The introduction of i-mode on Telstra’s network has seen a myriad of new services available to subscribers, particularly a huge amount of partner-based content exclusive to i-mode. However, you need an i-mode-compatible handset to access the service, and with the N410i clamshell, NEC is clearly the i-mode handset leader. With a large QVGA resolution colour screen, 1.3 megapixel camera, sizeable internal memory, i-mode email support and more, the N410i is the most advanced i-mode handset available from Telstra and currently has no rival. Read on for the review.
In Telstra’s current range of six i-mode handsets, three of them are NEC phones, and the N410i is the only handset in the range with such hardware features as a QVGA (240x320 pixel), 65k colour screen, 1.3 megapixel digital camera, 64-tone synthesiser, and many other features. The size of the phone reflects the hardware built-in, coming out larger than even Sharp’s GX30, which is already large enough to handle for many people.
But by far the more interesting topic for most people is the i-mode support. We reported last year at iMobile that Telstra had signed a licence agreement with the creators of i-mode, NTT DoCoMo of Japan, for providing the service in Australia, and months later it is operational throughout Telstra’s GSM network. I-mode adds support for push-based email between i-mode handsets and PCs, as well as a portal site with links to more than 200 different content providers, with the list of partners increasing all the time.
There are websites from a variety of categories, from news (SMH, The Age, CNN and The Australian), weather (Weathernews), sport (rugby.com.au, Fox Sports, ST Mobile and V8Supercars.com.au), Movies (yourMovies), music (Ministry of Sound, triple j and Triple M), and shopping (eBay, Trading Post), and even location-based services by Whereis.com.au. The range is staggering with too many partner sites to list here. However, i-mode is an expensive service to use fully – more information in the Problems page.
The N410i is a fairly large clamshell. It measures 101 x 49 x 24 millimetres and weighs 118 grams, although possibly due to its large size, it actually feels quite light when you carry it. Nonetheless the size of the phone will put some people off, and I suspect that people who are interested in all the advanced gadgetry built into this phone will be the ones buying it.
On the front you will find the small, 65k colour external screen displaying the phone’s status and a background image, if you have one set up. Beneath the screen is the camera lens with macro focus switch and flash lamp. Above the screen is a nice, big letter i reminding you of the service the phone can access. On the left you will find two separate volume adjustment keys as well as the data/power connector for recharging your phone. The right hand side sees one proprietary connector for the headset, meaning only the included headset is usable with this phone. Both of these connectors are protected by rubber covers that are attached to the phone, so you can’t lose them.
You won’t find any antenna sticking out of the phone as it has been integrated into the casing. On the back you will find the ringtone speaker as well as the battery with two shiny golden connectors, of which I could not find a use for. Likely they will be for connecting to a car kit so the phone can stay powered by the car. Underneath the battery, like in many other phones, you will find the SIM card slot.
The phone opens up with a satisfying click to reveal the large main screen and a keypad that occupies seemingly little room in the large bottom portion of the flip. Nonetheless the buttons are large and well spaced out, and there are plenty of them. Starting from the top, there is your standard arrow-pad with centre confirm button, and this is flanked by four keys. The top two are mail/messages and i-mode access keys that double as regular soft-keys, and the bottom two access the menu and address book. Beneath them are call, hang-up and delete keys, and further below is the standard set of 12 numerical keys. The arrow-pad functions a little differently from other phones when in standby mode. Pressing left or right will access missed or received calls respectively, while pressing up displays the ring profile list, and pressing down takes you to the data storage screen. Finally, pressing the confirm button in the middle of the arrow-pad starts the camera.
User Interface & display
The main 2.2 inch LCD is a leader, with a resolution of 240x320 pixels and displaying 65,536 colours. The display is sharp and displays text and object with fine detail, as screens of this resolution should. The text size is reasonably sized and comparable to other mobiles. Text size can’t be adjusted, however.
The external screen displays the same amount of colours and is 108x80 pixels. It displays the status of the phone and a background of your choice (or none at all), and will show the caller of an incoming call. It will also act as the camera viewfinder for self-portrait shots and videos.
The user interface is very Japanese in style, resembling many of the phones made for networks in Japan. The main menu is made up of the standard 3 x 3 icon grid, with icons for the following (from the top-left): Settings, Messages, i-mode, Phonebook, Camera, My data, Java. Accessory, and SIM Toolkit. Selecting an icon with the centre key will take you further through the menu system, with the rest of the menus using text lines.
The fantastic thing about these menus (and the top-level icon-based one) is that everything can be selected through a numerical shortcut. Once you get used to the phone and all its menus, you can quickly navigate to them by pressing numbers in the right order. For example, to get to the language selection screen, you would press the Menu button, followed by 1, 1, 6. While you wouldn’t access the menu button very often, other functions in the phone benefit by this quick access system.
