Review of the Nokia E65


The E65 is yet another slider-style Smart Phone from Nokia, once again sporting the Symbian operating system. It also includes a 2-megapixel camera, MicroSD expansion slot, and support for WCDMA at 2100 MHz (though this band isn't used in North America). The phone was tested only on the standard GSM voice network presently offered by Rogers (and by extension, Fido, 7-11, and other virtual network providers who use the Rogers network).

The Nokia E65 is not available directly from any Canadian providers.

Last Updated: 25-May-2007

This review is dedicated to the memory of Barry Leung, who lent me many phones for review in the past. He past away unexpectedly last month and he will be greatly missed. Follow this link for a thread concerning Barry passing on HowardForums.

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

RF Performance

RF Sensitivity: I tested this aspect of the phone over at Square One in the Hall of Shame 2. The test was performed against the still-excellent Siemens A56. This particular phone, despite its low-end status and advancing age, has excellent RF sensitivity at both 850 MHz and 1900 MHz. The E65 performed well, in that there was almost nothing to tell it apart from the A56. Both hung in there exactly the same, and both could be called upon to complete calls in equally weak conditions. Thus, the E65 get very high marks for this aspect of performance.

Over-the-road Performance: The E65 has approximately the same over-the-road performance as most other Nokia models Iíve tested, which is to say okay, but hardly stellar. Handoffs are generally tamer than in earlier Nokia models, but the number of handoffs and the overall network experience while on the move is decidedly sub-par compared the recently-tested Sony-Ericsson z710i. If it werenít for the z710i I might be more impressed with the E65, but alas technology marches on and the z710i raises the bar. That leaves the E65 looking like old-tech.

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

Audio Performance

Tonal Balance: Iíve generally found Nokia models to have pretty decent tonal balance, but the E65 sounds rather muddy and indistinct. It isnít severe by any stretch, but compared to other GSM phones on the market (including plenty of Nokia models that Iíve recently tested, as well as the z710i) the E65 is just not up to par. I had no trouble hearing people or making out what they said, but it was painfully obvious to me at all times that the sound wasnít nearly as crisp or distinct as it could be.

Sound Reproduction: I had no problem with the sound reproduction however. The phone seems quite capable of reproducing the various nuances of speech without introducing its own distortion or colorization. Alas the muddy tonal balance spoils the show.

Earpiece Volume: Certainly no problem here. The earpiece volume is excellent, especially when the now-ubiquitous Nokia volume-boost feature kicks in. Out on noisy streets the volume from the earpiece is remarkably loud, which certainly helps given the muddy overall quality of that audio.

Outgoing Audio: Outgoing sound quality was nice, but the phone had a nasty habit of picking every little scrap of background noise and sending it along to your caller. For example, MOST phones suppress background noise well enough that using them in a reasonably quiet car at 60 km/h wouldnít give your callers any clue that you were driving. Under the same conditions with the E65 however, your callers will be quite aware that you are driving.

I tried the driving-past-a-tractor-trailer-with-the-window down test and the E65 failed miserably. While such noisy conditions are unusual, they do demonstrate just how well a phone can cope with background noise. While some phones Iíve tested can continue to transmit quite understandable audio under such severe conditions, the E65 is totally impossible to make out.

Speakerphone: Nokia is all over the map when it comes to the quality and overall usefulness of their speakerphones. Sadly the E65 is one of the worst. It produces so little volume that the ONLY place you can really use the feature is in a totally quiet room. Even more frustrating is that the very same speaker generates quite decent volume levels when playing multimedia files. Surely if the amplifier and speaker are capable of generating that level of audio, then the same could be expected during calls.

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

Support Features

Ringer Volume: Like the speakerphone feature, the volume of the ringer (which uses the same speaker) is not particularly loud. Choosing the correct MP3 file and assigning it as a ringer mitigates the problem to some extent, but no matter how loud the MP3 file is, the ringer volume just doesnít cut it in really loud environments.

Keypad Design: I had very mixed feelings about the two keypads on this phone. The numeric keypad under the slider is actually not too bad. Itís well-spaced, the keys are fairly large, and they press with a reasonable amount of tactile feel. However, they are also flush and if it werenít for a horizontal ridge that runs across each row, there would be no way to feel one from the other. The ridges make it possible to feel the rows however, but not the columns.

The on-top keypad, which includes the 4-way cursor and TALK and END keys, is far too crowded and indistinct. Those with tiny fingers will definitely find it easier to use than those with large fingers, but given that most people use their thumbs to work the keypad, even having small fingers isnít a great help. I found it difficult to press the cursor-down key without occasionally pressing the menu key below it and to the left. Whenever I did that, I found myself unable to easily return to where I was, as pressing EXIT would just go back to the main screen.

Display: The display, like most the Nokia Smart Phones, has a resolution of 240 x 320. For many things this is very good, but the lack of a scalable font for the phone makes it difficult to see for people with less than perfect vision. The display also isnít particularly bright and is easily washed out by direct sunlight. Clearly the screenís primary purpose is for the multimedia features and NOT for day-to-day phone use.

Icing on the Cake

Fit & Finish: I donít normally comment on this, but I felt that the E65 deserved a special mention. Unlike virtually all of Nokiaís other slider designs, the E65 is surprisingly solid. Even when slid open, the phone feels as though it is made from one single piece of material. This is a far cry from their other models that feel as though you could accidentally snap them in two without even trying. Kudos on this design, and we can only hope that most future Nokia sliders are built the same way.

Camera: First the good news. The 2-megapixel camera has an excellent lens with exceptional linearity and consistently-sharp focus across the entire image. The JPEG compression level is also low enough that the images are largely free of the telltale JPEG blocks when examined up close.

And now for the bad new. Like most Nokia cameras, the one in the E65 suffers from excessive amount of digital noise. While this has become the norm for Nokia camera phones in low light, the E65 exhibits surprisingly large amounts of noise in the darker areas of even brightly-lit subjects. On the phone I tested, the noise was generally green in color, and many pictures possessed a green tint that was almost impossible to balance out in Photoshop.

Here is a sample photograph taken outdoors using the E65 and my Motorola i880. My dashboard is gray, not green. Any attempts to correct the green tint (without selecting separately) just caused the other colors in the photograph to look totally wrong:

Picture taken with the E65
Similar shot with the i880

The phone is capable of producing very impressive videos with excellent audio tracks, but they too suffer from the digital noise and green-tint effect found in the still photographs. In one video, which the phoneís owner had taken of a young relative showing off a toy, the kid looked like he was from Mars. Changing the white balance setting does not overcome this problem.

WiFi: The E65 includes a built-in WiFi transceiver, which makes it possible to use data applications on the phone using a local WiFi network rather than the GSM data network. Although E65 still has problems connecting with all WiFi configurations, but I had no difficulty connecting with my network, which uses WPA Personal and the TKIP algorithm.

Conclusions

So while the E65 possesses excellent fit & finish, decent RF sensitivity, and good earpiece volume, not much else really got my attention. Virtually every other aspect of the phone was in some way inferior to what one could expect from other phones on the market, including other Nokia models. Itís not a terrible phone by any stretch of the imagination, but despite some of its gee-whiz features, it fails to rise above mediocre.

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