Reviewed June 26, 2008 by Lisa Gade, Editor
It's raining Nokia S60 smartphones here lately, and we were lucky enough to receive the US version of the recently announced but not yet released Nokia E66 for review. The US version is a quad band unlocked GSM phone with US 3G HSDPA on the 850/1900MHz bands. For those wishing to order the Nokia E66 once it becomes available, this is the E66-2, type RM-345 (the dash at the end of model number indicates region when there's more than one regional version sold and each Nokia variant has a "type" too). The US version could be available as soon as July 2008.
The E66 represents the latest evolution of Nokia's E series business smartphones. It runs Symbian OS 9.2 and Nokia S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 1 with enhancements. With Feature Pack 2 phones like the Nokia N78 just starting to ship, we were surprised that the E66 still runs Feature Pack 1, but it has demand paging for improved speed and enough other tweaks that we don't mind. The phone has a few new features like Modes (a way to switch between 2 customized themes) and automatic screen rotation when the smartphone is turned (via an accelerometer). The phone uses the accelerometer in two other cool ways: like the HTC Diamond, simply turn the phone face down to silence incoming calls (and snooze reminders); tap the phone twice to silence it. These accelerometer-based features can be turned on and off in settings.
Though it's a business phone, the Nokia E66 is slim, stylish and packed with multimedia features. Nokia was one of the first companies to catch on that business users like stylish devices that can shoot photos, and play music and video too. There's quite a lot packed into this 4.27 ounce phone: WiFi, Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, GPS, a 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus lens, music player, FM radio and US 3G. Since this is a business phone, the E66 supports Exchange ActiveSync, Intellisync, iSync and Mail for Exchange. Unfortunately, Nokia has announced that they'll no longer be developing BlackBerry Connect for E Series devices, so the E66 is out of luck.
The E66 is a slider that follows in the footsteps of the Nokia E65, but it's much thinner, runs a newer S60 version, has a faster CPU and a GPS. Not a bad upgrade! It's certainly an attractive and sexy phone, though the mirrored front that takes its good looks up a few notches also hinders outdoor viewing. And yes, it holds onto fingerprints like crazy. Fortunately, it's easy to clean, unlike high gloss black plastic phones like the Diamond.
Watch our 3 minute video walk through of the Nokia E66:
Our review unit is deep metallic gray with a bright silver metal back panel and smoky mirrored front. The red plastic power button up top is the only jarring design element, everything else is the best of Scandinavian design. The number pad has textured and slightly domed keys, so both texting and dialing are a breeze. The buttons surrounding the d-pad are completely flat and with 9 of them loaded together in a small space-- good luck selecting the right one if you're not looking at the phone. The button labels light up when you press any button, and the inner 4 (Home, calendar, contacts and mail) light partially when the d-pad ring pulses (like the Nokia N78, the E66 has a "breath" feature where the d-pad light pulses slowly, and more quickly if you've got a message, notification and etc). Neat, but this doesn't make it easier to hit the right button without first pressing a button. Thankfully, the call send and end buttons are masked in the usual red and green so they're always visible, though they don't contrast well with the dark background so I wouldn't call them easy to see.
The microSD card is hot swappable, and you must remove the battery door (but not the battery) to access the slot. There are two side release buttons that open the back cover. The SIM card holder is just above the battery, and you must remove the battery to insert or remove a SIM card.
The phone is fairly small by Nokia S60 smartphone standards, being both smaller and thinner than the N78, and thinner than the Nokia N95. It's the only phone among these 3 to support automatic screen rotation. Turn the phone left or right and the display switches to landscape mode. Turn it back to normal upright position and the display returns to portrait. Screen rotation isn't overly sensitive, so the screen didn't switch with normal slight hand movement (a good thing), but it sometimes took it 2 seconds to switch back to portrait mode after we'd moved the phone to normal upright position. We mostly loved the rotation feature except when jogging up the stairs while using the phone, or turning the phone to look up a number while it was sitting on a desk, which created just enough motion to change screen orientation. If you're riding on a bumpy bus or otherwise engaged in a movement-inducing situation, you can disable automatic screen rotation.
What differentiates an Nseries and E series Nokia smartphone? The differences aren't always immediately apparent given the strong smattering of multimedia features in E series phones and good syncing capabilities and full email client among Nseries phones. E series models have enterprise-friendly features like support for Exchange ActiveSync, Mail for Exchange and Intellisync. As already mentioned, there will be no BlackBerry Connect support for the E66, which is a shame. For the security minded business folk, there's a new encryption application can encrypt the contents of internal memory and cards. There's also secure certificate support, mobile VPN and 802.11 WEP/WPA/WPA2 security.
