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

Nokia Surge 6790 (AT&T)

Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
Bonnie Cha
8 min read


Nokia Surge 6790 (AT&T)

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.

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.

On back, you'll find the Surge's 2-megapixel camera.

The camera offers all of the standard options, including quality and resolution settings, various capture modes, white balance settings, a self-timer, and more. Picture quality, however, wasn't all that great, as images looked hazy and had a bluish tone. On the other hand, recorded video clips looked decent, with a pretty clear picture and minimal blurring.

However, we weren't too impressed by the photo quality.

Moving from the social to more of the Nokia Surge's core competencies, as a phone, the Surge offers quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, speed dialing, three-way calling, conference calling, voice commands, and text and multimedia messaging. The address book is only limited to the available memory (the SIM card can hold an additional 250 contacts) and allows you to attach multiple numbers, e-mail addresses, job title, and other personal information to a contact. You can also make video calls with AT&T's Video Share service, but note that the recipient must also have a Video Share-compatible phone, and the service costs $4.99 per month. Bluetooth 2.0 is onboard with support for mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets, hands-free kits, object push profile, dial-up networking, AV remote, and more.

The Surge is also 3G-capable (HSDPA 850/1900MHz), so in addition to making the Web browsing experience snappier, AT&T's 3.5G network should help with streaming media services, such as AT&T Music and AT&T Video, which are both supported on the phone. Hopefully, AT&T's 3G network is pretty reliable where you live because the smartphone doesn't have integrated Wi-Fi.

For an entry-level smartphone, the Surge beats out some of the big boys with a full HTML Web browser with Flash Lite support. With the latter, you'll have a smoother browsing experience and will be able to enjoy streaming music and video right from the browser. We were able pull up YouTube just fine, but it required several tries to get videos to play. Once going, the stream was mostly smooth, though every once in a while a video would need to rebuffer.

If you just can't get enough video, the Surge also ships with the MobiTV app, and there are plenty of other entertainment options as well, including a built-in media player (supports AAC, AAC+ v1, AAC+ v2, WAV, MP3, WMA 9, and RealAudio10 files), FM and XM radios, and a handful of games.

Last but not least, the Nokia Surge offers GPS/A-GPS with support for AT&T Navigator. With this location-based service, you can get real-time tracking, data, voice-guided directions, and other navigation tools. Currently, AT&T Navigator is free for the first 30 days, but afterward, you will be charged $9.99 per month unless you cancel the feature.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; HSDPA 850/1900) Nokia Surge in San Francisco using AT&T service and call quality was OK. Voices sounded a bit tinny on our end of the conversation, and the call would cut out every once in a while, so we'd have to ask our friends to repeat themselves. Our callers weren't particularly impressed with the audio quality, either. Some reported slight crackling noises, while others said we just didn't sound very clear. Speakerphone quality wasn't particularly notable. While not pristine, there was plenty of volume, and we were able to carry on conversations with no problems.

We paired the Surge with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones. We weren't huge fans of the sound quality of the latter, but they came in handy for listening to music since the Surge isn't outfitted with a 3.5mm headphone jack and we didn't have access to an audio adapter or compatible headphones. As with phone calls, the phone's speakers pumped out music with loud volume, though we're not sure how many friends you'll make by blasting your tunes through the speaker.

AT&T's 3G coverage was a bit spotty here in San Francisco and didn't exactly deliver blazing speeds, either. CNN's and ESPN's mobile sites, which usually come up in 10 seconds or less, took 50 seconds and 45 seconds, respectively. Meanwhile, CNET"s full site took 1 minute and 46 seconds to load.

The Nokia Surge features a 1500mAh lithium ion battery and has a rated talk time of 4.7 hours (4 hours on 3G) and up to 16 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, the Surge delivered 10.25 hours of talk time on a single charge.


Nokia Surge 6790 (AT&T)

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 6