Nokia 6790 Surge Review

Introduction and Design

Rarely we come across a decent Nokia device sneaking its way onto AT&T's lineup that turns heads. For the longest of times, they've been offering basic flip handsets that really doesn't do justice to the world's number one phone maker. Fortunately enough they've been graced with a magnificent smart phone like the Nokia E71x recently with its business oriented push. On the other hand, they've just released the Nokia 6790 Surge which is aiming to be a middle of the road device that focuses on messaging with features of a smart phone. It's not just that Nokia's name is on there, but hopefully it'll continue their push back into the mainstream with AT&T customers.

The package contains:
•    Nokia 6790 Surge
•    Charger
•    Users Manual
•    Getting Started CD


Before seeing it in person, the Nokia 6790 Surge just had a look that made it stand out and enticing. Those feelings quickly subsided as we noticed the almost cheap feel of the design. It's kind of hard gauging which way to hold the phone at first – we wonder which orientation the designers built the phone around. The glossy plastic used throughout just attracts finger prints and leaves us with a sense of inferior materials. The top portion of the phone with the screen is relatively thin while the body housing the QWERTY is almost three times as thick. It's wider (2.28”) when comparing it to similar side-sliding devices. Luckily it won't drag you down because of the lightweight (4.38 oz) feel in the pockets – the plastic casing is responsible for that. We're definitely afraid of even slightly dropping the device because it feels a bit on the fragile side.

You can compare the Nokia 6790 Surge with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

For the most part, the 2.4” LCD screen dominates the front with it's ability to display 16 million colors. Although it has a resolution of 240x320 pixels, it just does not look quite as sharp as we hoped for. Even the colors seemed a bit of the drab side and doesn't jump out enough to make it stand out. The outdated look of the interface is partly to blame for the Surge's screen quality taking a dive. Placing the brightness to the highest setting will still pose a problem when attempting to view it in direct sunlight – making it difficult to see what you're doing.

It's sometime confusing trying to comprehend which orientation Nokia had in mind when designing the Surge. The Nokia and AT&T logos near the speaker in the front make it more apparent that it's built with landscape in mind. The navigational pad is a bit small – frequently pressing the wrong button while the center select key is somewhat easier to push. All the other face buttons are almost flush with dedicated buttons for messaging, main menu, and Media Net browser. The volume rocker is appropriately sized as well as the camera key next to it. Nokia makes it easier to transfer data with the microUSB port on the left side. On the top edge, you'll find the speaker phone, 3.5 mm headset jack, and charging port. The 2-megapixel camera is by itself on the back – no flash or self portrait mirror to be found. Removing the back cover reveals the battery, SIM card slot, and spring loading microSD slot tucked away on the edge of the phone.

Sliding the phone left to right will allow you access to the spacious four row QWERTY keyboard. All the buttons are next to one another with no spacing in between – they're large enough for your thumbs to feel out and quite tactile to our taste. Dialing a phone number is annoying because it can be accomplished only by using the numeric pad on the QWERTY. Thankfully you can bypass all of that by just accessing your address book and selecting the person you want to call. The bottom row of keys could've been effectively turned into additional buttons – you find the space bar and two shift buttons taking up excessive space. The backlighting is adequate with most of the illumination emanating from the center. The QWERTY was the stand out great feature – typing away becomes natural on it. 

Nokia 6790 Surge 360 Degrees View:


AT&T customers received a good dose of Nokia's Symbian S60 3rd Edition, Feature Pack 2 on the AT&T branded E71x. The Nokia 6790 Surge slightly jumps up to version 9.3 which looks no different from the previous version. Regrettably with this go around, it's a bit outdated with the low resolution icons and text. We were hoping to see some kind of light shed on this aging platform – especially after encountering the great amount of new goodies in the 6700 classic’s non-smart interface. Personalizing the interface and home screen can be modified to an extent in the options menu. During certain intervals, we experienced some lag when we tried executing a command or application – almost looking like the phone has froze. Luckily the accelerometer quickly adjusts the display according to the orientation; even when opening the QWERTY. One has to keep in mind that the Nokia Surge is a smartphone; so multiple applications can be running simultaneously.

At it's core, the Nokia 6790 Surge has all the elements of a smart phone – plenty of useful information can be stored for each contact. One would think the amount it can retain is dependent on how well you manage the phone's memory, but it's in fact limited to only 1000 contacts.

No doubt that the Surge is geared with the text messenger in mind – the dedicated messaging button quickly gives you access to various functions. It's simple to send both SMS and MMS without all the hassle.