Though Nseries phones share a similar software bundle (again the lines blur between the two series), the E series certainly has the business basics covered with a full PIM suite that syncs to Outlook/ Exchange and the Mac OS X address book/ iCal (Mac users, download Nokia's iSync plugin here); Quickoffice to view; create and edit MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, Adobe PDF viewer; unit converter, bar code reader (uses the camera for square barcodes); system-wide (and Internet) search, File Manager, translation dictionary, Zip utility; Intranet app (works in conjunction with VPN) and support for Bluetooth wireless keyboards and printers. The phone's address book is virtually limitless and there are fields for just about everything found in Outlook. There's the usual S60 support for groups, and you can assign a ringtone to an individual contact or a group. You can sort contacts by last or first name, but (still!) not by company.
In terms of performance, the E66 runs on a 369 MHz single core ARM processor and it has 116 megs of free internal storage at boot. The phone comes with a 2 gig microSD card for additional storage-- thanks, Nokia.
Phone and Data
Since the Nokia E66 NAM is a quad band unlocked GSM phone, it will work for voice and GPRS/EDGE data with AT&T and T-Mobile in the US as well as any other GSM carrier in the US and abroad. For 3.5G HSDPA, the North American version supports the 850 and 1900MHz bands used by AT&T in the US (T-Mobile US doesn't yet have 3G). It doesn't have the Eurasian 3G bands, so if you travel overseas and wish to use data, it will be EDGE, not 3G. The Nokia automatically configures data and MMS settings at boot by detecting your carrier from the SIM. It correctly configured itself for AT&T and T-Mobile in our tests.
Voice quality is excellent, as we've come to expect from Nokia. Volume is adequate and voice clarity for incoming and outgoing calls is excellent. The speakerphone is loud and clear as well. Nokia phones generally have some of the best RF we've seen, but the E66 isn't stellar. Rather it's a bit below average on T-Mobile's 1900MHz network, getting about -8db weaker reception than the N95, and middling on AT&T's 850MHz GSM network and on their 1900MHz 3G network. Why differences on the same 1900MHz band? Because there are 2 radios in the phone: one handles GSM and the other 3G. If you're in a fringe reception area, especially on T-Mobile, then you may run into problems. If you're in moderate to excellent coverage areas, then the E66 should do just fine.
As with most Nokia S60 phones, the Nokia E66 comes with voice command software and some text to speech features. Again, like most Nokia S60 phones, voice command does a terrible job of recognizing commands, with 50% success rate at best. There's a dedicated voice command key on the phone's side (nested between the volume up and down keys), should you wish to use it.
The Nokia E66 can play mobile YouTube (m.youtube.com) and hands off the clip to Real Player which plays in full screen landscape. Playback is excellent over WiFi and good over HSDPA. But wait, there's more: full YouTube support (select the desktop mode link at the bottom of YouTube's web page). The videos play in the browser, though they may run off the screen if the resolution is higher than 320 x 240. Playback stutters occasionally over WiFi but the video is certainly watchable. It's a bit more hairy over 3G and not something you'd want to attempt over EDGE.
I'm sure you were as excited as we were when we heard that the Nokia E66 has a 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus lens. Well, don't get too excited-- despite the impressive specs, the images are less than you'd expect, especially from a Nokia phone. We weren't expecting N95-level photos, after all the N95 has a 5 megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss lens, but we were hoping they'd match the Nokia E90, N73 and N78. Nope. At least not ours. Images have noise, even on some outdoors shots and in general lack sharpness. Outdoor shots are decidedly better than indoor shots, with indoor shots looking grainy and noisy. Color balance is a little off, sometimes being too warm and other times shifting to the magenta.
You can click on a sample image to see a full size version in a new window. Original file size at max resolution averages 400k.
The camera application is similar to other recent E and Nseries phones with settings for color, white balance, resolution, EV and LED flash control. The entire screen acts as a viewfinder and image save times are quick. We found autofocus to be relatively quick by camera phone standards, but just in case you're taking a photo of a fast-moving subject and have no time to spare for focus, simply press the d-pad center button to take the photo in fixed focus mode. When you want to use the autofocus, press the camera button on the phone's side to autofocus and take the picture. Fixed focus shots aren't that much worse than autofocus in most cases. On our unit, the camera button on the phone's side did not launch the camera application, but the final firmware version of the phone might.
The camera can also record QVGA (320 x 240) resolution video at 15 fps. Video looks decent but it obviously can't compete with the N95 and Nokia N82's 30fps VGA video. The E66 can also record video suitable for MMS and there's a shortcut to send video and photos via MMS in the camera post-view screen. You can also post these directly to the web on Nokia's Ovi sharing service, Flickr and Vox.
