With its durable design, the Nokia 5100 is a good choice for students or outdoor types who may not always treat their phones delicately. While it provides some extras that will appeal to traditional users, many of its features are on the offbeat side and have limited appeal to most consumers.
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A durable rubber casing protects the phone and its vivid color screen from damage.
Like the Panasonic DuraMax and the Nextel i700, this phone is built to take a beating. The light-blue rubber casing is designed to absorb shocks, and it survived all the punishment we doled out, including a seven-foot drop onto a hardwood floor. We splashed some water on it as well, and true to Nokia's word, all the inner components remained dry. You should note, however, that the unit is designed to withstand occasional splashes or limited use in the rain, not immersion or constant exposure to water. Though the design makes it bulkier and less attractive than more-traditional handsets, at 3.67 ounces, it's lighter than both the DuraMax and the i700.
The phone's vibrant color screen and the keypad's white backlighting make this unit easy to use in low-light settings. We like the placement of a dedicated power switch at the top of the unit, but we had to press it extremely hard to get it to work, often needing two or three attempts. As the volume-control buttons are integrated into the rubber casing on the side of the unit, they also need an extra bit of pressure, though not as much as the power button.
It's easy to wade through the menus, thanks to a simple graphical interface and the well-placed navigation buttons. The call answer/end buttons, however, are rather small and placed too closely to the surrounding navigation buttons, making it easy to strike the wrong key.
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A small flashlight at the top is a unique feature.
The built-in speakerphone provides acceptable audio quality on both ends. The 5100 supports Java (J2ME) for application and game downloads over a GPRS network. The 300-entry contact list lets you add such details as e-mail, Web, and street addresses. Along with such standard fare as a calendar and a to-do list, the Nokia 5100 provides some interesting offerings. A vibrate feature and 31 ring tones are included, with more available for download.
You can listen to the built-in FM radio through the headset or the speakerphone. However, you'll still need to attach the headset because it acts as an antenna for the radio. The 5100 also includes a stopwatch, a sound meter, and--most cruelly--a calorie calculator.
A thermometer displays the temperature of your surroundings (you can select either Fahrenheit or Celsius). Holding the Up scroll key activates a flashlight at the top of the unit when in standby mode, and pressing the key twice will run the flashlight continuously. Though it's no replacement for a full-size flashlight, this model will do in a pinch.
We tested the triband (GSM 900/1800/1900) world phone in the Chicago area and found inconsistent call quality on the AT&T Wireless network. Though we experienced few dropouts, we frequently noticed static, and callers often didn't sound loud enough, even with the volume at its maximum level. Callers said we sounded reasonably clear, though most could tell we were using a cell phone.
As for battery life, we coaxed 3.5 hours of talk time, short of Nokia's rating of 5 hours but still pretty good. We beat the company's standby rating of 10 days by 2 days.