What do you call something that looks like a BlackBerry, acts like a BlackBerry and yet offers a lot more than most BlackBerry devices? Nokia calls it the E61.
The E61 is branded by Nokia under the tagline of "Nokia For Business", and the business in this case appears to be mimicking the BlackBerry model, addding a few interesting features along the way.
From a design standpoint, that means that the E61 looks and more or less feels like any other BlackBerry-styled handset that you've seen before. Weighing in at 144g with the battery installed and measuring 117mm x 69.7mm x 14mm, this is hardly a tiny unit by mobile standards, although it's lithe by BlackBerry standards. A business-like silver finish gives the E61 a nice professional look and avoids the scuffed/grubby look that some black phones pick up all too easily. The keyboard on the E61 is backlit with a function key to switch between dialling and alphabet entries, although for the most part that's handled quite well in a context-sensitive way. A five-way joystick sits at the top of the reasonably-sized (for a phone) keyboard, flanked by the E61's dedicated menu and email buttons. Volume and voice recorder buttons sit on the left hand side, although the right hand side is left clear of buttons. If you're a BlackBerry afficionado used to a scroll wheel and back buttons, you may find the E61 takes some getting used to. The E61's 320 x 240 TFT display screen is bright and clear for pretty much every application you could think of to use on the phone -- both business and non-business related.
It's pretty clear which route Nokia's designers chose to take when deciding which technologies to implement on the E61. It basically chucked them all in. The end result is a phone with (deep breath) support for GSM 850/900/1800/1900, 3G, WiFi, Bluetooth, Infrared, VoIP, Push To Talk, and Mini SD storage cards. On the software side, you can add to that list support for Symbian OS 9.1 compatible applications, Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents, as well as Zip files and PDF files via Adobe reader. The E61's screen can be sent out to compatible projectors via the E61's screen export package, making it a potential replacement for some ultraportable notebooks, depending on your usage patterns. Naturally as a competitor in the BlackBerry space, the E61 has full support for POP3, IMAP, SMTP and Microsoft Exchange Server email. In an odd, and decidedly non-corporate way, it also supports instant messaging clients from Yahoo and AOL, MP3 and AAC music playback and RealPlayer video support. Just don't let the IT department know about those features and you should be fine.
One feature that's normally de rigeur with 3G phones that the E61 omits is any kind of camera, so if your business life also includes the odd video call, this isn't the phone for you. The flipside of this is presumably that it'll be easier to convince your IT department to buy one if it doesn't look like a consumer phone in any way whatsoever.
Where the E61 impressed us the most was in the breadth of its scope, especially given the inbuilt support for WiFi. The inclusion of WiFi makes it a true option for work within the office and outside of it, as it's capable of using whatever data connection is to hand for incoming messages and other data transmissions. The mobile carriers may not be happy with this -- data rates over 3G and GPRS are typically very high -- but it's a good argument in the E61's favour that you'll be able to use wireless services for data transmission when you're in a compatible hotspot or in the office. The same also holds true for voice calls, where you can use VoIP clients for calling purposes. Naturally, it's a good idea to make sure you are connected properly to your WiFi connection before initiating a VoIP call, otherwise you'll find your VoIP savings evaporate when your carrier charges you data rates for your call.
The one caveat we'd attach to the E61 is that a lot of its menu choices aren't as clear as they could otherwise be, and you'll sometimes find yourself trekking through multiple screens to achieve a desired result. As an example, you can scan for nearby wireless access points in the phone's connection manager, but only connect to insecure points that way -- if you need to classify wireless security settings for an access point, that's in an entirely different menu and sub-menu structure.
Like most BlackBerry-style devices, the E61 is technically capable of making phone calls, although it's arguably a somewhat secondary consideration; like most phones in this form factor it feels a little daft holding up a small brick to your ear, and the phone dialling buttons are on the small side. Presumably Nokia figures that the business market the E61 is pitched towards will all go down the Bluetooth headset/voice dialling route. While we're on the physical problems page, we also found that the navigation joystick on our review sample was a little twitchy when it came to differentiating between a downwards push and a selection click, which made some online navigating and menu selections a touch trickier than they needed to be.
Nokia rates the E61 as being capable of up to 9.5 hours talk time and up to 17 days standby time. Given the wide range of battery-sapping applications that you can have enabled -- Bluetooth and WiFi alone can bring even the biggest and meanest battery to its sobbing knees -- we expected to hit the lower sides of those estimations, and were pleasantly suprised to hit them almost exactly with moderate use of the phone in 3G and WiFi modes.
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