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Thread: Nokia 603 Mini Review - World-Class Symbian Belle

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    Nokia 603 Mini Review - World-Class Symbian Belle

    Have owned Nokia, Samsung, Apple, etc. in the past, and a very heavy tech geek that's been in computing for decades. Yes, have seen the original brick cell phones from the 80s, Startacs, etc.

    A brief comparison chart for the various top OSs out today.
    (You can find more in-depth coverage elsewhere, naturally.)

    Android Apple BB Belle Symb.WP
    Apps +++ ++++ ++ ++ +
    Flash YES NO NO YES NO
    FM RADIO Limited NO NO YES NO
    FM Transmitter NO NO NO Limited NO
    Accessories ++ ++++ +++ ++ +
    OS Upgrade Limited ~3 gens ~2-3 gen ~2 years ~2 OS releases
    HW Encryption Limited NO YES YES NO
    Flash card slot YES NO YES YES NO
    BUGS LOTS SOME FEW FEW SOME
    Drag&Drop Media NO Media Media NO
    FREE GPS maps NO NO NO YES Limited models
    with voice navi
    and offline-able.
    16:9 widescreen Some NO NO YES NO
    Languages I/O ++++ ++++ +++ ++ +++

    The Nokia 603 is a modern 1Ghz single-core smartphone with a 5MP digital camera capable of 720p video recordings. Unlike most other smartphones, it adds a FM radio and a built-in GPS unit with free, downloadable, off-line-able maps with voice navigation - it is essentially a stand-alone, fully functional camera/video camcorder/FM radio/GPS when you do not have a SIM card in this phone! Downloadable maps include almost all major travel countries in the world, so you can easily navigate without spending a cent for 3G data ala Gooble Maps.

    Symbian Belle is the latest generation out today and it is on par in terms of speed and functionality with the other major OSs across most categories of importance to most common users - Web browsing, taking photos and videos, sending texts and emails, opening Office document attachments, navigating places with maps, and watching and listening to user videos and music in memory, and watching streaming videos and music.

    The design of the unit is beautful, with curves and a warm plastic touch all around - much better than cold, heavy metal edged designs. The 16:9 widescreen display naturally leads to a pocketable phone, more so than a heavier, bulkier iPhone 3Gs. It's a very comfortable phone to grasp & use one-handed, unlike other wider phones.

    Volume buttons allow you to control the FM/Music Player volume at any time, even with a locked screen.
    The power button allows you to quickly turn off the unit in seconds, or change modes - silent or not, offline or not. Power off is fast - just a few seconds. Powering up takes a few dozen, but faster than an iPhone 3GS.

    The BEST button? One green call button allows you instant access to the DIALPAD from any application. Unlike other, silly smartphones that are quite dumb about how many steps it takes to bring up the Dialpad (exception is the Blackberry), the Nokia 603 is a godsend for those calling many numbers every day. One button press and you can start dialing a new client number. (Yes, there's the contacts list for people you call often, but if you need to call many numbers you don't have a need to add to your contacts lists, this is a must-have.)

    Other reviews go into greater depth regarding each point.

    -----Screen-----

    It's blessed with an IPS screen that has a very good double-polarizer layer on top, called ClearBlack by Nokia, and pumps out a maximum of 800 nits. IPS screens are the top-of-the-line TFT screen types available, and just short of the very best OLED screens. Power consumption is naturally higher for TFT screens than OLEDs, and the IPS screens do have a slightly different, though not worse, RGB response in regards to video blur.

    In a direct comparison with the iPhone 4S, with both the 4S and 603 turned to maximum brightness, the 603 easily matches the 4S and is perhaps a touch brighter. Certainly, the 701 has an even brighter 1000 nit rated display, but these phones are already bright-enough to see clearly in direct sunlight.

    The color temperature of the 603 is warm (ie. shades of white more yellow/red) whereas the 4S is cold (ie. shades of white more blue). Thus, users looking at the Photodisc Printer Test Target will find that the babies faces photos look 'more realistic and rosier' on the 603 than the 4S, side-by-side.

    The ClearBlack display is gorgeous and is noticably better and black levels than the iPhone 4S. Naturally, OLED screens are even better, but in all but candle/night lamp/pure darkness situations, blacks are black. In photos of sunsets, shadow hidden areas appear true black in almost all other viewing conditions. In pure darkness, you can see reviews elsewhere - there is slight light bleed throughout, but far better than on the iPhone 4S, and the effect mostly is unnoticable playing videos in a 100% dark room.

