Nokia E review: Nokia E

Nokia E

Bonnie Cha

Bonnie Cha

Former Editor

Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.

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7 min read

The Nokia E series has gained a reputation as a mean set of power smartphones for business users. Just take a look at the Nokia E61i and the Nokia E65 if you need proof. And now, you've got the granddaddy of them all--the mammoth Nokia E90 Communicator. A descendant of the Nokia 9300, the E90 brings solid performance and more features--Wi-Fi, GPS, the latest Symbian operating system, and more--to the corporate customer. That said, we couldn't help but be disappointed by the lack of 3G support on the E90, and the omission is even tougher to swallow when you realize it will cost you about $1,100 (though you can probably find it for a couple of hundred dollars less online, but still) for an unlocked version of this handset. The Nokia E90 Communicator is a sharp device, but if you're looking for a comparable and more affordable solution, check out the AT&T Tilt.


Nokia E

The Good

The Nokia E90 Communicator is equipped with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS, and has a solid set of productivity and communication features for the business user. The Symbian smartphone also has a full QWERTY keyboard and 3.2-megapixel camera.

The Bad

The Nokia E90 doesn't support U.S. 3G networks, and speakerphone volume is a bit weak. The handset is also heavy and bulky.

The Bottom Line

The Nokia E90 Communicator has a feature set as large as its size, satisfying the needs of the power business users. That said, we're disappointed by the lack of 3G.

The Nokia E90 Communicator is a mammoth. The handset measures a whopping 5.2 inches tall by 2.2 inches wide by 0.7 inch deep and weighs 7.4 ounces, so you can pretty much forget about slipping this into a pants pocket, comfortably anyway. On the upside, the smartphone has a solid construction and looks like it could weather some rough treatment. It's also got a decidedly no-nonsense, corporate look, which suits its intended audience of power business users.

Like its feature set, the Nokia E90 Communicator's design is quite large.

The exterior of the E90 features a 2-inch diagonal, 16 million color display with a 320x240 pixel resolution. It's not a touch screen, but text and images are vibrant and sharp. Below the screen, you'll find a standard navigation array of two soft keys, Talk and End buttons, a shortcut to the Main Menu, a four-way toggle with center select key, and the alphanumeric dialpad. This is one area where the phone's bigger size is an advantage since the extra room allows for large buttons that are easy to press.

The extra room does allow for a roomy alphanumeric dialpad and navigation array.

Aside from roomy controls, there's another benefit to Nokia E90's bulkiness. The candy-bar-style phone opens up to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard and a 3.6-inch wide internal display. The latter has a 16 million color output and 800x352 pixel resolution that makes for an impressive view. The wide screen also lends itself really well for browsing Web sites and reading documents and e-mails. Also, flanking the screen is another set of Talk and End buttons and two soft keys.

Opening the candy-bar-style smartphone reveals a 3.6-inch internal display and full QWERTY keyboard.

The keyboard shouldn't give users too many problems as far as typing with ease and accuracy. The individual buttons are roomy, so it's not an issue that there isn't much spacing between them. They also have a tactile feel to them; our only complaint would be that they're a bit stiff to press. In addition, there's a dedicated number row, and right below the display, you will find shortcuts to various applications, including Contacts, Messaging, Web, and Calendar.

On the right spine, there's a voice-recorder button and a camera-activation key, while the bottom of the device has a mini USB port, a power connector, and a 2.5-millimeter headset jack. On the back you will find the 3.2-megapixel camera and flash, and a microSD expansion slot.

The Nokia E90 comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired headset, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.

The Nokia E90 Communicator is a workhorse. The brainpower behind the smartphone is provided by Symbian OS 9.2, Series 60 3rd Edition and comes packed with a host of applications for the business user. There's full support for viewing and editing Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents thanks to the Quickoffice suite. The E90 also features the Nokia Team Suite, which we saw debut on the Nokia E65, and lets you create "teams" and define members, conference call numbers, conference call PINs, and Web pages.

Other utilities and PIM tools include Adobe Reader, a Zip Manager, a calendar, notes, a calculator, a clock, a voice recorder, and a currency converter. Of course, with the openness of the Symbian platform, you have access to a large library of third-party applications. There's Download Catalog on the device or you can check CNET Download.com for more titles. The Nokia E90 has 128MB of user-accessible memory, and the microSD expansion slot can accept up to 2GB cards.

