Review: Nokia 5230
One of the great truths about smartphones is that you should always match a phone to your actual needs. The Nokia 5230, despite falling short of expectations, is an intelligent device that offers a wealth of unique features. Whether these features match your needs is the real question.
Before covering the failings, let’s cover the basic advantages of using this phone. The Nokia 5230 is the bargain-bin version of the flagship phone, the Nokia N97.
Yet, the N97 is the touchscreen phone set to compete with the Apple iPhone and just about every Android, Palm and Windows Phone device.
As the entry-level version of the N97, the Nokia 5230 is about £118, or about half the cost of competing smartphones that run well over £200.
That’s an attractive price point – one that provides all the functionality of a touchscreen device, apps galore, GPS, media playback, a 2MP camera with advanced options such as setting ISO level, and 4GB of storage (on an included microSD card).
What you don’t get is Wi-Fi, and that is one of the major problems with this device. Wi-Fi is useful because it means you can continue using the device inside when your carrier service goes AWOL or when you want to download huge files.
The Nokia 5230 also lacks a full hardware keyboard, runs a bit slow at times, has a confusing turn-by-turn voice nav for GPS routing (although the phone supports many languages), low camera quality at just 2 megapixels, and a few minor glitches.
In the box Nokia has included the typical charger, manual, and a pair of earbuds with a 3.5mm connector that you will likely discard for a much more adequate set. Our test unit included a 4GB card already inserted into a side compartment, which is included with every Nokia 5230.
It’s no secret that the Symbian S60v5 OS is an acquired taste. Yet, millions have acquired it, and swear by it, so we won’t debate all of the merits and demerits here.
Suffice to say, the OS does not work at all like an iPhone or Android phone. In some ways, it is akin to the Windows versus Linux debate, and Symbian is definitely more like Linux, where you can perform some functions that are not possible or difficult with other phones.
For example, when you install an app, it is easy to see how much memory it will use and the version number.
While this is a perk for an advanced user willing to pay more for the Nokia N97, it is a problem on the Nokia 5230 – intended for new smartphone users or at least those who do not want to pay big bucks for a phone that has every bell and whistle.
The Nokia 5230 interface does require a learning period. For starters, there are three hardware buttons along the bottom of the phone: a green Call button, a Menu button that shows you the installed apps and an End Call button.
At times, you might wonder if you should press the End Call button to back out of an app (in most cases, you should) or press the Exit or OK button on screen.
It’s fairly inconsistent – you have to pay attention to what’s on the screen a bit more than with other phones.
You also can’t move apps around on the screen, hold down on one to see an option to delete it, or add widgets for, say, adjusting screen brightness quickly. What this means initially is some fumbling around to find basic options.
The Nokia 5230 is also not a tremendously speedy phone, at 434MHz, so there are times when you might press a button and the Nokia 5230 fails to register the click.
This can seem like a touchscreen quality problem, but the touch sensitivity is quite adequate – it is just that the phone is too slow to keep up with simple finger presses at times.
Navigating on the phone is a bit tough, but you quickly get used to basic operations. It’s easy to fire up the GPS app (Ovi Maps 3.0) or press the green Call button to access the phone dialler.
There are a few cool tricks to using the phone. For example, there’s a dedicated camera button you can use to start the camera app (which shoots photos and video).
This button is positioned on the lower right side of the phone (when in a vertical orientation) to encourage horizontal use.
Another perk is that the Nokia 5230 happens to have a well-implemented lock button on the right side of the phone. You just slide the button down.
This makes it hard to accidentally power up the phone when it is in a laptop bag or in your pocket, which saves on battery power. It also avoids the ‘press this on-screen button to unlock’ annoyance.
Anyone who is used to an iPhone or Android device knows you can easily flick on the screen to move down to see additional apps or more content on a website.
However, on the Nokia 5230, you have to drag a slider down to see more of the screen. You might find yourself swiping on the screen, only to realise you have started an app.
And, adding insult to injury, because the phone tends to run slow, this induces some frustration as you wait for the app to start and then close it. This is one of the 5230’s most annoying quirks.
Call quality on the Nokia 5230 is outstanding for a bargain-level phone. With T-Mobile service, we never had any problems with dropped calls, faulty connections, or distortion either on the phone (what we heard) or the other end of the line (what our caller heard).
