Nokia E61 Review

 
I've been a long time user of Blackberry handheld devices from their pager-like 950 to their trackballed 8800. I always had them supplied to me by the company I worked for so I didn't really have a choice on my device and my data plan was covered. But when I didn't get a company device anymore and it came time for me to choose a personal device for synchronizing with the company Microsoft Exchange server, I chose the Nokia E61 for its better selection of third party software over Blackberry and it's ease of use and stability over Windows Mobile. I have a Nokia N82, but for security reasons, my company only allows E-series devices from Nokia. Being a long time Blackberry user, I have high expectations from my business devices so let's find out how the E61 fares.

The firmware on my E61 (RM-89) is 3.0633.09.04 dated 20-11-06 (last public Nokia firmware). The box contains the phone, AC-3U charger (it's huge so I've switched to using my AC-5E and adapter), CA-44 power adapter (for connecting your older Nokia charger accessories), CA-53 USB data cable, 64MB Nokia MiniSD (SanDisk), HS-5 mono headset, and Nokia CD with utilities and programs.

Quick facts:
Name: Nokia E61-1
CPU: Texas Instruments OMAP1710, 220 MHz ARM926TEJ RISC + TMS320C55x DSP
RAM: ~23MB
On-board Flash Memory: 65MB
Network: GSM 850/900/1800/1900 WCDMA 2100
Weight: 144 g
Dimensions: 117 x 70 x 14 mm
Battery life (stand by): 13-17 days (GSM), 13-19 days (WCDMA), 8-9.5 days (GSM/WCDMA and WLAN)
Battery life (talk): 4.3-9.5 hours (GSM), 2.2-5.0 hours (WCDMA), 4.4-4.6 hours (VoIP)

My phone was manufactured by: (your phone's country of manufacture could vary) Nokia. It's probably China


Aesthetics
The most important feature of the E61 is its form factor. It is a bar shaped phone with a QWERTY keypad. With the current popularity of Blackberry, many people will mistaken the E61 for just another Blackberry. The E61 comes from an older generation of Nokia phones and sports a joystick like the N73 instead of the now Nokia typical D-pad ring. Being a business phone first, the E61 lacks any camera, so you can't do video calling even with the 3G support. With a uniform silver body, the E61 looks sleek and still looks good after being out for over 2 years.


The E61 beside the N82 (left) and another E-series, the E65 (right)

It is almost the same size as the Blackberry 8830 but just a tad wider to fit the wider screen and thicker at the top. The E61 fits well in my pocket but I wouldn't consider placing keys, a wallet, or money clip unless you don't mind a large bulge in your pants. The phone has a good weight balance to it so it doesn't tip over the top of your hands while you're typing.


Blackberry 8830 side by side with the Nokia E61

The keypad light is strong and evenly lights the keyboard. The D-pad is not lighted. There isn't any light bleeding through the shell of the E61. As with most phones these days, lighting is controlled by a light sensor.


The SIM mechanism is unlike other Nokia phones I've reviewed. You slide your sim into a little holder and push it out from the bottom. It's pretty crappy.

Build
The E61 is solidily build with all plastic. I've dropped my E61 a few times but a lot less than the Blackberry 6290 as the E61 is made of less slippery material. As mentioned in the E61 preview, the battery cover creeked. Placing a piece of paper napkin between the battery and cover removed the creek. Nokia should have put some rubber behind the battery cover. Gap between display and phone.

LED
The LED only blinks white and can only blink for new e-mail. You can set LED to off, 2 minutes, 30 minutes, or 2 hours. Unlike Blackberries, if you read the e-mail on a computer and the e-mail no longer shows up as unread on the E61, the LED won't stop blinking until you go into the e-mail folder or the elapsed time has expired for the LED.

Display
A very large 2.8 inch display adorns the E61 with a, typical for S60, resolution of 320 x 240 pixels and 16.7M colors. The light sensor helps vary the brightness of the screen. You can adjust the amount of time to wait before diming the screen in the Settings.


The screen is bigger than the Motorola Q9h/Q9m/Q9c and Samsung Blackjack II who all sport 2.4 inch screens. It's also larger than the popular Blackberry 8800's 2.5 inch screen. It's a goregous screen that makes browsing the web, watching videos, and even editing Word documents enjoyable. I never had to squint to make out a word. Under the sun the screen is still very legible:


The screen is the main reason I keep this phone. It's a shame the upcoming Nokia E71 will resort to a 2.4 inch screen.

The Nokia theme included with the E61 makes reading e-mail difficult as the white text in e-mails get lost in the theme's light colored ovals at the bottom right. I would have preferred Nokia allow you to configure the background behind text to allow a defined background or follow the theme. I just switched to a theme with a darker consistent colored background.

The display is very bright with medium-high brightness equivalent to about the N82's full brightness.

Something to be aware of, the E61's display isn't protected by any plastic but fully exposed.