The Nokia E90's microSD expansion slot can accept up to 2GB cards.

As for e-mail capabilities, the Nokia E90 offers support for Microsoft Exchange Server, POP3, IMAP, and SMTP accounts, and a full attachment viewer. You can get real-time message delivery through a number of push e-mail solutions, including Intellisync Wireless E-mail, BlackBerry Connect, GoodLink, Visto, and Seven Always-On Mail. Nokia offers additional help to business users by including a mobile VPN client so that you can securely tap into your corporate server.

The E90's phone features include quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, conference calling, speed dial, voice commands, and VoIP support. There's also text and multimedia messaging, and like the Nokia E61i, the smartphone has the text-to-speech reader that will read your messages aloud. The address book is limited only by the available memory, while the SIM card can hold an additional 250 contacts. Each entry has room for multiple numbers, an e-mail address, home and work addresses, a URL, and so forth. For caller ID purposes, you can pair a contact with a photo or a ringtone.

Wireless options on the E90 are plentiful, but it does disappoint in one area: it doesn't work on U.S. 3G bands. Unfortunately, it's only compatible with Europe's HSDPA/WCDMA 2100 band, but not our UMTS/HSDPA bands, so you're stuck with EDGE speeds. It's a true bummer for such a power-packed device. That said, there is integrated Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) so you don't have to solely rely on GPRS/EDGE for surfing the Web. You also get Bluetooth 2.0 for connectivity to wireless mono and stereo headsets, hands-free kits, file transfer, and dial-up networking among other things. And if all that wireless goodness wasn't enough, the E90 has a built-in GPS radio, which, along with the preloaded Nokia Maps application, allows for real-time tracking, driving directions, and the like.

As a business-centric device, some may be sad to see that the Nokia E90 has a camera, given that a number of companies are banning the use of camera phones at workplaces for security reasons. But for better or worse, the smartphone comes equipped with a 3.2-megapixel camera with flash, autofocus, and video-recording capabilities. In camera mode, you have a choice of various scenes and image qualities, and you can tweak the ISO, contrast, and color tones to get the best shot. User settings are a bit more limited in video mode, but you do have two scene modes (auto or night) and five choices in video quality.

Picture quality was subpar. Despite the flash, photos came out a bit dark with a grayish tone, though objects had good definition. Video clips also looked a bit dark.

The E90's camera was disappointing, producing some dark and discolored photos.

Finally, the smartphone is equipped with a decent music player. It plays back MP3 and AAC files and can sort songs by artist, album, genre, or composer. You can also create playlists right on the device, set songs on random or repeat mode, and tweak the sound settings via the built-in equalizer. In addition, there's an FM radio, though you'll have to use the included wired headset since it acts as the FM tuner. For videos, RealPlayer is onboard and is compatible with MPEG-4, MP4, 3GP, RV, RA, AAC, AMR, and MIDI formats.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; GPRS/EDGE) Nokia E90 Communicator in San Francisco using AT&T service, and call quality was good. We enjoyed crisp sound and good volume on our end, and had no problems interacting with an airline's voice-automated response system. Our callers also reported good results. The speakerphone presented more of a mixed bag. While our friends were impressed by the clarity, voices sounded a bit weak and hollow on our end. It wasn't anything that prevented us from having a conversation, but it will pose a challenge if you're trying to talk on the speakerphone in noisier environments. On the bright side, we had no problems pairing the E90 with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset or the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.

Armed with a 330MHz Texas Instrument OMAP2420 processor, general performance was pretty swift. We did notice some lag when activating the camera and other multimedia applications, but we didn't experience any system crashes during our review period. Of course, the Web-browsing experience could have used the speed boosts from 3G support, but we were able to get by on EDGE. The device also had no problem finding and connecting to our Wi-Fi access point, and the E90 is equipped with an excellent Web browser. Multimedia performance could have been better. Music playback through the phone's speakers was weak and one-dimensional, though it's improved when you used the wired headset. Meanwhile, video clips looked pixilated and blurry, but it should be fine for short diversions.

The Nokia E90 is rated for 5.8 hours of talk time and up to 14 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, we were able to get an impressive 11.5 hours of continuous talk time on a single charge. According to FCC radiation tests, the E90 has a digital SAR rating of 0.59 watt per kilogram.


Nokia E

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 8
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