Nokia E90 review: Heavyweight champion

Filip Kůžel, 11 September 2007. Read the original review at
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Feed it before bedtime

Let's take a brief look at the charger. Across-the-board testing managed to get our E90 pretty starved. In extreme cases, when using it as an HSDPA modem with a laptop for example, we were forced to charge the Communicator twice within the same day. A less busy schedule could have seen the E90 going for a good 3 days, but a Communicator is likely to get heavy workloads, so don't expect the battery to last for more than two days. That makes the charger an essential accessory and we're therefore disappointed the E90 doesn't feature the mini version available with the Nokia N95.

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Chargers for Nokia N95 and E90: the smaller could've been better • taking out the battery: luckily you won't have to do this too often

The rear metal cover is firmly fixed, but once you've released it the battery will just fall off. We came to wonder why it wasn't a little more secure. Anyway, you'll only have to deal with that when inserting SIM, so this isn't much of a worry. The memory card slot has its own little cover at the bottom side of the device, which we found quite practical.

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Press to open the cap, push and easily remove the microSD card. We tried both the included 512MB card, and the 1GB Kingston we had at the office.

Music: Let down by the details

Let's begin with the last element of the accessory package: the stereo headphones. The difference from the older model is clearly noticeable as soon as you open the box. The remote control pad is smaller, undeniably better looking and of higher quality. It still has the Made in China tag but somehow that's not as stigmatizing as it used to be with some older Nokia models.

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Headphones: a result of compromise.

It won't be long though, before you get the first disappointment. The remote control pad has no volume controls. The E90 has the wide multi-pin Pop-port replaced by a miniUSB and a 2.5mm jack. The miniUSB is of course more than welcome, but the 2.5mm jack is beyond comprehension. Nokia E90 is clearly a business device and that's one possible reason for not making it like the N95. Could the Communicator have then been much more attractive? If cost was the issue, it may have been worth it.

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Headset design with Nokia N95 seemed perfect. Why did they change it with E90?

The sound quality of the original headphones will please all but the most undemanding users. Using alternative headsets will require a jack adapter, plus you'll lose the handsfree functionality. All that may seem as hairsplitting, but it does compromise the music player capabilities of the E90 Communicator.

In terms of software, things are almost the same as in other Symbian handsets of the Finnish brand. The appearance of the music player application is the only novelty.

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Music player: Symbian classics. Volume can be controlled trough an active item on the taskbar on the main screen.

Nokia E90 features a built-in FM radio. It doesn't support RDS but is stereo, and can even play on the loudspeakers but the handsfree should still be plugged as usual to ensure reception. The Auto settings are worth praising, they scanned the whole FM band in about 10 seconds.

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Simple interface of a simple radio: stored stations can be given custom names

Leave the compact camera home

As it does with music, the E90 is lagging behind Nokia N95 in terms of camera capabilities. A camera lens cover is missing, and resolution has dropped from 5 to 3.2 megapixels. LED flash is present (probably the exact same one) and autofocus is available too. Luckily, the E90 proved consistent in terms of photo quality too.

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Camera interface

The camera interface is very similar to that of the cameraphone frontrunner N95. Different functions are displayed in the Camera Toolbar at the right side of the display:

  • The top one is the Still Camera / Video mode switch
  • Shooting mode for getting the right color and lighting settings for specific scenes. The available options are: Auto, Custom (allowing you to set focus, flash, exposure compensation, white balance, color effects, sharpness, and contrast), Macro, Portrait, Landscape, Sport and Night Mode. The Automatic mode is sufficiently reliable; Macro is better set up manually.
  • Flash - automatic, off or user-defined. A red-eye removal setting is available too.
  • Self-timer - off, 2, 10 or 20 seconds.
  • Sequence mode - burst or consequent shots in user-defined intervals of up to 15 minutes.
  • Color effects - the classic set: standard, sepia, black & white and negative, topped with a vivid color mode.
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  • White balance - a very reliable Automatic mode, plus several light-specific presets.
  • Exposure compensation - setup in a ± 2EV range; 0.5 EV step
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  • Light sensitivity (ISO) -setting it to low will eliminate noise, but you get lower shutter speed; and vice versa. Available are three sensitivity levels and an automatic mode. The option to set ISO manually is a step forward, but it works best only when combined with manual exposure setting, which is lacking. Holding the phone still, switch on the self-timer and set a low sensitivity level. Expecting a decent night shot, you will only get a dark picture. The automatic mode does not allow you to extend shooting time too much, so that you don't get a blurred image. In other words, manual exposure settings in cameraphones remain a thing of the future.
  • Contrast - to be used for enhancing colors in a dull scene. Since Nokia N95 captures images of high contrast, this function is likely to be used rather seldom. Sometimes you may even need to lower the contrast levels.
  • Sharpness - the handset's software can make the outlines of the object you're shooting more clear-cut or blurred. You can be as creative as you please using the three settings available: Sharp, Normal and Soft.
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The digital zoom is activated by scrolling left or right on the Navi scroll key. Zooming crops out the image, and as a result you get less sharpness and lower picture quality.

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Sample pictures with three zoom levels: no zoom • halfway zoom in • full zoom

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Autofocus takes its time but does a perfect job. It allows Macro shots of 7 cm.

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Photos taken in good lighting give nothing to grudge about.

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Making proper indoor shots requires some playing with the settings.

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The white balance is right but Auto flash spoils everything • better off without it

Although the E90 is 2 megapixels behind N95, video recording capabilities are on par. Video can be captured in several resolution levels. The lowest available, and thus ideal for MMS, is in 3GP format. The top one is VGA at 30 fps. recorded in MP4 format, and - just to let you know - a minute long recording will cost you near 20 MB of memory. Recording length is unlimited and only depends on the free memory you have.

The range of settings for video recording is considerably narrower than that in still camera mode. The available settings are Night Mode, White Balance and Color Effects. Digital zoom can be applied when shooting video too, but zooming isn't smooth and considerably lowers image quality. The user can also opt to turn audio recording off.

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Video camera menu and setting options

Browsing pictures and video recordings is much more convenient than in Symbian handsets of smaller displays; the preview mode is an extra option. The zoom functionality gets to be appreciated on the large internal display.

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QVGA-enabled handsets can only sit in quiet envy

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