"High-end business smartphone best of class"4.0 starson by dantrimble
Pros: Exceptional WiFi support, great keyboard and high-performing software designed for business users
Cons: Poor volume rocker and SD card design, mediocre documentation
Summary: So before I delve into a study of the pros and cons of this device, please note who I am and why I use it. A phone that is tremendously valuable for one person (as this one is), may not be for someone else -- we all have different requirements. For me, my requirements are straight-forward: high performance, solid durability for frequent travel abuse, flexibility to allow me to work how *I* work, and not force me to redefine my workflow. Also, it must have exceptional software and technology reliability. Yes, I have high standards. And you should, too. For me, the alternative is too high a price. I depend upon my phone, making nearly 2,000 minutes of calls every month. I travel often, and spend a great deal of time working on multiple computer platforms -- I have both Windows XP and Mac OS Leopard notebooks. Synchronizing and protecting my data is an unconditional imperative. I'm a hardcore business user, which means I couldn't care any less if my phone included a camera or not--I will never use it. If I want a camera, I'll actually take one with me and get a real photo-quality shot in the process. I will very rarely use my phone for playing music--iPod has far too much on any smartphone to even bother. And the extent of my need for games and 3D entertainment is limited to whatever time-killer games like Solitaire or Colors I can play for a few minutes while stuck at an airport. I'm all about fun in my life, but my cell phone does not need to be the heart and soul of my ability to find or experience it. The phone must be reliable, durable, high performing, and fairly straight-forward to use.
So on to this device. Let me be quite direct here: the Nokia E61i is the single best smartphone I have ever used. In the last several years I have gone from an early Treo to a Blackberry, to the Treo 650, to the Samsung Blackjack (the worst smartphone I'd ever used), and now the Nokia E61i. Each device had a range of pros and cons. I REALLY miss my stylus-controlled touchscreen of the Treo, it's huge range of applications, and its excellent hot button/quick-dial support on the home screen -- but not its horrible speaker/audio chip and the fact that my ear would routinely turn off a call, much less the spontaneous reboots of the OS that the phone would do even during a call. I loved the speed of the Blackberry, but not its limited application support. And there's nothing I miss about the Samsung Blackjack.
Nokia's E61i is a robust smartphone designed to compete for one audience only: business users. If you're not a fairly intensive business user, you will probably not find the phone appealing. For example, most consumers find its wide-bodied style to be unnecessarily bulky. As a business user, I find it absolutely ideal: it provides more leverage for holding the phone while thumb-typing, greatly reducing thumb and joint pain. The camera on this phone is a poor excuse for a camera--it has a noticeable overtune of discoloration--but for most business users, this won't be an issue.
Running on the Symbian S60 OS (my first smartphone based on Symbian), I couldn't be happier. The OS strikes me as far more consistent than Palm OS, and immeasurably more reliable than Windows-based OS' like the Blackjack. Symbian has not crashed on me, and its performance is consistent across all applications, whether heavy media apps or a contact database of nearly 3,800 names.
The Wi-Fi support is the best I've seen on any phone. Connections are nearly instantaneous, even with WEP/WPA or other encryptions. It supports "grouping" of access points, so it can automatically select certain networks in certain locations. The phone can be used as a modem, and the device switches seamlessly between GPRS/EDGE or Wi-Fi networks, providing options to change on demand at any time.
On the down side, the phone has a somewhat darker contrast than some others, even though it's impressive size and support for millions of colors trumps a lot of other phone screens. The Treo also has an exceptional screen, and Blackberry's is also brighter than the Nokia E61i. But in both light and dark situations, I've been able to manage without much hassle on this phone.
The Web browser on this phone is a Symbian-ported variation of Apple's Safari browser. I find it to be an EXCELLENT browser. Although having a stylus or touch screen would do wonders, navigating with the five-way is smooth and very intuitive. The cursor will jump where you want or need (e.g. form fields) it to go. If you hold the scroll continuously, it even shows a mini version of the entire page so that you can see what portion will be scrolled to. The browser is very fast, has robust bookmark support, and renders most pages accurately. Most sites are not designed for mobile phone display, but the browser does a good job deciding how to re-interpret the design to be effective. It also presents clear thumbnails of the pages, and has a neat forward/backward browsing function that lets you see and select which thumbnailed page in the history to show, rather than having to slowly load each one before moving to the next.