    Direct sunlight contrast and visibility is great, so absolutely no issues here as the phone will automatically set the backlight to maximum brightness and the ClearBlack polarizing panels cut out annoying reflections. Interestingly, the middle setting (level 3 out of level 1 to 5) can even be a touch too bright for indoor use, and using the darker level 2 is perfectly fine given the auto-brightness when heading outdoors.

    Happily as well, the screen is a perfect 16:9 ratio due to the 640x360 resolution. Thus, widescreen DVDs, videos, and such can be played on the Nokia 603 using the full width and height of the screen! No annoying black, letterboxing or video cropping during playback here. While this seems 'obvious', try to find another smartphone brand that has such! iPhones come with a 4:3 display, BB's, WP, etc. all generally have non-16:9 displays.

    While the iPhone 4S has a higher resolution screen, both are sufficient for clearly displaying roman fonts down to the 1mm tall level; Asian characters could benefit from the 4S screen at this size. BUT, few would ever need or wish to endure squinting so close at their smartphones to read such tiny words, and at the typical, larger font sizes for browsing the web, a difference emerges. The iPhone 4S can display more words in a line, but fewer lines vertically. The Nokia 603 can display less words in a line at once, but more lines vertically. Thus, you can skim more headlines on the 603, read more without rotating on the 4S. Naturally, the issue is moot when reading long lines if you rotate to landscape mode.

    The screen resolution at this screen size is more than sufficient to provide a crisp, HD-like view of videos, fonts, etc. at normal viewing distances. No annoying jaggies.

    ---Web & Messaging---

    The most important for most users for communication are messaging and web access.

    Here, the messaging covers all available types - SMS, MMS, voice messaging, email - as well as the ability to download attachments and include attachments of any type. Built-in QuickOffice allows you to read Office documents and PDFs, while an inexpensive upgrade allows for full editing. Opening PDFs of 300+ pages pose no problem at all, and scrolling through such ebooks is quick and easy due to the fast CPU. Later, in an upcoming release of Belle this year, Microsoft Web Apps will be fully integrated as well - quite exciting! The built-in text-to-speech allows you to have the phone read texts to you if you so choose. And ZIP program lets you open up *.zip attachments.

    Email allows for IMAP, POP and connectivity to common webmail services such as Yahoo! Mail. Naturally, it's a one-stop service that allows you to easily integrate multiple accounts into one handy mailbox to check on-the-go. Threading and non-threaded views are available depending your preference, too.

    The built-in web browser handles most websites without a problem and the built-in Flash Player allows you to visit many streaming video sites that you cannot with other phones that lack such. The popular YouTube videos open up in the built-in video player full-screen, and Flash web advertisements can be seen across various sites.

    Of note, the free YouTube Downloader app instantly lets you surf across YouTube and download any video in 360, 720, or 1080 formats to your memory card! When used over a WiFi connection, you can load your phone with videos to watch on-the-go and avoid expensive 3G data charges. An extremely convenient app that is a must-have for any heavy video nut!

    Additionally, the free Nokia Internet Radio app allows you to play all of the streaming Shoutcast and other standard online radio feeds all day long. Quite nice when you've run out of FM radio options.

    Since the web browser is WebKit-based, the capabilities of such are naturally limited by whatever WebKit version is included, but will be similar to whatever Apple is using since they are the ones creating the WebKit releases in the first place. Future Belle OS updates will naturally add further functionality such as advanced HTML 5 capabilities.

    Aside from the more-than-sufficient-for-daily-tasks built-in browser, the Nokia 603 can also run the latest generation of Opera Mobile and Opera Mini web browsers customized for the Symbian platform. Opera Mobile allows for easy bookmark sync'ing with the deskop Opera web browser, and allows you to visit many websites with better scrolling, text selection, and fast zooming that the built-in browser. A recommended second web browser to include. Opera Mini is more limited in that it tries to bring up the mobile version of websites and compresses everything on Opera's servers prior to display, but it can save a very significant amount of bandwidth! Pages that take MBs of data can be sent in KBs, thus saving those on a pay-per-byte data plan quite a bit of money! All three browsers are recommended since none are 100% identical to the desktop Internet Explorer standard, and the occassional, poorly designed site will open in one of the alternatives.

