Nokia again makes it easy to get music on the phone. Just connect your 5610 to your computer via a USB cable or transfer tracks on a mini SD card. No software is needed and your computer should recognize the phone immediately if you chose "data storage" mode. You then can access the phone as external storage and drag and drop music back and forth. Your tracks will sync automatically with Windows Media Player 10. When listening to tunes, you can minimize the player so you can access other functions, and the player automatically pauses when you receive a call. By and large it's a great experience, but as we mentioned earlier the navigation toggle was somewhat tricky to use. If radio is your thing, the 5310 also offers an FM tuner with station presets.
The 5610 surpasses the 5310 offering a 3.2-megapixel camera. It takes JPEG pictures in six resolutions, from 2,048x1,536 down to 160x120. Camera settings include three quality modes, three color effects, a night mode, a landscape mode, a self-timer, a sequence mode for shooting six photos in rapid succession, adjustable white balance and bright balance, and an 8x zoom. The flash is extremely bright, so much so that it almost washes out our shots, but it had a couple of quirks. For example, when the flash is in "on" mode, certain options like the night mode, the image sequencer, and the white balance won't work. We're not really sure why, this is but it's annoying in any case.
Photo quality was pretty good, fortunately. Colors were bright and there was little image noise. Also, the autofocus works well. When finished with your shots, you can transfer them to a PC or printer using the USB cable, Bluetooth, or the memory card. It's a quick and painless process. We also like that the phone shows how much space is left in the phone's memory. While we knocked the 5310 for offering just 7.3MB of internal storage, the 5610 offers a healthier 20MB of space. But even so, we advise investing in a memory card; the 5310 can accommodate microSD cards up to 8GB.
The camcorder shoots videos in three resolutions with sound. Other options are similar to those of the still camera, and you can mute the sound if you wish. The short mode lasts about 30 seconds, but you can also shoot longer clips, depending on the available memory. Video quality is nothing special, but that's typical on a camera phone. And in any case, the camera can only shoot clips at 15 frames per second. Yet, since the video player can support videos at 30 fps, higher-resolution clips can look very good.
You can personalize the 5610 with a wide variety of screensavers, animations, wallpaper, themes, and light effects. You can download more options and more from T-Mobile's T-zones service via the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. Games include demo versions of AMF Bowling Deluxe, Diner Dash 2, Surviving High School, Dance, Dance Revolution, and Guitar Hero III. You can buy the full versions.
We tested the Nokia 5610 Xpress Music in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. On the whole, call quality compared favorably with the 5310. Voices sounded natural, we enjoyed enough volume, and the signal was clear. We noticed the same tinny/metallic effect that we heard on the 5310, though it was slightly exaggerated here. It doesn't make the phone unusable by any means but it is there nonetheless. The T-Mobile signal was relatively strong, but we did have trouble getting reception in subway stations and deep inside buildings. On the upside, there was no static or interference and little of the "GSM buzz." The 5610 is a quadband (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) world phone, which is a welcome improvement over the triband Nokia 5310. On the other hand, while Nokia originally announced that the 56120 would support 3G UMTS networks, the T-Mobile phone tops out at EDGE.
On their end, callers said we sounded loud and clear. A few didn't know we were using a cell phone, but most people could tell we were talking on a mobile. Like on the 5310 we had a few reports of excessive background noise, but those complaints mostly came when we were talking in a noisy place. Automated calling systems could understand us most of the time.
Speakerphone calls were quite good, actually. Despite the fact that the speaker faces the rear of the phone, it provided impressive output and clarity. We could hear our conversations even if we weren't right next to the phone. Speakerphone calls in very noisy locations didn't fare as well, but that's not unusual. Callers said they could hear us most of the time and we were able to get up and walk around a quiet room and still be understood. Calls on the included headset were fine, as were calls on a Bluetooth device.
Music quality was up to the usual Xpress Music standards. The external speaker is quite improved over the 5310; its volume output is loud enough to create a small party outdoors. Not surprisingly the speaker doesn't have an impressive range, but by and large we were pleased. A headset, wired or Bluetooth, will provide the best experience.
The 5610 has a rated battery life of 4 hours talk time and up to 10 days standby time. According to our tests, we had a talk time of 5 hours 46 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Nokia 5610 has a digital SAR rating of 1.13 watts per kilogram.