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Nokia 7610b

Editor's rating (1-5):
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Review posted Nov. 12, 2004 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

Nokia, the largest cell phone manufacturer in the world, offers a wide array of phones from the most simple to power smartphones running Symbian Series 60. The 7610 is one of Nokia's high end beauties, running the new version 2 of Symbian Series 60 and offering just about every feature you could want. It's a GSM phone that comes in two flavors: the 7610 which runs on 900/1800/1900MHz bands (world phone) and the still hard to find 7610b which runs on the 850/1800/1900MHz bands for the US. The phone is widely available in Europe and Asia, and from importers in the US. As of late November 2004, Cingular will be offering the 7610b in the US: great news!

Nokia 7610b
Nokia 7610b back

 

The 7610 caters not only to power users, but those who want a strong dose of style. Nokia makes many, many cookie-cutter candy bar phones; but they're also fond of playing with style, sometimes radically in certain models. Unlike the Nokia 3650 which had a round keypad design that was so radical it gave fervent SMS-ers apoplexy, the 7610's stylized keypad is striking but not impossible to use. The 7610 has a design that most folks find striking and very attractive and it turns heads wherever we go. It's available in black or white and as you'd expect, Nokia sells additional "Express On" covers should you feel like a color change. But the 7610 is more than just a pretty face, and features great reception, Bluetooth, a lovely 65,000 color 2" display and a stunning 1 megapixel camera capable of taking still shots and video.

Design and Ergonomics

This is a device that hopes to find its way into the Museum of Modern Art. The black version is particularly striking and has a gloss finish with silver (some versions add red) accents. It is perfectly symmetrical with right angles at the top left and lower right corners, and gentle curves on the top right and lower left. Turn it on its face, turn it upside down and the pleasing form will remain the same.

The silver insets around the large display swoop down to meet the keypad where they widen, forming the backdrop for the outer keys. The keypad features a sweeping radial design and the left and lower keys are larger than the rest. Though the keys aren't uniformed in size and don't line up in the usual rectangular pattern with the 4 key directly below the 1 key, the keyboard isn't hard to use. In two hours I found it easy to use the keypad for dialing and SMS. Though the keyboard has a visually distinct appearance, Nokia didn't alter the keys enough to create usability problems.

side of Nokia 7610b

Above: side view of the Nokia 7610b. Below, a size comparison with the Motorola MPx220, Sony Ericsson T610, the Nokia 7610 and the Nokia 3650.

size comparison

 

 

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The center directional pad is small and stiff, nested perhaps a bit too close to the surrounding keys. It's usable and works well one-handed but you'll need a bit of coordination and a day of use to become proficient at it. A two inch display dominates the upper portion of the unit, with the speaker located above the display. The Nokia Pop-Port is located on the bottom of the phone and the camera lens on the back. The lens is relatively large compared to some other camera phones and that's a good thing: a larger lens usually means better photos. Rather than the usual tiny round self-portait mirror found next to the lens, the 7610 has a large mirror that incorporates nicely into the design on the back panel. Those of us who like to check our hair on the go will love that mirror, while those who score low on the vanity scale might prefer a completely black rear casing. Regardless of which camp you fall into, you'll likely agree that the mirror and and surrounding pattern are striking. And after all, this phone is both a smartphone and a fashion phone. If you like the features and specs of the 7610 but don't want the novel keyboard or standout looks, consider the Nokia 6670 instead. The 6670 is a triband world phone with the guts of a 7610 and a more "normal" appearance.

Horsepower and Expansion

According to Psiloc System Tools, the 7610 has a 123MHz ARM processor which is currently one of the fastest you'll find in a Series 60 phone. It has 8 megs of internal memory, which doesn't sound like much, but it's more than adequate because Symbian apps are generally quite small. The phone uses the new Reduced Size MMC cards (RS-MMC) which are half the length of standard MMC cards. But you won't have to scramble to find a card for your 7610 because Nokia generously includes a 64 meg card with the phone. You'll find a variety of 3rd party software demo apps on the card which you can test, purchase or delete as you see fit. Nokia says that the phone will work with up to 256meg RS-MMC cards and that was the largest capacity available when the phone was released. Now there are 512 meg cards on the market and they work fine with the 7610.

