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Back in February, Nokia unveiled three new additions to its E series of business-centric smart phones at the 3GSM World Congress. As with all of Nokia's supercool cell phones and smart phones, the U.S. availability of the models was up in the air, but lo and behold, they're actually landing stateside. The first two to arrive are the Nokia E65 and the focus of this review, the Nokia E61i. It's an upgrade to the Nokia E61/Nokia E62, but don't expect any revolutionary changes. Instead, you get some minor design improvements and the addition of a camera as well as Nokia's Team Office business application. Disappointingly, support for our 3G networks was not added and unlike the E62, the Nokia E61i doesn't have the backing of a U.S. carrier so you'll pay around $400 for an unlocked version of the phone. That said, business users will be well served by the solid performance of the E61i's messaging and productivity capabilities.
The biggest changes between the Nokia E61i and the Nokia E62 are in design, and even then, the modifications aren't radical. The first thing you may notice is the E61i sheds the all-silver casing for a little less stuffy silver-and-mocha brown color scheme. Curiously, there are some controls and components of the phone, such as the power button and volume rocker, that are made out of a grayish-white plastic that seem out of place and detracts from the overall attractiveness of the E61i. As far as size, the smart phone carries the same large footprint as its predecessor at 4.6 inches tall by 2.7 inches wide by 0.5 inch deep, but it's a tad heavier at 5.3 ounces (vs. 5 ounces). The aluminum chassis gives the handset a solid construction, but it's a bit awkward to hold and use as a phone since it has a wider body, like that of a PDA.
The E61i's display remains the same as the E62's, but that's not a bad thing since the 2.8-inch screen is large and bright, with a 320x240 pixel resolution and 16-million-color output. Text and images looked excellent, and even better, it was still readable in sunlight; you can also adjust the backlighting, contrast, and theme. Just be aware that it's not a touch screen, so keep this in mind as you're shopping around for your new smart phone.
Below the screen, you'll find a revamped navigation array and full QWERTY keyboard. You still get the standard Talk and End buttons, two soft keys, and shortcuts to the main menu and e-mail. However, Nokia has now added a quick-launch button to your contacts as well as another key you can program to open any of the phone's applications. In addition, replacing the E61's joystick controller is a more traditional five-way navigation toggle with a central select button. It's very similar to the one found on the Nokia E65, and we found it to have its pros and cons. Starting with the good, it's easier to use the large select button on the E61i rather than having to press in a tiny joystick. On the flip side, the outer band that gives you scrolling capabilities is pretty thin, so you have to make a concerted effort to touch just the edges to move up and down or left and right, while trying to avoid the much larger center select key. Users with larger thumbs may also have problems with the four shortcut keys, as they're bunched closely together.
The E61i's full QWERTY keyboard features some minor changes as well. There's more spacing between the buttons, and most all of the keys have a square shape to them. They're large and have an almost rubbery texture to them, so there's no worry of slippery buttons. Overall, we thought the keyboard was an improvement over the Nokia E62's and had no problems typing out e-mails or text messages. We also found the tactile response to be interesting. It feels soft--almost cushiony and springy--when you tap the buttons, unlike some of the other QWERTY devices we've tested, which has a harder, clicky feel to them. We had a slight preference for the latter, since the E61i required a little more pressure when pressing the keys.
There's a volume rocker and a voice recorder launcher on the left spine. The camera lens, sans flash or self-portrait mirror, is on the back, but unfortunately, there's no dedicated camera-activation key. You could always program the one free shortcut button to perform that function, though. Finally, there's a microSD slot behind the battery cover on the left side. Having to open the back of the phone to access the slot is already annoying enough, but we also found that it's a bit difficult to slide the cover back on, so that adds some extra frustration.
The Nokia E61i comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired headset, a software CD, and reference material. For more personalization options, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
Packed with powerful productivity apps and wireless options, the Nokia E61i is sure to be a corporate crowd pleaser. The E61i runs Symbian OS 9.1, Series 60 third edition, and comes with full support for viewing and editing Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents with the Quickoffice suite. We used the included USB cable to transfer all three types of files to the E61i and had no problems opening them; we were pleased that little, if any, formatting was lost. In particular, we were pleased to find we could edit the documents, including the PowerPoint presentations, which is a feature you won't find on too many devices. If that's not enough, there's a Screen Export function that allows you to display the E61i's screen via a compatible projector.
