My Impressions of the Nokia 8890

The following review is based upon a rather intensive 3 hour ďvisitĒ with an 8890 owned by Ron Guidolin. I wish to thank Ron for taking the time to let me play with his new toy.

Last Updated: 03-Oct-2000

Disclaimer: The following review represents my personal opinion. No bench testing was performed on this or any phone reviewed on my web page. If you don't agree with something I say, you are certainly welcome to politely bring it to my attention (in public or private). However, any out-and-out insults or flames will be ignored.

Overall

If I needed to find a single word to describe the Nokia 8890, that word would be TINY. You canít possibly imagine how small this thing is until you hold it in your hand. It makes the venerable old 6190 look positively enormous by comparison. Size is perhaps the phoneís most endearing feature, for as you will learn in this review, it doesnít really do all that much more, or behave all that differently, from the 6190.

Some people have complained that the 8890 is too small. That is a purely subjective assessment, but there is some validity to the claim. As a phone gets smaller, so you have to hold it against your ear by gripping it between your fingertips. I didnít have any trouble with that myself, but I could see how some people might find it difficult to hold, especially if they have very large fingers.

The 8890 uses a sliding cover over the keyboard, but the main function buttons remain accessible even with it closed. You can answer the phone by sliding the cover down, but the phone can also be answered with the covered left in place. The microphone is located at the bottom of the sliding cover, so even though the phone is incredibly tiny, that microphone still ends up quite close to your mouth.

If youíve ever used a 6190 (or a 5190) before, the first thing that you will notice is the similarity of the dot-matrix display. I compared them side-by-side, and I would dare say that the displays are identical (perhaps even carrying the same part number). That isnít necessarily a bad thing, but it was disappointing to see that Nokia hadnít moved to a higher contrast display.

The backlighting on the 8890 is both inspiring and disappointing. The high-output blue/white LEDs produce enough light to illuminate the foot well in my car. Youíd need to be virtually blind not to see the keys on this phone in the dark. Unfortunately, the lighting of those keys in inconsistent, and that makes it look a poorly thought-out. The big disappointment is the lighting of the display. Despite the high intensity of the LEDs, the display gets very little backlighting, and the relatively low contrast of that display doesnít help.

The menus in the 8890 are immediately recognizable to anyone who has previously used a 6190. The icons are now animated, but they are essentially identical to those found on the 6190. The menu structure, as well as the options found in those menus, is also very close to the 6190. The only new main menu is one that deals with the IR port (which I will discuss later).

Audio and RF Performance

The first aspect of the phone that Ron and I tested was the earpiece volume and clarity. In that regard, the 8890 and the 6190 sound remarkably similar. I would give the 8890 the nod as having slightly crisper sound, and a tad more volume. However, the differences are very slight, and one would have trouble determining which phone they were listening to in a blind test.

I also used the 8890 and the 6190 to record messages to my voicemail. This allowed me to later compare the outgoing audio quality of the two phones. Once again, they are remarkably similar, but I would give the nod to the 8890 as having slight cleaner audio, with less digital artifacts and swirling.

What really shocked me however was to hear that annoying transmitter buzz in the earpiece. While many GSM phones do suffer from a similar problem, Nokia had 3 years or more to figure why their 61xx/51xx models suffered from this, and to find a fix. Other small GSM phones, such as the Motorola L7089, do not exhibit the buzz, so Nokia canít fall back on the excuse that itís one of those things you have to put up with in a tightly packaged design.

When then walked the phones into areas of Rockwood Mall were signals on Microcell Connexions became progressively weaker. Here again the 8890 came off behaving almost identically to the 6190. It broke up in the same places, and the way it sounded as it broke up was virtually indistinguishable from the 6190. Both phones held on to the digital signal about the same, but the 8890 would recover service much more quickly.

We then took the phone for a drive along the infamous stretch of Highway 403 through Mississauga. Microcell Connexions has plenty of sites in that area, and the signals are always quite strong. However, the terrain causes phones to handoff incessantly along that stretch, so it is a good place to test how well the phone behaves under such conditions. The 8890 did quite well, but in the final analysis, it didnít really sound much different from the 6190.

The only aspect of RF performance that seemed superior on the 8890 was its ability to function inside a shirt pocket. Whereas the 6190 lost at least 5 to 10 dB of signal when I popped it in a pocket, the 8890 only lost (I would estimate) 2 to 3 dB of signal. That was just as well, since there really is no other place than your pocket to store the tiny phone while you are walking around. If you were taking your 8890 into a marginal area, I would still recommend extending the antenna.

Features

So what does the 8890 have to offer that the 6190 does not? There are a number of features, not the least of which is the phoneís tiny size. For starters, the 8890 is a dual-band model that also works on 900 Mhz. That allows it to be used in virtually any country on earth where GSM service is available. Fido sells the 8890 unlocked, so you are free to pop in a SIM from any GSM provider.

The 8890 also features an IR port, which allows you to connect the phone to your computer without wires. Thatís useful to a point, but on its own I donít think it would be a worthwhile improvement. The really big improvement is that the 8890 does not require the Nokia Data Suite to work with a computer. Like Nokiaís CDMA model the 6185/6188, the phone itself directly emulated a modem. You need only set up a modem profile on your computer, and treat the phone as though it was a plain old landline modem. That also frees you of worrying whether a suitable piece of driver software is available for your operating system.

The 8890 also includes voice dialing, which is either a great idea, or a useless feature, depending upon your take on it. I didnít really try that particular feature, but I have to assume that it works about the same as other phones (like the T18z).

Along with the standard 100 phone book entries provided on the SIM, the 8890 also provides 250 additional phone book entries internally. Unlike the SIM, which limits the length of nametags to only 12 characters, the internal memory lets you have up to 20 characters. Unfortunately, Nokia has not embraced the idea of allowing multiple phone numbers for a single entry. Like the 6190, we are stuck with just one number per name. I was really surprised to find that theyíd not done anything in this regard.

Summary

So, if you presently own a 6190 or a 5190, is it worth paying a large wad of cash for the 8890? Unless you absolutely want a tiny phone, need dual-band support, or if you have a pressing need for any of the additional features that I mentioned above, I would say no. You simply arenít getting anything that you donít already have. In terms of sound quality, RF performance, and overall functionality, the phones are virtually identical.

I guess what disappointed me the most about the 8890 was the lack of any real improvement in the underlying technology. You would think that after 3 years, Nokia would have made some meaningful strides in improving the behavior of the phone. Theyíve done a credible job of turning a phone into a piece of jewelry, but they havenít done anything to address to the core competence of the phone itself.

Fortunately however, the 6190 was already any excellent phone for its time, so saying that itís no better than a 6190 isnít such a bad thing. However, time marches on, and we have come to expect at least incremental improvements in the RF and audio circuitry in our phones.

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