The phone has Bluetooth, a Nokia Pop-Port connector but no IR. It comes with the DKU-2 USB cable which attaches to the Pop-Port for syncing and using the phone as a wireless modem for a PC or Mac over USB. As Windows user who's struggled to sync PIM data over Bluetooth using PC Suite can tell you, the cable is a much more reliable and less crazy-making method of getting you Contacts, Calendar, Tasks and Notes data synced to the phone. You can still transfer files to and from the phone via Bluetooth, but the 7610 doesn't support Serial Port Profile, so you will need to use the cable to sync PIM data.

A Bit about Bands and the 7610 vs. 7610b

As mentioned, the phone comes in two versions, the 7610 and the 7610b. The 7610 is a world phone that works anywhere GSM service is available. It has 900MHz (Europe), 1800MHz (Asia) and 1900MHz (US). The 7610b targets the US, and trades the 900MHz band for 850MHz which is a relatively new band used in the US by AT&T/Cingular. You'll still get reception in the US using the non-b version of the phone on the 1900MHz band. 1900MHz is used by every US GSM carrier, but some metro areas have been built out with added 850MHz service in the past year. Note that if you get the b version, you won't be able to use the phone in Europe. If you're a T-Mobile US customer, you don't need to worry about the 850MHz band because T-Mobile only uses 1900MHz.

Phone Features, Reception and Data

Nokia phones have great reception and the 7610b is no exception. In fact, it tops other recent Nokias we've tested including the 3650, N-Gage QD and the 6820. The phone gets a signal where other phones can't and shows very high db readings overall for signal strength. The unit hasn't dropped a call in two weeks of testing, even when in a very poor signal area with 1 bar. Miraculously, call sound quality was good even with 1 bar. We tested the unit with a T-Mobile SIM on the 1900MHz band in the US. No doubt, US customers with AT&T/Cingular on 850MHz towers will see even better performance indoors as will 900MHz users in Europe.

The 7610 has all the standard phone features you'll find on other Series 60 phones such as voice dialing using voice tags, a loud speaker phone, speed dialing for up to 99 numbers, support for conference calling, call waiting and picture caller ID. The phone's earpiece and mic volume are good and are loud and clear enough for use in public places. The 7610 ups the ante with voice commands that allow you to launch applications or even toggle Bluetooth on and off. You'll record voice tags for commands, just as you do for voice dialing. We did note that there's a longer delay after you hear the voice prompt before you can speak your command compared to other phones. Wait one full second after you hear the auditory prompt to speak your command or wait for the on-screen progress bar to start moving before you speak. Voice dialing and voice commands work darned near 100% if you wait and will surely fail if you don't.

Display, Sound and Multimedia

Certainly this is one of the nicest displays we've seen on a Nokia phone. The 2" TFT display is capable of displaying 65,000 colors and runs at the standard Series 60 176 x 208 resolution. The screen is contrasty and has very good color saturation. While there are LCDs that can display even more colors and are a bit brighter such as the Motorola MPx220, photos actually look more natural and show more gradations in contrast and intensity on the Nokia. Indeed the 7610's display is plenty bright and you can adjust the brightness if you wish but you can't change the backlight timeout which can be annoying if you like to surf, read ebooks and the like. There are utilities that will turn the backlight on indefinitely such as the free FExplorer, thank goodness.

Surprisingly, the 7610 doesn't have stereo output even though it can play MP3s and movies. What a shame. . . Sound quality when listening to music and videos with audio is good though but this unit won't put your iPod out of a job. The included earbud headset has low volume for multimedia and voice calls, so do consider getting a different Pop-Port headset or a Bluetooth headset. Volume through the speaker is quite good, as is volume through Bluetooth headsets. The 7610 supports MP3 ringtones which opens a entire realm of free and custom ringers.

