , , and . Yet with the GSM Nokia 7280, the company takes a long leap into a new world of mobile form factors. If the goal is to stand out from every other handset on the market, then Nokia has done exactly that. With no keypad, no antenna, and a Landscape display, the "fashion phone" 7280 is so atypical that it doesn't even look like a mobile at all. Granted, the stylish design comes with a learning curve, and it won't jive with everyone, but its feature set is admirable, and the mobile offers good performance. You'll pay for the alternative look, of course, with a final price in the $500 to $600 range, but the cost should come down if a carrier decides to pick it up. Make no mistake about it--despite looking like an MP3 player or a digital camera, the Nokia 7280 is a cell phone. The last handset in Nokia's "fashion phone" line, the 7280 is meant for users looking for the stylish and unusual and who crave the attention it will bring. Thus, despite the business-friendly accoutrements, it may not be the best mobile for the boardroom. Measuring 4.5 by 1.3 by 0.8 inches and weighing just 3.0 ounces, the sticklike mobile is compact and portable, and it fits easily in a pocket. Beyond the odd shape, the black-and-white coloring is attractive, and the fabric Nokia-branded tag and a small felt strip add a cool touch.
Much like a slider phone, the 7280 pulls apart in the middle to reveal a red interior. By opening the mobile, you automatically answer a call and expose the rear-facing camera lens, but be advised that there's no mirror or flash. Held against the ear, the handset was surprisingly comfortable, and a circular LED light at the top end glows when receiving a call or message, or you can turn it off, if you prefer. We weren't terribly impressed by the mobile's lone display. While we understand the smallness (1.75 inches diagonally) is a result of the phone's overall size, it's difficult to read in direct light, due to the fact that it becomes a mirror in standby mode. You can't change the text size, and it reverts to the mirror mode when the backlighting is off. Also, watch for smudges, and only one menu page is visible at a time, which makes for a lot of scrolling. That said, the 65,536-color screen is vibrant enough, and the Landscape orientation took no acclimation.
It can't escape notice that the 7280 doesn't have a keypad. The only controls are a scrollwheel with a menu/OK button in its center, two soft keys, and the Talk and End buttons; in a departure from most Nokias, the End button doubles as the power control. The thumb-size wheel is your primary tool for interaction with the phone. Along with the center button, it's used for scrolling through menus, but it also lets you enter characters for both text messages and phone numbers, which are displayed in a line along the bottom of the display. Of course, this requires a learning curve, but we found it to be easier than we originally expected. For text messages especially, typing was actually faster than on a traditional keypad. Instead of pressing the same button multiple times for our desired letter, we used the wheel to zip through the alphabet quickly. Also, when typing a word, the predictive text lists the next few most probable letters followed by the entire alphabet. It may sound complicated, but the result was an ergonomic and user-friendly arrangement. However, dialing numbers was tricky on a couple of fronts. Not only do you have to select a menu option, you also have to scroll back and forth to choose the required digit. But since Nokia assumes you'll be placing calls mostly from your contacts or calls list (voice dialing by name only is included), we had to call new numbers infrequently. Be warned, however, that you can't dial phone numbers such as 800/DENTIST. The number list does not have letter equivalents.
The other keys, which are set into the outermost white ring surrounding the wheel, were a tad too small for our tastes. The top soft key opens a shortcuts menu when in standby mode, then activates an options menu when selecting a function. Sometimes this required two clicks to select items, but it wasn't particularly bothersome. The bottom soft key opens your contacts list in standby mode and functions as the Back button when in a menu. We would have preferred dedicated volume keys. Instead, you must remove the phone from ear during a call to adjust the sound level.
The 7280's quirky form factor had its drawbacks. The SIM card is inserted into a tiny drawer that can be opened with only a paper clip or a supplied tool. As a result, changing the SIM card was a pain, and we were constantly worried we'd lose the tool, the drawer, or both. If you never take out your SIM card, it may not be a worry, but even then, it isn't ideal. And on a more sobering note, the 7280 does not have a user-replaceable battery. If it conks out, you'll have to take it to an "authorized service facility," wherever that might be. We wonder if it would be worth the trouble.