    Page loading is naturally quickest in Opera Mini - pages like dpreview.com, wsj.com, etc. load snappily for the single-core CPU the 603 has, and quite decent when compare to even faster quad-core smartphones. Generally, there is no issue even using the built-in browser when searching - you can even set up a search widget right on your main screen so you can type and search without having to first open a browser. All three are convenient, do their jobs well, and generally don't get in your way when you're searching, reading web email, looking at the latest news and gossip, etc.

    Memory and CPU is sufficient to allow for 5+ open heavy sites at the same time, so more than enough for most users. And while the built-in browser lets you download to one default location, Opera does allow you to download large files (at least 1gb) from the web to any location on the internal or external memory. Quite convenient over WiFi when grabbing large files for work and play.

    ---PHOTOS & VIDEOS---

    Photos and video taking is easy, and comes with all the usual modes most camera are expected to have today.
    You can adjust ISO, exposure, color balance, etc. Set a slower shutter speed, night mode, etc.
    A simple long-press on the camera button brings up the camera, and a touch switches between 5MP camera and 720p video mode.

    The Nokia 603 uses a hyperfocal lens, meaning it is set so that everything from about 50cm to infinity is in sharp focus.

    The single disadvantage is that when framing something smaller than a standard piece of paper, the images will be fuzzy. Thus, when you attempt to take photos of small objects, you must keep your distance and crop later.

    The big advantage is that you do not ever wait for the camera to focus ala slow iPhones! Since everything is always sharply focused from 50cm out, you can take photos as quickly as the phone allows, and move about when taking videos while not worrying about unfocused subjects. This is a very nice feature for most users and takes that problem of fuzzy focus away from blessed 603 users.

    The white balance is generally very good - sunlit koi in ponds to snaps of buildings and people come out as expected - contrast, sharp, richly colored, vibrant. Slight shifts indoors and at night, but still quite accurate and realistic. Both video and photos are sharp enough to replace an iPhone 3Gs with (which also has a 5MP camera), so no worries here.

    Videos are recorded at 720p at ~12,000kbits/second H.264/AVC, which is more than sufficient for nice-looking video recordings. Zooming is allowed during videography by pressing the volume buttons or on-screen controls. The zoom moves smoothly through the fine steps, so you can easily frame without much worry.

    The microphone is naturally not a professional, wind-socked mic, so you will hear lots of buffetting on windy days. You'll have to carry a seperate HQ voice recorder or mic setup if you are serious about recording film quality sound for your projects. Otherwise, it's decent for basic smartphone videos.

    The built-in, FREE video editor is quite powerful when compared to others like iMovie for the iPhone, feature for price-wise. All the usual 10+ transitions you'd expect in Windows Movie Maker, ability to trim video clips and add audio tracks, insert basic titles, etc. Output is 720p at ~10,000kbits/sec which results in very good quality rendered videos. Student filmmakers and tube enthusiasts can easily create their own, edited videos in short order for upload and sharing without spending a penny more.

    The Gallery merely displays your photos and videos in time order. You must manually pick photos and videos to put into groups, but this goes quickly since you can tap multiple items to tag as such. Scrolling through the gallery and loading photos and videos from thousands of such is very quick, always under 1 second and often much faster. No issues here despite the very limited capabilities of the gallery.

    The MicroSD card and ability to connect your phone over Bluetooth or USB Mass Storage device modes allows you to take your video and music collection on-the-go quite easily. No conversion for the majority of <=720p H.264 videos and MP3s files. Just drag & drop and you're ready to catch up on hours of anime! Very convenient vs. other phones that require silly external desktop applications like iTunes for coversion and transfer.

    The built-in video player is basic, but does the job. You can scroll to any point in the video to play, and the operation is smooth and fluid. The built-in music player emulates the usual iPod grouping of artists, albums, playlists, etc. and most iPod users can jump right over without much to relearn. Built-in equalizer includes a handful of usual pop, rock, classical, etc. settings, and CoverFlow like swiping works as expected. For the serious organizer at heart, the free Music Launcher app lets you go back to happily sorting music by folders you've created by hand instead - highly recommended!

    Like any recent Nokia, the reviewed frequency response is generally flatlined from 20-20kHz, with rich bass and clear vocals over headphones. The audiophile will naturally find points to pick, but seriously? This is a smartphone after all. Nevertheless, quite good for most consumers and there really are no issues. You can hear the difference between properly converted LAME 256/320Kbps MP3s and WAVs, so that alone is a good sign of the audio quality present.

