A New Nokia Communicator, the 9300i.

Information is starting to come out about this as of today (Sat Oct 14). There are pictures available online (the thing is black or dark grey as compared to the 9300's silver, although it supposedly will also be available in silver, identical to the 9300), and the user's manual, courtesy of the FCC. Judging from the manual the 9300i is NOT simply a 9300 with Wi-Fi added, as some people on the net are saying. Read on. Although it hasn't been officially announced by Nokia yet, I have managed to glean the following information:

First, availability and price. The Nokia 9300i Communicator is already being listed in Switzerland for the equivalent of about $785, or about $80 less than the 9500 on the same site, although it is not yet shipping. I don't know about availability elsewhere, but it should be coming soon (by Christmas in the US, apparently).

The 9300i incorporates a completely different firmware (so we might see some of the problems of the current 9300 and 9500 go away with the 9300i, e.g. slow access to call log) and there are significant hardware and software improvements. I will go through the changes, as many as I can see at the moment, here:

* Battery. The 9300i's battery is 1100mAh, compared to the 9300's battery which is a 970 mAh. It needs the extra juice to run Wi-Fi, and if you use it extensively, you might see a *decrease* in the battery life compared to the 9300. (Compare: the 9500 has a 1300mAh battery, and has a similar thirst as - slightly thirstier than - the 9300i, and there are already issues with the battery life of the 9500. Increasing the 9300's battery to 1100mAh is not a whole lot, but we are at the limit of current battery technology here.) As far as I can tell the batteries of the 9300 and the 9300i are physically the same size, so you will be able to 'upgrade' your 9300 battery with a 9300i battery if you so feel like it.

* Cover phone. The cover phone is more thoroughly integrated with the Series 80 of the main phone. There are icons added for GPRS, EDGE (yes a special EDGE icon, that will make some users happy), Data Call (who uses data call these days?), IP Passthrough, and Synchronization.

* Predictive Text Input. The 9300i DOES include predictive text input on the cover phone. The absence of this on the 9300 was widely criticized.

* Instant Messaging. The 9300i includes an IM client that supports AIM, ICQ, and Yahoo - though apparently NOT Jabber, Google and MSN (I guess Yahoo and MSN are now joining up anyway). Shapeservices sells an IM client, called IM+, which implements all 6 of the above on a 9300 or 9500, but from what I can tell, the IM client on the 9300i has a significantly richer feature set than IM+. For example, you can create and manage groups and group chat, block users, and search for users among much else on the 9300i. IM+ provides none of this functionality (indeed, it provides a very crude and rather buggy functionality for $40, which I consider to be outrageous).

* Bluetooth. The 9300i is compliant with Bluetooth Specification 1.2; the 9300 (and 9500) is compliant only with Bluetooth Specification 1.1. Supposedly 1.2 is faster (at starting connections as well as maintaining them), uses adaptive frequency hopping, has better voice quality for voice connections, is easier to setup and use, and requires less battery power. It is backwards compatible with 1.1. It doesn't add any new functionality to Bluetooth.

* HTTP authentication is supported in remote network configuration (not supported in the 9300 or 9500, apparently)

* Wireless 802.11b and 802.11g. Yes, you read it right, the 9300i supports 802.11g as well as b.

* Total memory on the device is 192MB - this is made up of 128MB user memory (compared to 80MB for the 9300 and 9500) and 64MB of ROM.

* Processor. The assumption for the moment is that the 9300i uses the same processor as the 9300.

* Weight: 172g. This compares with the 9300's weight of 167g. The case dimensions are identical.

* There is no vibrate, which is also missing on the 9300 and 9500.

* The phone is 900/1800/1900 TriBand, so no Cingular phone for US users for the time being.

When we finally get our hands on a 9300i for testing, look out for implementations of the following features as improvements on the 9300: Name Display of First, Last on cover phone (unavailable on the 9300/9500); faster access to Call Log (very slow on 9300/9500); updated web browser; improved reception; improved RealPlayer that allows online streaming of audio and video files, and anything else you'd care to name that you're unhappy with on the 9300/9500.

I have read that the 9500 is to be discontinued but this looks like idle rumour. Still, it's hard to see the 9300i and 9500 being sold side-by-side for any length of time, as the 9500 adds only a rather rubbishy VGA camera to the features of the 9300i, is larger and clunkier (and uglier), and the 9300i goes beyond the 9500 in a number of significant ways (see above). I've also heard rumours that this will be the 'last' Communicator that Nokia will develop and market. Considering the improvements the 9300i makes over the 9300, I doubt that is true - these improvements look like evidence of a long-term committment to developing the line to me (upgraded Bluetooth, upgraded WiFi, listening to users about predictive text input, adding memory...). So perhaps there is a successor to the 9500 in the works. But only time will tell.