It seems we've been bombarded of late with music mobiles and cameraphones - all claiming to replace our favourite gadgets. But with the market rapidly saturating, manufacturers are increasingly looking towards creating niche areas to expand into.

The area of sport has been catered for in the past on mobiles, with pedometers and splash-proof casings nothing new. But while Nokia previously highlighted the durability of its 5000-series handsets, they always seemed more at home on the building-site than in the gym. That is, of course, until the 5500.

Designed with sporting activity at the forefront of its feature-set, the 5500 provides the ultimate answer for today's busy lifestyle. Built not only to withstand the rigours of a tough workout but also to assist you with it, the 5500 is the smallest device yet to pack in smartphone capabilities.

Unlike previous 5000-series offerings, the handset hides its durability well and could easily pass as an average mobile. The casing is almost entirely made of metal and rubber, with a screw keeping the battery cover in place. On the bottom of the handset the Pop-Port is protected by a rubber cover, while the bundled 64MB microSD card is kept well away from trouble in the guts of the handset.

Jazzing things up, a unique trim runs around the screen and eventually turns into the Send and End keys. Two colour schemes are available: black with a white trim and titan with a yellow trim. Between the curves of this trim and above the compact rubber keypad sits a decent-sized metal navi-pad, flanked by two soft-keys and the Menu and Cancel buttons.

A lack of available space sees the 'Pencil' button associated with Nokia smartphones moved to the rubberised right-hand edge of the handset, below the Infrared and Mode button that switches between Phone, Music and Sport modes.

As usual, switching between profi les can be done using the On/Off button on top of the handset, next to which is a handy fl ashlight that can be activated by pressing the star key.

Features

We won't beat about the bush - this may be a smartphone, but it's the 5500's sports features that will attract the most admiring glances.

Split into Quick Start, Diary and Tests, Sport mode can easily be activated by pressing the Mode button twice. You'll notice as you do so that the navi-pad changes colour, from white indicating Phone mode, to red for Music and green for Sport; a neat touch, and helpful for quick access on the move.

The first time you venture into Sport mode you'll be required to enter some personal info on weight, height and so on to allow the application to make accurate calculations and come up with appropriate training exercises. You're then free to reach for your trainers...

Opting for Quick Start will bring up a split screen displaying distance covered, calories burned and total duration; these can also be tabbed through to show each statistic individually. For instance, scrolling to the Pedometer screen will show you the number of steps taken, your average speed and the amount of energy spent.

Enable the Text To Speech feature, and all these stats can be read out to you - leaving you free to concentrate on the exercise in hand.

Under the Tests section, you'll fi nd two preprogrammed exercises. The fi rst 'Cooper' test requires you to run a certain distance, with the results combined into the Diary section so you can compare your progress against your goals, while the second is a form of bike endurance test. Of course, it's always possible to personalise your exercises and set your own goals as well.

Fitness fans will also be happy with the Nokia Sport Manager application for desktop PCs, which accumulates all the sport-related data from your phone on your computer so you can manage and track your regime.

Speech to text

We alluded to it earlier, but the 5500 is actually the first device with a preinstalled integrated Text To Speech (TTS) function. Designed so you don't have to take your eyes off the treadmill, with TTS enabled you can not only hear the statistics for your exercise, you can even get SMS messages read aloud to you, along with the name of anyone calling you.

Another first is the tap control, which maximises the potential of the inbuilt motion sensor used in the pedometer. This allows some functions of the phone to be activated merely by tapping the fascia, so you don't have to fiddle pressing buttons. For example, tapping the front twice will turn on the music player, while tapping either side navigates through tracks. It's also used to request an incoming SMS to be read aloud.

Not missing out on the gaming possibilities of motion sensor control, the preinstalled Groovelab sees you control a ball around a labyrinth by rocking the phone from side-to-side and tapping.

Of course, there's more to the 5500 than its sporting assets, and the handset comes with the full complement of Nokia smartphone features. On top of this, there's a well-equipped music player (the same as can be found on the music-oriented 3250) and a 2-megapixel CMOS camera unit that also caters for video recording.

Snaps can be taken at a maximum resolution of 1,600x1,200 pixels, and while there is a digital zoom and builtin editor, there's no autofocus or fl ash present. Video uses the 3GP format, and can be recorded at 15fps at resolutions up to 176x144 pixels. Getting media on and off your handset is simple, with Bluetooth, Infrared and USB Mass Storage support all on offer.

Performance

As the first of a new breed, the 5500 takes an old idea and repackages it into an attractive, compact and unique handset. Cramming smartphone functionality into a device this small is a major achievement in itself, and clearly a lot of thought has gone into providing a well-rounded proposition to its target audience.

Despite its compactness, few logistical problems arise in use, and the only real disappointment was the battery life. We got just over two days from a single charge, with around half-an-hour's worth of calls and a good tinkering with the neat applications on offer. However, this is hardly unusual for a S60 smartphone - and given the handset's size should not be considered too much of a drawback.

The music player is easy-to-use and the Nokia Sports Headset provided great audio quality. All in all, this little athlete could be set to be a winner - and with a special Music Edition on the way, maybe you can keep all of the people happy all of the time...