It’s the Business!

The Nokia E61 has been around with us for a while and has been a favourite of business professionals the world over, including Sir Alan Sugar who’s potential apprentices use the workhorse on the reality television show.

Nokia have now said "You’re fired" to the old model and introduced the E61i, but does the vowel on the end really make a difference or has the boring guy in accounts simply got a new haircut.

The old E61 was a great smartphone, but it did focused heavily on the business side of things. You could use it as an office from office all day every day, but come the weekend you’d have to swap your SIM over to another handset in order to have some fun. That’s changed with the E61i and indeed the market for this type of handset.

Although the phones are still pretty much the same, on first impressions the E61i feels a lot better than its predecessor, a lot more solid with a better build quality.

Looking at the keyboard, something which can make or break a phone of this type, you can see it’s had a rethink. No major overhaul here, the E61i has had a few tweaks to improve on the already excellent original. The keys are slightly smaller, but this means the space between has increased, with tactile feedback greatly improved, making typing a lot easier. The little knobbly joystick has also been done away with, to be replaced by a directional pad for better navigation.

There’s also a couple of additions to the keypad with a dedicated contacts button, and My Own key. The My Own key does what it says on the tin, a customisable button that the user can assign any application to. Handy if you use regularly use an app which is normally a few taps away.

On the side of the unit we find, amongst the expected volume and voice memo buttons, the loudspeaker. Still a lot of models in the market persist on having the speaker on the back leaving you to shout "What?!" a lot when the phone is on a desk, or having to flip the phone on its front leaving it vulnerable to scratching. Being on the side hasn’t been detrimental to the quality with the sound coming through loud and crisp.

To business
As you’d imagine, the E61i has all the tools to do the job with the obvious calendar, memo, to-do functions, calculator, and voice recorder (although it can only record for 60 seconds). It also features QuickOffice enabling the user to read and edit all the regular Microsoft Office apps like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint (although PP is read only) with scrolling, resizing, and zooming a breeze.

With Mail for Exchange the E61i starts to give Blackberry a run for its money, giving you real-time push email support. Mail for Exchange can also be set up to sync contacts and calendar entries both ways. If something is changed on your PC the phone gets updated, and if something gets changed on the phone, the PC gets updated. You’ll always have access to the current information where ever you are.

Surfing the web using the built in browser, although often awkward to navigate, is probably as good as it gets without a touchscreen. Using the d-pad to move around a minimised page, you can zoom in and out with the • and # buttons. When moving around whilst zoomed in, a semi-transparent thumbnail of the page will appear letting you know where you are at all times. Websites look exactly as they would appear on a desktop, and the browser handles all javascript and most flash files with ease.

Two new applications are interesting, first being the Message Reader which can read aloud text messages. A good idea, but not really practical unless you don’t mind broadcasting that ‘"schnukums loves lambikins 4 eva" to your peers, as we all know 85% of text messages consist of.

The second application that demands attention is WidSets. If you’ve used a Mac in the last year or so you should be familiar with Widgets, little applications that run in the background to be called to the fore at the touch of a button, and WidSets is no different. These little boxes connect to the internet and download snippets of info such as news headlines, stocks, weather, and much more, giving you an overview of everything you need to know at once.

Connectivity is not a problem with the E61i. GPRS, EDGE, WiFi, UMTS, USB 2.0, Bluetooth 1.2, and infrared all being accounted for. Although no A2DP so no bluetooth stereo headset support.

SIP based services are also supported, and the E61i can be set up to switch to internet telephony as default whenever a SIP service is available.

Now for the fun
The music player on the E61i is good. Don’t expect it to have the functionality of players on dedicated music phones however, because it doesn’t. This is a business phone with no character when it comes to tunes. Select a track and it plays it, but no album artwork or fancy menu here. The boring guy in accounts is good at karaoke but can’t dance to save his life.

The handset only comes with a mono ear-piece for handsfree calls, which isn’t really that great for listening to music. However, you can get a pop-port 3.5mm adaptor which allows you to use the headphones of your choice.

Flipping this phone on its front would leave most E61 users with one question; "What is that?" with ‘that’ being the addition of a 2 megapixel camera.

There are some issues with having a camera on a business focused handset, as some workplaces don’t allow them in order to prevent industrial espionage, but Nokia have realised that the presence of a camera might be commercially better than not having one at all. However, don’t expect to be giving David Bailey any sleepless nights. The 2 megapixels are adequate for snaps but there’s no complicated features like the on N95, or even auto-focus or flash. A quirk of the camera is its long… delay. You have to hold the camera still for a second or so after pressing the button to avoid ruined shots. This would be suitable for an estate agent taking shots of houses for the front window, but not for pictures where the subject isn’t going to hang around.

Expected with camera handsets, but new to the E61i is the ability to record video. The max resolution is 352×288 recording at 15 fps. Good enough to capture your colleague falling off his chair to put on YouTube, but no good for the on-the-scene roving reporter.

Once you’ve got your snap you can see it in all its glory on the 16 million colour TFT QVGA screen. Measuring 2.8 inches and squeezing in 320×240 pixels the E61i has the same screen real estate as a pocketPC, just flipped on its side.

Viewing images is again a very business like affair, no rotating gallery that we love from N-series handsets, merely a simple listed thumbnail view. Once you’ve got your selected image on screen you can zoom in and out, rotate it from portrait to landscape and back again, and view in full-screen. No editing functions here though, simply take the pic and look at it.

The addition of the camera is a welcome one, but Nokia have not gone the whole hog… there’s no VGA camera on the front for video calling, something you would probably make use of were it there. Especially handy for proving to your boss that you are at a meeting and not sunning it in the garden where you’d rather be. 

The i’s have it
There’s no mistaking the E61i is a business handset. This is obvious from the start with the dreary standard grey theme. You can rely on it to do most office tasks extremely well when away from your desk,  but it also has a few groovy extras. It’s an improved E61 with the added funky functionality of a camera, amongst other things.

That boring guy in accounts just got a new suit and learnt some jokes. He’ll do a tediously efficient job during the day, but you’d be happy to take him down the pub after hours.