There is also a new business utility on the E61i, which we first saw on the E65, called the Nokia Team Suite. Here you can create "teams" and define members, conference call numbers, conference call PINs, and Web pages, so you can find all the information in one place--very convenient if you have regular team conference calls. The smart phone also works with Adobe Reader and Zip Manager, and it comes with your basic PIM apps and organization tools, such as a calendar, notes, a calculator, a clock, a voice recorder, and a currency converter. There's about 50MB of user-accessible memory, and you can supplement that with the microSD slot, which accepts up to 2GB cards.
The E61i has robust e-mail capabilities with 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 E61i also works with popular instant-messaging clients, such as Yahoo and AOL, and it's text- and multimedia-message capable. And like the Nokia N75, the smart phone includes the Message Reader feature, which uses text-to-speech technology to read you your text messages. The utility worked fine in our tests, and it might come in handy when you need to hear a message while driving; otherwise, it might just be easier and less intrusive if you read your text the old-fashion way.
Wireless connectivity comes in many flavors, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE, and infrared. We like that Bluetooth isn't limited to just hands-free headsets; you can use it for file transfers and dial-up networking, so you can use the phone as a modem to get your Bluetooth-enabled PDA or laptop connected to the Internet. Yet there's no support for the A2DP stereo profile. When surfing the Web with the device, you can configure the E61i to connect via GPRS or Wi-Fi via the Settings menu. The Web browser is worth a mention. Like the one found on the Nokia N80, the E61i's browser will present you with a thumbnail of the full Web page so that you can easily navigate to a certain point on the site, rather than having to scroll all over the place. You can also download RSS feeds and blogs, bookmark sites, block pop-up ads, and more. Unfortunately, the E61i does not support the U.S. 3G band. It works on Europe's HSDPA/WCDMA 2100 band, but not for the U.S. UMTS/HSDPA bands, so you're left with just EDGE speeds.
As a phone, the Nokia E61i offers world roaming, a speakerphone, conference calling, speed dial, and voice commands, plus it supports VoIP calls. The E61i's 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 Web URL, and so forth. For caller ID purposes, you can pair a contact with a photo or a ring tone.
Though the E61i is a business device, it can have fun, too. The smart phone 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. Unlike other Nokia models, the E61i does not have an FM radio. For videos, RealPlayer is onboard and is compatible with MPEG-4, MP4, 3GP, RV, RA, AAC, AMR, and MIDI formats.
To some people's delight but perhaps disappointing to business users whose workplaces ban the use of camera phones, the Nokia E61i now comes equipped with a 2-megapixel camera with 4x digital zoom and video recording capabilities. For still images, you get your choice of three quality settings, two resolutions, a night mode, a sequence mode, and a self-timer. In addition, you can adjust the white balance and color tone. In camcorder mode, there are three resolution options, and the night mode, white balance, and color tone adjusters are also at your disposal.
Picture quality was mediocre. Images were clear enough that we could see the details of an object, but the coloring was off with a grayish overtone. Video quality wasn't particularly impressive either, as clips looked extra pixilated.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; GPRS/EDGE) Nokia E61i in San Francisco using AT&T service, and call quality was generally good. We could hear a slight background hiss during lulls in our conversations, but overall we enjoyed clear sound and plenty of volume. Our callers also reported decent results. Unfortunately, speakerphone quality wasn't the greatest, as voices sounded tinny and weak, even with the volume jacked up. On the upside, we had no problems pairing the device with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset.
General performance was snappy. On several occasions, there was a few-second delay when launching some of the productivity and multimedia applications, but not enough to prevent us from working. We also didn't run into issues with running out of memory. Web browsing wasn't too painful, even with EDGE speeds. The E61i was also able to find and connect to our test Wi-Fi access point without any problems. Multimedia performance wasn't the greatest. Music playback through the phone's speakers was weak and one-dimensional, while once again, video clips looked pixilated and blurry.
The Nokia E61i is rated for five hours of talk time and up to nine days of standby time. We are currently still conducting our battery tests, but we will update the review as soon as we have final results. According to FCC radiation tests, the E61i has a digital SAR rating of 0.83 watt per kilogram.