BitDepth 522 - May 02

As Nokia reveals its line of new multimedia communicators, the question of where Trinidad and Tobago fits in this competitive technology marketplace floats steadily up...
Floating serenely in turbulent seas

Anssi Vanjoki onstage at Nokia's Open Studio 2006 presentation of its new N series multimedia handhelds.
Nokia's N80 handheld combines the functions of a PDA and digital camera into a package that's both useful and available. Photographs by Mark Lyndersay.

So how was I doing? I was pretty sure I was doing okay, having wrestled my social phobias to the ground in an environment in which I was deaf to much of the multi-lingual buzz around me.
The Wasserwerks in Berlin is a club environment built right into the towering metal structures of an old waterplant. The real operations hum right along next door, in a sterile structure that's all glass and steel, the kind of place Star Trek's Borg might build if they had a designer from Braun. No parties there, ever.
I'd been chatting with a gregarious gentleman from France about the demerits of paternal governments and was chewing into wild rice when the question was posed to me, from just over my right shoulder.

Not many voices reach me at that height, so I spun around in surprise to find Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia's multimedia chief. I'll be eternally grateful that I didn't spew half-chewed rice grains all over him. Vanjoki's probably the reason that I was there in the first place, but I really hadn't expected him to break from a huddle with powerplayers like Flickr's Stewart Butterfield to ask about the quality of my visit.
Waving my fork with what I hoped was enthusiasm while I chewed madly, I tried to divine from Vanjoki's steel-grey eyes what he was after. We chatted briefly about the state of Caribbean telecommunications and the near absence of Nokia's new N series from local cell offerings. He moved on, and I finished my meal, but it left me thinking about how we are doing.

In the buzz and advertising fury surrounding the end of TSTT's monopoly, it's easy to forget that we're really just floating around in a digital bay, bobbing on the eddies of the much bigger activities in the oceans of global telecommunications.
Nokia's Open Studio 2006 was held to launch the company's newest iterations of it's N series line of handhelds, mobile phones which marry so many functions into their form factors that they make yesterday's "smart" phones look like they need remedial classes.
On show were the stylish N72, a magnet for the ladies, the N73, a phone designed to take on the iPod and the N93, a phone that really has no precedent, built around the kind of moviemaking features that cameramakers have been trying to force into ever smaller bodies.

Nokia doesn't describe these devices as phones, and the messaging at the Berlin event was consistent; the N series are "multimedia computers" that just happen to be able to place calls.
It's hard to argue with the company's thinking. After using a N80 for a couple of days there, it's clear that a new class of communications device is aborning, though multimedia computer seems a little pompous and misleading for handheld systems that so persuasively converge the best features of mobile phones, skewer traditional PDAs and offer a convincing replacement for many laptop functions.
Most of the N80's more useful functions are available across the N Series line. With a large Mini-SD card, the phone's download functions allow users to store video files for playback on the included Real Player software and listen to music on the built in MP3/AAC player. You can set songs as ringtones and the speaker delivers clear if not inspiring audio.

Quite apart from listening to all this entertainment is the impressive social element of sharing it. Two seconds of the Nokia commercial for the new devices are given to colourful shots of Carnival masqueraders and someone waving two Trinidad and Tobago flags. I froze the player on those frames and showed it to my Nokia hosts, who seemed as surprised as I was to find them there.
Photos taken with the camera's crisp Zeiss lens are an impressive 3.2 megapixels look great as 8x10's as long as you don't forget the lens on its close-up setting like I managed to.

On the 3G wireless network that Nokia opened to participants testing the phones, web browsing was quick and pages were readable, if tiny on the N80's high resolution screen. The ultimate test of any device that claims to be a web-enabled mobile computer is downloading, so I tried grabbing two episodes of the Photoshop TV vidcast and playing them back.
It took around half an hour per episode (at roughly 100MB each) but the files appeared and playback was seamless.

Nokia's new devices aren't low-cost items, with prices ranging from 330 to 550 euros and rollout to the region is likely to be slow after availability begins in June 2006. The lone N series phone in the B Mobile line up, the ageing N90 lists for TT$3799 after the postpaid subsidy and you'll have to factor in the cost of an appropriate Mini-SD card to make full use of all the features on these new devices.
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