In addition, many i-mode websites use this navigation system for selecting links. As long as there is a number next to a link, you can press the number to directly select the link and go to another page. If you’ve been through pressing arrow keys multiple times to get to a link you want to go to, you will understand how much faster pressing one number button would be.
One other nice touch was the display of the clock in the upper status bar at all times, no matter what application or operation was running. This is such a great idea, and yet barely any phone I have ever used does that. Again, this is a feature that has come across from phones in Japan.
Making and receiving calls
Call quality is average with the N410i. I initially had trouble finding the right position for the phone to sit against my ear, but after enough wiggling around I was able to hear the other caller clearly. Reception is fairly good, with the phone able to pick up a signal most of the time in test areas with little reception. While speakerphone would have been a nice feature, with the external speaker mounted on the back of the phone I can understand the impracticality of having it. Nonetheless it would be a welcome addition to a future NEC handset.
While my test unit didn’t come with a wired handsfree, I suspect that one will be included in the package due to the proprietary connector used for it. As it was proprietary, I couldn’t test any other headsets with this phone.
While the 64-tone polyphonic speaker is fairly advanced, what’s even greater is the included James Bond 007 theme ringtone. As it has been composed specifically for this phone (hence using as many of the 64-tones as necessary), it sounds absolutely fantastic. Many people I played the tone for thought that it sounded better than the real piece of music itself. While I would disagree with them, it was a very good ringtone without a doubt and the one that I ended up using while testing the phone. The rest of the tones were good as well, but didn’t compare with the James Bond theme.
The address book can store up to 500 contacts in the phone’s memory. Each contact can store up to a whopping seven phone numbers, as well as two email addresses, two personal notes, a picture and voice dial tag. You can also set what colour the small LED on the outside of the phone displays in when a certain person calls.
In addition to the standard set of SMS/EMS and MMS, exclusive to i-mode is the option of i-mode email. This is a simple form of email that can be sent directly from the handset to other i-mode handsets and PCs without accessing a webpage to do so. You are assigned an email address similar to email@example.com, and you can change the part to the left of the @ symbol to whatever you like through the i-mode portal, provided that someone else doesn’t already have the email address you want. If you receive an email your phone will download it and alert you automatically, the same way SMS does. However you can send emails with thousands of characters, significantly more than SMS, and you can send them to a PC as well. You can also attach pictures, sounds and videos to email, up to a maximum of 100 kilobytes.
SMS works normally, with the N410i able to send SMS up to 620 characters through combining up to four SMS messages. Simple pictures and monotone ringtones can be attached through the EMS standard, although most people will skip that and go straight to MMS for attaching proper pictures and sound. MMS messages up to 100 kilobytes can be composed, and can have pictures, sound and videos attached to them.
The T9 predictive text system is used here, and support for a custom-word dictionary means you can input words that aren’t known by the phone. Message input is reasonably smooth, and input of special characters is quick due to a numerical access system similar to the one used in menu shortcuts. There are also a set of coloured emoticons that you can add to i-mode email messages to make them look better, although they will only display on an i-mode phone and not on a PC, as they are programmed into the text font used by the phone, rather than being attached pictures.
The N410i is tri-band GSM compliant, connecting through 900, 1800 and 1900 MHz frequencies. It will work in Europe and Asia and some areas of the American continents without any problems. The phone supports GPRS for internet access through the ACCESS browser, and can ‘access’ webpages conforming to the cHTML standard, a simplified form of HTML. Suffice to say cHTML webpages are often more lively and colourful than comparable WAP 2.0 xHTML pages.
Local connectivity consists of only USB cable and infra-red. The infra-red function in the N410i can be used to send a picture, phonebook entry, schedule entry or ToDo list entry to another phone, or a PC without the use of any special software as long as you have an infra-red dongle for the PC. There is synchronisation software for the N410i for moving data from the phone to a PC, however it only works through the USB cable and not through the infra-red port. As both the USB cable and the software weren’t included in the test kit, I can’t tell you how they perform.
Build quality was average with my test unit, although I suspect that it has changed many hands before I got a hold of it. The flip would creak if stressed and it felt a bit loose, but other than that the phone felt durable. When opening and closing the flip the phone clicks loudly, indicating that its locked in place. One problem however is that the weight balance across the phone means that if the flip is open the phone won’t sit properly if placed on a desk or other flat surface. Rather than sitting on its back, It will fall onto the flip instead.
With a 950mAh Lithium-ion battery, NEC claims a standby time of 180 hours and talk time of 220 minutes. In practice, the N410i lasts up to two days with light usage. But if you buy this phone, you’ll likely be using the camera, browsing the internet, and other power-consuming operations. With all of those in mind, expect to recharge the phone every night, because after one day of heavy usage the phone usually had two bars out of four left on the battery indicator. Recharging takes about two hours.