- Compact candybar format
- 3G/HSDPA, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and infrared
- Plenty of built-in memory plus a microSD card slot
- Excellent user ergonomics
- Good battery life
- Lacks two-way video calling
- No built-in GPS receiver
Nokia’s E series of smartphones is aimed squarely at the business community. It's a fairly recent series, but already includes a variety of designs including a slider (the E65), a QWERTY-keyboard device (the E61i) and a clamshell (the E90 Communicator). The E51 adds another format in the shape of a candybar phone.Design
The Nokia E51 is a slimline candybar handset measuring just 12mm thick — a dimension that any mobile phone manufacturer would be happy with, smartphone or not. It is 114.8mm tall and 46mm wide and weighs a very light 100g.
The chrome-and-black colour scheme is smart enough, but hardly distinctive. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking that the E51 is a run-of-the-mill mobile phone.
The keypad occupies a lot of space on this handset, due mainly to the bank of shortcut keys above the number pad. The number pad itself is large, with the keys spanning almost the full width of the device and measuring 6mm tall. This, plus a shaped design that helps tactile identification, makes it easy to dial numbers; heavy texters should also find this keypad to their liking.
The bank of keys above the number pad comprises the usual Call and End keys plus Nokia softmenu keys, the Nokia backspace key and a navigation key, as well as four additional shortcut keys.
The navigation button is well designed, with a raised silver ridge indented towards its centre; it's thin, but easy to tap with a finger or thumb. In its centre sits a big select button, which is also comfortable to use.
The four additional shortcut keys, collectively known as 'one-touch keys', help you navigate around the E51's applications. The four keys each have three modes: short press, long press and double short press. Fortunately the functions are related. For example, a short tap on the email key opens the default email inbox, while a long press of the same key puts you straight into writing a new email. And with a double tap the default email box opens and then returns you to the previous application — effectively allowing you to do a quick check of your incoming email.
Similar functions exist for the Contacts key (open contacts, create a new contact, return to the previous application), and the Calendar key (open the calendar, create a new meeting, return to the previous application). The fourth one-touch key is marked with the Home icon; here, a short press takes you to the applications menu, a second short press brings up the main 'active standby' screen and a long press delivers a list of currently running applications between which you can switch.
Lacking a touchscreen, the E51 relies entirely on button-based navigation, and Nokia clearly thinks that businesspeople will react positively to the one-touch keys. In our experience they certainly give quick and easy access to some of this smartphone's key features.
There are also side mounted buttons, with the right edge housing volume controls and, between them, a button that mutes the microphone during calls. On the left edge is a button that can be used for voice commands and to initiate a voice recording.
The screen is a 2in. unit with a resolution of 240 by 320 pixels. Despite its small size, we found it remarkably easy to read — even when crammed with information.
The E51 is very well featured as far as communications capabilities are concerned. It's a quad-band GSM handset with 3G and HSDPA for high-speed data (up to 3.6Mbps), and has infrared, Bluetooth (2.0+EDR) and Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) built in. The chink in the armour is that video calling capability is limited: you can make video calls, but there's no front-facing camera, so you are limited to showing callers what you can see through the rear-facing one.
The 2-megapixel camera at the back shoots stills at 640 by 480 and 1600 by 1200 pixels, and will shoot video too. It's a mid-range unit, but perfectly adequate for the average business user.
SIP-based Voice over IP via Wi-Fi is supported, so the E51 should work with a range of third-party VoIP clients and be suitable for integration with office-based IP PBX systems.
Wi-Fi can also be used for mobile email and web browsing, and in testing the latter we found the browser to be very good. The E51's small screen is not ideal, but you can push the screen into wide mode and zoom the text, which helps readability. If you scroll quickly through a page a thumbnail appears, with a red box showing the display area. You can use this to home in on an area of a long page for viewing. Alternatively, 'page overview' mode lets you scan a page and focus in on the desired area.
The E51 comes with 130MB of built-in memory and this can be expanded with microSD cards. The slot lies on the left edge and is protected by the battery cover.
The E51 based on the Symbian Series 60 edition 3.1 operating system. In addition to the applications already noted, there's a wide range of additional software. Readers for PDF, Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files are provided, along with a Zip manager for handling compressed email attachments. The E51 is compatible with a wide range of mobile email options.
Like other E-series handsets, the E51 incorporates Nokia Team Suite, a utility that helps facilitate group activities such as conference calls, emails and text messages.
Another application is what Nokia calls Active Notes: these contain not only text, but also images, sounds, URLs and other rich-media information.
Nokia Maps is included, and you can use this over the air to get location-based information, including route planning. The Nokia E51 lacks a built-in GPS receiver, though, so to take full advantage of Nokia Maps you'll need to link to one via Bluetooth.
Audio functionality comes in the shape of a music player and an FM radio. The stereo headset connects to the E51 via a 2.5mm jack and must be connected if you want to use the FM radio, as it contains the antenna. Other bundled applications include a unit converter, a calculator, an alarm clock and a video player (RealPlayer).
Performance & battery life
The Nokia E51 is a very comfortable handset to use. The buttons are nicely designed and the one-touch keys offer easy access to some of the device's key features.
Battery life is obviously important to mobile professionals. We tested the Nokia E51 by fully charging its battery and then setting it to play music non-stop for as long as possible. It managed 13.5 hours of music, which is one of the best results we've recorded. With heavy Wi-Fi usage — for Voice over IP, for example — you can expect much less longevity, and will probably need to recharge the phone on a daily basis.
If the Nokia E51 had a front-facing camera for two-way video calling, we would be hard pressed to find fault with it. We're not too concerned about the absence of a GPS receiver — Nokia Maps is handy, but anyone wanting serious navigation capability would be advised to get a device with a larger screen. The E51's nearest rival in the E series, the E65, impressed us when we reviewed it earlier this year. However, the E51 is an even better proposition, being much more pocket-friendly and packed with an impressive array of features.