When we reviewed the 5310 XpressMusic we praised Nokia for the phone's slim profile and the fact that it looks the part of a rock 'n' roll handset with its piano black finish and metallic red racing strip. Well, the 5610 is obviously going to the same party with a similar colour palette at work, but the slider form isn't as trim or slinky as its "little brother"; in fact, at 17mm the 5610 is nearly twice as thick.
On the surface the 5610 is a standard slider design. The top half of the phone features call buttons, selection buttons and a four-way directional key for menu navigation and music controls. Under the slider is a well-spaced numeric keypad which we found easy to use for calls and messaging. Below the screen Nokia have added a spring-loaded switch for fast access to the music player and FM radio. This is a really handy tool and it would have been great to see it used to access more menu features, maybe cycling through all the applications displayed on the standby menu.
Another feature we praised when reviewing the 5310 XpressMusic was the inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top of the handset, used for attaching your favourite headphones rather than having to use the bundled set. Bafflingly, Nokia have chosen to ditch the 3.5mm jack and replace it with a 2.5mm port on the 5610. We're guessing it has something to do with available space inside the phone, as the 5610 does have a few extra bells and whistles, and of course, you can buy an adaptor to use your headphones with the smaller inputs, but that's extra money we'd prefer not to have to spend.
The obvious drawcard for Nokia's XpressMusic range is the music player, but in truth, the music player isn't really much to write home about. It works well enough, the music sounds loud and clear -- though noticeably louder and clearer through headphones other than the low-quality stereo headset bundled with the handset -- and the music player supports album art, but, the XpressMusic player lacks the wow factor of the competition. The music player menu is practical enough, but it's also unattractive and unintuitive so that you feel as if you're always drilling in and out of drab looking lists. It just doesn't inspire use in the same way as the menus on the Sony Ericsson Walkman players do.
Likewise, the 3.2-megapixel camera on the back of the 5610 is practical but unexceptional. The specs look good, including auto-focus and LED flash, however, the test pictures we took, while colourful, were often out of focus, particularly when trying to focus on a subject. Landscape pics look great, and the pictures of people or objects are more than adequate for MMS and blogging online, just don't trust it to capture your precious memories.
Unlike the 5310, the 5610 is thankfully a 3G phone. To make best use of the faster data speed Nokia have included a shortcut to their Download! application, linking you to mobile content like ringtones, music and video games, some of which is free through Nokia, or available to buy through third party vendors. This isn't exactly a selling point but we did manage to snag a few cool new games to play on the bus.
The obvious oversight, as with the 5310, is the lack of substantial internal memory for storing music and photos. The 5610 will ship with a 1GB microSD card in the sales kit, and can accept microSD memory cards up to 4GB, but there's no doubt a dedicated music phone needs internal storage. We saw this implemented in Nokia's N81 8GB model and we definitely want to see more of it with future XpressMusic releases.
The 5610's all-round performance is excellent. The menus are fast and responsive and there is almost no lag when opening applications. We saw how bad performance can seriously impair our opinion of a product when we reviewed Sony Ericsson's W960 -- which is, granted, a more feature-heavy smartphone.
Part of this speed can be credited to an absence of multitasking, as in, applications close when you exit them rather than remaining open in the background in case you want to return to them quickly. This may be seen as a negative by some, particularly people wanting to keep Web pages open in the browser for example, but if the price of multitasking is a serious reduction in performance then we think this would be too great a sacrifice.
As a mobile phone the 5610 is as good as we expect from a Nokia phone. Call reception is good, messaging is easy and there's the common addition of calendar and clock to flesh out the functionality of the phone. Battery life is about average; we saw four days between charges with light use, and we charged every second day when using the music player for a few hours each day.
The 5610 XpressMusic had us asking ourselves: what is the price of convergence? For the RRP of AU$599 you could buy an MP3 music player and a basic phone and you'd still be ahead AU$200. Is the fact that the two are crammed together worth the extra money?
In a mobile phone market flooded with figures and features, the 5610 just doesn't stand out. It's a decent phone and an average music player. It's also an average camera phone, for that matter. If there had been at least 4GB of internal memory then we'd start to see value for money, but as it stands, we think there are better options available.