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Just like the Nseries are heavily multimedia-oriented phones, the Eseries are heavily business targeted phones, most of which come without the frills such as a camera or an FM radio. The E61 is the flagship of the Eseries complete with a full QWERTY keyboard, a large wide screen, a myriad of connection options and other features that make it a worthy competitor in this space. In fact, at the price it’s selling for (Rs. 18,000 approximately), the features it provides leave its rivals far behind. Let’s take it for a spin and see how good it really is.
The phone is quite wide, but not too long and not too thick either. The E61 is thicker at the top and a little thinner at the bottom. I have to admit—the phone feels quite bulky. In one glance, I would go far as to say that it even looks quite ugly. This does come right after having used the sultry BlackBerry Pearl and my liking for most slim and small Samsung phones, so I may be a little biased there, but I’m sure you would agree with me and say that even the older BlackBerrys have a more streamlined shape and appearance. Of course, none of those provide any of the new features that the E61 provides.
The P990i, being a more standard candybar form factor, fits in your trouser pockets a little better, but the E61 would fit better in a jacket pocket, which is where it really belongs. No, the phone isn’t heavy at all.
One of the most important features of the E61 is the QWERTY keypad that gets the BlackBerry comparison going. Unlike the SureType keypad found in the BlackBerry Pearl, the E61 has a full QWERTY keypad where each key is individual and not clubbed with the adjoining one. The keys are very decently arranged and large enough, and they feel much more comfortable than the older BlackBerrys. The soft keys and the call/end keys, on the other hand, are a little too slim and wide for comfort, but the 5-way navigation pad is just about perfect. It’s not as good as the Pearl, but it works!
The number keypad is on the R/T/Y/U, F/G/H/J and V/B/N/M keys. While the backlight of the keypad works fine for the rest of the keys, the ones with the numbers take a beating because the numbers are silver-on-blue and aren’t very easily readable in the dark. In addition to the keys on the front, there is a voice recorder shortcut on the left of the phone along with keys for adjusting the volume.
The shortcut for keypad locking is the same as other Nokia phones – topmost left key with the bottom most left key. In the E61, it’s the left soft key and the number shift key together. Interestingly, older shortcuts also work—so you can use Menu + U (which is the *) also. Switching silent/general profile switching is a bit dicey—you can’t hold down the bottom right key (Chr in the E61) – you’ll have to hold down the J key (which is #). Internet shortcuts are either the cornermost P key, or the 0 key. This is getting a bit tedious, so I’ll move on to...
The display on the E61 is a lovely, proper 4:3 aspect ratio QVGA (320x240) resolution display. The display is excellent and the UI makes good use of the resolution resulting in very clear and sharp text and icons. The display is effortlessly readable in sunlight, too. It also comes with a light sensor that automatically adjusts the display brightness based on ambient lighting conditions, just like the BlackBerry Pearl.
Compared to Pocket PC phones and the Sony Ericsson M600i, etc., the E61 lacks a touch screen, so there’s no stylus and no handwriting recognition. The device is mainly competing with the BlackBerry, which also doesn’t have a touch screen, so this can’t exactly be put down as a shortcoming.
Operating System / User Interface
The E61 is a Nokia Smartphone, so obviously it runs Symbian OS 9.1 Series 60. The new Nokias all run Series 60 3rd Edition, and so does the E61. Traditionally, Series 60 is extremely slow and I hate to use it on the N70 or even the N80, but the 235MHZ TI OMAP processor on the E61 boosts Series 60 to near-Windows Mobile Smartphone speeds. This is the first time in years (after the refreshing 6630 speed) that I’ve felt good about using S60.
The phone comes loaded with an office document/spreadsheet/presentation viewer and editor, a Wireless Village Instant Messaging client, a SIP VoIP client as well. There is also a whole lot of downloadable software and themes available on third party sites such as http://www.e-series.org. There are no games preloaded, but you can download Tiger Woods Golf and tee off.
Email and Web
Email is what this phone is about and you have an array of options here—Mail for Exchange, BlackBerry Connect and your standard IMAP4/POP3 email. We had some issues with using Mail for Exchange out of the box—turns out it needed a firmware update and that was solved. Reading and writing email and SMS messages on the E61 is a productive experience.
Browsing the web is so much more natural on the 4:3 aspect ratio screen on the E61 and the impressive Series 60 3rd Edition browser only makes things better. The entire page appears formatted and you can zoom in to areas for a closer look. You can also control the 'mouse cursor' using the navigation stick.
The E61, being a business phone, doesn’t sport a digital camera as many work places have now put a restriction on that. But otherwise, the E61 is quite feature packed in this department—MP3/AAC playback, 3GP/MPEG-4 video playback, Real media and Flash as well. The quality if the audio is quite good, but it’s a shame there’s no way to use your own headphones—the Pop port on the E61 restricts you to the headset that comes with it. The only other thing missing in the E61 is an FM radio tuner.
The E61 has everything you can think of at the moment on the connectivity front—the phone is a quad-band GSM phone, so all networks are covered. It’s got GPRS and EDGE connectivity for high-speed internet access and also future-ready with 3G/WCDMA/UMTS support—'Future' ready because India won’t get 3G till late 2008.
Work connectivity is covered in the form of WiFi, Bluetooth, Infrared. While WiFi is the faster 802.11g variety, Bluetooth is still stuck at v1.2, without any support for stereo A2DP, which would have been a nice addition in this otherwise fully equipped phone.
The Infrared port is in a very unusual place – right next to the Pop port on the bottom of the phone, which means you’ll have to turn the phone around if you want to beam anything to another phone or device.
USB also has some issues—it’s the slower 1.1 which makes it a bit of a pain to transfer large files such as music and videos. On top of that, there’s no standard mini-USB slot like the BlackBerry or most Pocket PC phones, so you’ll need to buy and carry around the proprietory cable.
The phone also ships with Sip VoIP calling support and Push-To-Talk.
Memory and Expansion
The E61 comes with around 64MB on-board memory, out of which a little above 40mb is available for use. Not a lot of memory, but that isn’t a problem because there’s has a miniSD card slot for expansion. The miniSD slot in the E61 is hot-swappable, but it’s hidden away next to the battery and requires removal of the battery cover to swap. This doesn’t seem too much of a problem—it’s actually a little more secure than having it right outside—but it does add a bit of inconvenience whenever there’s a memory card swap necessary.
A phone with this large a screen and such a long list of wireless features would probably drain out in one day—and that’s probably true if you use WiFi, 3G, Bluetooth, Infrared and USB at the same time— but realistically speaking you’re more likely to use just Bluetooth and basic GSM/EDGE phone functionality most of the time, and that let the phone run for around four to five days! With WiFi on, it was shortened to around three to four days, perhaps less, depending on the signal strength and also how much you use it (I sit right next to our router!). But overall, good performance in the battery department.
We’ve said it too many times before—at Rs. 18,000 this is one of the best performing, most well-connected Smartphones you can buy. Full QWERTY keypad, excellent display, SIP VoIP, Push-to-Talk, Microsoft Exchange mail, BlackBerry Connect, regular email, GSM, GPRS, EDGE, 3G/WCDMA/UMTS, WiFI, Bluetooth, Infrared, USB... are there any other features left out there? We think not.
There is also a Nokia E62—which comes without WiFi and 3G for around Rs. 16,500—which doesn’t sound like too good a deal. I would think WiFi and 3G is worth Rs. 1,500 extra, so what if we’ won’t use the latter till 2008?