Nokia has a well established reputation for consistently producing handsets which are easy to use and generally oriented at the business level user. In recent times, Nokia has been overshadowed somewhat by new innovative products from Blackberry and Motorola, as well as Windows Mobile powered phones and PDAs.
Enterprise users now expect ease of use, a full range of connectivity options (USB, Bluetooth, WiFi etc.) and an office suite in their phones to allow them to connect, communicate and work on the run.
In an effort to invigorate its business-oriented phone range, Nokia announced the E61 back in October, 2005. The E61 differentiates itself from the rest of Nokiaís E-Series line of phones by its QWERTY keyboard, and this particular model seems to be aimed at stealing some of Blackberry's thunder in the corporate market.
Letís see if the Nokia E61 is up to the task.
After taking the E61 out of the box, the two most prominent features of this phone are the large 2.8 inch 320 x 240 pixel display, and just beneath the screen is the QWERTY thumb-board. Displaying 16 million colours, the screen is huge! It is bright and clear and does an excellent job of displaying images, photos and text. That said, itís a pity itís not a touch screen as this would just be the icing on the cake.
In appearance, the E61 resembles a restyled RIM BlackBerry 8700 or Motorola Q handset. However the E61 does have its own personality and its styling is definitely geared towards the business user.
With the intention of providing a full range of connectivity options, Nokia have included WiFi 802.11g support on top of the standard IrDA, USB 2.0 and Bluetooth v1.2 offerings. This means that it is now possible to connect to wireless networks at work or on the run and gain access to the web by choosing whether the phone uses the mobile GPRS/UTMS or WiFi connection.
Running Symbian OS 9.1, Series 60 third edition, the E61 comes jam packed with a comprehensive suite of tools and applications with full support for viewing and editing Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. Editing Microsoft documents is a feature still not found on too many devices. There is also Adobe Reader and Zip Manager included as well as the basic PIM applications and organisation tools, such as a calendar, notes, calculator, clock, voice recorder, and currency converter.
One feature that needs to be mentioned is E61ís web browser. It is based on Safari's/KHTML's engines, and will display full content web pages as opposed to the cut down rearranged versions we have become accustomed on the average handset. The E61 browser is not only fast but it's also very easy and convenient to use. Of particular note is the intuitive navigation system which will present a thumbnail mini map of the full web page so that it is possible to easily navigate through a website as opposed to painfully scrolling through the entire web page.
There is also a mouse cursor (which can be controlled with the 5-way joystick), again making navigation and accessing the desired links more user friendly. In terms of a history of visited pages, the Nokia browser shows miniature screenshots in the history list which can be quickly scrolled though using the 5-way joystick. Unfortunately, the web browser does not support Java and Flash plug-ins however they may be available in future revisions.
The E61 is also a capable entertainment device for those long trips: Real Player and Flash Player are included and allow the playback of 3GP, MP4 and RealAudio video files as well as AAC, MP3, MID, AMR, RealAudio and WAV audio files and of course flash media files. Media playback on the E61 is excellent, especially when watching full screen movies.
The Nokia E61 is an attractive device, with an all-silver casing. The overall styling is bluntly focused at the business user. The E61 comes in the standard form factor, however the obvious item which differentiates it from other phones (such as the E60) in this form factor is that the standard 12 button keypad has been replaced by a full QWERTY thumb-board. Hence, it is a much wider phone measuring 117 x 70 x 14 mm and weighing in at 144 grams. The antenna is internal.
Positioned just above the QWERTY thumb-board is the aforementioned 320 x 240 pixel screen, and just under this is the directional pad surrounded by six buttons: two soft menu buttons and menu, mail, pickup and hang-up/clear buttons. There is a power button located above the main screen which also doubles up as a keypad lock.
Apart from the engraved Nokia logo, the back side of the handset only features the battery cover, beneath which is the traditional hiding spot for the SIM card and the miniSD card. At the bottom section of the phone, Nokia have located the charging socket as well as the Pop-Port for connecting to a USB port and also the Infrared port.
User interface & display
There are two prominent aspects about Nokiaís E61 that make for an excellent user experience. The first and foremost is the lovely 2.8 inch, 16 million colour, 320 x 240 pixel TFT display. The screen doesnít disappoint Ė text, images and menus are clear and vivid, even in bright sunlight. Whatís particularly good about the E61 is that the screen is placed in landscape orientation which is a much better format when it comes to office applications, web browsing, and watching videos.
It is possible to adjust the screenís brightness (through four stages), the backlight and power-save timeout. There are two preset themes (one provided by Nokia and the other by Three) that can be used to customise all the menusí looks, background, screensaver etc. They all are of a high quality and look very stylish, but if they donít catch your fancy it is also possible to download and install other compatible themes. It is difficult to quantify how many lines of text the E61 can display on one screen, as this is now very much a multimedia phone capable of displaying various fonts and font sizes. But in SMS message typing mode it is able to display seven lines of text and it is not possible to change fonts while composing a SMS/MMS message.
