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Reviewed May 2 2008 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
Nokia introduced the Nokia E51 last fall in European markets and now you can buy the phone from online importers and even big name stores like Staples (might be online only) in the US. Though running on the same OS and platform (Symbian 9 and S60), Nokia makes distinctions between the Nokia Nseries and the Nokia Eseries: the Nseries focuses on multimedia while the Eseries aims to provide enterprise solutions. The Nokia E51 is one of the smaller phones in the series that includes giants like the Nokia E90 communicator and the Nokia E61/E61i. The Nokia E51 is a quad band GSM phone that has Euro 3G and EDGE in the US. It comes with a 2 megapixel camera, supports most corporate email, has WiFi and Bluetooth, an FM radio, microSD card slot and a host of nifty applications that are part of Symbian S60 3rd Edition feature pack 1 OS including an excellent web browser. The Nokia also comes with a suite of applications for business users to view MS Office files and PDF files.
For US mobile users who buy non-carrier GSM phones, it’s always a comforting factor and sometimes a purchasing factor to have an US warranty. And if you purchase a Nokia E51 from authorized dealers, you will get a one-year warranty, US power charger, US English language selection on the phone and English manual. The Nokia E51 currently comes in three colors: White Steel, black and Rose Steel.
Design and Ergonomics
The Nokia E51 has a candy bar design, a staple of European style phones. There is no mistaking the E51’s good build quality, and the stainless steel frame and back cover add class and style. And even in a softer Rose Steel color, the Nokia E51 shows an underlying masculinity. Unlike many Eseries phones that offer a QWERTY keyboard, the E51 has just a simple number keypad. The number keys are large but flat, easy to dial but not hugely easy for blind dialing and typing. The 5-way directional pad is rectangular with a large center key and a relatively thin navigation key ring surrounding the center key. Four dedicated application launch keys flank the d-pad and call send, call end and two shoulder keys surround the application launch keys. The call control buttons are large enough to use but need precision presses, but the shoulder keys are just too thin for ease of use.
To avoid accidental side button presses, the Nokia E51’s side buttons (volume buttons, voice command and mute keys) and the top power button are covered with rubber. This design effectively prevents accidental key presses but makes it harder to quickly change volume during a call or easily launch voice command as the keys are a bit too stiff to push. The 2 megapixel camera lives on the back of the phone above the battery door. Though you will need to open the battery door to access the microSD card, you don’t need to take the battery out (or shut down the phone) to use the slot. The SIM card slot however requires removal of the battery to access and small tweezers to get the card out.
Phone Features and Reception
Most Nokia phones have very good call quality and the Nokia E51 is no exception. Voice on both incoming and outgoing ends is clear and has very loud volume, and the built-in speakerphone is also exceptionally loud. The E51 gets a very strong signal and has never dropped a phone call on AT&T or T-Mobile. The Nokia E51 can make Internet calls via Cisco VoIP (you can download the app) if you have the infrastructure and the phone also has dual mode transfer multi-slot class 11 which means you can make a voice call and access data at the same time. The Nokia E51 supports all common call management features and comes with voice command software for voice dialing, launching applications and wireless radios and more. There is a dedicated side launch button for voice command and you don’t need to pre-record voice tags. The voice command worked 80% of the time in our tests (pretty good for S60 voice command which isn’t the best), and you must position the phone close to your mouth for better recognition results.
On paper the Nokia E51 is hobbled by the fact that it only has 3G on the 850/2100 MHz bands (currently AT&T offers 3G mostly on the 1900 MHz band), but in reality the S60 browser is so fast at rendering web pages that it makes up some ground. Rich content HTML sites take just a few seconds longer than 3G phones such as the Nokia N95-US 8GB. Our dslreports test results showed 127-180 kbit/sec but the page loading speed seemed faster than these numbers.
For messaging, the Nokia E51 supports SMS, MMS (300kb max per file) and IM (Yahoo, AOL, MSN, OMA 1.2), but the wide variety of email support is where the Nokia Eseries shines. The Nokia supports not only the SMTP, IMAP4 and POP3 protocols but also works with Mail for Exchange, BlackBerry Connect, Visto Mobile and Seven Always-on. Since the E51 targets users who have access to corporate email with business content, the E51’s Email application supports attachments and viewing MS Word, PowerPoint, Excel and PDF files.
