Traditionally, the Nokia E series, which includes the Nokia E71, have been very business-focused and slightly on the pricey side, but the cell phone manufacturer is hoping to attract more consumers by offering its Nokia E63 at a lower price point. Announced for the U.S. market at CES 2009, the E63 is available now for $279 through Nokia's flagship stores in New York and Chicago. Compare that price with the E71, which goes for $500 unlocked, or any other unlocked phone, and you've got a pretty good deal, especially when you consider that the E63 offers a full QWERTY keyboard, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0, and all the e-mail and productivity capabilities of the E71. The only thing you lose is integrated GPS, and you get a lesser camera. Of course, some of that value is lost now that AT&T has announced that it will offer the Nokia E71x for $99.99 with a two-year contract. Plus, the E63's call quality is a little spotty. Still for those who don't want to be tied down to a carrier and want the freedom of an unlocked phone, the Nokia E63 offers a good set of features for more casual users and at a more affordable price.
It'd be easy to call the Nokia E63 a thicker, plasticky version of the Nokia E71 and call it a day, but that would be unfair to the E63. Admittedly, we do miss the steel chassis and sleeker profile of the E71, but the E63 isn't an ugly beast. In fact, it's quite attractive and as a more consumer-centric device, Nokia brings a fresher, hipper look to the smartphone by offering the phone in red or blue.
The E63 mostly keeps the same dimensions of the E71 (4.4 inches tall by 2.2 inches wide and 4.4 ounces) but is just a hair thicker (0.5 inch vs. 0.4 inch), so it'll make for a bit of a tight fit in a pants pocket. Despite its plastic casing, the smartphone has a solid construction and feels comfortable to hold while on a call or typing messages. The E63 also has a soft-touch finish on back to give it a nonslippery texture.
On front, you'll find a 2.36-inch QVGA (320x240 pixels) nontouch display that supports up to 16 million colors. The screen is vibrant and bright and is equipped with a light-sensing technology that adjusts the display's brightness depending on your environment. We were able to read the screen in most lighting conditions, though colors were slightly washed out in bright sunlight, not unlike other smartphones. For customization, you can change the Home screen's background image, theme, and font size and choose between a grid or list menu view.
Like the E71, the E63 also offers two different views, depending on whether you're at work or at home. In Business mode, you'll have immediate access to work tools, such as e-mail, the Web, and the file manager. Meanwhile, switching to Personal mode gives you instant access to your multimedia library, the Web, and messages. How effective this functionality is at taking your mind off work is questionable since you can simply switch back to Business mode with a click of a button, but hey, we appreciate the capability and the thought behind it.
Below the display, you'll find the same navigation array of two soft keys, Talk and End buttons, four shortcuts (Home, Calendar, Contacts, and Messages), and a four-way toggle with a center select key. The full QWERTY keyboard is similar to the E71's, but there are some differences. For example, the bottom row includes more keys, and as a result, the space bar is smaller. This didn't pose a problem, however, and the individual buttons are also larger, so the overall typing experience was good. If anything, our only complaint would be that the keys feel a bit soft and mushy when you press them.
On the left side of the smartphone, there's a micro-USB port and a microSD expansion slot. Curiously and disappointingly, Nokia got rid of the dedicated volume controls and user-programmable shortcut key found present on the E71. You can adjust the volume using the E63's navigation toggle, which is fine when you're using the media player, but not so easy when you're on a call since you have to pull the phone away from your ear to do so.
There's a power connector on the bottom, and a 3.5mm headphone jack on top. The latter is protected by a cover, but it's tiny and not attached to the phone so chances are pretty high that it'll get lost at some point. That said, we're absolutely thrilled that Nokia made the switch from a 2.5mm jack to 3.5mm so you can use the smartphone with your favorite pair of headphones.