The Nokia E66 has an internal GPS and Nokia Maps. As with the Nokia N78, Nokia N95-3 (after recent firmware updates), and the N95 8 gig, the GPS is much quicker to get a satellite fix and can even manage from indoors if there's a window nearby. The phone accurately positioned us, and updated reliably when driving. Our E66 shipped with Maps 2.0, which offers added features such as walking mode and traffic along with big improvements to routing. Maps, POIs and positioning are free, but there's a monthly fee for navigation and routing. There's a free trial period so you can test it before signing up for a weekly, monthly or yearly plan (it costs about $100/year). While Nokia's service doesn't yet compare with TeleNav as offered by all major US carriers, it's usable and reasonably priced.
The Fun Bits
There's plenty of leisure goodness here, with Nokia's usual good music player that handles MP3, WMA and AAC (unprotected iTunes) files with support for album, artist, title and other track data. There's mobile and full YouTube, local video playback support for MPEG4 videos on internal memory or the storage card, an FM radio, Gallery, audio recorder and Podcasting support. Video playback works well with mobile-encoded video under 500kbps and the music player sounds good through wired and Bluetooth A2DP stereo headphones like the Plantronics Pulsar 590a. Nokia includes a wired stereo headset in the box (HS-47).
Here's a 1 minute video showing the E66 playing a QVGA video encoded at 450kbps that's stored on the microSD card (with a few mid-play screen rotations thrown in):
Gaming is a pleasure on the Nokia E66, and we were impressed with the free downloadable "Global Race Raging Thunder" 3D driving game (get it through the Downloads icon on the Nokia). The phone handles the graphically intensive (by phone standards) game well with nary a frame drop or falter. You can see a video of this game in action here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFZdStSDlS8. At press time, the only other game available through Nokia's download service was Solitaire, but we hope to see more once the phone is released. Clearly it's up to the task of serious gaming, even if it isn't an N-Gage 2.0 device.
The E66 comes with a very compact world charger with US prongs and a 1000 mAh Lithium Ion battery (BL-4U). Battery life in 3G coverage areas is quite good, depending on what you're doing. Playing video for an hour or using the GPS for a long trip will eat the battery up more quickly. But average use includes 30 minutes talk time, surfing the web for an hour (mix of WiFi and 3G), checking email automatically every 15 minutes and listening to the FM radio for an hour used half the battery's charge. With moderate use, the phone should last 2 days on a charge, and 3 to 4 days with light use. Heavy use = nightly charging and EDGE-only extends battery life by 15% or so.
There's a lot to like here, and the phone has been well-received in our offices. It's very good looking, extremely pocketable and slim. With WiFi and GPS, it's a Swiss Army Knife of a phone, and it's hard to beat S60 3rd Edition's speed, features and web browser among smartphones. Were it not for the so-so camera that looks so much better, and the weak RF by Nokia standards, we'd crank the star rating higher.
Pro: Has complete support for US bands, including 3G. The NAM model has a US warranty. Extremely attractive design and quite thin. WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, 3G, FM radio, MP3 player and a 3 megapixel camera-- the phone has all. Nice use of the accelerometer for screen rotation and silencing the phone.
Con: Reception is just average (usually Nokia phones have very, very strong reception). Camera images aren't very good.
Display:16 million color
TFT color LCD. Screen size diagonally: 2.4". Resolution:
240 x 320, supports both portrait and landscape modes and rotates automatically using accelerometer.
Ion rechargeable BL-4U 1000 mAh. Battery is user replaceable. Claimed max talk time: GSM- 7 hours 30 min.; 3G- 3 hours 30 min.
Performance:369 MHz ARM 11 CPU (single core). 128 megs RAM, 256 megs flash memory with 116 megs internal storage memory available.
x 1.93 x 0.51 inches. Weight: 4.27 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band world phone 850/900/1800/1900MHz with EDGE support. US 3G UMTS and HSDPA on the the 850/1900MHz bands (for E66-2).
Camera:3.2MP with autofocus lens and LED flash. Max photo resolution: 2048 x 1536 pixels. Can take video up to 1 hour in length at QVGA, 15fps.
in speaker, mic and 2.5mm stereo headphone
jack. Music and video players are on-board, including Real Player and Flash Lite 3. Supports MTP (Multimedia Transfer Protocol) for music transfer, OMA DRM and MP3, AAC, AAC+ music formats. Has FM radio. Supports mp3, AAC, 64-tone polyphonic ringtones.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR. Bluetooth profiles: DUN, OPP, FTP, HFP, GOEP, HSP, BIP, RSAP, GAVDP, AVRCP, A2DP.
Software:Symbian OS 9.2, Nokia S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 1. Quickoffice suite reads and edits MS Office files. Nokia Maps, Adobe PDF viewer, notes, contacts, calendar, tasks, zip, converter, music player, Speech, Gallery, Real Player, Flash Player (Flash Lite 3), FM radio, Podcasting, Ovi, voice recorder, barcode reader, Voice Aid, Speech, Modes, voice command, profiles, email/SMS application, web browser, connection wizard, settings wizard. Device encryption, secure certificates and VPN support inlcuded,