Display and Multimedia
The Nokia E51 has a QVGA 2” active-matrix display that supports up to 16 million colors. The screen looks bright and color saturated, and it supports landscape mode in applications such image gallery and the web browser, which comes in handy. Photos look sharp and colorful on Nokia’s screen and web pages also look great.
If you compare the multimedia features, the Nokia Nseries phones win hands down, but the Eseries stays competitive in the multimedia department with other smartphones and high-end phones. The E51 comes with RealPlayer for video playback, Music Player for your MP3 pleasure and an FM radio that uses the included 2.5mm wired headset as its antenna. The phone has 130 MB of internal memory and has a microSD card slot that supports high capacity cards to store video and music files (and any other type of file you wish). The music player can play MP3 files, AAC and WMA files. So if you’ve ripped music with iTunes or Windows Media Player you can play these on the Nokia. The audio quality for music playback is decent but not exceptional via the phone’s speaker and the included wired stereo headset. The sound is a bit thin and slightly muffled over the wired headset, but volume is loud. The E51 also has support for A2DP via Bluetooth and you can listen to music through a Bluetooth stereo headset. We tested the Nokia with several Bluetooth stereo headsets including the excellent Samsung SBH500, and the sound quality was good but not inspiringly full like many Nseries phones and some recent feature phones. To listen to the radio, you will need to connect the included headset to the E51 as the headset has the radio antenna. The FM radio application can download your local radio stations with call letter (RDS) and visual radio service IDs. The radio has very good quality in metro areas and gets lots of FM stations.
Mobile photographers should stick with their N95 and N73, as the built-in camera on the Nokia E51 is just average. Photo quality can’t compete with recent 2 megapixel camera phones such as the Motorola Z9. Most outdoor shots look passable but some of them look overexposed and highlights are blown out. Photos look soft and don’t have the amount of details that the MOTO Z9 captures. Indoor shots generally have lots of noise in most lighting conditions but colors are more balanced than outdoor photos. The Nokia E51 camera has night mode and the shots taken in dark environments look decent enough to pass as a nightclub snapshot phone. Other camera options include sequence mode, self timer and light and color balance. The E51 offers two resolutions for still image: 640 x 480 and 1600 x 1200 and three image quality levels.
The Nokia can also record video with audio up to QVGA (320 x 240) resolution in H.263 (MPEG-4) format. You can record long video or short video for MMS and save them on the phone’s memory or a microSD card. There is no front-facing camera. The video quality can’t compete with the amazing video recorder on the Nokia N95, but then again few phones can. Video clips taken with the E51 playback smoothly and look decent on the phone’s screen. Audio is in sync with the video.
While some Eseries phones such as the E51 have similar forms and sizes to the Nokia Classic series, one thing that sets the Eseries apart is the addition of integrated WiFi and the E51 is no exception. The Nokia comes with 802.11g and offers WLAN wizard tool to help scan for WiFi access points and set up connection using WEP keys or WPA/WPA2 security. The Wi-Fi setup is easy and the phone has good range. You can also make VoIP calls if you have infrastructure that’s compatible with Cisco VoIP.
The Nokia E51 has integrated Bluetooth v2.0 + EDR and has support for popular profiles including Headset, Hands-Free, A2DP, AVRCP, Bluetooth printing profiles and more. We tested several hands free Bluetooth headsets with the Nokia, all worked well. The best mono Bluetooth headset performance when working with the E51 came from the Nokia BH-902. The voice quality was excellent, the headset’s DSP worked very effectively and volume was reasonably loud. The phone also worked well with the Jabra BT8040 and the Plantronics Explorer 330 Bluetooth headsets. The voice quality wasn’t as good as with the Nokia BH-902 but quite good nonetheless with clear voice and good volume level. The DSP worked decently on the Jabra and the Plantronics but wind noise was a big problem. So if you talk a lot in windy conditions, consider using the Nokia Bluetooth headset. The range between the phone and the mono Bluetooth headset was very good by Bluetooth headset standards, reaching over 20-25 feet.
The Nokia N95 8 gig and the Nokia E51.
For syncing with desktop, the Nokia E51 can sync over Bluetooth or using the included USB-mini USB cable. Additionally, the E51 has an IR port which is getting harder to find on a phone these days. The phone comes with PC Suite for Windows and Mac users can download Nokia’s iSync plugin for Mac OS X.
