Nokia's E series handsets were originally targeted at the business market, but they also sparked off a good deal of interest from the consumer sector. In its more recent E series models, Nokia seems to have taken note of this interest. The E63 is an example: it's a relatively low-cost device in which a few corners have been cut to reach the sub-£200 (SIM-free) price point. Do these cuts leave us with a handset worth having?
The E63 looks and feels similar to the well-received E71, although this more affordable device has an entirely plastic casing as opposed to the metal touches (including a full metal backplate) of the E71.
Like the E71, the E63 has a miniature QWERTY keyboard that dominates the space beneath the screen. Nokia has worked hard to get its keyboard right, and in this case has done an excellent job, rivaling RIM's BlackBerry devices for usability. Individual keys are domed, making them easy to find, and have a matte finish that minimises finger-slippage. Important characters like '.' and '@' are on non-shift keys. There's even a shift-spacebar combination that turns the camera's backlight on and off, enabling it to easily be used as a torch. This is a superb idea, which we'd like to see applied more widely.
Nokia's E63 is an affordable E-series device with 3G connectivity, but not HSDPA or GPS support.
The screen is fairly small at 2.36in. across the diagonal, but its 320 by 240 pixels are sharp and clear.
Between the screen and keyboard is the usual array of keys for an E-series device. The central D-pad, which has a raised rim, is flanked by two pairs of keys offering quick access to the home screen, calendar, contacts and messaging. Double presses and long presses on these keys have secondary functions. On the home screen shortcut key, a long press takes you to an application switcher, while a double press opens the main menu. On the calendar key, a long press brings up a new appointment, while a double press takes you back to the previous application. The contacts and email keys also create new entries on a long press and take you back on a double press.
Outside this central bank of keys are the Call and End keys and the two softmenu keys. Between them these controls should provide access to the handset's most commonly used functions — a good thing, as there are no side-mounted controls.
The side does house some connectors. A 3.5mm headset jack sits on the top edge — the most ergonomic position on any portable device. Nokia's provided headset is an unexceptional one-piece affair, but you could substitute your favourite headset thanks to the standard connector. An odd pop-out bung protects the headset slot when it's not in use, but is likely get lost pretty quickly.
On the left edge is a slot for a microSD card slot and a Micro-USB connector for mains power and PC connection. This smaller type of connector is becoming more widespread, but anyone still relying on Mini-USB for a range of other portable devices may find its presence a little irritating.
To accommodate a good-sized keyboard and shortcut keys, this handset is fairly tall. It measures 113mm by 59mm by 13mm, and so is not particularly oversized, and the weight has been kept down to a reasonable 126g.
Also included in the box is an AC adapter that uses Nokia's miniature round-pin handset connector, a printed user guide and a full manual. PC Sync software can be downloaded from Nokia's web site.
The Nokia E63 runs Symbian OS 9.2 on top of S60 3rd Edition for E series. One relatively new feature, which we first saw (and liked) on the E71, is that there are two home screens. It's easy to switch between the two screens via a shortcut, and the value of this system is that you can have one home screen for work — with a professional-looking colour scheme and appropriate application shortcuts and notifications — and a second for when you're off-duty. We'd like to see the idea used more widely on Nokia's handsets.
The E63 has 110MB of memory, plus the aforementioned microSD card slot, which supports SDHC. SD cards are currently available at 16GB, allowing plenty of storage to be added if required. Our review sample came with an 8GB card.
The E63 is a quad-band GSM handset with 3G (maximum throughput 384Kbps) but not the faster HSDPA. As we mentioned above, corners have been cut with the E63 to help it meet a price point, and this is one of those corners. There's also no front-facing camera for two-way video calling; the camera on the rear captures is a 2 megapixel unit with an LED flash.
For local wireless connectivity there's Wi-Fi (802.11b.g) and Bluetooth (2.0+EDR). However, there's no GPS support — another cost-cutting exercise. Nokia Maps is preinstalled, but to make the most of it you'll need to hook up a Bluetooth GPS receiver.
Business users will appreciate the included readers for Microsoft Office documents, as well as the PDF reader and Zip file manager. An FM radio and Nokia's podcast manager also augment the usual bundle of applications.
Performance & battery life
Call quality was fine throughout the testing period, and one area that particularly impressed us was battery life. We felt confident being out of mains power range for three or even four days at a stretch, which is good going for a smartphone of this type. Our usage pattern was light to average, though, and if you're a heavy user of Wi-Fi or listen to a lot of music you may find the battery drains quicker.
Although it's missing some features (chiefly HSDPA and GPS), the E63 is a well-thought-out and ergonomic smartphone. If you need a phone for both work and play and don't require eye-candy such as accelerometers, multi-touch interfaces and on-screen widgets, this could be a good workhorse.