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A Phone That Makes You Feel Powerless

When I tried out a batch of high-resolution camera phones a few weeks ago, I faced one unusual challenge--figuring out how to turn one of these models on and off.

And the design of the Nokia N93 didn't flummox only me. It also had my wife baffled as well--and she used to work in a wireless carrier's IT department!

When I asked a couple of my co-workers--both telecom reporters--to turn on the N93, they all needed a few minutes to figure out how, even with a fair amount of coaching from me. (I shot a video of one colleague flailing away, but then managed to delete it accidentally--the brain-dead interface on a Verizon-issued Samsung a990 zapped the video when I navigated away from its camcorder screen.)

How could Job One on the Nokia phone be so difficult for experienced users to perform? The red "End" button doesn't also turn the phone on and off--as is the case on many new phones--and the actual power button is instead hidden on the top of the phone, where the screen obscures it when you flip open the phone. Genius!

So, as a public service, here's a photo of the N93 that clarifies how you're supposed to turn the thing on:

(Remind to send Nokia a bill for writing their documentation.)

It's things like this, I think, that have a lot of people so excited about the prospect of the iPhone--finally, we'd have a phone from a company that actually seems to care about making its hardware easy to use.

Got any other phone-interface horror stories? Share in the comments...

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 9, 2007; 8:32 AM ET
Categories:  Gripes  
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The worst things with most cell phones I've seen are the plugs:
1. Data connection for syncing: They all connect to computers over USB. USB connectors are the same on every computer. So why are they different on every cell phone? USB is a /standard/ dammit!
2. The charger connection: How many different voltages/amperages are there for cell phones? How many do there have to be? Why do the transformers always have to be on the ends of the cables rather than in the middle?

Posted by: wiredog | April 9, 2007 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Motorola's newest phones use mini-usb for data and charging. Brilliant.

Posted by: to wiredog | April 9, 2007 9:52 AM | Report abuse

As long as you're open to "phone-interface horror stories" that aren't limited to hardware:
* My current Samsung (Sprint) phone insists on playing a stupid little jingle when I turn it off. One of the main reasons people turn off their phones is to silence them, dummies! The last thing I want when I'm turning off the phone in a quiet place is for it to sing a little "shut down" song. (Work-around: lower the volume to "vibrate" or "off" first.)
* My old Samsung (Sprint) phone, when I put it on vibrate, would still play the voicemail song when a caller left a message. They don't sell this one any more.

Posted by: DougK | April 9, 2007 9:55 AM | Report abuse

The keypad on my T-Mobile Dash doesn't have letters on the number keys, so if you want to call a number that's expressed in letters (e.g., 1-800-ASK-USPS to get info from the post office), you either have to have memorized the letter-number connections or have another phone in front of you that does have the letters on the keys.

There's supposed to be a way to do this. I found it once on the T-Mobile web site, but when I tried to repeat the steps as I remembered them, it didn't work. When I tried to locate the info on the web site a second time, I was unable to do so because the search and navigation functions are so poor. There are several other topics for which this has been true, i.e., that I was unable to locate info that I'd found once before.

Posted by: THS | April 9, 2007 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Are you saying they did not include "how to turn phone on" in their user manual? Did you RTM? I'm just askin' ...

Posted by: You Bet! | April 9, 2007 10:46 AM | Report abuse

You mean, this is a phone that doesn't require you to flip it open to turn it on or off? To some people, that's preferable. One would presume that for those of us actually buying the darn thing, we'd factor that into the decision.

I hear the new standardized VZW interface is pretty bad.

Posted by: 23112 | April 9, 2007 11:32 AM | Report abuse

One other thing...the separate on-off button on the top of the phone is a Nokia design note. My old Nokia 3650 had the same setup.

Posted by: 23112 | April 9, 2007 11:34 AM | Report abuse

The N93 Getting Started Guide, , has a section titled "Switch The Device On".

Posted by: wiredog | April 9, 2007 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Of course I didn't read the manual. Why should I need to do that before doing something as simple and basic as turning the phone on?

Seriously... is nothing in consumer electronics allowed to be self-explanatory these days?

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | April 9, 2007 1:00 PM | Report abuse

To DougK:

If you know that you never want the "goodbye jingle" to play, check your phone to see if there is a separate "goodbye" or "power-off" alert. If that alert is separated, you could switch that to silent and still have your other alerts. I'm not familiar with Samsung phones, so I couldn't point you to where you may find it though. Rob may have some suggestions.

Posted by: midanae | April 9, 2007 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Rob, you're really leading me to question your ability to review these things.

Posted by: 23112 | April 9, 2007 2:21 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Rob. A phone is something I should be able to use without having to read a manual. If turning the device on requires me to RTM, there's something seriously wrong. The quality of design is measured by the degree to which the operation of the device is intuitive.

The designers of most personal technology devices (and I include Apple in this list for some products) fail this test miserably.

Posted by: Jimbo | April 9, 2007 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, but there's a chrome button with the universal symbol for "Power On" that's right there on top of the device. It's not like it's hidden. This phone may leave some things to be desired, but this complaint just sounds like so much whining.

