Reviewed April 7, 2009 by Lisa Gade, Editor
The Nokia E63 looks like a near carbon copy of the incredibly popular Nokia E71 QWERTY smartphone. It has nearly the same dimensions, keyboard and overall design, with a few features removed to bring it into serious budget-saving territory. What's different from the E71? The E63 has a plastic casing rather than metal, it has US 3G for AT&T but the slower WCDMA flavor rather than HSDPA, a 2 rather than 3 megapixel camera and there's no GPS. This is an unlocked GSM phone that requires no contract, so there's no carrier subsidy. That means it's not as cheap as most carrier phones with contract, but at $279 with no commitment it's a bargain and about $80 cheaper than the E71. The E63 is an unlocked GSM phone that can be used with any GSM carrier (that's AT&T and T-Mobile in the US).
Torn between the unlocked E71 and the E63? If your budget is really tight, the E63 has a distinct advantage since it costs approximately 25% less. It's particularly appealing if you don't need a GPS and don't intend to tether your phone to a laptop for data (WCDMA tops out at 384k while HSDPA offers a theoretical 3.6Mbps with real world 700kbps on AT&T) or are on T-Mobile where the phone works only on EDGE anyway. Conversely, if your budget isn't tight, the $80 gets you a lot. E71's metal casing is attractive, slimmer and sturdy, the GPS is there along with HSDPA, and the camera is a bit better. As a final consideration, if you're an AT&T customer and don't mind extending your contract (or switching to AT&T from another carrier), the Nokia E71x sells for $99 with contract.
Above: QWERTY smartphone trio: the BlackBerry Bold, Nokia E63 and HTC Fuze.
Below: the BlackBerry Bold and Nokia E63 NAM side comparison.
Design and Ergonomics
The Nokia E63 is made of high quality plastics, and feels solid. It's available in two colors: red and blue. The front face is bright and mid-gloss while the back has a more complex color mix with a mild bronzing effect and a soft touch finish. Though the Nokia E71 is thinner by 3mm and sleeker, its metal back and super-slimness make it easier to drop than the soft touch E63.
The keyboards are identical, and that's a good thing. The keys are slightly larger than the BlackBerry Bold's, and they're very easy to type on thanks to an ergonomic layout, textured non-slip surface and doming. As an E Series business phone, the full QWERTY keyboard is perfect for email and SMS and light work on MS Office documents.
The d-pad is a perfectly normal one and doesn't have Nokia's Navi wheel feature like some recent N Series phones. We're not complaining since the Navi wheel didn't make scrolling any easier. The 2.6" QVGA 320 x 240 landscape is sharp and again, looks identical to the E71's.
There are no dedicated volume controls on the phone's side, instead you'll use the d-pad to change volume when in a call. The E63 has a standard 3.5mm stereo headset jack with an annoying little rubber plug that's sure to get lost. A basic stereo headset is in the box (Nokia HS-125)-- nothing as fancy as the headsets included with N Series Nokia phones. The phone supports Bluetooth headsets and A2DP stereo headsets, and as per usual for Nokia, compatibility and sound quality over Bluetooth is very good.
Nokia S60 software and user experience
The E63 runs the same Symbian OS 9.2 with Nokia S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 1 as the E71. They also share the same ARM11 compatible single core 369Hz CPU and memory (128 megs of RAM with 70 megs free at boot and 256 megs of flash storage with over 100 megs available). The smartphone has an SDHC microSD card slot that's compatible with cards up to 8 gigs in capacity. The E63 is responsive and easy to navigate using the large d-pad. Since it's an E Series smartphone, business applications take precedence over multimedia, though there are plenty of multimedia apps to keep one entertained: Real Player, Flash Lite 3.0 for youtube support, an FM Radio, Internet radio, music player, voice recorder, Podcasting application, Ovi and Nokia's Gallery application.
Business applications include Quickoffice 4.1 with view/edit/create capabilities for MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents (upgrade required for MS Office 2007 docs), Mail for Exchange support, a translation dictionary, unit converter, Intranet (VPN) support, a Zip manager, Bluetooth wireless keyboard driver (standard on most Nokia S60 devices), Adobe PDF viewer, Bluetooth printer support and Nokia's standard messaging client for POP3, IMAP and Exchange email.
The E63 has the usual set of S60 PIM applications (identical to the E71 and other recent Nokia S60 phones). There's contacts with groups, calendar, notes and Active Notes (create multimedia notes with images, video, sounds, business cards and bookmarks). These are powerful and full-featured, though there are still a few odd limitations (you can't sort contacts by company!). The calendar supports repeat events, To do's, anniversaries and has month, day, week and agenda views. These sync with Outlook and with Address Book and iCal on Mac OS X (you can download a free iSync plugin from Nokia's website).
