Review of the Nokia E51

The E51 is a slender and thin Smartphone from Nokia the sports many of the features found in some of their larger PDA models (but without the full QWERTY keyboard). The E51 therefore looks more like a standard candy bar cell phone, but it processes many of the features expected from higher-end models.


The Nokia E51 is not available through any Canadian provider.

Posted: 03-Jun-2008
Updated: 17-Sep-2009

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

RF Performance

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

RF Sensitivity: The E51 was taken along to Square One at the same time as the Nokia 5200. Both of these phones performed very well in the Hall of Shame and exhibited equal RF sensitivity. Bear in mind however that the E51 supports standard GSM and UMTS. The 5200 is a standard GSM phone only, and so comparisons were made on standard GSM. This is only the 3rd UMTS phone Iíve been able to test, and so I didnít have too much to go on when it came to RF sensitivity in that mode. However, based on the performance of the Nokia 6120 Classic and the Ericsson K850i, the E51 did exceptionally well.

Over-the-road Performance: In standard GSM mode the E51 does quite well at taming the ever-present handoffs. Most of the handoffs I observed throughout the tests were far less obtrusive than is the norm for Nokia, putting the E51 near the head of the pack in this regard. In UMTS mode, where handoffs are not an issue, the phone did an excellent job of providing clean audio with few detectable frame errors or ďburpsĒ. This compares well to the 6120 Classic and the K850i, but I have no other references to compare to. Suffice it to say that the E51 performed about as well in UMTS mode as I would have imaged it could.

Audio Performance

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

Sound Reproduction: In my original review, I said the following: Astute readers will note that I normally discuss Tonal Balance before I discuss Sound Reproduction. There was never any specific reason for it being done in that order, but in the case of the E51 I have a very good reason for examining the reproduction first. The E51 that I tested had a very poor earpiece speaker that suffered from severe sympathetic vibrations. These vibrations are perceived as distortion that makes the audio sound crackly. The earpiece also had a rather coarse sound to it that might have been the fault of the amplifier circuits in the phone, but given its other glaring weakness it was easier to believe that the physical earpiece was the culprit.

The question I cannot answer from testing just one example of the E51 is will the earpiece on ALL examples of this model be the same, or did I just get a lemon? According to Howard Chu, from whom I borrowed the phone, heíd run into many other examples of Nokia phones that exhibited the same sympathetic vibrations, thus leading him to believe that the fault lie with the design of the earpiece. If thatís true, then you can expect all E51s to have similar problems.

Over the following year Howard Chu tried numerous fixes to get ride of the sympathetic vibrations, but until just recently (September of 2009) he hadn't found a solution. As we long suspected, the problem was unique that one specific phone, in that there was a problem with the frame that caused the vibrations. I re-tested the audio and the E51 sounded just fine. It had very good sound reproduction that was right up there with most of the current Nokia models.

Tonal Balance: In my original review, I said the following: It was a little hard to appreciate the tonal balance of the E51 with the previously-mentioned earpiece problems at front-and-center. However, it is my opinion that if you listen beyond the cracking and distortion created the earpiece, the underlying tonal balance is actually very good. The sound is generally quite rich and there doesnít appear to be any signs of harshness. It is just a shame that you canít truly appreciate this due to the other failings of the earpiece.

With the fixes recently made to the phone, the tonal balance sounds great. The phone has just the right amount of low-end to give it a rich sound that is actually a bit better than many of the other Nokia models I've tested since last summer.

Earpiece Volume: I wasnít particularly pleased with the maximum earpiece volume. Even when cranked up to full, the E51 produces insufficient volume to be easily used in noisy environments, such as crowded shopping malls or along noisy streets. If your caller is faint to begin with, it is quite likely that youíll be unable to hear them under harsh conditions.

Outgoing Audio: Happily this is one area where the audio quality of the E51 comes out ahead. The overall quality and smoothness of the outgoing audio was exceptional, and the phoneís ability to handle loud background noise, while hardly award-winning, it definitely near the top of the pack (especially for Nokia phones in general). It certainly didnít suffer from the show-stopping problem Iíd found on the 5200.

Speakerphone: The phone produces reasonable volume levels with what has to the richest sound Iíve ever heard from a small cell phone speaker. Sadly it does suffer from some sympathetic vibration (which is not uncommon to most speakerphones), but not enough to be much of an issue. You canít use the feature in harsh environments, but under any normal circumstances where one might be tempted to use a speakerphone, the E51 delivers the goods with extraordinary quality.

Support Features

Ringer Volume: As is often the case, an excellent speakerphone translates into excellent ringtone volume. The E51 doesnít disappoint in this regard. Even the musical ringers are loud enough to hear in places where other cell phones would be inaudible. No, the E51 doesnít hold a candle to the mega-loud ringers found on iDEN phones, but it rises to the top of the pack compared to just about anything else.

Keypad Design: The E51 suffers from a real estate crunch that is common to many modern candy bar designs. Screens have become physically large and this inevitably crowds out the keypad. To its credit the E51 had good key feel and the spacing of the 12 number keys is fine. The problem with the design (as is the case with many Nokia candy bar and slider designs) is the softkeys and the 4-way cursor pad. These keys are either way too skinny (the softkeys) or way too difficult to discern from one other (the 4-way pad). I wonít say that this is the worst keypad Iíve tested on a Nokia phone, because itís far from it. However, it is also far from being a great keypad design. I guess the fairest assessment is to call it an adequate keypad design.

Display: Provided is Nokiaís excellent 320 x 240 TFT color display. It has vibrant colors and it is surprisingly easy to see in direct sunlight. It doesnít provide the amazingly-reflective background found on the Nokia 5200, but it does something that very few TFT display can: it actually reflects sunlight internally. This is important because the brighter the sun gets, the better you can see the display. Sure, the colors arenít so great in direct sunshine, but you can at least READ the display and easily see important information. This makes the E51 display one of the best compromises between indoor and outdoor performance that Iíve seen. Hopefully this means that future Nokia models will be endowed with the same great display.

Icing on the Cake

Camera: Oh dear, what can I say about Nokia cameras that hasnít already been said. Like virtually all of the Nokia 2-megapixel cameras before it, the one in the E51 is afflicted with the same flaw that renders an otherwise decent camera nothing more than a toy. Iím referring to the penchant to make gray look green in such a way that itís virtually impossible to rescue using any combination of color filters in Photoshop.

WiFi: The E51 includes WiFi, which allows you to make use of data services without actually using the bucket of bytes in your data plan, as well as taking advantage of much higher data speeds for streaming media. Unlike previous Nokia models I'd tried with WiFi, I had no problem connecting to various types WiFi setups using the E51.


The E51 is really good phone, but the inadequate earpiece volume steals any chance of this phone has of ever getting on my must-have list. However, earpiece volume aside, the phone provides all of the great qualities that Nokia has managed to engineer into most of the models I'd test of late.