There was a polite appellation for previous Nokia Communicators -- almost anyone who used one tended to refer to it as a brick, not just because of solid construction, but primarily because the Communicator line has historically always been comprised of huge phones. The 9300 isn't a brick, but it's certainly at least a small paving slab, compared to tiny smart phones like the O2 XDA Mini II. From the outside, it looks rather like a five year old mobile phone; the interface is plain and the menu system will be immediately familiar to any Nokia phone user. On the plus side for some users, the larger physical size (132 x 51 x 21mm and 167g) of the 9300 has allowed Nokia to give the phone quite large phone buttons.
As with previous Communicators, the real appeal of the 9300 becomes apparent once you open it up. A hinge runs down the left hand side of the 9300, and once flipped open it reveals a large and bright 65,536-colour screen and full QWERTY keyboard in proper layout style. It's this internal keyboard and screen that controls most of the phone's main functions, including elements such as SMS creation, e-mail and Web browsing, contact management and reading common office documents. The keyboard is small, but reasonably well built and certainly a more capable tool for serious data entry than the keyboards we've seen on many smart phones.
On the hardware side, the most notable part of the 9300's feature set is the 80MB of inbuilt memory, expandable via MMC card. Depending on how you plan to use the 9300, that can be filled with either multimedia content -- the 9300 supports playback of music files and RealPlayer video files -- or ordinary documents such as contacts, spreadsheets, Word documents and PowerPoint presentations. As a phone, it's a tri-band EGSM 900/1800/1900 phone, capable of working just about anywhere you're likely to take it. The 9300 is Bluetooth capable, although if you're not working in a Bluetooth environment it's also possible to connect it via standard USB.
As a phone, the 9300 fundamentally performed well, especially if you're after a phone with larger than normal buttons. There are phone functions that are a little tricky to get to grips with, primarily because you're constantly prompted to use the internal keyboard for most tasks. As such, you'll find yourself opening up the phone for tasks that would normally display on most other phone's screens, such as recieving contact cards, or managing SIM contract entries.
Presumably as a result of having a screen on one side and a keyboard on the other, there's no vibration facility in the 9300. Combine that with a ringtone that's rather soft by default, and it's all too easy to miss calls; in one instance we picked up that a call was incoming because of the effect it had on nearby speaker equipment, rather than from hearing the ringtone or feeling the phone vibrating in a pocket.
The 9300 supports the use of MMC cards for additional storage, although annoyingly the MMC card is housed underneath the battery cover, although thankfully not under the battery itself. Still, if you're going to need to change the MMC quite often, you'll find yourself fiddling around with the battery cover quite a bit -- an MMC slot would have made this changeover a lot easier.
As a smart phone, the 9300 performs admirably, although if you're used to other smart phones it may take some getting used to Nokia's PC Suite software, rather than ActiveSync for transferring files and synchronising documents. The 9300's keyboard is too small for extended work, but if you're someone who doesn't like using normal SMS entry methods, it's a handy alternative, and it's certainly capable enough for small document editing.
Nokia rates the 9300's battery as lasting for 3-7 hours of talktime and between 150-200 hours on standby. In our testing we found that standby figure to be fairly accurate, with the phone managing around six days with very light phone use. The talktime figure didn't stand up quite as well, as during a period of heavier phone use we managed roughly 2 hours of talktime before the phone starting plaintively beeping its low battery alarm.
Like many smart phones, the asking price of the 9300 alone will keep it something of a luxury item, and unlike previous Communicators, there's a healthy amount of competition in this space these days. As an update to the Communicator line, however, it's a decent evolution of a design that's historically led the smart phone market.