Nothing really special with the Instant Messaging application powered by Oz. Users will have their choice of AIM, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger to choose from. If you plan on using the Surge for emails, you'll be pleased to find the application to be extensive and useful. Similar to other smart phones, just about any email provider can be used to retrieve email. Popular ones like Yahoo will ask you for your email address and password – then it'll automatically punch in the settings. If you decide to use an alternate obscure one, it'll simply ask you to input the incoming and outgoing server addresses. This is definitely a plus for anyone who wishes to keep up-to-date with their email.

The usual AT&T set of software can be found – XM Radio, Music ID, Yellowpages to name a few. The smart phone aspect is evident with Adobe PDF and Quickoffice allowing those business users some flexibility of taking their work on the go. Finally, location based services are offered such as AT&T Navigator and Where.

It may be a bit underpowered, but the 2-megapixel camera produced good detail; no muddy look when zooming in. We can't say the same for the color reproduction – shots taken outdoors in good lighting looked washed out. It takes 3 seconds to get the photo taking application up and running with shots taken almost instantaneously as you press the dedicated button. The interface is free from clutter to give you as much viewing room for the image you want to take. You can capture photos in either 640 x 480 or 1600 x 1200 resolution with minor options to change like white balance. To say the least, images were not bad with the exception of how colors look.

Video recording was a dismal experience with it being pixelated and choppy at the same time. Even when capturing at the maximum resolution of 320x240, the Surge just struggled with its video performance. Even the audio sounded a bit muted and best used for strictly MMS.

We like the presentation of the music player – it offered a bunch of options like equalizer settings and visualizations. It'll display the artist, album art, track name, and time remaining. The icons for reverse, pause/play, and forward corresponds to the navigational pad. Exiting back to the home screen will allow the song to continue playing with a bar indicator now displaying the music status. Sound quality from the speaker phone was lacking with crackling heard when placed on the loudest volume. Even changing the equalizer settings to “bass booster” did not remedy the poor performance. Fortunately, we liked how the visualization tools (album art or spectrum) added some spice to the interface.

Video playback is powered by RealPlayer – which produced some good results with the videos we used. We managed to load up two movie trailers in MPEG4 320x240 and H.264 320x136 without any hiccups. They played smoothly, no lag whatsoever, and the screen was adequately sized. You can play it in either orientation with a two second delay whenever switching views. Nonetheless, the Surge does a decent job being used for viewing all sorts of videos on the go.

Going on a trip overseas? The Nokia 6790 Surge is a quad-band GSM phone (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) with dual-band UMTS capability (850/1900 MHz). Just don't expect 3G speeds when you take it outside of the United States.

The web browser is just the same one that is found on the the E71x – except that it's a but sluggish when loading up complex pages and scrolling. We recommend waiting until a site has been completely downloaded before venturing off – or else you'll find it slowing down extensively as you try to scroll. There is a mini-map that displays when you scroll for a while; we just wished there was a button to have it open at will. Fortunately there is a page overview option to display the entire site – making it relatively quick to scroll. Flash is supported, but found it not implemented well due to the amount of slowdown occurring whenever we attempted viewing a YouTube video.

If you plan on using the Nokia Surge as a media hub, you'll probably want to use a microSD card – which can support cards up to 8GB in capacity.


The call quality was average at its best on the Nokia 6790 Surge. Callers sounded somewhat muffled at times while background static could be heard whenever there was dead silence during our conversations. We didn't need to place the volume at its loudest setting to hear our callers. On the other end, callers stated our voices were distinct and punctual. We received similar results with the speaker phone except that there was some crackling. Our biggest annoyance with phone calls is the need to open up the QWERTY to punch in a phone number. On top of that, the numbers on the pad are arranged in landscape view. That’s why it might be easier to call your contacts through the phonebook.

No problems with the Surge maintaining signal strength in the greater Philadelphia area. We did not get any dropped calls or major fluctuations in bars during our use.

The battery (1500 mAh) is rated for 5 hours of talk time and 400 hours of standby. It didn't go past the three day mark with the screen brightness set to the maximum before it was completely drained.


Although equipped with a nice QWERTY keyboard, AT&T's second tasting of S60 leaves a sour taste in our mouth with its undecided design, lackluster interface, and sub-par workmanship. The Nokia E71x set the bar in terms of visual appeal with its slim profile – something that the Nokia 6790 Surge sorely missed from the onset. To top it off, it can't be held in the same class of premier Nokia handsets we've seen recently. Rather, it surges to become part of the already crowded lineup of QWERTY devices that is a step below becoming a true smartphone.

Nokia 6790 Surge Video Review:


  • Well sized QWERTY
  • Full featured email


  • Dialing a phone number is difficult
  • Battery life is short
  • Awkward design
  • Cheap feel

PhoneArena Rating:


User Rating:

8 Reviews

Recommended Stories

Loading Comments...
FCC OKs Cingular\'s purchase of AT&T Wireless