RealPlayer is included for playback of MP3, Real Audio, Real Video and 3GP videos shot with the phone's camera.

Battery Life

For a smartphone, the 7610 had good battery life, lasting us about 2 days of moderate use per charge. It has a 900 mAh Lithium Ion BL-5C battery which is larger than some prior Series 60 devices' batteries, though not as large as the N-Gage QD's 1,000 mAh battery which will not physically fit in the 7610 in case you were wondering . In our tests we spoke for 30 to 45 minutes per day on the phone, surfed for one hour using the included web browser and Opera, used the phone as a wireless modem over Bluetooth with a Dell Axim X50v and an HP iPAQ hx4700 for one hour per day, watched a few short videos and played games for 30 minutes per day. Most but not all of our phone conversations involved Bluetooth headsets and we left Bluetooth turned on 80% of the time.

Software and Syncing

Thanks to the included USB syncing cable, syncing to Windows PCs is now easy. One caveat: ignore the version of PC Suite on the CD and download the latest version from Nokia's web site. Right now, that's version 6.4 and it not only works reliably with the 7610 but it has many new features and a spiffy user interface. You'll use PC Suite to browse the phone's contents, transfer files, sync PIM data to Outlook, play movies taken with the camera and more. If you prefer Bluetooth, you can transfer files but you won't be able to sync PIM data because the phone doesn't have the serial port profile.

Speaking of PIM apps, the 7610 has very strong Calendar, Contacts, Tasks and a Notes app too. The Contacts application includes a large number of fields and will suit most Outlook users nicely. The Calendar defaults to month view with appointments appearing as blue triangles, and has week and day views as well which you can switch to at any time or select as your default view. Of course it has alarms and you can create new entries categorized as Meeting, Memo or Anniversary. To-to is a task management app that supports priorities and Notes (nested in the Extras folder) is a note taking application. All of these sync to Outlook on the desktop.

Camera

The Nokia has one of the best 1 megapixel cameras available on a phone. The only phone that beats it is the Sony Ericsson S700i which is a rather large and expensive phone that's sold only by importers in the US. It's capable of taking photos up to 1152 x 864 pixels resolution, uses a CMOS sensor and has 4x digital zoom. The lens is fast at 2:8 which is good for low light settings yet it does well in bright outdoor environments and doesn't white out brighter objects. Like other Nokias, the lens is a wide angle at 3.7mm which is roughly equivalent to a 28mm film camera lens.

While some phone and PDA cameras offer a plethora of settings yet take mediocre photos, the Nokia has relatively few manual settings but consistently takes excellent photos on the automatic setting. Of course, the phone won't replace your dedicated digicam but the photos are good enough to save, put on web pages and perhaps even print up to 4" x 6". Nokia clearly believes the photos are worth printing since they include software for printing photos to a Bluetooth printer. Outdoor shots show relatively little color fringing, have very good color and light balance, do not blow out and overexpose on sunny days, and have surprisingly little noise. They do have a bias toward the cyan on cloudy days but that's easily fixed using adjustments such as "Auto Color" in Adobe Photoshop on the desktop. Indoor shots under incandescent and fluorescent light are also quite good with the expected added warm tones under incandescent lighting. The camera has a low light setting that's very effective and will allow you to take decent shots with some added noise in a poorly lit room at night or an outdoors shot at dusk. Overall colors are slightly undersaturated on the 7610 but appear natural and realistic. There is absolutely no comparison when looking at photos taken with the Motorola MPx220 MS Smartphone and its 1.3MP camera. The Moto's photos are simply terrible compared to the 7610. Given that these phones compete neck and neck on features, the Nokia wins if camera quality is important to you.

