Mini-Review of the Nokia E61


The Nokia E61 is a PDA-style phone that uses the Symbian operating system. This phone is not sold by any of the GSM providers in Canada, but it can be purchased at many of the online retailers, or (Iím told) at Bongo Wireless in the Toronto area. The E61 is a quad-band phone, which means that it supports both 1900 MHz and 850 MHz for North American use.

Last Updated: 30-Jul-2006

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

RF Performance

RF Sensitivity: This was only a mini-review, and so I didnít really have the luxury of time to perform extensive tests of the E61ís RF capabilities. Compared to my Nokia 6310i (which supports only 1900 MHz) the E61 did quite well at the infamous Hall of Shame over at Square One in Mississauga. The magnitude of the difference between the two phones wasnít all that great, and it might be explained by the support of 850 on the E61. If Iíd had the time I would have tested the phone against the Siemens A56 as well, which does support 850 MHz. Nonetheless, the E61 did extremely well in areas where Iíve previously tested other 850-capable phones.

Over-the-road Performance: As this was a mini-review, which was restricted to a 1-hour test of the phone while I was inside of Square One, I did not have an opportunity to test this aspect of the E61.

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

Audio Performance

Tonal Balance: Like many of the better Nokia phones, the E61 exhibits excellent tonal balance, with a nice mix of highs and lows that showed very little signs of boominess or shrillness. The phone could have done with a bit more low-end, but other than that there was very little to complain about.

Sound Reproduction: This was also a high point for this phone, as the overall sound reproduction was very smooth and free from odd distortions or colorizations. Again, this is typical for many of the better-quality Nokia phones and the E61 is no exception. Along with the excellent tonal balance, the sound quality of the E61 is about as good as it gets, especially on PDA-style phones, that in my experience have always seemed to have inferior audio qualities to their non-PDA brothers and sisters.

Outgoing sound quality was about average, but it really suffered when there was abundant background noise present. I made test recordings to my voicemail using the E61, my Motorola i580 (on Telus Mike), and my Nokia 6310i at the same noisy location at the Square One food court. The 6310i picked up all of the background noise, but my voice remained dominant and easy to understand. The i580 cut out the background noise to a very high degree without causing any noticeably distortion to my own voice. Sadly the E61 picked up the background noise so well that it seemed to drown out my own voice to a surprisingly great extent. If Iíd been talking with someone at that time Iím sure they would have been saying ďpardonĒ quite often.

In quieter areas the outgoing sound quality was quite good, but even the tiniest background noises seemed to be amplified and to the caller it seemed as though those noises were occurring right next to the E61 user. It was almost as though the E61 had an inverse noise canceller (or a noise enhancer).

Earpiece Volume: Although the earpiece volume of the E61 isnít astonishing, the phone does support Nokiaís wonderful volume-booth feature that automatically increases the earpiece volume (even when itís at maximum) when loud background noise is detected. When I tried the phone at a very noisy location at the Square One food court I found that the earpiece volume was more than loud enough to rise above the din.

Speakerphone: I have to admit to being a bit jaded in this department after my purchase of the Motorola i580. The speakerphone on that model is just so good that everything else seems inferior by comparison. To be fair however, the E61ís speakerphone is useable in quiet environments, but it becomes too difficult to hear once the background noises gets above minor. The sound quality of the speaker is rather tinny however, and so you probably wonít want to use it unless itís necessary. Itís great for being put on hold however.

The same speaker is used to play various multimedia sources, such as MP3 files, movies, and streamed audio by way of RealPlayer. Surprisingly it produces noticeably more volume in this mode than when talking with callers, but the maximum volume of the tiny little speaker is still insufficient to listen to it when background noise is present.

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

Support Features

Ringer Volume: Because the ringers use the same speaker as the speakerphone, they are sadly rather faint. They sound great in quiet or moderately noise environments, but in really noisy places like a shopping mall or a busy street they just donít cut it. I looked for various ringtones that would best utilize the speaker, but none of them seemed to do a particularly stellar job.

Keypad Design: Because this is a PDA-style phone it has a full QWERTY keyboard crammed into the tiny space below the large screen. Because of this the keys are quite closely spaced and they are difficult to press accurately if you have big fingers. If you also happen to be a ďthumberĒ, then you may find the keys too small to actuate probably.

In addition there is no separate numeric keypad, and so dialing the phone means using a group of keys in the middle of the QWERTY keyboard. There is almost no way to tell the keys apart without looking at them, and ď0Ē, ď*Ē, and ď#Ē keys are in non-standard locations. Other PDA models have touch-sensitive screens and can simulate a numeric pad on the screen. The E61 does not have a touch-sensitive screen.

Those gripes aside, the keypad is actually well-built otherwise, with good tactile feel and very good accuracy. The 4-way joystick is a joy to use (no pun intended). It moves accurately and it does exactly what your fingers ask of it. I never found myself pressing it down when I meant to move it side-to-side or up-and-down.

Display: The display is a large 320 x 240 pixel TFT/TFD display supporting 16.7 million colors (mounted in a landscape orientation). The display seems to have the ability to reflect ambient light, which makes it possible to see even without the backlight on. However, the backlight isnít anywhere near as bright as other phones Iíve tried, including my own i580. This makes the colors less striking and the display more dim-looking. I was unable to try the display outdoors, but with its ability to reflect light, I would wager that it works well in direct sunlight.

Memory Expansion: The E61 supports a MiniSD card, which allows you to add up to 2 GB of extra memory to the built-in 75 MB. My only grip about the memory card slot was that you had to remove the battery door to get at it, though you could remove and insert the card without having to pull the battery.

Conclusions

Of all the PDA-style phones Iíve tested, the E61 comes off as the most capable when used AS A PHONE. Iíve often found that the phones grafted onto other PDAs were lackluster with poor sound quality. The E61 provides the same excellent sound quality one comes to expect from properly-engineered Nokia products (because letís face it, there have been some REALLY BAD Nokia phones in the past).

I canít really comment on its usefulness as a PDA, since that isnít what I test it for. However, when it comes to being a phone first and foremost, the E61 isnít taking a back seat to anyone (with the exception of its rather iffy outgoing sound quality in the face of loud background noise).

One final note, the E61 does not have a built-in camera, which seems to be otherwise mandatory for PDA-style phones these days. Depending upon our needs however, the lack of a camera may not be a significant factor.

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