Nokia Surge 6790 (AT&T) review: Nokia Surge 6790 (AT&T)

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The Good The Nokia Surge packs in a lot of features--a full HTML browser with Flash Lite support, 3G support, GPS--for an affordable price. The smartphone also provides access to social networking sites.

The Bad The phone has a number of design quirks and doesn't have the best build quality. You can't dial numbers without opening the keyboard.

The Bottom Line The Nokia Surge offers AT&T's younger customers an affordable, feature-rich smartphone, but it has a number of design and interface issues.

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6.3 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6

The Nokia 6790 Surge for AT&T is a bit of a departure for the Finnish handset manufacturer. You wouldn't know it just by looking at it, but the little guy is actually a smartphone like the Nokia N and E series devices. It runs on the Symbian S60 platform and includes Exchange support, a number of productivity tools, GPS, and 3G support just like the big boys. However, the Surge isn't intended for the same audience of business and power users as the others; instead, it's geared to a younger audience, offering easy access to social networking sites and a spacious full QWERTY keyboard for easy messaging. The wallet-friendly price tag of $79.99 with a two-year contract is also quite appealing, but realize you have to sign up for a data plan with it. We're not in love with the design, but the Nokia Surge definitely fills a gap in AT&T's lineup for its younger customers who are looking for something a little more full-featured than a basic messaging cell phone for a more affordable price.

When we first saw the Nokia Surge in pictures, we didn't quite know what to make of the design, and now that we have it in hand, well, it's interesting. The Surge is a lot smaller than we expected, measuring just 3.8 inches tall by 2.2 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick and 4.3 ounces. Even though the compact size is nice, we weren't so fond of the plasticky and slick feel of the phone, and the battery cover creaks at the slightest amount of pressure.

The Nokia Surge is quite compact, but we're not fond of its plasticky feel.

On front and slightly off center is Surge's 2.4-inch QVGA display. It shows 16 million colors at a 320x240-pixel resolution, and while it's clear and bright enough, it's definitely not as sharp or vibrant as some of the recent smartphones we've seen. Also, the user interface looks it belongs more on a basic cell phone than a smartphone, which has more to do with the aging Symbian operating system. The screen is also on the smaller side, so there was a bit more scrolling involved and it wasn't the best for viewing videos and Web pages. Plus, it's a magnet for fingerprints and smudges.

That said, you'll most likely be using the phone in landscape mode a lot of the time, so at least you get a wider viewing area when the screen is horizontal. To make things easier for you, the display has a built-in accelerometer, so the screen orientation will automatically switch from portrait to landscape mode when you rotate the phone. The accelerometer was fast, and the screen changed with minimal to no delay. However, we did notice that some of the onscreen icons looked jagged as if the screen was about to go on the fritz, though it never did during our testing period.

Surrounding the display is a handful of navigation controls and shortcuts. Below the display (when the phone is held vertically), you have the standard soft keys, Talk and End buttons, and a four-way directional keypad with a center select button, and to the left, there are shortcut buttons to the browser, main menu page, and messages. Though they're handy for navigating the phone, we have to say the buttons are stiff to press, and the phone creaks when trying to punch them. Another annoyance is that you have to slide open the phone to dial any numbers not in your address book.

The one bright spot about the Surge's design is the spacious full QWERTY keyboard.

While we aren't huge fans of the above controls, we were quite happy with the full QWERTY keyboard. You can get to it by pushing the screen to the right, and the sliding mechanism is smooth and securely locks into place. The keyboard buttons are nice and large and don't feel too squishy or flat, so the typing experience is great.

On top of the device, you'll find the speaker, a 2.5mm headset jack, and the power connector, which is protected by an attached cover. The microUSB port on the left side also has a protective cap, which we appreciate, but they're both difficult to remove and get in the way when trying to connect the respective cables. There's a volume rocker and camera activation/capture key on the right. Finally, the camera is located on the back, while the microSD expansion slot can be found behind the battery cover.

AT&T packages the Nokia Surge with an AC adapter, reference material (CD and paper), and that's it. Though we realize it's an entry-level device, it would have been nice if at least a USB cable was thrown in the box. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.

Don't let its small size fool you; the Nokia Surge is feature-packed and a full-fledged smartphone running on the Symbian's S60 platform. While the operating system is looking quite outdated compared to some of the competition, it can still get the job done with Microsoft Exchange synchronization as well as support for personal e-mail accounts, such as Yahoo, Windows Live, and Gmail. The handset also comes with the QuickOffice suite for working with Office documents, and a number of other productivity tools, including a PDF reader, voice recorder, and calendar among other things. While all these features are definitely useful to the mobile professional, the Surge isn't exactly a business device; in fact, it's billed as a "socially supercharged smartphone."

To that point, the Surge comes preloaded with an app called JuiceCaster, which allows you to post messages, updates, photos, and videos to existing social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and Flickr or JuiceCaster's own network. AT&T is also trying to get into the social game and will launch an AT&T Share Application for Facebook through its AT&T Freedom of Choice Facebook page, where users can become fans and win various prizes through a points system. JuiceCaster itself is pretty intuitive though a little kludgey to navigate with all the various options and tabs. Also, there's a bit of work involved if you want to post media to your Facebook and MySpace pages, as you have allow access, embed some code, and so forth.

To upload images and videos to such sites, you have a couple of options. You can grab files already stored on the phone's 120MB of internal memory or you can choose media that's saved on a microSD card (the Surge accepts up 8GB cards). The Nokia Surge also has a 2-megapixel camera with video recording capabilities so you can capture moments on the go.

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