It has been just over a year since Hutchison launched 3, the first 3G network in Australia. Coinciding with this launch was the debut of the NEC e606, which was the flagship handset for 3.
NEC has addressed the first issue to some degree with the e616. Loosing some of the bulk of its predecessor, the e616 is both 6mm thinner and lighter measuring 103 x 53 x 26mm. It has also shed a tenth of its ancestor's weight -- tipping the scales at 131 grams.
The e616 is more aesthetically appealing than its predecessor is. Flaunting a silver case, the clamshell handset now features a prominent external monochrome screen. This display generally shows the time, date, remaining power and network status. At other times, it can display missed calls, a message notification or caller ID.
Its dual-cameras provide flexibility when capturing pictures and video -- with one facing towards you and one away from you. The resolution for photos can be set to 352 x 288 pixels, 128 x 96 pixels or 120 x 120 pixels. Beside the outer-facing camera is a surprisingly bright camera light to assist capturing shots at night, which switches on via the photo options menu.
The e616 uses a hands-free speaker for video calls (unlike the e606, which relied on an earpiece). The speaker is located on the front of the flip near the hinge and the microphone, is located at the top of the keypad, oddly enough. Perhaps due to their close proximity, during a test video call to an e313 handset we could slightly hear an echo looping back. The headset included in the package alleviates this trivial issue whilst keeping conversations a bit more private.
Putting the e616 beside the NEC e313, the screen of the e616 definitely shows images more vividly. It boats a resolution of 176 x 240 pixels and a 65,536-colour TFT displays. Pressing the menu key brings up the e616's three by three icon-based grid of options. From here, you can send a message (text, video, multimedia or e-mail), manage files and change settings, amongst other options. The menu also offers a multimedia centre to play audio (MP3, WMA, WAV, MIDI, AAC supported), video files (MPEG4, 3GP, WMV) and take and view pictures.
The NEC e616 supports streaming video clips and the speed of 3G provides sufficiently fast frame rates for the mobile phone display. Alternatively, entire video clips download quickly and save to memory so you can play them again later. The e616's 19MB of internal memory can store quite a few clips, games, java applications, tones and pictures. An expansion slot for Sony's Memory Stick Duo on the side of the handset allows for up to 128MB of extra storage.
Bluetooth and a USB cable (provided in the box) enable external connections to PCs and other devices. Up to 500 contacts can be stored with a wide range of fields for each entry, including multiple phone numbers, e-mail address, a URL, an image and nickname.
Big-fingered mobile phone users will be glad to see the large keys and spacious layout on the e616. Above the usual array of numerical keys is a four-way navigation pad (with selection key in the middle), two soft keys, a menu button, clear and options keys, and the 3 services key.
Entering 3's services page on the e616 brings up a wealth of information, such as weather, sport, news, finance and astrology. Video clips can be downloaded or streamed, you can listen to music and ringtones, play games, watch live video feeds into the Big Brother house (at the time of writing). There is also a premium Playboy service, which requires age verification before 3 grants access.
The e616's slimline battery sits flush with the back of the phone and takes only a couple of hours charge. NEC state the standby time on 3G networks like Hutchison's 3 to be 120 hours or a talk time of 110 minutes. During our test period using the handset sporadically, the standard battery lasted just over a day. Thankfully, NEC provides a higher-capacity battery in the package that tends to endure about two days usage. The only price you pay for the extended battery is the added bulk -- it juts out about half a centimetre from the back of the mobile phone.
Another drawcard of the NEC e616 is integrated GPS technology. However, at the time of writing, 3 Australia does not support location-based services.