- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 18, 2009

With computer companies venturing into the cell-phone game - Apple Inc., of course, as well as, reportedly, Dell - it was only a matter of time before a cell-phone company tried its hand at making a portable computer.

The Finnish mobile-phone giant Nokia has stepped up to offer an interesting portable device. The Nokia Booklet 3G, which you can buy for $599 or $299, does much of what a user would expect from a notebook - or, more properly, a “netbook.” But is it worth either price?

Let’s start with the reason for the two prices: Nokia or its dealers will sell you a Booklet 3G for $599 without a commitment to wireless data service. AT&T; will knock $300 off that price but will tie you to a two-year data-service contract, reportedly at about $60 per month.

Of course, for that data fee, you get access to AT&T;’s wireless data network, which I have found to be good in terms of speed and coverage, certain television commercials notwithstanding.

One big draw of the Booklet 3G, besides the built-in 3G data modem, is a reputed battery life of 12 hours. A short time window for this review, ironically, prevented a full test, but I will say that out of the box with less than 30 percent of battery life remaining, the computer showed nearly two hours of power. It fully charged rather quickly, and I would expect to get decent battery life when traveling. At the least, this computer should take a user across the country.

But would you want to take it with you? Frankly, I’m not 100 percent sold.

On the plus side, the Nokia Booklet 3G is a sleek, stylish and well-designed portable. The top lid is a high-impact plastic that’s good looking; the rest of the case is brushed metal. The keyboard is not impossibly small; my ham-fisted typing didn’t prove too much of a challenge.

On the negative side, the computer’s Windows 7 operating system comes in a “starter” version - something I’d never heard of before - and requires an $80 upgrade to a “regular” version of Windows 7. Frankly, for the price, users should get a full version of Windows 7. Also, I was less than thrilled at having to re-enter (twice!) the wired equivalency protocol, or WEP, key for my home wireless network at every logon, until I found the way to change the setting manually. As a default, you shouldn’t have to do that; the settings should be automatic. (My joy, however, was temporary: Restarting the Booklet 3G brought me back to square one.)

The AT&T; 3G connection, as noted before, was good, and, frankly, I like having the service built in. There are too many places (including Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International airports) where free Wi-Fi isn’t the norm.

The screen quality is very good, although without an optical drive, it’s not as easy to play DVD-quality movies. These would have to be downloaded and stored on the hard drive, which is all of 120 gigabytes, a decent but not overwhelming amount of storage.

Audio can be important, even in a netbook. But while the system supports stereo via Bluetooth and a hard-wired stereo headphone jack, the speaker sound may or may not have been stereophonic. I couldn’t tell. Frankly, it didn’t have the sound quality of even the lowest-cost Apple or Acer notebook computers.

If style matters as much (or more) than substance, the Booklet 3G might be a good purchase. But you’ll end up spending either a fair amount of money for the “unlocked” version or, alternately, you’ll spend almost $1,700 buying the machine via AT&T; when you add in the cost of the monthly data plan. (Yes, you get the data service in return, of course.)

Either way, I have a feeling that better values are out there.

c Send e-mail to mkellner@ washingtontimes.com.

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