Editors' note: Portions of this review were taken from our evaluation of the Nokia N8, as the two smartphones come with similar software.
Announced at CTIA 2011, the Nokia Astound is essentially a rebranded version of the Nokia C7, which was introduced back in October 2010. The sleek-looking smartphone offers an 8-megapixel camera, Wi-Fi calling, and a wallet-friendly price tag of $79.99 with a two-year contract. However, it also runs Symbian 3, which still lags behind the competition and faces an uncertain future. The price is attractive, but still, is the phone really worth it? We set out to find out.
For all the criticism that Nokia gets, one thing it has always done well is make solid hardware, and the Nokia Astound is no exception. Made with high-quality materials, including a glass display and stainless-steel battery door, the Astound feels like a premium device. It's ultrasleek at just 4.62 inches tall by 2.24 inches wide by 0.41 inch thick and 4.58 ounces, which is a nice departure from some of the larger smartphones we've seen of late. The Astound is attractive to boot, with its frosty metal color and chrome accents.
The phone's AMOLED capacitive touch screen measures 3.5 inches diagonally and has a 640x360-pixel resolution. Admittedly, it's not the latest and greatest in display technology, but considering the price, we weren't expecting that. The screen is still sharp and bright enough that reading text and viewing multimedia isn't painful. There's pinch-to-zoom support and a built-in accelerometer so you can zoom in and increase your viewing area for Web pages, for example.
The touch screen was responsive, though the smartphone's general sluggishness affects the launching of applications and the pinch-to-zoom gesture. The Astound offers both a landscape and a portrait keyboard. The latter is a welcome addition, since the Astound's predecessor, the Nokia N8, didn't have one. However, the keyboard is quite cramped, so we suggest switching to Swype instead, which is preinstalled on the phone.
In addition to the touch screen, there are Talk and End keys and a menu button below the display. The right spine features a volume rocker, a mute button, a lock switch, and a dedicated camera key. There's a power port on the left, but unfortunately it and the included AC adapter use a nonstandard micro-pin connector. The good news is that you can charge the phone using the Micro-USB port on top, though you'll have to supply your own charger. The top of the phone also has a 3.5mm headphone jack and a power button, and the camera and dual LED flash are located on the back.
The Nokia Astound comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired stereo headset, and reference material.
Though Nokia has partnered with Microsoft to make Windows Phone its primary operating system going forward, the Finnish cell phone manufacturer said it's still committed to Symbian and will continue to support the platform in future products. The Nokia Astound is one such product.
The Astound runs on Symbian 3.1, so as with the N8 you get three home screen panels, which you can customize with various widgets for your messages, social networks, music player, favorite contacts, RSS feeds, and so forth. The widgets can provide you with a quick preview of the latest information, and if you want to see more you can tap on the widget to launch the individual application.
The main menu is pretty much the same, presenting a grid view of your applications (you can change to list view if you prefer). One of our favorite features is that if you long-press the menu key below the screen it will bring up a thumbnail view of all your running applications. From there, you can scroll through the list to switch between tasks or exit out of an app completely.
The biggest improvement in this version of Symbian is that it offers a single-tap interaction model across the user interface. This means that unlike with past Symbian S60 devices like the Nokia N97 Mini, you'll no longer have to go through multiple steps to complete a simple task or muddle through the confusion of which menus require one tap or two.
Still, there are times where you have to dig through menus to accomplish a task. For example, to reply to an e-mail you must first hit Options and then choose reply. Meanwhile, in Android, the reply option is on the same page as the e-mail. The navigational experience was made all the more frustrating by occasional "memory full" error messages when we were simply trying to cycle through the home screens.