Nokia E61i review: Lens-wear for the messenger

GSMArena team, 04 May 2007.
Pages: 1234»

You all know Nokia E61 – it’s been among the most popular Nokia smartphones ever since it was presented. Its fans have always been divided over it not having a camera. Taking that into account Nokia decided to release an updated version of the handset marked with “i”. Besides a camera, the new model features a number of small modifications, or otherwise upgrades, which would again reinstate it as a top-notch smartphone messenger. Now join us on our GSMArena journey which would try to answer a good deal of questions for you… and for us, for that matter.

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Nokia E61i official pictures

Key features:

  • Rich connectivity options - UMTS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB, Infrared
  • Outstanding battery life
  • 2 megapixel camera
  • Messenger form factor with a full QWERTY keyboard
  • Really large 2.8” TFT display
  • Solid, metallic body
  • Symbian OS 9.1 S60 3rd Edition UI
  • microSD memory card slot

Main disadvantages:

  • Hefty weight
  • No HSDPA support
  • No secondary camera for video calls
  • S60 UI doesn’t come with Feature Pack 1

Right from the start the Nokia E61 was a successful model that made itself a nice group of dedicated fans. Not having a camera was obviously not a big deal for those guys. Even now in workplaces where information confidentiality is strictly guarded, cameraphones are simply not allowed.

The business messenger market though realized that office workers and businessmen need an all-in-one tool that would allow them to work efficiently during the day and to have fun or just relax in the evenings and weekend. So essentially it has come to this that purely business handsets are gradually being equipped with more and more extra features such as a music player, a video player, a camera, etc. The market niche for such devices is fiercely competitive and it seems that our new Nokia has plunged into the deep with some other serious swimmers such as Palm Treo, Blackberry Pearl, Motorola Q, HTC S620, Sony Ericsson M600, Samsung i320, iMate JAQ plus several HP IPAQ products. And if you look at the details, the Nokia E61i is even functionally identical to Nokia E70.

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Nokia E61i and Nokia E70: functionally identical but so much different

When we started to review the new Nokia E61i we came up with a couple of key questions that had to be answered in order for this review to be complete and those are:

  • Is the camera positioning the E61i into another device category?
  • Is it worth exchanging your vanilla Nokia E61 for it?

In the same time the review had to cover all the aspects that we cover in all other reviews – meaning that we should go over all the features of the smartphone in detail. So for those of you that are into smartphones for a long time now and wouldn’t want to go through all of this, here is our low down on exactly how the Nokia E61i differs from the vanilla E61.

The E61i is thinner than the E61 by a small margin but is 11 cc smaller. The E61i has a better build quality over the E61 and possesses a rather stable and solid body. The keyboard has definitely got a few updates – first, the navigation joystick is replaced with a D-pad, which is a great choice by the way. Then there are two new shortcut keys – the Phonebook and My Own key. The My Own key is a customizable shortcut key that you can use for starting an application of your choice. The keys of the QWERTY keyboard have gotten just a notch smaller, but the space between them has increased. Furthermore their tactile feedback is far better on E61i than on the E61. As a result the ergonomics of the QWERTY keyboard have greatly increased.

Software-wise the E61i didn’t stay long enough in development so that it can get the Feature Pack 1, that’s now available for the S60 user interface. So obviously we would be waiting for other devices to try it on. Nevertheless, the E61i comes with several preinstalled applications that were not available in E61 – the WLAN Wizard, the Search application and the Team Suite. The WLAN wizard is a Wi-Fi network scanner, Search is a global search engine for your handset contents and finally, the Team suite is a more specific application that allows for creating so-called “teams” in order to make mass communication with your colleagues easier. Having those applications is not a big deal, though, as they can be downloaded to your E61, too. The E61i also has newer and more user-friendly Internet calling settings and finally, let’s not forget – the new messenger comes with a 2 megapixel camera that can always come in handy for making snapshots of people and places.

So what are the answers to the two questions we had, you might ask. Well, for that, our friends, you’ll have to bear with us to this review’s very end.

As far as retail package is concerned, the box contents you should expect are the Nokia HS-5 headset and a data cable. Nothing more to please the eye – but hey, the E-series handsets are all about business.

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Nokia E61i retail box contents

Enter the Dragon

Being an updated version of the Nokia E61, the Nokia E61i has pretty much the same design as its predecessor. The dimensions are identical too - the Nokia E61i measures 117 x 70 x 13.9 mm and weighs 150 g.