The second prominent feature is the Symbian OS 9.1 and Series 60 Third Edition interface installed on the E61. The user interface on the E61 is, as one would expect from Nokia, well thought out and responsive. There has been a lot of thought put into making tasks easy and this really shows.
It will take a little time to adjust to the E61ís interface as it is more of a PDA then your conventional mobile phone. Nokia has provided the ability to set shortcuts which are easily accessible through navigating the horizontal list on the desktop screen. The E61ís Symbian implementation is about as close to being a PDA as possible without adding a touch screen and handwriting recognition. Also worth a mention is that Symbian OS 9.1 on the E61 is extremely stable and never crashed during the test period which is in stark contrast to a lot of Windows Mobile and Palm implementations.
In the E61, Nokia has taken inspiration from Windows Mobile Editionís Today plug-ins and introduced an active standby mode for applications in the S60 3rd Edition interface, which provides a level of feedback to the user from applications running in the background. When applications are in active standby it is possible to view information being fed by an application onto the main desktop screen. Of course, this feature is application dependent.
The main menu is accessible by pressing the main menu button just left of the joystick from the main desktop and is displayed as a grid of icons. I feel that the menu placement wasnít as well thought out as other parts of the E61ís interface, as things seem rather scattered. Navigation through the 5-way pad is the same as other Nokia handsets.
Making and receiving calls
Call quality on the E61 is excellent. The handset has a built-in speakerphone and supports Bluetooth profiles for wireless conversations.
The speakerphone is loud and clear making it usable in an area with a moderate amount of ambient noise such as a car or airport lounge. Also included in the packaged box is a standard stereo headset. The E61 can receive video calls but like the Nokia 6233 a forward-facing camera isnít included so only a static image can be displayed for the caller.
Calls tested using the Bluetooth connection worked well in both an in-car system as well as through a Bluetooth headset. The included wired headset does provide reasonable call quality, however using the wireless Bluetooth option is recommended. The E61 reception is excellent even in the black spot that I live in and was satisfactory when used in remote areas in Australia during the test period. The signal receiver on this handset seems to be particularly good and it is able to connect to a wide range of networks including Quad band GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz frequencies as well as UTMS.
The E61's address book is limited only by the available memory. For each entry it is possible to store multiple phone numbers, an e-mail address, home and work addresses, a Web URL etc. It is also possible to assign a contact with a photo or a ring tone for caller identification. However, this phone does not have a camera and requires images to be transferred onto the phone from external sources. Contacts can be sent to other phones via SMS, Bluetooth or Infrared.
For ring tones, Nokia has included the standard polyphonic synthesiser into the E61 and the ring tones sound very good at loud levels due to the high quality loudspeaker. However, people these days are more interested in using high quality compressed music files for ring tones which provide much better sound reproduction than MIDI format ring tones, and the E61 caters for this allowing the use of MP3 files for ring tones. The E61 also supports several profiles and is also possible to customise these profiles.
Due to its QWERTY thumb-board, messaging is one area in which the E61 excels. Included is a comprehensive messaging suite consisting of standard messaging standards including SMS, EMS, MMS and email (POP3, IMAP, SMTP and MS Active Sync protocols). The E61 is capable of composing large SMS messages, meaning multiple linked SMS will be sent. Comprehensive MMS is also available and messages can be sent to phone numbers or email addresses.
There is also third party support for email client such as Blackberry Connect. Email is really where the E61 shines as it can almost replace the email client on a desktop PC. The handset is able to read email attachments such as MS Office documents, PDF documents, zip files and other media which is a feature that differentiates the E61 from standard handsets and can only be matched by Windows Mobile powered PDA phones. The QWERTY keyboard is perfect for messaging Ė instead of having to spend ages typing out a long e-mail with a numerical keypad you can quickly type out lengthy messages in no time at all. The QWERTY layout is familiar and takes little time to get used to.
With the office editing/viewing applications offered on the E61, attachments received in your e-mail box can be edited on-the-go then sent back via e-mail straight away. As the E61 supports the 3G protocol sending large attachments and receiving bulk e-mails does not take long at all. Three provide an e-mail service with all their mobile plans and it is usually pre-set into the handset so you can access it automatically. There may be a fee charged for using this service though.
There is a small LED above the screen which will alert you when new messages come in. A pop-up screen on the actual display will also appear when you have new messages.
The E61 also has an instant messaging application supporting Yahoo!, AOL, OMA services. Bundled with the E61 is a RSS reader which is able to receive feeds from websites and can also be accessed through the web browsers bookmarks.
