The 5500 is basically the 4WD of mobile phones. Well, maybe a small and sporty Rav4 anyway. It shines under conditions where other phones fail, with a rugged case that is resistant to water, shocks and dust. A coin-lock mechanism at the back protects the battery while a rubberised seal swings around to cover the charger connection at the bottom.
The 5500's trim figure mirrors those of its fitness-focused target market. As Nokia explains in an introductory booklet bundled with the 5500, the handset is for: "the sport user, he's an individual who enjoys being in the gym, always on the move or just hanging out with family and friends."
We don't see the 5500 Sport as being gender-specific; its casing blends silver, dark grey and black shades into an attractive and stylish, though somewhat stark, looking handset. The successor to the Nokia 5140i, the 5500 has been trimmed down to a compact 107 by 45 by 18mm. Its light weight (103 grams) combined with the smooth rubberised grip make the 5500 Sport feel both comfortable and secure in your palm.
The square screen, although relatively small for a smartphone, is sharp and vibrant with support for 262K colours. Beneath it are two user-definable shortcut keys and a four-way scroll key. It took us a while to find the Call and End keys -- unlike most mobile phones that display these prominently as big red and green buttons, on the 5500 they are 5mm slivers pointing diagonally inwards from the edge.
To cycle between the 5500's music player, sports features and phone mode, there is a convenient Instant Swap key on the right. It would be better if Nokia made the applications customisable, especially when people are used to having a dedicated camera key there. Below this are the infrared port and Edit key, the latter used in messages to quickly access text settings. The left side hosts the volume keys and a push-to-talk shortcut, which essentially turns your phone into a long-distance walkie-talkie using GPRS.
Fitness features such as a pedometer and a calorie counter for preset activities such as walking, cycling, running, rowing and stair-stepping might attract wannabe athletes initially, but if getting into shape is you're primary goal, the 5500 doesn't hold much over a $50 pedometer or a Carmen Electra Aerobic Striptease tape. There's no heart rate monitor, but you can schedule in exercise times and track your progress using the crummy inbuilt software. Another interesting feature, which we assume works using the same sensor that powers the pedometer, is tapping the upper half of the phone to have text messages read to you in a rather dreary British accent. The same eerie voice can also attempt to read out contact's names when a call is received.
Although the 5500's 2-megapixel camera has no flash of its own, there is a bright torch at the top of the handset which is invaluable when you're trying to find your keys at night, and is easily switched on by holding down the star key. Videos can be recorded at resolutions up to 176x144 pixels (think the size of a postage stamp); clips stored in Real, MPEG-4 and H.263 formats can be played back. A wide range of digital music is also supported, including MP3, AAC and WMA. There's also an FM radio onboard, but you need to connect the supplied stereo headset to use it.
The 5500's 10MB of internal memory seems stodgy, but microSD cards up to 1GB can be added. There is an RSS reader and xHTML browser with Nokia Minimap technology, but the 30mm square screen is far from ideal for Web browsing.
We're always hesitant about taking tech toys near water, but we can honestly say the 5500 Sport kept on ticking after we dunked it in a glass of water (on three separate occasions). The 5500 also survived being dropped in a small puddle of water and having beer spilt on it at the pub -- unfortunately we didn't have rubber gloves at hand to test what has put many a phone to rest: the fatal drop into a toilet bowl.
Thanks to the Pop-Port-to-3.5mm headphone adaptor, you're not stuck having to use Nokia's tinny headphones for music. The set Nokia supplies are of the hook behind the ear variety, which keeps them in place while jogging, but they are awkward to put on and sacrifice music quality as they don't sit snugly inside your ear.
Although you can enter your height and weight to improve the accuracy of the pedometer software, the Nike + iPod Sports Kit can be fine tuned to your exact pace and would be our recommendation for those serious about fitness.
Several of our test photos from the 5500's 2-megapixel camera came out blurry. Even on the highest quality setting, colours were not always represented accurately -- blacks tended to be green.
Nokia claims up to ten days' standby time and four hours' talk time. With light use of the 5500 Sport purely as a phone, we managed to get about four days between charges. Expect less when frequently using the 5500's extra features, such as games, music or Bluetooth.
Although the fitness features seem gimmicky to us, we would not hesitate recommending the mid-range as a well-built, sturdy phone, as long as you don't need larger-than-life keys. Nokia's Series 60 smartphone operating system might be overkill for this target market, but it does allow you to install additional software. It is a tri-band handset that will work most places in the world where there is coverage.