Review: Nokia E61 and Symbian OS 9.1 S60 3rd Edition

It’s no secret: Nokia is after Blackberry’s thunder in the enterprise with their latest E series, and especially via the E61 model. Hi-Mobile sent us in an E61 unit for the purposes of this review. Dig in for information, a video and lots of screenshots from the latest ‘S60 3rd Edition’ Symbian v9.1 OS.

What you get

In the box we found the phone, a 1500 mAh battery, a 64 MB miniSD (hot swap supported), a CD, a user manual and a quick start guide, a US charger, a USB cable, and a single-ear mono handsfree. There is no SD adaptor for the miniSD card (the device itself can function as a flash reader), and no belt-clip case. At 144 grams and 117×69.7×14 mm, the E61 resembles a small PDA in terms of size. It is as long as most PDAs are, but it’s a bit less wide and much thinner. Think of the E61 as a big phone, or a small PDA. The device is considerably smaller than a Blackberry.

The device features a QWERTY keyboard, IrDA, Wi-Fi 802.11i/e/g, over 64 MBs free for the user, quad-band GSM/EDGE & 2100 WCDMA antennas, vibration, and Bluetooth 1.2. As this is a business device there is no camera. On the left of the device there are two buttons to change the volume of the device up and down, while a button below it opens the sound recorder which starts recording immediately after pressing it (this might cause a bit of a security problem in some companies/organizations). Below the device you will find the charging port, the pop-port which acts as a host to the USB cable & the headset, and at the very right of the device there is the IrDA port. Above the screen you will find a small white light which lits up when you receive email (push email supported) and a power button which controls the lock of the device/keyboard, the power on/off of the device, and the profiles.

The screen deserves a special mention. It is a 2.8″ 320×240 landscape QVGA non-touchscreen LCD that sets itself apart from the rest by being a true 16 million color screen. Next to our QTek 9100 65k 2.8″ QVGA screen, it’s like a day and night. Grandients and pictures just look much better on the E61.

The good

The S60 3rd Edition Symbian v9.1 OS is super fast on this device. Readers online claim that the E-series is using a faster CPU (at around 250 Mhz) than the N-series (~220 Mhz), but we can’t confirm this as Nokia doesn’t disclose the CPU used or the amount of RAM. The OS loads in about 35-40 seconds, but after it’s loaded it is fast and responsive. In my experience, it’s as responsive as PalmOS (compared to the Treo), a bit more responsive than Windows Mobile 5 (compared to my 195 Mhz QTek 9100 WM5-AKU2), and a whole world faster than both my Motorola Linux phones (which use a 312 Mhz CPU) and my Motorola M1000 Symbian 7.1 UIQ 2.1 (175 Mhz ARM).

The second best feature of the phone after the screen and speed, is its Qwerty keyboard. It is wide enough to be used with either one or two hands. Personally, I am small-built so I find it easier to use both my hands to type (my thumb is not long enough to get to the two outmost buttons), but most men will have no problem at all using the thumboard with a single hand. I write extremely fast on this E61 keyboard, much more than I ever could with the Treo I have tried in the past (the Treo is not as wide, so its buttons are smaller). When you are on the main screen, the designated keys work only as numerical keys, so you can dial out fast.

The presense of WiFi is a very welcome one. Together with Bluetooth and IrDA it brings new means of wireless short-range communications to the device. I had no problem at all scanning for new networks or creating a permanent access point in my home. Bluetooth and IrDA worked flawlessly but sometimes WiFi would disconnect all by itself while browsing. After using this little hack I was able to fully use the phone with a Mac/iSync too.

My personal favorite feature of the phone is the new S60 browser, based on Safari’s/KHTML’s engines. It doesn’t do re-organization of content (only plain text on a given table cell it tries to fit on screen) and it features a… Mouse cursor (which can be controlled via the on-board 5-way joystick). This browser is fast. And when I say fast, it’s faster than Opera 8.60 on the same phone and faster & more powerful than the S40 browser (which is ported to S60 and is still serving as the WAP browser of the device). The S60 browser’s engine doesn’t support WAP, flash, or java (even if both technologies are present on the phone), but it supports RSS, has a multimedia plugin that loads Real Player and supports auto-bookmarking. You can read a review of the browser here.

