Almost a year ago, Nokia released two new Xpress Music phones, the 5610 and the Nokia 5310. Though we only got a few minutes to play with them at the time, we were excited to see both handsets since we had such a good experience with Nokia's original Xpress Music model, the 5300. T-Mobile quickly emerged as the rumored carrier for both models, but the company took its time in adding the phones to its lineup. But now that it's finally happened, we're happy to report that our original instincts were correct. Like the 5310, which we reviewed in May, the 5610 has a well-stocked music player and quality performance. Yet it shows up its sibling by offering a higher-resolution camera and world phone support in a flashier slider design. Though its navigation array could use a slight tweak, the 5610 is a nice alternative for music phone fans who can't handle the quirky controls on the Motorola Rokr E8. You can get it for a very reasonable $99 with service.
A quick look at the Nokia 5610's design will show that it's aiming to outdo its sibling in more ways than one. While the 5310 sports a traditional candy bar design, the 5610 is a slider phone with unique navigation controls. It's both attractive and distinctive without being too showy. At 3.88 inches by 1.9 inches by 0.67 inch, it falls between the 5300 and 5310 in size, but at 3.9 ounces, it weighs more than both models. The extra heft may be a turnoff to some users, but we didn't mind it all. The 5610 remains portable and it has a solid and comfortable feeling in the hand. What's more, the slider mechanism was sturdy without being stiff. T-Mobile is selling the 5610 in two versions: black with red accents and white with silver accents. Alternatively, you also can get an unlocked 5610 in both black and blue. We reviewed the black and red model, but the features are the same on all versions.
Front and center on the 5610 is its brilliant 2.2-inch display. With support for 16 million colors (240x320 pixels), it offers eye-popping graphics and readable text. Menu icons could be a bit sharper, but the interface is intuitive. You can set a sleep mode and choose a font size and color. You can't alter the brightness, but the display should be bright enough for most users. It is better visible in direct sunlight than many comparable phones.
As mentioned earlier, the 5610 offers a unique navigation array. But the result isn't always effective. On the upside, we liked the music slider bar that sits just below the display. Essentially it replaces the dedicated music buttons on both the 5310 and the 5300 by offering one-touch access to the music functions. Slide the bar to the left to instantly open the music player menu or slide it to the right to start the FM radio. It's an innovative and easy-to-use feature, and we like that its spring-loaded design limits accidental start-ups.
Unfortunately, the remaining navigation controls weren't as intelligent. The five-way toggle is rather stiff, and we didn't like its plastic feel. We'd also prefer to see a central OK control that's physically distinctive from the rest of the toggle. As it is, there were a few occasions when we pressed the side of the toggle accidentally when we were trying to select an item. Inside the music player, the toggle becomes your control for managing your tunes so it's important that you get the hang of using it. Fortunately, shortcut options on the 5610 are plentiful. In standby mode, the left soft key opens a customizable shortcut menu and you can set the toggle to give one-touch access to four user-defined features. And if that isn't enough, you can choose a few onscreen shortcuts as well.
Surrounding the toggle were two soft keys and the Talk and End/power keys. Though these controls have a spacious arrangement, they're completely flat and have a rather cheap plastic feel. The 5610's keypad buttons are hidden behind its sliding face, but they do have some tactile definition. We rarely had misdials when calling and texting, though we're worried about the long-term durability of the slick and plastic buttons. The numbers on the keys are a tad small but the backlighting is bright.
Completing the exterior of the 5610 are a volume rocker and camera control on the right spine and a micro USB jack and the charger port on the phone's top end. There's also a 2.5mm headset jack here; we'd prefer a 3.5mm jack, but that's only available on the included dongle. The 5310 included a 3.5mm jack so we're wondering why the 5610 can't do the same. The volume rocker could be a little larger, but we could find it easily when we were on a call. On the back of the 5610 you'll find a camera lens and flash and a small speaker. You don't need to have the phone open to take photos, which is rather convenient. Vanity shots will be tricky, however, without a self-portrait mirror. Unfortunately you must remove the battery and the battery cover to access the microSD card slot. Not only is that inconvenient but the battery cover also feels a tad flimsy.
The 5610 has a large phone book that holds 2,000 contacts with room in each entry for five phone numbers, an e-mail address, a URL, a company name and job title, a formal name and nickname, a street address, a birthday, and notes (the SIM card can hold an additional 250 names). You can organize contacts into groups and you can pair them with a picture and one of 23 polyphonic ringtones. You also can choose a video, but that will replace the ringtone. Additional basic features include a vibrate mode, call timers, call recording, text and multimedia messaging, alarm clock, a calendar, a to-do list, a notepad, a calculator, a countdown timer, and a stopwatch.
For more demanding users, the 5610 offers many of the same options as the 5310. You'll find full Bluetooth with stereo and object exchange profiles, PC syncing, a voice recorder, a world clock, a unit converter, USB mass storage, and instant messaging. E-mail again is limited to Yahoo and AOL POP3 accounts, and you must log onto the Web browser to access your messages.
The 5610's music player is similar to the 5310's and that's a good thing given its lack of restrictions and the simple, yet intuitive, interface. Features include an equalizer, playlists, shuffle and repeats modes, stereo widening, and an airplane mode. The 5610 supports album art and you can choose one of five color skins. Supported file formats include MP3, MP4, AAC, AAC+, and WMA. You can't play tracks from iTunes, of course, but you can use tracks as ringtones.
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.