Nokia and T-Mobile are proving to be quite a pair when it comes to delivering smartphones at an affordable price. First, there was the Nokia Nuron and now there's the Nokia E73 Mode. The E73 Mode is a QWERTY messaging smartphone that will be available starting June 16 for just $69.99 with a two-year contract and after a mail-in rebate. Nokia is calling the smartphone a "work and life solution" and for the price, you're getting a great range of features, not to mention an extremely sexy design and outstanding keyboard. It's not without issues, but overall, we think it's an outstanding messaging device for an incredible price, providing a nice alternative to the more expensive RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700 and cheaper but also cheaper-feeling RIM BlackBerry Curve 8520 and T-Mobile Dash 3G.
The Nokia E73 Mode's design is quite similar to the E72, not that we have any complaints, since we loved the E72's form factor. The E73 is incredibly sleek at 4.5 inches tall by 2.3 inches wide by 0.4 inch thick, making it easy to slip into a pants pocket and comfortable to hold as a phone and messaging device. It's relatively light at 4.5 ounces but it has a very solid construction and feels like a device worth more than $70.
The smartphone's display measures 2.4 inches diagonally and supports 16 million colors with a 320x240 resolution. The size is on par with the one on BlackBerry Bold 9700, but it's not quite as sharp (the Bold's screen is 480x360) so images and text don't look quite as smooth on the E73 as the Bold. Still, it's clear and vibrant, but tends to wash out slightly in bright sunlight.
Like a number of Nokia's latest smartphones, the E73 Mode lets you switch your home screen between two modes: personal and work. You can customize each mode with which apps you want accessible from the home screen, with the idea that you'll have work apps front and center in work mode, and more fun apps, such as the music player and photo gallery, in personal mode, so you can better balance your life. Whether one can really "turn off" work mode is probably up to the individual, but nice a sentiment by Nokia.
As for the general user interface, the Symbian-based E73 runs on the S60 platform so the experience is much like the E72. The UI isn't particularly pretty, looking rather old actually, and requires some extra steps when navigating within an app, but it's fairly intuitive.
Below the screen, you get a number of navigation controls, including Talk and End keys, two soft buttons, four shortcuts (home, contacts, calendar, and messages), and a combination optical trackpad/D-pad that Nokia calls the Optical Navi key. As we noted in our E72 review, the outer ring surrounding the trackpad restricts movement so it makes it a little difficult to move the onscreen cursor and navigate through the menus with ease. We should also note a long press of the Home key will bring up a list of all your open applications, so you can switch between them. To close an app, you much choose Options and then Exit.
The E73 Mode's QWERTY keyboard is, in a word, excellent. The rectangular buttons are a good size and have a nice domed shape, making them easy to press. The numbers share space with the letter keys in the middle of the keyboard. Though Nokia chose to highlight them in black against a dark gray background, they're actually not that hard to see. It's really one of the best physical keyboards we've used in recent memory, as we were able to type messages quickly and with little error.
On the left spine, there's a Micro-USB port and a microSD expansion slot, both protected by an attached cover. Meanwhile, you will find a volume rocker and a voice command button on the right side, and a 3.5mm headphone jack and power button on top. The camera and flash are, as usual, found on back.
The E73 also has a front-facing camera, but don't think this is in response to the HTC Evo 4G and iPhone 4. Most Nokia smartphones have had front-facing cameras and video conferencing capabilities long before these two phones put it on people's radars. Though the interest hasn't necessarily been there in the past, you can, in fact, make video calls with the E73 with an app, such as Fring, which is available through the Nokia Ovi Store.
T-Mobile packages the Nokia E73 Mode with an AC adapter, a car charger, a USB cable, a 4GB microSD card, a wired stereo headset, a soft protective case, and reference material. For more add ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ring tones, and help page.
Nokia bills the E73 Mode as a mobile to balance work and life, and the smartphone has a pretty well-rounded feature set, though we'd say it skews a little more to mobile professionals than consumers, particularly with the messaging capabilities. The smartphone offers Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync support (e-mail, contacts, calendar, and tasks) as well as IBM Lotus Notes and comes with a mobile VPN client if you need to tap into your company's intranet. The Nokia Messaging app can also handle as many as 10 personal accounts, including POP3, IMAP4, and SMTP, and comes with push deliver, an attachment viewer, search, filters, and HTML support. In addition to e-mail, T-Mobile bundles the E73 with a handful of instant messaging clients and social networking apps, such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace.