Review of the Nokia E50


The E50 is quad-band phone that attempts to provide PDA-style functionality with the small form factor and weight of a standard cell phone. Nokia has succeeded in doing this nicely, but theyíve had to make a few compromises along the way that Iíll discuss in greater detail in the review.

 

This phone not yet available through providers in Canada.

Last Updated: 03-Sep-2006

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

RF Performance

RF Sensitivity: The E50 seems to be about as capable as other Nokia phone supporting 1900 MHz and 850 MHz. In fact, there doesnít seem to be any discernable different between the overall RF sensitivity of this Nokia model and any Iíd tried in the last few months. Thatís a good thing, as Nokia makes phones with excellent ability to pull in a signal.

Over-the-road Performance: This aspect of performance is also on par with other Nokia models, but that isnít such a good thing. While Nokia phones have always had a reasonable ability to cope with the trials and tribulations of handoffs and other on-the-move issues, Iíve never felt that theyíve done as good a job as they could. Motorola GSM phones seem to produce far less annoying responses to issues such as handoffs and frame errors. So this isnít to say that the E50 is poor, only that it (like most Nokia phones) could do a bit better in this department.

Click on this link for a full description of RF Performance, and how to interpret it.

Audio Performance

Tonal Balance: The overall tonal balance of the E50 is very pleasing, as seems to be the case with most of the recent Nokia phones Iíve tested. It seems that Nokia has finally gotten over their bad patch in which they managed to produce some of the worst-sounding GSM phones out there (the 6200 and 7210 come immediately to mind). The audio is a tiny bit peaky and a little harsh at times, but itís hard to complain about the quality in most situations.

Sound Reproduction: The same goes for sound reproduction, which is another aspect that Nokia has often done well, but fowled up frequently a few years ago (see again the 6200 and 7210). The E50 does an excellent job of reproducing the nuances of speech and I having no complaints here.

Outgoing sound quality is also very nice, though like most Nokia phones, the E50 has a tendency to pick up much more of the background noise than other phones on the market. Fortunately the background noise doesnít adversely affect the excellent quality of the sound too much, and I was able to clearly understand each word I said during a sample I recorded while travelling at over 100 km/h with the window down.

Earpiece Volume: On first listen the E50 sounds like it has rather feeble earpiece volume, but in actual fact itís quite good. The problem is that you must first locate the rather tiny sweet spot on the earpiece to get the maximum volume from it. The phone possesses the excellent Volume Booth feature found on most Nokia models, but the overall level of boost doesnít seem as pronounced as on other models. I would have preferred a bit more volume, or perhaps a less picky sweet spot, but the E50 does quite well in this respect compared to many other GSM phones on the market.

Speakerphone: The E50 contains one of Nokiaís high-output mini sounders that do a better-than-average job of providing audio for the speakerphone feature. Sound quality isnít going to blow you away, but it provides adequately clean audio reproduction at a volume level thatís at least sufficient for moderately noisy environments. The speaker is oddly louder when used to play MP3 files, and the overall quality seems better in that case than it does on a speakerphone call.

Click on this link for a full description of Audio Performance, and how to interpret it.

Support Features

Ringer Volume: I found the ringer to be reasonably loud, but not so much so that it would be easily heard in a noisy environment. It depends upon what ringer you choose of course, but thatís true in all phones. Suffice it to say that the ringer (which uses the same sounder as the speakerphone) is loud enough for 90% of the situations in which youíll find yourself, but it may be difficult to hear during the remaining 10%.

Keypad Design: I didnít really like the keypad due to its cramped design. This is the first of the compromises I referred to in my opening paragraph. Because real estate is scarce in a small candy bar phone, the keypad has to be small to accommodate the screen. Nokia could have improved things by not using a flush design, but no matter how they slice it the keypad is positively tiny for a device with PDA aspirations. It also does not provide any alphabetic input other than the standard multi-tap and T9 methods found commonly on most cell phones.

Display: The display is another of the big compromises that Nokia had to make. While the screen has an excellent resolution of 240 x 320, that resolution is crammed into a fairly small space. This has both positive and negative consequences. On the plus side the pixels are so small that they arenít really discernable, thus making the things you see on the screen seem very smoothly rendered.

On the minus side the screen is difficult to see unless you have the eyes of an eagle, or you have to wear glasses to correct myopia. Those of you who wear glasses to see far away know that when they take their glasses off they can focus very close to objects and can see levels of detail that require a magnifying glass for others. The screen on the E50 uses fonts that are so tiny that being able to focus closely to the screen is needed to comfortably read them. This can seriously impact upon the usefulness of the device and I strongly recommend that you check this out to make sure you wonít have trouble reading the screen.

Screen brightness is a little low compared to some other displays on the market, but the E50 provides a level of reflectivity that allows you see the display when the backlight is off. Many of the brighter color LCD displays go totally black when their backlights are off. This makes the E50 usable in very bright sunlight.

Voice Recorder: I wasnít particularly pleased with the voice recorder provided in the E50. It produces very poor quality sound and it generates those annoying beeps when you use it to record a phone conversation. One would expect much a much higher-quality sound recorder on a device with such lofty intentions.

Icing on the Cake

Camera: The 1.3 megapixel camera on the E50 is about mid-pack when it comes to quality. It fairs well against the 1.3 megapixel camera in my Motorola i580, but there are a few issues that make this camera less useful than the one on the Motorola phone. The first is a common fault with Nokia cameras, which is a high level of digital noise in low light conditions. More importantly however, this also applies to the darker regions of brightly-lit subjects, which makes it impossible to adjust the shadows and highlights using software such as Photoshop. Bringing up the shadows in an E50 photo only enhances the noise thatís already there and the results are disappointing to say the least.

Another problem (that was rather pronounced on the E50 I tested) was a serious case of color bleeding. On the right edges of sharp transitions between bright and dark I could see a rather thick red region. There was a corresponding green region on the left side, but it wasnít quite as noticeable. When photographing high-contrast subjects this tended to produce a red cast across the picture that was not easily removable with photo-enhancing software.

To its credit however, the E50 provides a mode where less JPEG compression is applied and it is possible to take photographs that are generally free of the tell-tale JPEG compression blocks. This cannot be said of the i580, which really needs a lower-compression mode.

PDA Functionality: The E50 supports the Symbian operating system and you should be able to do anything you can do with a full-sized Symbian-based PDA. It comes with a few useful apps that allow you to render various file types, such as PDFs. If the O/S doesnít have what you need, you can always obtain and install your own software to better customize the functionality. Bear in mind the tiny physical size of the screen, which means some application that look greater on larger Symbian models may be difficult to see on this one.

Memory Expansion: You can expand the memory in the E50 by means of a MicroSD card. My only complaint about the placement of the card slot was that you had to take off the battery door to get at it. Fortunately you donít really to need get at all that much at all, as the phone acts as a Mass Storage Device via USB. This means that if you plug it into a Windows XP computer the operating system will automatically see the phone as a hard drive without the need to install any drivers. However, the phone must go ďofflineĒ while such a connection is made.

Bluetooth: The E50 supports most of the common Bluetooth profiles with the exception of high-fidelity audio. I really didnít do much to test Bluetooth, other than to use it to transfer pictures file to and from my i580.

Conclusions

The E50 has the core cell phone functionality of many of the better Nokiaís, while at the same time providing PDA functionality in a tiny package. The E50 isnít for people looking for just a cell phone, for those looking for a PDA, who donít want the bulkiness of a standard PDA-phone, the E50 is a perfect fit.

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