Throwback Review: Nokia Communicator


Phones came and went. But some linger in our memories because of what they represented, what they changed and how they altered our perception of these devices. Today we look at smartphones as our iPhones and Samsungs, with nothing much other than a screen and a button or two. But it wasn’t like that always.


The first “smartphone”

So way before we had the first smartphone, we had the Nokia 9000 Communicator. It was a smartphone even before we coined the term. It rolled all the features of a PC into a single handheld phone by incorporating email, web browsing, fax, word processing and spreadsheets. And just FYI, it did all this much before BlackBerry became the staple symbol of the mobile professional.

Nokia Communicator 9000

Nokia Communicator 9000

In 1996, Nokia (at the height of its creativity in terms of design) presented the world with the Nokia Communicator. An absolute powerhouse for its time, the device came with 8MB of memory and a 33MHz processor running on Nokia’s own GEOS (pre-Symbian) OS. The Communicator could read and edit Microsoft files just like your desktop PC.


Body and build 

Now let’s not forget this was a horizontal clamshell device with a chiclet QWERTY keyboard complete with shortcuts to all features such as the calendar, messages, email and other programmable buttons near the screen. The screen was a long, black-and-white LCD, with a high (for those times) resolution of 640×200 pixels. Now this screen wouldn’t seem like much to you as you read this, but this was the first time graphical web browsing was possible on a device. One problem with the screen though was that it had practically no sunlight legibility.

Contacts on the Communicator 9000


Let’s also remember that this was a time when if you needed to use the internet on such devices you had to connect every single time, like dial-up connections but without the terminator screaming in pain. The horizontal display and access to 9,600 bits per second on GSM networks allowed users with a whole new portal for business on the move.

Now this powerhouse of features existed in a time before we obsessed about how slim a phone is. The Nokia 9000 Communicator was more than 1.5 inches thick and weighed a giant 397g.

There’s no denying the Communicator was a ‘fatty’.


Considering when the Communicator was released and what Nokia’s competitors were offering, the device was priced at a hefty $800 (Dh2,940), which was crazy for those days. The size of the device and the price were far too much for many users to become a popular trend.

The latter years…

The Communicator series

Nokia had to follow up the 9000 model with the 9110 (1998), 9210 (2001), 9500 and the smaller 9300 (2004) and the E90 (2007). Nokia made them smaller, sleeker, added Symbian and many other features and tweaks to see success in the Communicator series. Former Nokia CEO Jorma Ollia told the Wall Street Journal that “we had exactly the right view of what it was all about… We were about five years ahead.” 

The Communicators have and will always be the real smartphones in my eyes. They were brilliant devices that commanded authority and respect like no other device, not because of their look or size, but because of their functionality and features. Did you ever own one? Which one in the series? Do let us know.


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