Speaking about the Real Player, I found its QVGA video playback adequate (and fullscreen playback looked great). It supports 3gp, mp4 and Ra. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t stream though, as it is supposed to do. WiFi immediately disconnects after connecting to Real content (even at’s test site). Real also supports AAC, mp3, mid, amr, realaudio and WAV. The phone proved to be a good mp3 player too, either by using Real Player or its other, native mp3 player.

This is an enterprise device, so communication features are all over the board: Blackberry email, Instant Messaging (wireless village, OMA), IMAP4/POP3 email (Intellisync Wireless Email, ActiveSync Exchange, Visto email technology, BlackBerry Connect, GoodLink, Seven Always-On Mail and Gmail are supported), presence, VPN, Push-to-Talk (we couldn’t test it though as Cingular hasn’t “opened” this feature to non-Cingular phones), SyncML, and of course SIP VoIP. The phone can function via an IrDA/Bluetooth or a USB modem to a client OS. And when connecting the USB cable the phone will ask you if you want it to function as miniSD’s flash reader (Windows won’t “see” the phone’s main storage because the internal flash is not FAT) or as a IP passthrough.

The E61 comes with lots of useful business software: printer management, presentation support (via USB), spreadsheet and word processing via QuickOffice’s goodness, a zip application, WorldMate (view the weather/time on 3 cities at the same time), voicemail, notes, calculator, a units converter, speed dial, GPS support (via an external bluetooth GPS module or via GSM triangulation), a Macromedia Flash player (no browser plugin though) and voice command. A basic Blackberry and Exchange support has been added too. Nokia also added a 3D game, Golf Pro 2. I am sure that many business people would appreciate some golf in their spare time…

The OS itself supports themes, profiles, and my favorite: third party native applications. So far, only about 20-25 applications have been ported over to 3rd Edition, but more applications are coming fast, every day. I successfully installed Putty (great for SSH’ing using the keyboard), the Screenshot utility, PDF reader, Smartmovie (supports DivX playback), ProfiMail (the best usage of a QVGA screen ever — not a single pixel goes wasted), Internet Radios, Opera 8.60, and the beta of Agile Messenger (which currently doesn’t support the landscape QVGA resolution very well). On the Java MIDP-2.0 front I tried Opera Mini and Google Maps and both worked great. A game I tried though, vPoker v1.1, wouldn’t uncompress (the phone complained that the .jar file was not valid).

One new feature of S60 3rd Edition is the active standby. You can switch applications by pressing-and-holding the “main menu” button and when going back to the front stand-by screen you can view your application feeding information to that screen. Of course, the application itself must support this feature. Think of “active standby” a bit like a simpler version of Windows Mobile’s Today plugins.

Finally, the device has exceptionally good battery life, it yielded over 7 hours GSM talk (with UMTS turned off here in USA).

The bad

This device, being one of the first using the updated operating system and front-end, has a few problems. For some people the problems I will describe below might not be very important, but for some it might be.

First of all, while the absense of a main camera is a correct decision, the absense of a video-call camera I am not so sure about. Especially when you can start recording a confidential meeting without anyone figure out that you ever did (it’s a simple push of a button). Please note that the device is able to receive video calls! The user can send out a static picture, but can receive normal video. Also note that video calls require a 3G environment and the WCDMA 2100 Mhz frequency is not supported in USA. This phone will work as 3G mostly in Europe.

Secondly, I can’t understand the position of the IrDA. It is next to the pop-port at the bottom of the device instead of the top. It’s close to impossible to use the IrDA as a modem or send a file, because IrDA is facing your… stomach instead of the other IrDA that it’s supposed to connect to.