Bluetooth

We generally expect a strong and reliable Bluetooth implementation from Nokia and the 7610 doesn't disappoint. Like all Nokias, it supports Handsfree profile but not headset profile. Since most all headsets and car kits made in the last two years offer the more feature-rich handsfree profile, we don't see this as a problem. The 7610 paired reliably with several headsets we tested and had good range, volume and call clarity.

In addition, the Nokia supports OBEX profile for file transfer between the phone and other phones, PDAs and Bluetooth enabled computers. Unlike prior Series 60 devices, it doesn't have serial port profile, and that's why Nokia includes their USB syncing cable. The phone has the dial up networking profile and worked perfectly as a modem for several of our PDAs and a notebook. Though the 7610 is only a Class 6 GPRS device capable of a maximum 40k throughput, it offered strong transfer speeds and we couldn't generally tell the difference between it and the Class 10 Motorola MPx220 and Audiovox SMT5600 (aka Orange SPV C500) when used as a modem for an HP iPAQ hx4700 and the Dell Axim X50v.

Conclusion

It's hard not to love this phone! It offers great style, yet maintains usability. Add a large, lovely color display, Bluetooth and a truly impressive 1MP digicam and you've got quite a phone. It has strong battery life for a smartphone and should last most users two days on a charge. The device feels reasonably snappy and is one of the fastest Series 60 devices we've tested. It has the latest version of Series 60 with several nice enhancements. Thanks to the included USB Sync cable, syncing PIM data to and from a PC is no longer a head-banging experience.

Pro: Great style and unique looks. Wonderful digital camera, large color display, good battery life, Bluetooth and PDA-like features such as PIM apps and the ability to install any of the many Series 60 apps available on the Net. It's available in two flavors to suit most users in the world.

Con: If you prefer conservative phones and a grid keypad layout, the 7610 may not be for you. Consider the Nokia 6670 instead which is basically the same phone in a conservative suit. The phone is not large by any means, coming close to the diminutive Sony Ericsson T610, but if you prefer very small phones, the 7610 may not please you. This isn't a quad band phone so you'll need to choose between the world band phone (900/1800/1900) which will work anywhere in the world but lacks the 850 band being rolled out in the US by AT&T/Cingular (not T-Mobile), or get the 7610b which is now offered by Cingular and lacks the 900MHz band used in Europe.

Web site: www.nokia.com, www.nokiausa.com

Price: approximately $500 US unlocked without contract, cheaper with Cingular contract.

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Sample photos, unedited. Taken at maximum resolution. Click on an image to see the full size original.

fedex

Outdoors mid-day.

guitar

Indoors with natural lighting from a window 15 feet away.

odwalla in supermarket

In a supermarket.

 

Specs:

Display: TFT color LCD, 65K colors, screen size diag: 2 ". Resolution: 176 x 208.

Battery: Lithium Ion 900 mA rechargeable BL-5C battery. Battery is user replaceable.

Performance: 123MHz ARM processor. 8 MB built-in RAM. Comes with a 64 RS-MMC card.

Size: 108.6 mm x 53 mm x 18.7 mm(4.27" x 2.1" x 0.7"), 118 grams ( 4.16 ounces).

Audio: Built in speaker, mic, Pop Port jack and Pop-Port earbud headset. Voice Recorder and RealPlayer 9. Phone and headset output are mono.

Camera: Integrated megapixel (1152 x 864 pixels) camera with 4x digital zoom. Also records video with audio.

Network: GSM phone with GPRS class B, multislot class 6 device for data. 7610: 900/1800/1900MHz bands with auto-switching. 7610b: 850/1800/1900MHz with auto-switching. Bluetooth 1.1 included.

Software: Symbian OS 7.0s, Series 60 version 2.

Expansion: 1 RS-MMC card slot (Reduced Size MMC).

In the box: Phone, battery, charger, USB cable, Pop-Port headset, 64 meg RS-MMC card, printed manual and a cleaning cloth.

 

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