While the Nokia E51 has the good looks of a stylish feature phone, inside it is a bona fide S60 smartphone with all the bells and whistles. The Nokia E51 runs Symbian OS 9.2 with S60 3rd Edition, feature pack 1 and comes with the standard PIM tools including contacts, calendar and to-do list that can sync to MS Outlook (or with iCal and Address Book in Mac OS X). The E51 bundles an impressive number of applications for business users, these tools include Quickoffice (viewer for Word, Excel and PowerPoint), Acrobat PDF readers, Zip manager, File manager, Team Suite (group conference tool) and Active Notes (text, image, video, sound, bookmark, business card and other files). There’s a search tool that can do a global search in multiple applications including in contacts, Nokia Maps which allows you to browse maps, plan routes and get directions (there’s no internal GPS but you can use a Bluetooth GPS), Java MIDP 2.0, notes, converter, calculator and world clock. You can also download Symantec and F-Secure antivirus software via the Download application on the phone.
The Nokia E51 has very good battery life. It comes with a rechargeable Li-Ion battery that’s 1050 mAh in capacity (model BP-6MT) and the battery is user replaceable. The claimed talk time is 4.4 hours and the claimed standby time is up to 13 days. Our tests showed that these numbers are very achievable. If you are using the phone in the US, make sure you set your phone to “GSM only” to preserve power (the default is dual mode and the phone will keep looking for UMTS networks, which wastes battery power). Other tasks such as music playback, using Bluetooth, email and viewing Quick Office files don’t drain the phone’s battery dramatically. But tasks such as video playback and Wi-Fi activities do have some impact on the battery life.
It’s a shame that no US carrier is offering the Nokia E51 as it fills a market segment where smartphone users don’t necessarily want to carry a large E90 or a wide E61. The slim, small and sexy design certainly adds a new look to the Eseries, and turns the smartphone into an attractive device. The many applications and features including an office suite, superb web browser, push email support, strong PIM apps and multimedia tools make the phone a powerful tool, as do S60 phones in general. It might be a struggle choosing between the Classic series and the E51, but if a big portion of your mobile activities entail checking corporate email, viewing business files and require certain level of security and remote device management, the E51 has an edge. The E51 also adds WiFi.
Pro: Stylish design, good build quality, and small and lightweight. Very good voice quality and reception. Great browser and email support. Office Suite applications are big plus for corporate users. Plenty of multimedia applications to keep your down time fun.
Con: EDGE only in the US. Shoulder keys are hard to press and so are the side buttons that are covered by ruggedized rubber. Camera is sub par.
Price: $260-$399.99 from most US retailers
Web site: www.nokia.com, usa.nokia.com
Display: 16 million-color active matrix LCD. Screen size diagonally: 2". Resolution: 240 x 320, supports both portrait and landscape modes in apps such as the web browser and gallery.
Battery: Nokia BP-6MT 1050 mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. Claimed talk time: up to 4.4 hours, claimed standby up to 13 days.
Performance: 130 MB internal memory for storing user data.
Size: 114.8 x 46 x 12 mm (4.5 x 1.8 x 0.4 inches). Weight: 100 g (3.52 ounces).
Phone: GSM quad band 850/900/1800/1900MHz world phone. Has 3G WCDMA on 850MHz and 2100MHz bands.
Camera: 2 megapixel camera with 4x digital zoom. Max photo resolution: 1600 x 1200, max video resolution: 320 x 240.
Audio: Built-in mic and 2.5mm A/V jack. Supports MP3, MPEG-4, AAC, eAAC+, WMA, AMR-NB and AMR-WB ringtones and music playback. MP3 player included for music playback and the phone is compatible with Bluetooth stereo headsets. FM Radio included. Has voice recorder on board.
Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11g with WLAN wizard. Bluetooth v2.0 with EDR. Mini USB to USB 2.0. IrDA port.
Software: Symbian OS 9.2 with S60 3rd Edition feature pack 1. Jave MIDP 2.0. Nokia Office Tools 2.0 including Nokia Team Suite, In-device Search, Quickoffice, Macromedia PDF reader, Zip manager, File manager, and Active Notes. PIM tools include contacts, calendar and to-do list. PC Suite included on CD for syncing to Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes. Maps and GPS software to work with external GPS.
Expansion: 1 microSD card slot, supporting SDHC.
In the Box: The Nokia E51 phone with standard battery, travel charger AC-5, connectivity cable for syncing, wired stereo headset, companion CD with PC Suite, cleaning cloth and printed user manual and quickstar guide.