Adding contacts for dialling is also slick and easy, although the Nokia 5230 does not aggregate contacts from multiple social networks (like the Motorola Milestone or Palm Pre, or the upcoming Windows Phone 7 devices).
Nokia does offer a Facebook app for the Nokia 5230 and, really, social networking apps tend to pop up on the phone in unexpected places. For example, when you snap a photo, you can upload it to your Vox.com blog account.
Messaging lives or dies by how well the soft keyboard works on phones without a real QWERTY keyboard, and the Nokia 5230 is definitely alive and kicking by this standard.
The keyboard is responsive and accurate. In fact, we had more problems with accuracy on an HTC Hero than on this phone.
The accelerometer that senses whether you are in horizontal or vertical orientation also worked well – it’s important in those times when you really need to type a message in landscape mode with the full soft QWERTY keyboard.
There were a few times when the Nokia 5230 flipped back to horizontal when we nudged it in the wrong direction, something the Nexus One and iPhone rarely do – but a problem that plagues models by HTC.
For the most part, the messaging apps – for texting and email – worked well, but we did notice a slight lag on this phone for basic operations, such as composing a new message.
Once again, the slower-than-average processor is just not fast enough to keep pace with a fast-fingered messaging aficionado.
We decided to test this theory and did a side-by-side comparison between the Nokia 5230 and a Nokia N900 – with its speedy operating system and 600MHz processor. Sure enough, composing an email was much faster on the N900 smartphone.
One complaint here is that the Google Mail client for Symbian did not work correctly on the Nokia 5230 – it seems to assume you have a hardware keyboard and does not bring up the software version correctly.
The simple workaround is to access Gmail from the browser or configure the built-in email client to access your Gmail account.
The lack of Wi-Fi means email attachments take a while to download to your phone, but once they do, we had no problems opening Word documents and viewing photos on the Nokia 5230 – even if we had to wait a few seconds.
There were no huge surprises for internet browsing, other than a nicely configured home screen when you start the browser initially.
It shows links to several popular services, including Yahoo Mail, Facebook, news channels and Mapquest. Large icons for making bookmarks, typing in a URL and accessing browser settings make it easy to surf.
The only real gripe here is that the phone screen, at 640 x 360 pixels (about the size of two fingers side by side), is a bit small for reading text on a web page.
The screen quality – while bright and clear – does not match the sheer crispness and quality of the Google Nexus One, which uses OLED technology.
Of course, the lack of Wi-Fi rears its ugly visage here as well. Sites loaded slowly over a typical 3G connection, and not nearly as fast as they do over Wi-Fi.
And, while web page rendering worked fine for sites like ESPN.com and Gmail, there is a long lag on rich sites – like IGN.com – as they load in the background.
Combined with the slow processor, lack of Wi-Fi makes the Nokia 5230 a poor choice as a web device.
If the slow speed and lack of Wi-Fi keep coming up as problems on the Nokia 5230, one saving grace is the exceptional camera.
The quality is actually no better than an iPhone – at two megapixels, you won’t be submitting your stunning images to a glossy photo magazine any time soon.
Yet, the Nokia 5230 provides some slick camera features beyond just setting the white balance (which helps you adjust lighting options so that subjects appear the correct colour).
For example, this is one of the only phones that lets you set exposure level (amount of light allowed in through the lens) and ISO speed (how quickly the shutter opens and closes).
The Nokia 5230 also has settings for a self-timer, multiple shots in sequence, colour and contrast level options, and sharpness level.
All of these settings do lead to better photos. In a scene with some ducks on a river, the exposure settings provided a slick way to brighten up a photo before ever using Photoshop.
With the self-timer, it was possible to take a family portrait without having to relegate one family member to being the photographer.
Unfortunately, like every other cameraphone except the beefier N900 and maybe the Motorola Milestone, the Nokia 5230 is just too light for serious photography. It’s too easy to set up a nice shot, then nudge the camera a bit and take a blurry photo.
For video, this lighter-than-air problem is a bigger problem. It is difficult to hold the phone steady enough for any real video clips unless you rest it on a table or chair. Even then, it’s hard to record a video that isn’t jerky and unwatchable.
The Nokia 5230 is an entry-level smartphone, and this becomes readily apparent with media playback.
It’s just too difficult to find music and movies, and the Ovi store is still a work in progress (at times, the Ovi apps even failed to open the store at all).
