My Impressions of the Nokia 3390

The following review has been updated slightly from the original posted in February of 2001. I was loaned a new 3390 to re-evaluate it Not much has changed, but those things that did change are noted in the text.

Last Updated: 01-Mar-2002

Word of Warning: Many newer reviews make reference to older reviews, and this sometimes creates apparent inconsistencies in the overall assessments of various models. Reviews are relative by nature, and so what seemed like a great phone a year, may seem only mediocre now because other phones have "raised the bar" so to speak. If you find that I'm being negative about a phone, while saying it's about the same as a phone I once gave positive reviews to, this a perfect example.

The 3390 is a 1900 MHz-only GSM model from Nokia. It follows the same basic physical design criteria as the 8290 and 8890, but it is nowhere near as small or light. It terms of weight, it tips the scales at 4.2 ounces. That falls somewhere between the 8890 and 6190. It also doesn’t have a sliding keypad cover. Rather than trying to compare the 3390 to either of 8x90 models, I believe you can better understand it by thinking of the phone as a replacement for the aging 5190/6190.

Right up front however, I would like to state my personal dislike of the one-button-does-all concept that Nokia introduced on the 5190. It carries into the 3390, and subsequently makes it a pain-in-the-neck to use compared to the 6190, 8290, or 8890. However, if you are a fan of the concept (and have experience with it from the 5190), you should feel right at home with the new phone.

One of the most obvious facets of the design is an apparent lack of an antenna. Obviously the phone has an antenna, but it does not protrude from the housing. This leads one to believe that the RF performance of the 3390 will be less than stellar. I started out by assuming that myself, but after careful comparison to other phones that I rate highly for RF performance, I had to reconsider. I’ll delve into RF performance in more detail later, so for now let’s just say that the 3390 is reasonably impressive in that regard.

However, the fact that the antenna is inside the phone means that you must be careful where you place your fingers. Putting them anywhere near the top of the phone (in and around the Nokia logo found on the back) can severely interfere with the performance of that hidden antenna. I found the restriction to be enormously inconvenient, since I have a habit of pressing my index finger against the back of the phone to push it against my ear.

In keeping with Nokia’s recent trend, the 3390 has an easily replaceable case, which allows you to personalize the color to your liking. Unlike the previous Nokia models however, you replace both the faceplate and the back plate. The battery is actually not part of the case design, as it is with the 5190 and 6190. The battery is a fairly boring looking white box that you put inside the phone.

Unfortunately though, the battery is only a Nickel Metal Hydride model, and it doesn’t have particularly impressive standby time. Under ideal conditions, the battery lasts only for about 2 days. Heavy use of game playing can reduce that to a day easily. Either you live with the provided battery life, or you shop for a different phone.

And don’t go around removing the battery for longer than a few seconds either. The 3390 does not backup such things as its clock and calendar, though it does seem to retain ringtones. If you pull the battery for too long, you’ll have to reset the date and time. You might also lose other information not stored on the SIM. Fortunately though, most people won’t have a reason for removing the battery, and since it is internal, it won’t be falling off much either.

Like the 5190 and 6190 before it, the 3390 does not have any in-phone memory for storage of phone book entries. All phone book entries must appear on the SIM card, thus limiting their number. By comparison, many of the other phone models (including the Motorola, Mitsubishi, and Ericsson offerings) also have separate memory in the phone for storing extra phone book entries.

Although the 3390 doesn’t really have much else to offer over the older 5190/6190 models, it does come with a couple of interesting developments. For the first time, Nokia has provided a means to enter ringtones from the keypad (like Ericsson and Motorola). You can still receive ringtones via SMS, but you are no longer forced to use that method alone.

The phone provides 4 downloadable ringtones, and 1 keyboard ringtone. It is possible to send keyed-in ringtones to other Nokia GSM phones (not just 3390s) by sending them as SMS. I proved that by sending a custom ringtone from the 3390 to my old 6190. Keyed-in tones can be up to 50 notes long, while downloaded tones can extend to 150 notes in length. Since you can do this, it would be a simple matter to transfer a keyed-in tones to one of your downloadable slots by just sending it to yourself.

Since the 3390 is based on the pre-existing 3310 model, and since the ability to compose ringtones from the keyboard also exists on the 3210 model, it is possible to find lots of web pages with ringtones to key in.

The 3390 also supports the new multi-part SMS feature. This allows you to enter SMS of up to 459 characters in length (whereas before we were limited to 160 characters). Just out of curiosity, I sent a large SMS from the 3390 to my 6190, and I received that message as a series of smaller (160 character-or-less) SMS messages.

The 6190 (with firmware 5.83) seemed to understand that these messages were linked. It added the phrase “Linked Message”, followed the page number. I originally thought this was part of the message sent from the network, but when I put the SIM into my Mitsubishi G310, the SMS appeared only as distinctly separate messages with no extra information.

However, the real surprise came when we sent these messages to the T18z. It apparently couldn’t make heads or tails out of them. It displayed the messages as a series of squares with occasional Chinese symbols thrown in for good measure. This inability of the T18z to receive such messages could cause problems for people once the 3390 (and other phones that support multi-part SMS) become common. Perhaps the T18z is the only phone that fails, but I couldn’t test the theory any further.

As an interesting sidebar to this, I received a multi-part message using the 3390 during my 2002 re-test, and I then put the SIM into my Motorola P280. Even though that phone does not officially support multi-part messages, it displayed the entire message as single SMS, and it included ALL 459 characters of the text. That seems to indicate that the P280 does indeed support multi-part SMS, but I could find no way to send such messages with that phone.

