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Review: Nokia Booklet 3G an always-on workstation

With smart phones encroaching ever more aggressively on computer territory it was probably only a matter of time before something like the Nokia Booklet 3G emerged. It's a netbook designed to run on a 3G cellular network.

Not yet available in Canada, the Booklet has been out for a few months in the U.S., sold at retailers like Best Buy for $599 or subsidised through AT&T for $299 with a two-year, $60 per-month unlimited data plan.

One might be tempted to draw a comparison with Apple's upcoming 3G-enabled iPad, but these really are different devices for different audiences. Whereas the iPad is primarily a media machine most people will use at home that just happens to have the ability to run productivity software, Nokia's Booklet is more of an on-the-go terminal for people who need to get work done on the road and want the ability to hop online anytime, anywhere.

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Nokia wasn't able to confirm a Canadian release date, pricing, or cell network partner, but they were able to put one in my hands for a short while as Nokia Canada's Anurag Thakur walked me through its features and specifications.

Clearly, the Booklet 3G's biggest advantage over most other netbooks is its inbuilt 3G modem, which gives it the ability to connect to cell networks, allowing for constant Internet access just about anywhere. The Booklet I saw had a Rogers SIM card plugged into a side slot, though Nokia couldn't say whether Rogers will be a partner.

Connecting to a cell network seems about as simple as connecting to Wi-Fi, and users can set it to be their default network connection. Mr. Thakur said we can expect 3G download speeds of up to 10.2 megabytes per second, obviously dependent on location, network, and environmental conditions.

There is no Ethernet, but with 3G and the near ubiquity of Wi-Fi it's hard to imagine many circumstances under which Ethernet would be required.

Cell network connectivity isn't the only thing Nokia's Booklet has going for it. It also sports a sleek, high-end aesthetic. As seems to be all the rage these days, the chassis is made of a single piece of machined aluminum, and the book measures just 19.9 millimetres thick when closed-definitely a luxury look.

It's available in black, white, and blue in the U.S., but there's no word on whether all three colour options will be rolled out north of the border.

It's also possessed of a better-than-average jack pack for a netbook, thanks to a trio of USB ports and an HDMI output that facilitates connections to desktop screens-though it's worth adding that its bright and clear 10.1-inch 1280-by-720 pixel screen probably won't generate many complaints.

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Then there's Nokia's Ovi suite of services, an enhanced version of which is pre-installed on the Booklet. It will let anyone who uses a Nokia phone to easily sync a variety of content via USB or Bluetooth, including contacts, messages, photos, and music. It also includes Social Hub, a unified client for social media services including Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr.

And, thanks to the Booklet's built-in GPS functionality and a program called Ovi Maps, I watched as Mr. Thakur quickly found and set up turn-by-turn directions to a nearby restaurant. Of course, most of us are unlikely to hold your netbook in front of us to follow directions, but data from Ovi Maps (and most Ovi Services apps) is stored in the cloud, which means you can work out directions (or enter data) on the Booklet then access them via your phone.

While I was able to get a general feel for the keyboard and touch pad (a perfectly acceptable, if unexceptional, interface), my brief time with the Booklet wasn't really enough to give me a feel for performance. It packs an Intel Atom Z530 1.6GHz processor, 1GB of DDR2 memory, and a 120GB hard drive-all low voltage components, eliminating the need for a fan. Decent specs, but I'll reserve judgement until I see multitasking in action and more intense multimedia playback.

I'm also keen to see how the battery performs. Nokia claims it will last an impressive 12 hours. If true, most users will likely be able to leave their power cords at home much of the time, making the Booklet's already feathery 1.2 kilogram weight even more manageable.

Clearly, there are plenty of people who would jump at the idea of a highly portable workstation that's always connected to the Internet. But here's the burning question: What sort of data plan will Nokia be able to wrangle from Canada's wireless providers? A 3G netbook could end up being the biggest data hog around, and it is entirely possible that plans offered by Canadian wireless companies could end up being prohibitively expensive, severely diminishing the possibility of traction among mainstream consumers.

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About the Author
Game and Gadget Reporter

Chad Sapieha has been writing about video games and consumer gadgets for the Globe and Mail since 2003. His work has been published in magazines, newspapers, and Web sites across North America, and he has appeared as an expert on television and radio newscasts. More

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