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Editors' note: Portions of this review were taken from our evaluation of the Nokia N8, as the two smartphones come with similar software.
Announced at CTIA 2011, the Nokia Astound is essentially a rebranded version of the Nokia C7, which was introduced back in October 2010. The sleek-looking smartphone offers an 8-megapixel camera, Wi-Fi calling, and a wallet-friendly price tag of $79.99 with a two-year contract. However, it also runs Symbian 3, which still lags behind the competition and faces an uncertain future. The price is attractive, but still, is the phone really worth it? We set out to find out.
For all the criticism that Nokia gets, one thing it has always done well is make solid hardware, and the Nokia Astound is no exception. Made with high-quality materials, including a glass display and stainless-steel battery door, the Astound feels like a premium device. It's ultrasleek at just 4.62 inches tall by 2.24 inches wide by 0.41 inch thick and 4.58 ounces, which is a nice departure from some of the larger smartphones we've seen of late. The Astound is attractive to boot, with its frosty metal color and chrome accents.
The phone's AMOLED capacitive touch screen measures 3.5 inches diagonally and has a 640x360-pixel resolution. Admittedly, it's not the latest and greatest in display technology, but considering the price, we weren't expecting that. The screen is still sharp and bright enough that reading text and viewing multimedia isn't painful. There's pinch-to-zoom support and a built-in accelerometer so you can zoom in and increase your viewing area for Web pages, for example.
The touch screen was responsive, though the smartphone's general sluggishness affects the launching of applications and the pinch-to-zoom gesture. The Astound offers both a landscape and a portrait keyboard. The latter is a welcome addition, since the Astound's predecessor, the Nokia N8, didn't have one. However, the keyboard is quite cramped, so we suggest switching to Swype instead, which is preinstalled on the phone.
In addition to the touch screen, there are Talk and End keys and a menu button below the display. The right spine features a volume rocker, a mute button, a lock switch, and a dedicated camera key. There's a power port on the left, but unfortunately it and the included AC adapter use a nonstandard micro-pin connector. The good news is that you can charge the phone using the Micro-USB port on top, though you'll have to supply your own charger. The top of the phone also has a 3.5mm headphone jack and a power button, and the camera and dual LED flash are located on the back.
The Nokia Astound comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired stereo headset, and reference material.
Though Nokia has partnered with Microsoft to make Windows Phone its primary operating system going forward, the Finnish cell phone manufacturer said it's still committed to Symbian and will continue to support the platform in future products. The Nokia Astound is one such product.
The Astound runs on Symbian 3.1, so as with the N8 you get three home screen panels, which you can customize with various widgets for your messages, social networks, music player, favorite contacts, RSS feeds, and so forth. The widgets can provide you with a quick preview of the latest information, and if you want to see more you can tap on the widget to launch the individual application.
The main menu is pretty much the same, presenting a grid view of your applications (you can change to list view if you prefer). One of our favorite features is that if you long-press the menu key below the screen it will bring up a thumbnail view of all your running applications. From there, you can scroll through the list to switch between tasks or exit out of an app completely.
The biggest improvement in this version of Symbian is that it offers a single-tap interaction model across the user interface. This means that unlike with past Symbian S60 devices like the Nokia N97 Mini, you'll no longer have to go through multiple steps to complete a simple task or muddle through the confusion of which menus require one tap or two.
Still, there are times where you have to dig through menus to accomplish a task. For example, to reply to an e-mail you must first hit Options and then choose reply. Meanwhile, in Android, the reply option is on the same page as the e-mail. The navigational experience was made all the more frustrating by occasional "memory full" error messages when we were simply trying to cycle through the home screens.
The one-tap UI might make Symbian easier to use, but the OS simply doesn't compare to the ease of use, flow, and polished look of competing operating systems, namely Android, iOS, and even Windows Phone.