As with most Nokia N and E series phones, there are regional variants with different 3G bands, though all variants have all four GSM/EDGE bands 850/900/1800/1900MHz. We're reviewing the Nokia E63-2 NAM (North American) version and that's the one you should get if you want the AT&T 3G bands and a US warranty. Nokia sells the NAM unlocked version direct from their US website and other online retailers carry it as well. As we mentioned, the E63 has WCDMA, the older and slower version of 3G that maxes out at 384kbps rather than HSDPA (referred to as 3.5G) that has a theoretical max of 3.6Mbps and real world download speeds averaging 500-900kbps on AT&T. That sounds abysmal but in fact web page load times aren't hugely slower than on HSDPA phones like the Nokia E71, HTC Fuze and Samsung Epix. Likewise, email downloads quickly and S60 app downloads aren't terribly slow. However, if you plan to use the phone for tethering (use the phone as a wireless modem for a notebook or desktop PC), then WCDA is indeed noticeably slower. If you're using another GSM provider (likely T-Mobile in the US) then you'll get EDGE speeds only since the phone lacks T-Mobile's 3G bands.
The E63 has a 2 megapixel camera with a fixed focus lens and an LED flash. That might sound like a big step down from the E71's 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus lens, but it's not. Why? The E71's camera looks good on paper but it doesn't actually take great photos. And the unintuitive autofocus function wasn't a big plus. The E63 takes very nice photos by 2MP fixed focus standards, especially outdoor and well-lit shots. Indoor shots are noisy despite the bright LED flash but as a consolation you can use the flash as a flashlight by pressing and holding the Ctrl and spacebar keys. The camera can also shoot video with audio at QVGA resolution at 15fps.
Like the Nokia E71, the E63 is an Energizer Bunny, even on 3G. The 1500 mAh Lithium Ion battery (BP-4L) is high capacity by phone standards and when using the phone to surf the web for an hour per day, watch 10 minutes of YouTube video, watch 30 minutes of MP4 video stored on a microSD card, checking email on a 30 minute schedule and talking for 30 minutes per day, it took us 3.1 days to kill the battery (virtually the same as the E71). If you use push email, talk on the phone a great deal each day or have a YouTube addiction, your runtimes will be shorter, but I can't imagine this phone not making it through a full day with even the heaviest of use.
In difficult economic times, Nokia comes to the rescue with a well-made, stylish and feature-rich smartphone at a bargain price. If you're in the market for an unlocked QWERTY smartphone or simply don't want to extend your current cell phone contract (for AT&T and T-Mobile users) and you don't have a lot of money to spend, the Nokia E63 NAM should be on your short list. Though it loses some of the E71's high end features and sleek metal goodness, it's a great messaging phone for those who don't need a GPS or high speed tethering. But if money isn't an issue, the E71 offers enough upgrades for $80 to make it a good buy as well.
Pro:Very affordable yet well-featured smartphone. Good build quality and nice looks.
Con:3G WCDMA rather than HSDPA, Flash playback is balky.
Display:2.36" diagonal, 16 million color
TFT color active matrix LCD. Resolution:
QVGA 320 x 240.
Ion Polymer rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
Model BP-4L 1500 mAh. Claimed GSM talk time: 11 hours, claimed 3G talk time: 4.5 hours. Claimed standby: 18 to 20 days.
Performance:Single core ARM11 family CPU running at 369MHz. 256 megs NAND flash memory with over 100 megs free. 128 megs RAM (for running programs, not storage).
Size:4.45 x 2.23 x 0.51 inches. 4.44 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band unlocked 850/900/1800/1900MHz with EDGE. 3G WCDMA 3.84kbps on the US 850/1900MHz bands for the Nokia E63-2 North American model. There's also a Euro model, E63-1 with Euro WCDMA bands rather than US.
Camera: 2 MP fixed focus with LED flash. Max photo resolution: 1600 x 1200. Max video resolution: 320 x 240 QVGA at 15fps.
GPS:Integrated aGPS with Nokia Maps software.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm stereo headphone
jack (basic stereo headset HS-125 included). Nokia music player, RealPlayer, voice recorder and photo viewer included. Has FM radio.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR. Supported Bluetooth profiles: DUN, OPP, FTP, SPP, HFP, GOEP, HSP, BIP, RSAP, GAVDP, AVRCP and A2DP.
Software:Symbian OS 9.2, S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 1. Full PIM suite (calendar, contacts, notes), email (POP3, IMAP, Exchange), SMS/MMS, QuickOffice (MS Office compatible suite that reads and writes Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents), text to speech, encryption utility, settings wizard (sets up wireless data and MMS connections), calculator, world clock, search, wireless printing, Adobe PDF viewer, file manager, unit converter, Java VM, Flash Lite 3.0, Podcasting, FM radio, camera, voice recorder, Gallery, Ovi, Nokia Maps, GPS utility, Zip manager, music player and application downloader. Nokia includes syncing software for Windows on CD, and a free iSync plugin for Mac OS X via download.