The 3390 supports the ability to send business cards, phone book entries, calendar entries, etc through SMS. Most of these formats should be compatible with existing Nokia models such as the 6190 (and to a lesser extend the 5190). Another SMS feature, which can best be described as “cute”, is a series of pre-created “smiley faces” to use in your messages. Smiley faces are those combinations of colons and parentheses that look faces :) :-> :(

Like many phones on the market today, the 3390 supports voice dialing. I find this feature of dubious value, but some people seem to think it’s quite useful. Accuracy is fairly good, since the comparison of the stored sample against your voice is fairly crude. After all, it only needs to identify which of a small series of samples you meant. That’s nowhere near as complex as full word-for-word voice recognition. The 3390 supports up to 8 voice dial entries.

The 3390 does away with the Caller Groups concept, and instead allows you to assign a different ringtone to each name in your phonebook. This is the approach used by virtually everyone else, and I think that even Nokia had to admit that it is simply more convenient for most users. However, Caller Groups did have other features that made it worthwhile to some. For example, you could use the Caller Groups feature to ignore calls from a particular “class” of caller, and to display a special graphic when receiving calls from group members. Things such as that aren’t possible with the 3390.

The phone also supports Predictive Text Input with user-expandable dictionary. This feature allows messages to be written without having to press the letter keys multiple times. The phone compares each set of keystrokes with the built-in dictionary, and it uses that information to select the most likely match for the word you intended. I found this to be one of the phone's single most endearing features. It was probably the best-implemented T9 I had tried to date.

Another new feature (for North Americans at any rate) is Picture Messaging. Now that messages can be combined to allow up to 459 characters, it is possible to send more complex graphic images as SMS. The phone comes with a series of pre-created pictures for various “occasions”. You can send these pictures to anyone else using a GSM phone that supports Picture Messaging. Those pictures can also be displayed as what Nokia calls "screen savers". When the phone is idling, one of these chosen imagines can fill your screen. You can assign a different image for each profile.

The 3390 comes with an impressive array of games. If you like playing games on your phone, you’re really going to like the 3390. It includes some very clever adaptations of old games we used to play on computers in the early 80’s, like Space Invaders.  Another nice addition is the ability for the games to use the vibrator as physical feedback to the player. I didn’t play around with the games that much, so I can’t really say much else about them.

Unfortunately, the 3390 does not support data, or infrared. If you had any ideas of using your phone to connect a laptop or palm device to the Internet, you should buy a different phone. Nokia obviously felt that the target market for the 3390 would uninterested in this feature.

For more advanced users, you can purchase 3310 data cables from 3rd Party suppliers, but with a lack of data support, why bother? Well, the data cable can be used for pretty much the same purposes as it with the 5190/6190. You can upload ringtones and graphics, and you gain access to the Net Monitor (Field Test Mode). Programs that work with the 5190 and 6190, also work with the 3390.

Sound quality on the 3390 was a tad disappointing. Although the earpiece volume was decent (about the same the 5190/6190), it sounded somewhat hollow (especially compared to the rich sound one gets from the Motorola P280). Outgoing sound quality is nice enough, but it too isn’t quite up to the standards we see in other phones. One odd thing about the 3390 is that most of them are shipped with the EFR CODEC turned off. This causes the phone to default to standard Full Rate CODEC which isn't anywhere near as good as EFR. Make sure EFR is turned on in your 3390 by entering *3370# from the keypad. The phone will reset when you do this.

My take on the sound quality did not change in the 2002 re-test. Although the tonal balance of the 3390 is better than the old 6190 and 7190 models, it doesn't come close to matching other phones on the market. I personally am used to using a Motorola P280 which has gorgeous tonal balance compared to the 3390. However, the 3390 is certain much nice-sounding than a heck of a lot of other phones on the market.

The 3390 comes with what looks like a standard 2.5 mm headset jack. However, don't let looks deceive you. Apparently Nokia doesn’t believe in providing industry-standard outlets for peripheral devices. SiMPRO evidently provides a headset adapter with their 3390s, so perhaps Fido will as well.

Ring volume is disappointingly low, and it can be difficult to hear in noisy environments. Fortunately the phone comes with a built-in vibrator that can be used as well as the ringer. The vibrator certainly isn’t the strongest I’ve ever felt, but it’s slightly better than the one in the T18z.

Now let’s look at the RF performance in more detail. The 3390 isn’t quite as good as the vaunted P280, but it actually beats many other GSM phones on the market (especially Ericsson models other than the T18z). The phone also suffers very little from being put in a shirt pocket, which is the bane of many other phones (especially the old 6190). 

However, RF performance isn't completely about the phone's ability to pick up a signal, though to people who use their phone's primarily for SMS, this can be a lot more important than any other aspect. Another facet of performance is the ability of the phone to cope with day-to-day RF anomalies and system handoffs. In that regard, the 3390 is really only average. It behaves quite similarly to other Nokia phones.

During my original tests in 2001, I found a rather annoying RF anomaly that seemed to afflict most the 3390s out at that time. It sounded as though the phones was handing off to the wrong site, and this caused the signal to degrade rapidly for no apparent reason. I'm pleased to announce that no such problem could be found during my 2002 re-test. It seems that whatever bug caused that problem has now been fixed.


The 3390 is an excellent choice for those looking for an inexpensive model with tons of features and reasonable RF/AF quality. With Fido selling the 3390 for as little as $50, it's hard to go wrong at this end of the market. For those looking for smaller, lighter, better, or more powerful phones, you really should look elsewhere.

Other Reviews of the Nokia 3390

Review by Howard Chui
Review by Steve Romaine