My other gripe is VoIP. It doesn’t work. To be more precise, it does work for some people (especially for those who run local proxies), but it doesn’t work for others (and yes, we all run the same April 19th firmware version). It seems that the NAT environment you are under has an effect on this too, while there is no STUN configuration support. I tried both Ekiga and Gizmo Project, but none registered. Nokia knows about these problems and they are fixing them in the next Feature Pack. Unfortunately, the currently-sold phones (with the current firmware) are not upgradable right now though, so you existing phone users of the E and N series won’t benefit from the release of Feature Pack 1. Many of us will never get VoIP working.

Regarding IM, the current firmware of E61 has a bug and so it doesn’t connect to YamiGo (which is the only good source of the Wireless Village protocol that gives you access to AOL, WV, Y!, MSN and ICQ at once). A little bird from Finland told me that this bug is fixed for a future firmware on the E61, but again, us current owners, will never get IM working via YamiGo (and doesn’t care to go around the E61 bug either).

Finally, while the S60 3rd Edition offers a very nice experience, it could be better: Pixels are wasted in favor of good looks (lots of empty space and big fonts at times). Terribly long menus sometimes (e.g. on Contacts), and on Settings you will find menus, inside menus, inside menus. You lose count where you are each time… Some of these configuration panels require cleaning up. For example, for VoIP you have to go to Menu/ Tools/ Settings/ Connectivity/ SipSettings/ ProfileName/ ProxyServer/. And when you finally create a new profile, then you have to go 3 folders back to “Internet Tel Settings” to make some more adjustments. And when you are done with that, you have to then go to Menu/ Connectivity/ Internet/ Tel/ Registration/ Status/ in order to start it up. That UI is just not clean. And the WiFi & access points and access point groups is as confusing as well.

Another gripe with Symbian (on both UIQ and S60) is the fact that when you send a file via Bluetooth it puts it under “messaging” (like supposedly you received a new message) instead of putting it on the filesystem directly. This is really bad, because in my case I wanted to have my own portal index.html page and unfortunately, when clicking the Bluetooth message (that I sent the html file via it), it either opens Opera which FAILS to load this local file, or when uninstalling Opera, it loads the S40 browser port instead of the S60 browser. A mess. There is no way to SAVE the file to the file system from inside Messaging, and there is no way to bookmark the file as your homepage (which is important for me who wants a local portal mobile page). It gets worse: when the file is loaded with the S40 browser, there is a “save page” option. But it doesn’t save the file to the visible part of the filesystem, so that didn’t help me either to what I wanted to do. In my opinion, details like this show that the Symbian OS hasn’t un-glued itself 100% of the “simple phone OS” place to a fully-featured OS that the user can take control of his/her files.

Finally, I would have preferred Nokia becoming more compliant with common standards. Now that they have embraced miniSDs instead of the mutant RS-MMCs (as I call their dual-voltage ones), they should put the pop-port to rest and include a normal 2.5″ audio jack and a mini-USB jack for both charging and data connecting. There is no better convenience for a business man to have a single USB cable to charge his mp3 player, his phone, his PDA, and Bluetooth handsfree/headphones via his laptop while away on a business trip!


Overall, this is actually a great device. Remember, this is the first of its kind coming out from Nokia. In my opinion, this device is much more stylish than either the Treo or the Blackberry, and its voice features works very well. In my opinion, this device can even replace PDAs on the enterprise, as more and more third party applications are ported every day to this updated S60 platform. I like this phone very much, despite of some of its bugs due to the young age of the firmware.

* Amazing screen
* WiFi 802.11g support
* Very usable keyboard
* Speedy 3D game support
* Great web browser options
* Fast CPU, Symbian flies on it
* Solid, modern operating system
* Lots of useful business software
* Good Gmail support via the email client
* Good multimedia experience (despite no A2DP/AVRCP)

* No video-call camera
* Badly positioned IrDA
* No 3G support in USA
* VoIP is a hit & miss experience
* IM doesn’t work with YamiGo service
* Too many levels of menus in some instances
* No “Save” option for files received via Bluetooth
* Scattered settings/utilities on some related functions
* Pop-port connector not as standard as 2.5″ audio jack & mini-USB

Overall: 7.5/10


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