Posted by: 23112 | April 9, 2007 2:53 PM | Report abuse

The idea that anyone would pick up a new cell phone without looking at the manual and expect to be able to do ANYTHING except dial a call is a little silly. Modern cell phones are NOT simple tools. They are portable computers with cameras and networking -- with all the complexity that implies.

Posted by: telemann | April 9, 2007 3:23 PM | Report abuse

I think rob was just lazy on this blog post deadline and decided to complain about something that is such a non-issue.

Nokia makes many cellphones (not all sold in all markets) that are considered to have some of the most innovative designs and ease of functionality. I don't own a Nokia since i need to use a Windows Mobile 5 based phone/pda, but this power button on the top is something that will become more common in cellphones. You should see some of the models that are sold in Asia and Europe.

P.S. Get on a GSM based service in the US and you can purchase GSM phones from around the world that are quite unique. Try a clamshell type phone that opens two way!

Posted by: kjb434 | April 9, 2007 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Just one question ... after putting off finally buying a cell "phone", can someone explain why they still are called "phones"? A more fitting name might be ... mini entertainment device ... or "Swiss Army Knife" type wonder toy

Posted by: Dick | April 9, 2007 4:09 PM | Report abuse

The power button on top is common to every Nokia phone I have ever used, and only someone who had never used a Nokia would have been flummoxed by it.

I appreciate that reviewers should represent the average user rather than the expert. I still wonder if anyone flummoxed for more than a minute or two might be better off in a different line of work ;)

Posted by: Bruce | April 9, 2007 4:36 PM | Report abuse

I don't think you are asking for too much to expect to be able to turn on your phone without looking at the manual. For that matter, I think we should be able to turn on ALL phones and make basic phone calls without having to read the manual. Just imagine if each car worked a little differently! Imagine one car with the accelerator on the steering wheel and a break button on the shifter, or the accelerator is on the left peddle and the brakes on the right peddle. No one would stand for that.In this day and age, the mobil phone is not just a convenience but potentially a life saver. I don't think that a minimum of standardization is too much to ask for.

Posted by: James | April 9, 2007 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Nokias always have designated on/off switches, at least in my experience (I've had many a Nokia). Nearly everybody agrees that that's a GOOD thing.

Posted by: nokia lover | April 9, 2007 4:36 PM | Report abuse

The manuals that come with cell phones are usually awful! The several Verizon phones I've had, for instance, have many phone features that are nowhere in the manual. Nowhere in the printed version and nowhere online.

On most electronic devices, the manuals are at least comprehensive even if they're incomprehensible. On cell phones, it seems that they're both incomprehensive and incomprehensible.

Posted by: nashpaul | April 9, 2007 4:59 PM | Report abuse

I love the way that Rob writes an entire article criticising the user-interface on the Nokia N93 but fails to record a colleague's struggles due to his inability to use a Samsung a990. Perhaps it might be easier if he listed the phones he CAN use(!)

Posted by: Where's Mike? | April 9, 2007 5:15 PM | Report abuse

I found a BlackBerry.
I wanted to return it to the owner. Really, I have no use for the damn thing!
I couldn't figure out how to turn it on. No one I knew had a BlackBerry either, so they didn't know how to turn it on.
Googled it, found out how, turned it on, or rather tried to, the battery was dead, so I plugged it in to a mini USB plug, didn't charge it.
Found out you had to download software to charge it.
Threw BlackBerry in the garbage as I wasn't going to go through that just to return a lost BlackBerry!
There isn't a "Power" button, there's a "Sun" button.
That doesn't mean a damn thing to me!
What the hell is wrong with these device designers that they can't label the "Power" button "POWER"?

Posted by: Unindicted Co-conspirator | April 9, 2007 9:03 PM | Report abuse

I feel that at least let alone Nokia's product like the Phone, the product should be made convenient to users

Posted by: Unindicated Copconspirator | April 9, 2007 9:25 PM | Report abuse

I have a Nokia 6102b - camera phone on Cingular. I bought this models specifically for the IR download function that was suppose to be compatible with my Toshiba Satellite. After trying for hours to down load pictures neither me nor my PhD. Computer Science brother-n-law could get the phone to download the photos. I called Cingular and the agent actually laughed at me - she said you didn't really think Cingular would let you download pictures without paying did you? I called another agent and she said the IR system in the phone is too weak to communicate with any computer - we're talking IR ports less than a centimeter apart here. The phone turns on and off with an unlabeled nav button on lower right of the screen. The other nav buttons around the screen do not correspond to the menus that appear on the screen - the menus that appear in the lower corners are controlled by... you guessed it the upper buttons. The model number that you need to refer to when calling help - you guessed that right too - under the battery. Nokia has had some good phones I have had six over the years - however something happened to their designers about two or three years ago and since then their phones have been a complete mess when it comes to user friendly - intutive layouts. This was my last Nokia phone.

Posted by: mason | April 10, 2007 12:24 AM | Report abuse

I had to read the manual to turn on my N93 too. I'm glad I'm not alone...