Lacking the Apple iTunes store or a robust partnership with Amazon for buying songs, the Nokia 5230 is just an average media phone.
Playback quality for music was fine, but videos tended to stutter a bit due to the slower processor.
The phone has a 3.5mm headphone jack and comes with a 4GB microSD card – which is expandable up to 16GB.
If you do load up a bunch of songs, the music player is just adequate – it lacks any useful album cover viewer (you can view album cover art but you can’t flip through them like you can on the iPhone).
There is an FM radio on the Nokia 5230, and it worked well for several news and sports channels, but the music quality, even on earbuds, was just passable.
You can record voice memos to yourself, but the Nokia 5230 lacks the advanced features of, say, the Nexus One in terms of easily sharing these memos when you connect to your PC.
A light smartphone usually has one drawback: the battery is just not big enough to hold a charge.
Fortunately, the Nokia 5230 lasted all day (about 8 hours) playing music and video occasionally, making frequent calls – but otherwise having the device on standby – without seeing the battery die.
The Nokia 5230 battery life benefits from the slide lock button that prevent accidental power-ups, which can even occur on an iPhone.
Nokia says the Nokia 5230 will last for several days if you just use it for music and disable all of the other connections, such as 3G and Bluetooth.
Battery time over GSM is much longer – a rated 7 hours – compared to WCDMA, which lasts about four hours.
The tricky trade-off here is that it depends greatly on how many calls you make, whether you have music and video playing on the device, and if you use Bluetooth.
On the plus side, since there is no Wi-Fi, you won’t drain the battery that way.
The Nokia 5230 falls short when it comes to keeping you organised, for several reasons.
One is just the phone speed – there is often a delay when you pull up a contact or view your Google Calendar as the phone struggles to keep pixels moving on the screen.
There were times when it was easier to pop open a laptop and look up a web contact or check a task list on Plaxo than to try to visit these sites on the phone.
And, there are precious few apps available for business users who are serious about staying in contact, on schedule, and on task at all times. The Nokia 5230 is an ideal calling phone, has good media options, and lasts all day on one charge, but lacks business features.
There is an alarm clock that enables you to set up multiple alarms through the day, and an app for recording memos to yourself, but not the wealth of built-in apps for jotting down notes or managing voice mail like there is on other phones.
The Nokia Nokia 5230 connects to 3G and Bluetooth devices as expected. We were impressed with how the device connected easily to both Mac and PC laptops to upload and download files over a Bluetooth connection, a feature that the iPhone lacks.
We tested the Nokia 5230 with multiple Bluetooth adaptors and even in a car with Ford Sync technology and the Nokia 5230 paired quickly and efficiently.
The lack of Wi-Fi is an important issue, though, for those who need a speedier connection to download larger files, send images to an online photo service, grab large file attachments or stream audio with an app such as Pandora.
One of the great strengths of the Nokia 5230, however, is that it supports GPS navigation (with turn-by-turn spoken instructions) and Ovi maps.
Nokia calls this “lifetime GPS” because you never have to pay for the turn-by-turn instructions. The Nokia 5230 also has a free TeleNav app with voice nav, but only as a 30-day trial.
It is also worth mentioning that the Nokia 5230 is a capable, if underpowered, gaming device. Our model included several commercial titles, including Guitar Hero 5 for mobile and Need for Speed Shift.
These games are colourful, control well, and have some entertaining gameplay features, but tend to run a bit slow on the Nokia 5230 compared to the N97 and other Nokia models.
A smartphone is a trusted gadget you rely on every day. It is not just an accessory you might need occasionally as you type away on a laptop.
As such, a phone must be capable of doing much more than just a simple calling device: it must be expandable (both with apps and with more memory) and easy to use.
As an entry-level model at an affordable price, the Nokia 5230 is a good choice for those who can live without some of the latest perks of more modern smartphones, such as Wi-Fi and a full-size hardware keyboard.
We question some of the interface challenges on this device – menus you have to wade through to find the option you want.
And, slow processing speed meant running even simple apps such as the contact manager caused some frustration.
While this will be a major issue for more advanced smartphone users, it will only become a minor annoyance for those who primarily just need to access email and text messages, make calls, and browse the web a few times per day.
The most important realisation with the Nokia 5230 is that it is not intended as a power user device and just does the smartphone basics.
Basically the Nokia 5230 would be an outstanding touchscreen phone about four years ago. Today, it is just an average buy for the price.