Keypad
The key feature of the E61 is the qwerty keyboard. The keys are very stiff requiring effort to press and don't travel down very far when pressed. Each key is housed separately in the phone casing so keys are not wobbly and don't travel from side to side. There is noticeble separation between each key. I noticed that keys for special characters vary between E61 by product code. The QWERTY keyboard is slightly different than other handset keyboards (like those from Blackberries) as the last row of characters is aligned one character more to the left. For example, the 'N' character on the E61 sits right below the 'H' character but on other keyboards the 'N' lies under the 'J'. This dfference made my finger travel too far and accidently hit 'M' on many occasions when I wanted 'N'.

I did a bit more research and found that, unlike other manufacturers, Nokia varies the special character placement between phones even of the same region. It makes moving up from an older Nokia QWERTY product to another just a bit more challenging. You can see for yourself in my previous blog entry, QWERTY phone keyboards: Not Created Equal.

For navigation, the E61 features a wobbly joystick. It feels similar to the N73 - which has a history of joystick problems. This is the weakest part of the phone. I hope my joystick doesn't break.

Although it was a challenge, the keyboard is far better than using the N82 to type long messages or URLs and the joystick isn't too bad.
As with all qwerty phones, it's a challenge to call phone numbers written with letters such as 1-800-MARRIOTT.

So how is the E61 keypad for gaming? The joystick is similar to the N73 so you get a similar experience. The number pad on the E61 is really tightly packed in the center so it's hard to play games. Very few games can use the alphabet keys as alternatives. VBoy and VNes run smoothly on the E61 but VBag ran with lag so key presses weren't registered immediately so fast paced games like Contra Alien Wars are very difficult and I found myself dying a lot.

From a phone perspective, you can use the E61 with one hand but it's a stretch to hit the furtherest keys.

Connectivity
E61 can connect using Bluetooth, Infrared, WiFi, or data cable. Nokia provides Nokia PC Suite for free to synchronize the E61 with your computer through infrared, data cable, or Bluetooth. You do not need to install PC Suite to install any applications/games onto the E61 as you can install them from the phone.

The E61 connectivity has the option to set up Access Point Groups where it will alow the user to select just one group and the software will handle cycling through the access points to find one available. This would be really valuable for users that rely on wifi and move around so you don't need to re-configure your software every time. Unfortunately, some software (i.e. Nokia's own Mail for Exchange) don't give you the option of selecting an Access Point Group instead of the usual Access Point, making one really good feature useless in reality.

WiFi
Almost every application in S60 can rely on a WiFi connection point rather than GSM/WCDMA. My travels between Canada and the United States make cell phone roaming costs a big problem for me. Although WiFi isn't readily available on my commutes, I get a chance to sync my mail every so often, like at a Starbucks.

The E61 WiFi antenna is very weak. There E61 couldn't pick up access points that the N82 on many occasions. The N82's antenna is also weak compared to a latop making the E61's antenna significantly weak compared to a laptop.:

The same access point on both phones but the E61 shows a significantly lower signal strength

THe E61 also had problems picking up strong, known, and hidden WiFi access points (like a router in the same room). Sometimes it would pick up the access point right away while on other occasions it took two WiFi searches.

Infrared
Phones these days don't usually come with infrared so it is good to see it on Nokia's line of business phones for quickly sending files to laptops.

Bluetooth
You can pair devices, you can send images/files/ringtones/themes and virtually any content via bluetooth to another device. All files received appear in your inbox so it's not obvious . If your BT is off you can still send media, the phone prompts you to turn on BT but you'll need to manually turn it off.

Transfers occur in the background so you can multi-task during this time.

Pairing the E61 with a PC gives you these features in the included Bluetooth profiles:
Dial up networking
HS Audio gateway
OBEX Object Push
OBEX File Transfer
Serial Port

There's not as many profiles as on Sony Ericsson phones but it's good enough for most people.

Bluetooth connections between my laptop and E61 were not as stable as between my W810i and computer so I will occasionally lose connection or crash the BT driver on the computer.


Reception

Sound Quality
The outgoing sound quality was loud and clear. The receiver couldn't tell I was calling on my phone. Incoming sound quality is clear and loud as well. The E61 call quality is high with little static and held tightly to T-Mobile's weak reception. It easily bests Blackberries and any Windows Mobile.

Speakerphone
The Speakerphone works well on the E61. Voices come out clear. The speakers weren't good with bass and caused a lot of static at loud volumes.

Headset use
I haven't tested this.


Multimedia Features
The E61 doesn't include a camera, 3.5mm headphone jack, or stereo speakers but you can install S60 software like CorePlayer (watch MPEG) and MobiTubia (watch YouTube), add a pop-port to 3.5mm to make a decent video watching device.


Applications

Multitasking
A number of people reported running out of RAM on the E61. I did run into the same problem when I was on fring while browsing the ESPN's NHL web site on Nokia's browser. The E61's CPU isn't powerful enough as I encountered choppy video and popping audio when streaming over wifi through MobiTube. Wifi also slows down while video is playing.

Symbian
The E61 faces occasional slow downs and overall the E61 is not as snappy as Nokia's latest S60 phones. You can easily see this in MobiTube's menu.

S60 3rd edition FP0
I've been using a S60 3rd edition FP1 device for over a year so many improvements in the OS are not present in the E61. Some examples:
  • Only 1 alarm in Clock

  • WLAN Wizard - you can download it separately but it won't detect hidden WLAN already defined in Access Points.

