Hands on: Nokia Booklet 3G netbook

The Booklet 3G netbook is rugged and solidly built--but some quirks make it a slightly too-pricey portable.

Nokia Booklet 3G netbook

Nokia Booklet 3G netbook

Nokia spokespeople are quick to correct you if you slip and call the Booklet 3G a netbook. Well, let's see: It has a tiny, clamshell, laptop-like design. It has meager specs (1GB of RAM, Intel's Z530 1.6-GHz Atom CPU, and a 4200-rpm 120GB hard drive). It has a 10.1-inch screen. Last time I checked, that was pretty much the definition of a netbook. The Booklet 3G just happens to be a reasonably well-constructed model with a focus on being 3G wireless-ready. But are you willing to shell out US$599, sans contract (price as of 11/13/09), for Nokia's maiden effort in the netbook market (or $299 subsidized through an AT&T data plan)?

As you can probably tell, I'm not exactly enamored with what lies under the Booklet's hood--certainly not at the asking price. Though the PC World Labs haven't yet completed their rounds of WorldBench 6 tests, I did take the Booklet out for a quick, subjective performance spin. From a cold start, it takes 45 seconds to boot into the Windows 7 Starter Edition desktop. Try opening up more than two applications at a time, and brace for the lag. As for battery life, we can't give you final results on that yet, either, but one spokesperson shared anecdotally that the battery will last for over 7 hours. We'll update you on its performance marks as soon as possible.

The nondescript guts aren't the real story here, however--it's the Booklet 3G's upscale lines. The machine's smart styling is almost techno-retro, making this little laptop look like, well, a large cell phone. The glossy plastic lid may be a smudge magnet, but it nicely offsets the sturdy aluminum case. The mouse buttons have a swooping design. Heck, I half expected to see a version of Snakes running on this thing. In short, Nokia seems to think that it's still 2002--and I'm okay with that.

But then you try to use the machine. The 10.1-inch screen, with its native 1280 by 720 resolution (not to mention the unit's HDMI output), may fool you into thinking that you'll be able to enjoy HD video on it. Between the Booklet 3G's poky processor and its low-speed hard drive, I found it tough to watch a 480-by-320-resolution video running full screen. The colors and contrast seemed a bit muted, and as if that weren't enough, the glare coming off the screen was extremely noticeable unless I looked at the display dead-on. I could do my morning shave looking at that reflection.

Something else I noticed while trying to watch video on a bus: The hinge mechanism has almost no grip. The slightest bump kicks the screen back. As a test, I tried just slightly flicking my wrist while holding the machine, and the screen flopped out. That's a huge pet peeve of mine, and a strike against the Booklet 3G.

I should note that the keyboard is tiny. I'm talking small, scrunched keys, the kind where my fingertip dwarfs the entire button. Over time, I grew accustomed to the size, but I wouldn't recommend it for long typing sessions (like the time I spent typing this review...ouch). On the other hand, I really liked the touchpad: Spacious, with two big, satisfying mouse buttons, it makes navigating a whole lot easier.

Measuring 10.4 by 7.3 by 0.8 inches and weighing about 2.7 pounds, the unit feels substantial in your hands. On the edges are three USB ports (two on the left side), plus a combo mic and headphone jack (so you can plug in a cell phone headset). I especially recommend sticking with headphones, because the two built-in speakers barely rise above a whisper--and when I tried to crank up Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds," the speakers cracked.

Also on the side are the power switch and, behind a flap, the SD and SIM card slots. I presume that the easily accessible SIM card slot allows for the closed-case design and permits international travelers to pop in a region-friendly card wherever they may land. Otherwise, the case is fairly clean.

As for software, the big draw looks to be Nokia Ovi Suite, the company's set of connectivity apps, which didn't come with our initial test machine. We are hoping to get a closer look at that prior to assigning the Booklet 3G a final score. But going by what we have seen so far, it could be a little tough to give this netbook a hearty recommendation.

The sturdy frame and reasonably slick lines of the Nokia Booklet 3G show that the company has what it takes to make a smart-looking portable. But considering the poor choice of components (really, a tiny, slow hard drive?) and the above-mentioned quirks, this is a too-pricey portable. If someone tried selling me the Booklet 3G at $599, I'd balk. The $299 subsidized deal may rope some people in--until they realize that they would need to shell out $60 per month in data costs.

As opinionated as this review may seem right now, I'm holding off on giving you my final judgment until we get results back from the lab tests. We will update the review as soon as possible. But I'd recommend looking at more reasonably priced netbooks like, say, the $400 HP Mini 311 (with a decent GPU) first.

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Darren Gladstone

PC World (US online)

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