The Nokia Astound offers quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, speed dial, conference calling, voice dialing, a vibrate mode, active noise cancellation, and text and multimedia messaging with threaded chat view. The phone's wireless feature, include Bluetooth 3.0, 3G support, and Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n). The Astound also supports T-Mobile's Wi-Fi calling feature, which allows you to make calls over a Wi-Fi network. There is no additional charge for the service, but be aware that the minutes are deducted from your regular voice plan.
The phone's address book is only limited by the available memory, and the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts. Unlike other operating systems, the Astound doesn't automatically pull and sync contact information from your various e-mail accounts and social networking sites. It does so for Exchange, but you have to use other tools, such as the Ovi service, to get the rest of your contacts synced with the phone.
The Astound is compatible with multiple e-mail protocols, including Exchange, Lotus Notes, and POP3/IMAP accounts, and offers HTML and folder support. For social networking, there is a Nokia Social client that works as a feed for your Facebook and Twitter accounts and allows you to quickly update your status or comment on your friends' activities. However, the app is limited to just those two networks.
The smartphone also comes preloaded with the Quickoffice suite, a PDF reader, a ZIP manager, a voice recorder, a dedicated YouTube app, and Ovi Maps, which offers offline maps and free turn-by-turn navigation. Slacker Radio and Fruit Ninja Lite are thrown in for good measure. You can find more apps in the Ovi Store. The storefront is lacking a bit in both selection of titles and visual appeal, but at least purchases are made easy with carrier billing. The Astound has 8GB of mass memory and the expansion slot can support cards of up to 32GB.
The Astound has an adequate music player, but Nokia continues to excel in the area of imaging. The Astound is equipped with an 8-megapixel camera with a dual LED flash and the capability to shoot 720p HD video, as well as a host of editing options and tools, such as face detection, white balance controls, ISO settings, and color tones.
Picture quality was impressive. Even in a dimly lit room, colors were rich and vibrant and the objects in the photo were sharp. Video quality was also good. Unlike with some other camera phones, we didn't notice any major graininess or haziness in recorded clips.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Nokia Astound in New York using T-Mobile service and call quality was good. There was very little to no background noise on our side of the call, even during lulls in the conversation, so although voices could occasionally sound muffled, we had no difficulty understanding our callers. Callers didn't note any major problems with audio quality on their end either.
Nokia Astound call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone quality was decent. The audio was slightly tinny but clear. There was just enough volume to hear our callers in a room where the TV was on in the background. We were able to pair the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones and had no problems making calls or listening to music.
The Astound has a WebKit-based browser, with support for Flash Lite 4.0, multiple windows, and a dedicated address bar. Using T-Mobile's 3G service, we were able to load CNET's full page in 27 seconds, while the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN came up in 11 seconds and 7 seconds respectively. YouTube videos loaded within a few seconds and played back without interruption, but picture quality was a bit pixelated.
Powered by a 680MHz ARM 11 processor, the Nokia Astound struggles sometimes in the performance department. As we mentioned in the Design section, there were lags when opening apps, and though we didn't experience any system crashes, there were delays that were long enough to make us wonder if we needed to reboot.
The Nokia Astound ships with a 1,200mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 9.5 hours and standby time of up to 23 days for 2G, and a rated 5 hours of talk time and up to 27 days of standby time for 3G. We are still conducting our battery drain tests but will update this section as soon as we have final results. So far, with moderate use, we've been able to go a full day before needing to recharge the battery. According to FCC radiation tests, the Astound has a digital SAR rating of 1.53W/kg.
The Nokia Astound isn't a bad device. It has a beautiful design and offers great call quality. The excellent camera is an added bonus. If those features are on the top of your want list, then we'd say the Astound is a perfectly fine choice. However, if you want a richer smartphone experience, then we recommend looking at something like the LG Optimus T, which offers a better user experience, access to more apps, and fuller integration of social networks, among other things. It's also a better value since it costs less ($39.99 with contract at the time of this review) than the Astound.