    The built-in speaker phone can be very loud, noticably louder than many other smartphones and you will not miss a call outdoors with a loud ringer setting. But, it is limited by the speaker size to the upper ranges. Bass is definitely missing, and the overall sound is not as rich as an iPhone 3Gs in speakerphone mode. Acceptable however when you are not wearing headphones since it was designed more for voice calls and GPS navigation in very noisy enviroments, and the Nokia 360 sound speaker and other external speaker attachements are recommend for the audio enthusiast.

    ----GPS----

    The usual slew of mapping features are included. Search, 3D mode, terrain and satellite, night view, walking and driving naviagation with a slew of voice languages to pick from for voice navigation prompts.

    GPS, A-GPS, WiFi, cell tower, etc. methods are are available for triangulating your position, and each can be turned off to save money or power. Signal lock with cellular assist takes only a dozen seconds at most.

    Maps for almost all major travel destination countries in the world are Free and can be downloaded using your computer or the phone to memory for offline use forever. Naturally, a 16GB+ MicroSD card is recommended due to the large map size if you choose to download multiple locations. Quite nice since you do not have to pay any money for data usage once maps are downloaded at one go.

    Drive navigation includes auto-traffic hazard rerouting, display of freeway speeds, repeat of voice navi prompts at any time, time and distance to destination, etc. Quite sufficient for getting from one location to another. Multiple waypoints are not supported however.

    Walking mode lets you navigate city streets, and if you're out for exercise, the free Sports Tracker app includes full heart-rate monitor (you must purchase one seperately) integration along with the usual Nike+iPod-like functionality - logged time, distance, pace, recorded trail on map for each trip.

    Numerous categories from ATMs to Shopping allows for quick display of such.

    Naturally, one can install Gooble Maps, but since it hasn't been updated for Symbian in ages, one needs to remember to have WiFi turned on for it to work (even if there is no connection over WiFi!) for it to launch. Unnecessary except for the Street View functionality.

    Locations in Maps can be sent by SMS to others with few taps, so no need to copy and paste addresses. They can be added to your favorite locations list as well.

    ----FM Tuner----

    Nothing unusual here and the same as that for the 701 and other Nokias. Usual RDS display of station and song title, auto tuning, etc. It just works, but you must have headphones plugged in to act as the antenna even if you play the audio over the speakerphones.

    ----HW encryption----

    You can fully encrypt the memory in hardware at any time. You can decrypt it as well anytime you choose. Nothing fancy here, just Encryption On or Off, but it does the job to keep your information away from prying eyes. Whether it is as secure as what the BlackBerry has and utilizes is unknown - that's up to the job of the hacker. However, keep in mind that even Presidents are not allowed to utilize BlackBerries for the most top secret communications - thus, the strength of hardware encryption is relative.

    It does take minutes however so expect to take a coffee break while the unit encrypts or decrypts.

    ----General security----
    While it is well-known that the Android platform is filled with unfixed bugs and defects (see Android Open Bug list, sort, list only Defects, look sadly at the 10,000+ unfixed problems), it's not entirely clear what the level of security is for each platform in great detail. Governments, hackers, etc. will naturally try to keep exploits out of the news and common knowledge, and phone makers are reluctant to share.

    iPhones can be jailbroken visiting a web page, and the root password is the same and well-known. Thus, one can expect that it is not entirely secure.

    BB's are more secure since they were designed from the ground up with HW encryption, security and remote wiping by the office in mind, so there's more hope that BB's can be a more secure platform to choose (even though Presidents cannot use them for the most top secret communications).

    WP7 is very new, so very little work has been done to test the security of such.

    Symbian OS has been around for ages, and with the way the current OS is setup, certainly difficult to exploit from the outside. Certificate checks and such do provide a level of protection, and certainly, fewer apps for this platform means fewer ways to corrupt the system without someone finding out. It can certainly take time before someone realizes 1 of 1,000,000+ Apple apps are bad; much faster if there's a handful of popular Symbian apps.

    That said, published news regarding hacks into the Symbian OS are very rare, and only apply to those made decade+ ago, so this is a good sign given the many years and many Symbian phones that are out on the market. For those that use their phones for banking and other sensitive transactions, there is a better chance that you can do so securely on a Symbian phone than you could with a broken Android.