The keyboard is exceptional, hands-down. Buttons are nicely spaced and sized large enough so that even fairly thick fingers can knowingly hit the right key. They are responsive, soft to the touch, but still have a "crispness" that gives a strong tactile response while typing. My only complaint about the keyboard is the lack of support for dialing by letter (e.g. 1-800-GOOG-411 you can't dial GOOG -- you'd have to remember which number correlates to which letter.) Note that this is only true on the European models, of which I am using one. European phone numbers rarely, if ever, have letters, and my phone was unlocked. The branded carrier phones (e.g. a Nokia E61i bought from AT&T) are typically localized and do include this support. I hear Nokia is working on a firmware fix for this, as they did with the E62. I'm hoping they come through, because this is one thing that kinda bugs me about the phone.
Software options on this phone are numerous. The phone ships with software for viewing and editing Microsoft Office documents, and also includes software support for Flash, Adobe PDF, and some others. Nokia PC Suite is an application that makes installing software to the phone reasonably straight-forward, though I found its user interface for creating connections to the phone to be clunky at best. It took me a good half hour to get the software configured, but it works quite well now. It can connect via Bluetooth, Infrared, or an included USB cable.
Bluetooth support on this phone is above average, but stops short of great. I have yet to try it with my Parrot CK3100 car kit, but it works well connecting to my computer and to a variety of headsets. However, it seems to have occasional disconnects from my new Nokia bluetooth headset, immediately after it connects to the device. Repeated attempts to re-connect have usually led to it finally staying connected. This problem might also be the environment in which I was trying to connect, so I will continue to test it. Once connected, calls are clear and very crisp.
This phone has one of the best audio chips I have seen in a smartphone. I had a 2 hour conference call using the speaker phone this past weekend, and was able to clearly hear the entire conversation even while walking around the room with the phone 10 feet away from me. Audio is loud, adjustable, crisp, and with no static. It sounded the same as any call I've ever had with this phone up to my ear.
The volume rocker on the phone is too close to the voice recorder button, and all of those buttons on the side are too flat. It makes them hard to push, and is a knock against an otherwise sound design.
One of the poorest design issues I've ever seen on a smartphone is the location of the SD card slot on the Nokia E61i. It is on the side of the phone, underneath the battery cover. I don't have a need to change my SD card very often -- perhaps once or twice a month. So it should not be an issue for me. However, the battery cover sits on a very thin metal rail that makes it particularly difficult to remove and put back on in order to reach the battery, SIM card, or, in this case, the SD slot. I get by with this because I really don't need to change the card often. But for some people, this may be a noticeable inconvenience.
The software on the phone is clearly designed for business users. It's the little things that add up, making it a pleasure to work with. For example, the ability to define groups of people on a team, so that a text message or email can be sent to multiple people at one time, or to store team conference call numbers, websites, and so on. An integrated VPN client. Quandband and EDGE support. 3G would be nice to have, but is not yet available on this phone in the states (though the phone does work on the European equivalent network). It has Microsoft Office and PDF support that is so extensive I have yet to find a document that it could not display as it is intended to be seen, with full formatting. The phone can even display the contents of its screen on an external projector. For travelers, it includes a strong world clock, a currency converter, and a robust calculator, and it's 3rd party support is plentiful enough to find any application not really included.
Text messaging features are excellent, albeit one particular annoyance: it does not show the history of messages from the same individual as an organized sequential "chat". There are a couple 3rd party text messaging programs that can be used to replace the Nokia software if desired. For me, the Nokia software was so cleanly integrated with the rest of the Nokia-installed phone software that it wasn't worth it for me to install a replacement, however.
I'm using Good Mobile Messaging to work with my Microsoft Exchange account. The software runs fast and reasonably well on the device, though robust native Exchange support would have made this phone nearly perfect for my uses. It also has strong POP3 and IMAP support, and combined with a great screen, messages are highly readable.
Speed dial features are good, but standard. It has Voicemail for #1, and configurable entries for #s 2 through 9. Holding 0 will open the Web browser's bookmarks.
Lastly, battery strength on the phone is definitely above average. It is factory-delivered with specs for up to five hours of talk time and nine days of standby. From my experience, these are slightly below its actual performance. I've had six hours of talk time, and slightly more than nine for standby. Impressively, it also charges the battery from near empty to full charge in only a couple hours.
All told, the phone does what I need it to: it is powerful, reliable, and fast. And perhaps most importantly, it is flexible. Sometimes that's a bad thing: it has a mediocre user manual and average to above average help content built into the user interface. Yet it has so many options for flexibility and customization, more help is sometimes needed. However, I have not had to change my workflow to use the phone, and it has adapted to suit heavy business use quite nicely. The phone is expensive, but worth every penny for anyone who wants this kind of business and corporate oriented functionality.