Posted by: David | April 10, 2007 12:25 AM | Report abuse

Rob - I would like to know where are the instructions for complete beginners with mobiles. My husband (76) was given an Ericsson mobile phone by my daughter last Christmas. To date we have got no further than turning it on. I cannot find any instuctions for how to actually use it. Do you know of a site? I have searched. Even the Dummies series (her in the Uk at least) do not have one. Talk about frustration.

Any help would be useful.

Nicole in Hove in the UK

Posted by: Nicole | April 10, 2007 3:57 AM | Report abuse

I have a Samsung flip phone - the cheapest model I could get from Sprint, because the government contractor I work for doesn't allow cameraphones (try finding a phone without a camera these days - I had 2 choices). The speakerphone on/off button is located on the side, right where my thumb falls when I'm trying to talk. I blasted my ears several times before retraining myself to hold the phone differently. That same button, when the phone is closed, activates speakerphone voice dialing or, if you hold it down, redials the last number called. My purse calls people regularly, and I can't find any way to turn the darn button off.

Posted by: SPC | April 10, 2007 8:55 AM | Report abuse

I recently (about 5months ago) bought a Samsung A920. I purchased this phone mainly for the purpose of using it as a mp3 player. In the advert for it, it stated it came with a 'data Transfer cable' so i expected that would be what i used to load songs onto my phone. However attatched to the usb cable was a note saying read instructions before using. the instructions did not mention the cable at all and i was unable to transfure songs, how ever i could download them from my carrier, for about $2 a song! i rang my carrier, to have them explain to me that the transfer cable was just for transfuring pictures from the phone to a printer. on another call i was told it would connect to the computer but needed software from the samsung website, which i had to find myself, and in the end did not work correctly(at all!). eventually i had to pay for a usb card reader that cost me about 40$ as well as a micro SD card adapter that cost around 10$. After paying the intial cost of around $NZ400 for the phone, and 50 for the card reader before being able to use it as a actuel MP3 player.. i was very disapointed. Not so much in Samsung but in the Slanderous statments that my carrier made about the phone. so in my veiw; samsung,yes. Telecom new zeland, NO

Posted by: Falcon | April 10, 2007 9:35 AM | Report abuse

I loved Nokia--at least they had a freaking button for an on/off switch! In order to turn my Motorola razr on or off, I have to hit the red button twice. Rather like an ipod. I do not like that feature. Another feature that my old Nokia had was a lock button so that I didn't inadvertently call someone. That red button, btw, is to hang up the phone!

Posted by: HelloMoto!! | April 10, 2007 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Rob - followup on the RTM? question above. I don't read manuals until I have a question. But if I do, I expect the answer to be there. If I could not find the power switch, I'd RTM. If the answer was not there, then I'd whine.

Posted by: You Bet | April 11, 2007 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Rob's right on here, the on/off button is hidden by the screen with the phone open. Why not just place it on the side so it's always accessible. Isn't that why you get an engineering degree?

Nokia does deserve credit for at least having an on/off button. Why computers don't have simple on/off buttons-or for that matter volume dials (instead of Fn/F8) always escapes me.

Posted by: SK | April 11, 2007 8:07 PM | Report abuse

I'm with Rob on this one. The upscale Nokias now leave a lot to be desired in terms of usability.

I bought a N80 smartphone so I could do email while travelling. If it weren't for that I would bin the thing, as it is so frustrating to use. Setting it up to use with a WLAN (one of the main selling points of the device) is not even documented with the standard Nokia material and I had to find a third party site which takes you through all the steps.

Performance-wise, the Symbian software is pretty awful. Screen-refreshes take an age (it only seems quick compared to the 45+ second boot time, which is slower than my laptop).

It's also impossible just to Cancel out of an attempt to connect to a network - you have to do it about 8-9 times, as it just keeps trying and putting up prompts that stop you from doing anything else with the phone (like answering a call).

The N80 has one of these new ultra-thin power plugs which don't seem to serve any particular purpose - there is more space on the bottom of this phone than on my Nokix 61xx. However the ultra-thin plugs just don't stay in the hole unless they're sitting on a stationary surface at the right angle...and believe me you have to do this a lot because the device goes from full-power to out of power very quickly, seeming missing all the intermediate power levels.

The built-in keylock is useless, as the unit only has to slide open about 2 nanometres for it to be disabled. Get a free third party one that works.

My camera is now about 6 months old. Yesterday I tried to download a new theme that might be more user-friendly in outdoor light, but the Nokia site has none.

The web browser is awful. If it can't access a site, then it doesn't retain the URL in history - you have to type it all in again.

Using the address book is MUCH harder than any other Nokia model I've used. This is not a SMART phone, it's a collage of usability nightmares.

Posted by: Mike | April 12, 2007 6:37 AM | Report abuse

I wish I could remember who said this, but I love it: "I had always waited for the day my computer would be as easy to use as my phone. And now that day is here. I can't figure out my phone, either."

Posted by: Bill | April 12, 2007 8:10 AM | Report abuse

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