  • Nokia Web Browser doesn't properly handle URL redirections on Boingo (you get a blank page). The same redirections didn't work properly on the N82 with firmware 10.0.046. But the latest firmware for N82 and N95 resolve the problem. I tried Opera Mobile, hoping it would be able to handle the redirection but it also failed but with a more descriptive reason:


Mail for Exchange 2.5
For the E61 to handle push e-mail from a Microsoft Exchange Server using ActiveSync, you need to have an application called Mail for Exchange installed. It is not installed with the phone but an older version is included in the memory card. I found a later version on the Nokia Business web site.
Synchronizing with an Exchange server was the main reason I bought this phone so I felt it was worth mentioning this software. Coming from a Blackberry, it's disappointing to only see Inbox - you can't even see e-mail sent from your computer. Mail for Exchange can synchronize e-mail, calendars, contacts, and tasks but it cannot synchronize notes. Outlook meetings are implemented using the S60 native calendar meeting so you can't view the people invited to the meeting from your calendar:
 Unlike Outlook, Mail for Exchange cannot snooze meeting alerts. If you're connected to Exchange 2007, then you have the ability to flag messages - something you can't do on a Blackberry. You can also set the "Out of Office Reply" - something Blackberries have been able to do for a long time. Do not use Nokia PC Suite to synchronize your phone as it may conflict with the Exchange Server.

iPass
This thing just doesn't work on any S60 phone. It crashes on the N82 after any key presses. It doesn't crash on the E61 but it doesn't log into any of my tested hotspots properly. For example, I tested it on a Bell hotspot and it just brought me the login page which I could log into via the web browser.

Bug: The browser crashed a few times when loading some pages while sometimes it didn't for the same pages. Some consistently crash the browser like Google Maps.

Known Bug: Full version of Quickoffice fails to install because of a conflict with "Setup MobileIP" included with the E61. For more information refer to QuickOffice's support page. I did a hard reset of my phone so I didn't see "Setup MobielIP" in my install app but it was still causing a conflict so I resorted to installing OfficeSuite 4.60


External Memory
The memory card is hot swappable so you can take it out while the phone is on. The E61 prompts or alerts you that the memory card is being removed. To remove the memory card properly, hit the power button and select "Remove mem. card" so all applications installed on the memory card are closed properly.


Battery
With WiFi used to synchronize my e-mail, the E61 was out of battery after 2 days, which is pretty good as WiFi drains battery very fast. With a mix of short calls and WiFi to stream YouTube videos and synchronize e-mail, I was able to get a little over 3 days from the E61. Charging the phone from 1 bar to full took about 1.5 hours with an AC-5E. Needless to say, I didn't come close to reaching Nokia's estimated standby time.


Conclusion
The Nokia E61's incoming and outgoing sound quality is better than any HTC Windows Mobile and better than most Blackberries. Although S60 doesn't have as many third party applications compared to Windows Mobile, you will likely find all the business software you need like FTP, putty, e-mail synchonization, word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software. It offers a lot more customization possibilities than Blackberry.

I've had a Blackberry for 2 years and found transitioning to the E61 a challenge because of the stiff keys, not as much feedback, and the different key placements. I missed some of the nice Blackberry behaviors like automatically inserting a period after hitting space twice or hitting space on the browser's URL address bar inserts a period instead. With real time push e-mail, the Nokia E61 didn't last as long as the typical Blackberry battery life but competes well against most Windows Mobile phones. The Nokia E61 is a great phone for business users but the loss of functionality and usability enhancements found in Blackberries and the manual set up needed by Mail for Exchange make this a challenge to recommend to the typical business user. Moreoever, Blackberry plans are typically cheaper or offer free roaming compared to their data plan counterpart. This phone isn't going to replace my N82 but it is a good enough phone for my business needs.

Ratings:
Performance...........7
Build quality...........8
Keypad...................8
Connectivity...............9
Features for $.........9
Software................7
Camera..................0
Battery life.............7

Overall.....................7


PROS:
*Amazingly sharp, clear, and large 2.8 inch display
*WiFi
*Strong RF
*Great build quality
*Great incoming sound
*Amazing phonebook organization
*one of the few QWERTY keyboard Nokia phones
*lots of existing S60 games/apps
*great built in web browser
*same hardware as the Nokia E61i
*low price - it's going for around $150 on ebay as of this writing

CONS:
*Runs S60 v3 FP0 so many Nokia apps like Nokia Maps 2.1 won't work on it.
*small amount of RAM so multitasking is a problem
*battery life is killed by WiFi
*lack of US 3G frequencies
*lack of High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA)
*Nokia Mail for Exchange is not as refined as Blackberry's handling of e-mail, doesn't parse URLs or phone numbers (fixed in Mail for Exchange 2.5), and doesn't do HTML e-mail
*No further firmware upgrades
*No 3.5mm headset support, one of the last Nokia devices with a pop-port

Cross posted on HowardForums

More information: PDAdb E61 Fact Sheet
Nokia E61 Review Nokia E61 Review Reviewed by Eric on 6/14/2008 Rating: 5

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