I remember over three years ago over lunch a Canadian gentleman proudly showing me his new gadget, "I can reply to your silly questions anywhere with this" he proclaimed. At the time I didn't think much of the device, which was shaped like a slab of melted down plastic. Obviously I had underestimated the need for e-mail to be "pushed" onto people's hands. The device showed to me was an early version of a Blackberry.
Research In Motion, makers of the Blackberry have managed to mobilize an army of loyal users to the point where court judgements that threaten the functionality of the device can be overturned. Few devices, save the iPod can claim such an impact on the lives of their users and the market as a whole. The hunt was on for someone to come and challenge the dominance of RIM in this lucrative market and Nokia have stepped up to the plate with the E61.
The vital characteristics are good, a large screen, a thumb board for entering text, quad-band, and support for 3G, WiFi and Bluetooth. Expandable storage in the shape of miniSD is present with Nokia throwing in a 64Mb card. Software support for viewing Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files along with PDF ones are also present. To aid corporate buyers, no camera is included.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that primary tool used to design the E61 was tracing paper. It looks very much like a Blackberry but I suppose Nokia wanted to go with a design that is familiar in the minds of current Barryberry addicts. To be honest the design works very well allowing a QWERTY thumb pad and a large screen to be present.
It is the screen which immediately catches your attention and it deserves to. The brightness, clarity and contrast are superb. I have yet to see a mobile device, including Sony PSP and Nintendo DS, having such a wonderful screen. With a resolution of 320x240 pixels, a generous amount of text can be displayed per screenful. Probably the most intriguing feature though is a built in light metre.
This odd device alters the brightness of the screen depending on how much surrounding light there is. It's very hard to gauge in general use, however it does work and I assume its primary function is to aid battery life as well as screen readability. Due to the glossy finish of the screen, glare is fairly noticeable in bright environments, although not overly debilitating.
With such a large and bright screen battery life was always going to be a worry. Thanks to a 1500mAh battery the E61 manages around three days, even with regular use.
The thumb board is a great way of entering small amounts of text into a device such as this. A couple of months ago I was raving about the keyboard on my Vario, but in some ways the E61 is even better. The tactility of each key is wonderful, affording feel which is lacking on bargain basement computer keyboards. However the keys are a tightly spaced and the space bar is a little too small, either that or my thumbs are too big.
Navigation through the menus is done using a mid-placed joystick. It works well but what the E61 is really missing is a scroll wheel. Wading through hundreds of e-mails (or SPAM) would be simpler and quicker with a bi-directional wheel. That said, the joystick is useful when you are using the Web browser.
Understandably, Nokia includes Blackberry push e-mail functionality along with POP3 and IMAP. Our unit from T-Mobile came preconfigured for use with Hotmail and Yahoo as well. Setting up gMail was no problem either. Clearly if you use e-mail, you're covered with the E61.
Using T-Mobile's 'web 'n walk' service to test 3G connectivity was a pleasure with web sites loading up quickly. E-mail consistently got pushed every 30 minutes to my device and I even managed to bid on eBay without any hassles at all. Coverage through Central London was almost perfect. So enamoured with this service was I that within a week of trying the 'web 'n walk' service I had it added to my personal phone account.
Phones like the E61 need good PC software in order to synchronize e-mails, calendar, contacts and files. Sadly Nokia have furnished us with their PC Suite which doesn't synchronize any of the aforementioned information with any popular software application. It's not that the software is hard to use but rather the lack of functionality with other applications which really leaves me disappointed. Instead of providing their own music management software, why not just use features found in Windows Media Player or iTunes? Why on Earth would I want to store contacts in an application which my e-mail client cannot reference? It's such a shame.
Nokia's E61 is an excellent device let down by poor PC software. The physical characteristics are just right and the screen is outstanding. When coupled to a 3G service such as Web 'n Walk the E61 not only is a good e-mail device but is good for Web browsing too. Nokia have a put up a worthy competitor to the Blackberry, with software being the only chink in its armour.