The intuitive menu system, coupled with the QWERTY keypad ensures messaging of any type on the E61 is quick & easy. Although the buttons of the thumb-board are small and slightly cramped, they are good for text input when holding the unit with both hands and using both thumbs. Again, a qualm that I have with a lot of handsets is that the buttons could have a little more tactile feel to them to avoid pressing two buttons at the same time. The E61 in particular does have a slight problem in the feel of the thumb-board as the keys are hard to press in and donít have a define click when they are pressed in so it is almost impossible to know if youíve pressed the button or not without looking at the screen to see the result.
Nokia have ensured that they include the latest and greatest connectivity options in the E61. The handset supports USB 2.0 via Pop-Portô connection, Bluetooth v1.2, Infrared and WiFi 802.11g as well as a miniSD card slot for memory expandability.
The E61 is a quad-band GSM device and is also able to connect to 3G networks. The handsetís network capabilities cover most GSM/UTMS frequencies so there shouldnít be any trouble connecting to GSM networks around the world, provided the operator has roaming available. The E61 supports the 850, 900, 1800 and 1900MHz bands, has GPRS Class 10 support for internet access between 32 - 48 kbps and its 3G support allows broadband speeds of up to 384kbps through UTMS.
The phone comes with its own USB connector which is plugged into the proprietary Pop-Portô socket at the bottom of the phone. Included in the package is a mobile connectivity suite (on CD) which provides utilities for phone synchronisation, file management and connection of a PC to the internet/a dial-up connection. The software included also makes it easy to download and install both free and purchased commercial applications directly onto the handset. The E61 is able to synchronise emails, contacts and calendar entries with Microsoft Outlook and does this elegantly. The software is one of the better implementations of software suites and it is easy to use and isnít buggy like some others I have come across.
The Bluetooth that comes with the E61 is only v1.2 and supports the following profiles - DUN-GW (Dial-up Networking), FT-Server (FTP), HandsFree-AG, Headset-AG, OBEX, OPP-Client and OPP-Server (Object Push), SIM Access-Server and BIP-ImagePush. Making and receiving calls was tested with a wireless headset and there were no problems with connecting and then maintaining a connection. The transfer of data between the phone and a computer was also tested and no problems were encountered with either of these features. The Bluetooth support is reliable and this seems to be a result of a combination of good hardware and an intuitive user interface. Itís interesting that Nokia didnít include Bluetooth v2.0 in the E61.
A feature that doesnít usually come with conventional phones is WiFi connectivity. The E61 supports the 802.11g standard and allows for network file sharing and internet access at speeds of up to 54Mbps on compatible wireless networks. When tested on the office network, the E61 picked up the access point immediately and after spending a short time configuring the access profile (due to network security) the handset was ready to go. It is possible to switch wireless internet access for applications (such as web browser, instant messaging client) between EDGE/UTMS and a WiFi connection. Wireless worked brilliantly and what really makes the web experience stand out is the combination of a large landscape screen (with 16 million colours!) coupled with Nokiaís excellent web browser.
The E61 features just about every connectivity option you could think of and this aspect is decisively another strong point of this phone.
The build quality of the E61 is excellent. All the panels are tightly fitted and the phone feels quite solid in hand. The back panel gracefully slides on and off and is secured by a push button. Underneath the back panel is the miniSD card slot, SIM card slot and battery. It would be more convenient if Nokia placed the miniSD card slot externally on the phone Ė with the under-the-back-cover positioning you have to remove it before you can gain access.
The thumb-board buttons feel good, although as mentioned previously they are hard to press and there is no feedback in the way of a click to let the user know that they have actually pressed the button. Hence, it is necessary to look at the screen to make sure that the unit is doing what it is supposed to.
Also worth mentioning is the good choice of materials used for construction. Nokia has used a combination of premium metal materials and thin construction to ensure that the E61 appeals to business users with an eye on style, sleekness and quality.
In terms of battery life, Nokia does not disappoint, packing in a large 1500mAh battery which makes up a large bulk of the unit. Nokia claims that the E61 has a GSM talk time of up to seven hours and a standby time of up to 9-11 days. In practice, these figures are about right as the handset worked in rural Australia (where reception is bad and sucks battery life due to the handset trying to seek a signal) for about nine days without charging (with low use). Talk time during the test was close to the claimed figure. The phone takes several hours to recharge, and it is also possible to recharge the E61 via a USB port.
It is important to note, that using (Java) applications, WiFi and Bluetooth has a serious impact on battery life so if these features are not used, then they should be switched off. However, the E61 should have sufficient power to last a business person though the day even with heavy use. The battery life on the E61 is excellent considering the battery must cope with running a 206 MHz Texas Instruments OMAP and the large and bright 16 million colour 320 x 240 pixel display.