SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Nokia Corp., the world's largest cell phone maker, hasn't gotten much love lately from consumers dazzled by iPhones, BlackBerrys and phones running Google's Android software.
Now the company is clamoring for attention with its latest smart phone, the Nuron. But while the Nuron is attractively priced -- $70 with a two-year T-Mobile contract and rebate -- its less-than-stellar touch screen, lack of Wi-Fi and ho-hum operating software make it more dud than stud.
Out of the box, the white-and-silver Nuron is softer looking than many of the slick black smart phones on the market. It has a touch screen that is 3.2 inches diagonally and a few buttons on its face, as well as a small touch-sensitive key in the upper right corner that gives quick access to things like your music, photos and videos.
The Nuron runs Nokia's Symbian operating system -- software that ran on 47 percent of all smart phones worldwide at the end of last year, according to Canalys market research. But just because you've captured such a large portion of the market doesn't mean your offering is the best. The Nuron's operating software isn't nearly as intuitive or modern-looking as the iPhone or Android software.
I was often confused about how to navigate around the device, and it seemed to take too many steps to do things such as sending a friend an instant message.
Much of my frustration with the Nuron traced back to its touch screen. Many times I pressed the screen to click on a Web link or type a message and nothing happened. Sending instant messages and e-mails and updating my Twitter feed became a chore, as I found myself constantly typing words that were off by a character or two.
The Nuron does have a handwriting recognition option, which lets you draw on the screen with a finger or a silly looking plastic stylus that resembles a guitar pick. I didn't have much luck with this method either.
The Nuron is Nokia's first phone with a U.S. carrier that comes with the company's Ovi Store -- Nokia's version of the application stores available on the iPhone, Palm devices, Android phones and BlackBerrys.
I found several popular applications to download, including apps for YouTube and the song recognition service Shazam. But the layout of the store was kind of dull and the selection wasn't nearly as broad as those on the iPhone and Android phones.
The Nuron is also the first from a U.S. carrier that includes Nokia's Ovi Maps program. But I found it more confusing and less attractive than Google Maps.
The Nuron is OK for basic Web surfing, and it can handle the average YouTube video, though the quality of the clips I saw wasn't great. It doesn't have Wi-Fi, though, so you'll have to be in an area with a good network connection if you want to check out anything online.
One of the Nuron's few positives was that phone calls sounded quite good. I had no trouble hearing friends on the other end, unlike with some phones that muffle voices and make it difficult to decipher what people are saying.
Another bright spot was the Nuron's camera. Its resolution is only 2 megapixels and it has no flash, but it took fairly bright shots in the low light of my office and outside on a cloudy day. I appreciated its quick shutter speed, which meant that what I saw on the screen was usually what I got in the photos I took. And it was also nice to have features like a self timer and exposure and sharpness settings.
If you're concerned about paying a lot for a smart phone upfront, the Nuron's price tag is alluring. It's cool that you can get a cell phone with GPS and a free maps application that offers turn-by-turn directions for $70. But if you factor in how much you'll end up paying for cell phone service over a two-year contract with T-Mobile, it will probably make sense to pay more for one of the carrier's other smart phones, such as the Motorola Cliq ($150). In the long run, it will seem like a better deal.