You all know Nokia E61 – it’s been among the most popular Nokia smartphones ever since it was presented. Its fans have always been divided over it not having a camera. Taking that into account Nokia decided to release an updated version of the handset marked with "i".

We are more than pleased with the construction quality of the E61i. The handset didn’t produce any creaks during our test, and furthermore it didn’t look like those are likely to show up even after months of use. As we already said the body construction and the way parts fit together is something that has improved over E61.

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Nokia E61i all over

Well going over the phone you couldn’t help but notice the LED in the upper left corner of the front panel. It is in fact an ambient light detector which is used for power optimization. It detects the available ambient light and thus controls whether backlighting or display brightness should be adjusted. It also serves the double purpose of an event light alerting you of different event – a feature that is totally customizable. Next to the LED/sensor, right in the dead center, is the in-call speaker grill. Due to the really wide form factor, it takes some time to get used to position your ear right on the speaker. Unaccustomed to it, during our tests we often tended to go left or right. Next to it is the On/Off key – it’s made of white rubber that somehow doesn’t follow the metallic design of the handset.

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Nokia E61i top part: LED/light sensor and On/Off key

The QWERTY keypad is probably the most exciting thing about a handset with that form factor. It is the single thing that can make or break the pleasure of using the device to its full potential. As you would see later on in the review, the Nokia E61i keyboard manages to impress with a great usability. One can easily notice that there are several design updates over the E61 – all for the better, we might add. You might have noticed that the keyboard of our test unit is in fact not a QWERTY one, but instead a QWERTZ one. The simple reason for that is that it is the German version of E61i – fully localized with the added special characters.

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Nokia E61i keyboard: design has changed

The left side of the device features a dual volume key and the voice key. A single press allows you to start an immediate recording of a voice note for example. A longer press takes you to the voice dial/voice command interface. The voice key is pretty well recessed so it isn’t probable that you would press it accidentally in your pocket – a flaw that Nokia E61 had. Beside those keys is the loudspeaker grill – the sound it produces is nice – clear and loud. The loudspeaker position is well-thought of, as the sound doesn’t get muffled when you put down the handset on its back, as is the case with most current mobile phones.

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Left side view: voice key, volume key, loudspeaker

The bottom part of the device features the charger port, the Pop port for connecting the data cable and the headset, as well as the Infrared port. The charger port of the E61i can fit only the latest types of Nokia chargers – the ones with a thinner jack. Unlike N-series handsets the E61i doesn’t come with a charger adaptor included which would allow for using the older types of chargers with it. Strangely enough, although we had that type of adapter we couldn’t charge the E61i with an older charger. It seems that with this model Nokia has left behind the backwards compatibility we were used to see. The right and top sides of the handset don’t accommodate any control elements.

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Bottom side view • Right side view • Top side view

When you turn the phone over, you would see that its back is pretty bare. The only element that really catches your eye is the 2 megapixel camera lens. The lens is protected by a silver circular ring.

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Nokia E61i back • camera lens

The most of the back is taken by the fully metallic battery cover. Removing it is done with a slide – much like inserting it back on. Note that we say “inserting” – the cover has to be inserted into tracks which allow it to slide all the way to the top. Now it isn’t the most comfortable solution we’ve seen but it surely is among the most secure ones. When you remove the back cover the large Nokia BP-4L Li-Polymer battery is revealed. It has a capacity of the impressive 1500 mAh and is manufacturer-rated to be able to sustain the handset with power for up to 400 h in standby, and for up to 9 h of talk time in GSM-only networks. Our test showed that when used moderately in a UMTS network the E61i was able to offer the impressive six full days with a single charging – and that being the first one for the battery. When we say moderately we mean that the E61i almost never left our office and for those six days we did a total of around 35 minutes of talking, 1 hour of Bluetoothing, 30 minutes of WLAN web browsing, 2 hours of listening to music, 40 minutes of playing video, taking several dozens of pictures, and a lot of fiddling with the phone. So just to sum up for you – it is a nice mark for Nokia’s latest messenger smartphone.

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Removing the back panel • memory card slot • 1500 mAh battery • SIM card bed

Although being rather wide, the Nokia E61i feels pretty much comfortable when held in hand. If you try to work with it single-handedly and if you are dexterous enough to hold it in your right hand and to navigate with your thumb, you mind find that the left soft keys are a bit too far for you to press accurately. If you have bigger hands, that surely wouldn’t pose any problem. The smartphone leaves an impression of a thin, stable and user-friendly handset – although a side jog dial would have come in handy.

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Nokia E61i held in hand

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