The keyboard takes some getting used to. Because it's divided roughly in two, each of your thumbs has to learn which buttons to press. But the keys themselves have plenty of breathing room, and after a few false starts, we were pecking at a reasonable clip. However, we did a double take whenever we had to dial a phone number; since the number keys on the right side of the keyboard double as letter keys, they're hard to find.
We expected snazzy menus from the music phone, and indeed, the animated icons looked promising. Dig a little deeper, however, and you're greeted with the usual dull text selections on plain white backgrounds. Also, listings were often spaced too far apart, forcing you to scroll quite a bit to see every item on a roster.
We found it awkward to talk on the 3300. Even after we figured out the arrangements (you hold the right end to your ear and the left end to your mouth--better than the Nokia N-Gage but not much), we still had to stop and think whenever we answered a call. Also, the music phone isn't molded to fit the contours of your cheek; our ears were sore after only a few minutes. The included headset was much more comfortable. Another major design gripe: We had to remove the battery to change the SD card, an inconvenient setup if you're on the road. The Nokia 3300 doesn't skimp on features. You get eight polyphonic (24-chord) ring tones, and you can download more from T-Mobile's T-zones service. The phone also comes with a 500-name phone book, a calendar, a calculator, a speakerphone, wireless e-mail and Web access, text and multimedia messaging, voice-activated commands, J2ME support for Java games and applications, four games (Water Rapids, Virtual Me, Snake EX2, DJ, with additional titles available for download), six-way conference calling, and more.
The 3300's centerpiece, of course, is its high-quality music player. Though the phone is user-friendly to a fault, its storage space is limited, and you can transfer only 64MB of MP3s, AACs, or M3U playlists using the Nokia Audio Manager application or Windows Explorer. Once your music is ready, a button on the top of the phone provides one-touch access to your tunes. To skip tracks or to pause a song, you can use the four-way mouse or the headset's dedicated button. A five-band equalizer complete with three presets and a user-defined mode lets you tweak the sound to your heart's content. You can also set the player to repeat or shuffle your tracks. (One minor gripe: You can't get to the EQ or repeat/shuffle settings from the music player menu; you must navigate all the way to the main settings menu, which is a bit of a hassle.) If you answer a call while music is playing, the song will pause automatically. You can also designate a song as your ring tone.
The 3300 has an FM tuner that automatically scans for stations and stores them in its 20 presets. Reception was good, thanks to the headset, which doubles as an antenna. The 3300's recorder stores music from the FM tuner in AAC format and holds a little more than two hours of FM action, assuming you have a full 64MB of memory available. The recorder will also take voice memos, phone calls, and audio from the line-in port, again in AAC format. We tested the Nokia 3300 (GSM 850/1800) in Manhattan, and our callers told us they could hardly tell we were talking on a cell phone. But we had a hard time hearing our buddies unless we used the included headset.
That said, we were surprised by the sound quality of the 3300's music player and headset. The tunes came through with detail and plenty of bass, especially after we tweaked the EQ to our liking. The phone's external speaker sounded tinny and one-dimensional, but that's to be expected. Unfortunately, the sound cut out if we wiggled the headset's proprietary plug too much.
As expected, battery life for the 3300 was impressive. In our tests, we managed just more than 5 hours of talk time, far surpassing Nokia's promised 2.5 hours. Standby time was also good at 9.25 days, close to the company's rating of 9.5 days. Music time fell short, however; we got almost 7 days compared with the promised 11.