    Naturally, that means you must uninstall and not use 3rd party games like Angry Birds, well-known for forwarding your personal data to their servers. And web browsing limited to just the built-in browser, if not Opera Mobile (not Mini since that's server based) with Opera Turbo turned off. This should provide a decent platform to use for secure transactions online.

    ---

    In the end, an excellent upgrade from a 5230/5800/etc. S60 5th, and one of the nicest smartphones available that's packed with many free, useful features, some that are not available on other platforms. A reasonable $220-240 USD price point. The Nokia 701 does add an 8MP camera, FM Transmitter, and a 1000 nit display, but certainly nothing most would miss with the Nokia 603.

    Naturally, if apps are your main focus, an Apple iPhone will be the best choice with the largest app store around.

    Apple's solid commitment to providing three generations of OS upgrades for iPhone buyers is great (ie. 3Gs started with iOS 3, then got 4, and now 5), and Nokia does a good job at providing updates for 2-3 years after each model has been released.

    Thus, if you use your phone mainly for the basics noted, and not dilly-dally with games, the Nokia 603 an excellent choice for those upgrading from older Symbian models and even other platforms for the added benefits (FM Radio, MicroSD card slot, Free GPS, 16:9 ClearBlack display, drag&drop media, security).

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    Exclamation Thank U for the Detailed Review

    I recently ordered a N9 but people on another forum started reporting last month that AT&T was detecting the smartphone & forcing them into a data plan.

    My 2 year old N8 has been slowing way down & the 808 is still priced too high so was interested in getting a 603 since it is now $119 on Amazon. If anyone has it, does AT&T detect it or can you get away with wifi only? Also, does the shutter sound turn off?

    I may also just keep the N9 & switch to the much cheaper T-Mobile but their coverage worries me ...

    Thanks!!
    Nokia N9 16GB Black
    Nokia N8 Dark Grey (Retired)


  3. #3
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    At $119 it was just too cheap to pass up so I ordered it and I'll give you a write up later on. As regards using the phone and it being detected as a smartphone, the issue is are you prepaid or postpaid. I know AT&T prepaid they don't care what phone you use but they won't give you the free data that a feature phone gives. They even have a wifi-only plan for smartphones. Coverage between AT&T and T-Mobile depends on where you are and what phone you have. T-Mobile phones with WIFI calling let you have a signal where you have WIFI and that is a great plus for many.
    Last edited by kingstu; 11-05-2013 at 01:20 PM.

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    Cool Thanks Kignstu

    Yes, $119 is pretty cheap especially since I notice it occasionally jumps up to $129.

    I currently have a post-paid AT&T plan which has worked fine for me for ~7 years thru a N95 & N8. I do not understand why AT&T cares now about Symbian/Meego phones especially since support pretty much ends at the end of this year.

    Please let me know how you like the 603. 1 thing that I am curious about is that the back cover comes in 6 different colors but only 1 is included. Unfortunately it looks like you do not get to pick the back color - only the front (black/white):
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    The cover/case selection on Amazon is also pretty bare in case you do not like the color that you get. I am not so sure I would be OK with a teddy bear or jack-o-lantern cover (the only 2 they currently have):

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  5. #5
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    FWIW I have a N9 and have had it on AT&T for 2 years now and have yet to be hit with a smartphone data plan. It seems to be random so YMMV. My wife has a N8 and that hasn't gotten tagged either. It seems AT&T is targeting the N9 more so than Symbian devices.

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    Been a week & so far no forced data plan so hopefully I am good. Like the N9 more & more after a few initial problems which is to be expected when you change operating systems.

    The 603 is down to $99 now on Amazon. May just have to buy one as a back up - I hope that the 1.0GHZ makes it much faster than my N8. That is one of the things I really enjoy about my N9 - how much faster & responsive it was than my N8, especially towards the end.

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    I got the 603 when it $119 and I can recommend it for $99 for sure. The full offline navigation is worth it alone. The screen is very crisp and works well even in strong light and the SIM size is the same as the N9 for easy swapping.

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    Red face Price Guarantee

    Kingstu, Amazon does offer a 30 day price guarantee so you can contact them & get a $20 credit since the price is still $99.
    I just did it for an ultrabook that I ordered & it was pretty fast & easy to do over the phone. A refund to my card would have been nice but a store credit off the next purchase is good too.

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