30th Jun 2010 | 15:14
Nokia's semi-smart candybar leaves a sweet taste
Nokia C5: Overview and design
We've now published our review of the updated touchscreen version of this phone, theNokia C5-03, so check it out if you're into a bigger screen and fewer keys.
In a world where the attention tends to go to ever more advanced smartphones like the HTC Desire and Apple iPhone, it's easy to forget that it's not the 'smart' that's supposed to be important – it's the 'phone'.
The fastest processors; the most vibrant colour screens; apps upon apps upon apps… these have only really become vital in the last three years.
What did we do before that? How on Earth did we judge which phone to buy when multitasking was only really argued over as part of the gender gap?
We all just bought Nokias, didn't we?
Just looking at the Nokia C5 brings back the memories of when phones were phones, and your damn desktop PC barely hit the 1GHz mark.
It's not that the C5 looks old-fashioned or out-of-date – it's just a reminder that Nokia pretty much perfected the design of mass-market mobile phones back in 2003.
You don't need the Nokia branding to know who made this phone. The two softkeys with their nondescript horizontal lines, the green and red call buttons… what else could this be?
Though Nokia is treading increasingly into the space of the new breed of smartphones, it still has products for the less technically-inclined – we looked at the 7230 back in March.
The C5 is something of a half-way house. We have the candybar shape, and the old faithful Symbian S60 operating system on a meagre 2.2-inch screen, but there's a wolf lurking under this woollen disguise.
Several handy apps come preloaded, including Ovi Maps and Facebook, and there's access to the Ovi Store, and the goodies contained within.
While HSDPA 3G mobile internet access is raring to go, Wi-Fi is lacking from the feature list, which is a shame, but not unusual for this type of device.
The C5's build quality is excellent, and actually has a bit of a Desire look to it, though the colour is a kind of gunmetal grey rather than brown.
At 112 x 46 x 12.3mm, the C5's curved edges fit neatly in the hand. With a weight of 89.3g, it's pretty light, though most of that weight is in the top half of the handset, which isn't ideal.
On the other hand, it's still less than 100g, so you won't exactly be struggling to balance it.
The battery plate is a lighter colour than the rest of the back, while there's a shiny trim around the edge that almost seems to flow into the buttons via the Home and Cancel keys, and the D-pad.
The keys on the numberpad are each curved slightly, with a high point in the middle, making touch typing as easy as can be.
Above that, the full list of buttons is two softkeys, a D-pad with a Select key in the centre, Call and End buttons (with the latter moonlighting as the power), and a Home key and Cancel key.
There's no external media or camera key here, save for the volume buttons on the right-hand side, but we don't count those.
On the C5's top we find a 3.5mm audio jack, a micro-USB port and a tiny Nokia power connector. It will charge from the USB port, but the included cable is about three inches long.
On the right-hand side, below the aforementioned volume controls, is the microSD card slow. A 2GB card is supplied, with up to 16GB supported.
When plugged in, the memory card will appear on your PC as an external drive, which you can then drag and drop files to and from. The install files for Nokia's Ovi Suite are on the included memory card, so you can install that if the fancy takes you.
In the box you find the mentioned 2GB microSD card, short USB cable, mains cable and earphones with microphone clip.
Pop off the back cover (which manages to be both secure when on and easy to remove, unlike some phones) and you'll find the removable battery. You need to take the battery out to get the SIM card in, just below it.
Also on the back at the little loudspeakers. These are capable of a surprising amount of noise, but are still drowned out without too much difficulty.
Finally, there's a 3.2-megapixel camera sunk into a slight recess on the C5's back, with a tiny LED flash. On the front is a VGA resolution camera for video calling and other camera use.
The Nokia C5 has an RRP of £179.99 SIM-free.
Nokia C5: Interface
The Nokia C5 sports the Symbian S60 OS, which you may be familiar with if you've ever seen or touched a mobile phone in the last nine years. In this case, we've got S60 3rd Version with Feature Pack 2.
The Home screen offers the time and date, along with shortcuts to some selected contacts, notifications for any calendar entries and a handy email widget-type display. Along the bottom are six shortcuts to important apps. We have Camera, Messaging, Clock, Ovi Maps, Chat and the Ovi Store.
Underneath that we have the softkey options, with the left taking you to the main menu and the right to your contacts list.
The D-pad's central key selects whichever option you've scrolled to on screen.
Right from the start, you get an inkling that there's something more than a dumbphone here. The organisation of calendar and email along with a direct link to the Ovi store hints at a smarter purpose, but it isn't forced.
Entering the main menu brings up all the typical options, including Calendar, Contacts, Messaging and internet access. You can also open the Ovi Store and Ovi Maps application from here.
As you might expect, the Settings menu is here too. You can change this plain old grid layout into something more interesting if you like, but we don't recommend it. The somewhat-3D scrolling menus are pointlessly difficult to use.
Everything's standard so far. Delve into the Applications submenu (quietly hidden at the bottom-right) and things open up further. Here's the Music Player and the games, the Radio app, YouTube and the preloaded Facebook app.
Nokia has picked out the Facebook integration on this phone, which goes beyond the simple app included. Contacts can be linked to your Facebook friends list, with images and status updates automatically updating and displaying in the contacts list.
There's one big downside to the way the C5 treads the line between smart and dumphone (maybe we should just be calling it averagephone?), and that's the lack of major integration of downloaded apps into the OS.
We picked up Opera Mini (as we'll touch on later), but while the default browser remains accessible from the main menu, reaching Opera requires delving into the first menu, then Applications, then Installations where you finally find your Ovi-downloaded apps, with their oddly pixelated logos.
Overall, there's few surprises in the Nokia C5's interface. One thing we'd recommend changing quite quickly is the length of time before the phone enters sleep mode.
15 seconds is just too short – that's barely time for Daydream Shakira to take off her shoes, let alone… well, anyway, if you drift off while writing a message, you'll almost certainly come back to a blank screen. Fortunately, this is easily changed with a slider in the settings menu.
These grids have been the face of Nokia handsets for a while, and they still function perfectly well this type of handset. The possibility of extra apps comes with a thumbs up from us.
Incidentally, the C5 does feature multitasking, but its use seems to be inconsistent, with Ovi apps the primary beneficiaries.
In any case, holding the Home button brings up a little app switcher, enabling you go straight to the browser or music player, for instance.
We do have one request for Nokia, though: Please stop advertising Ovi Maps so heavily with the Ovi name, then giving maps a generic logo on the phone while big Ovi branding is reserved for the store.
Your advertising has ingrained the Ovi Maps name into us – well done – but opening the shop every time you want directions gets really old, really fast.
Nokia C5: Calling and contacts
We mentioned the Facebook integration on the Nokia C5's contacts list, which offers status updates and profile pictures from your linked contacts, as well as taking you through to the larger functionality of the full app.
While this snippet of social integration is welcome, it's place in the grand scheme of things hasn't been that well thought out.
On the Home screen, you can add shortcuts, with images, to a few of your contacts. The only thing is, it doesn't bring through the Facebook images. You'd have take on yourself, despite there being a picture already attached to the contact through a different contact list.
Not only that, but when you click on these shortcuts, you get taken to a kind of interaction timeline showing your calls and texts. It's nice, but why on Earth aren't Facebook updates included here? It couldn't be a more obvious use. Bizarre.
When adding contacts, name, various types of phone number (including video calling), email and company info are all available.
Scrolling to someone's name in the list and hitting the central Select key will bring up some ways to contact that person, including phone, message and Facebook.
Actual calling was nice and clear. The C5 is good at finding at least a bit of signal even in known problem areas.
Conversations didn't suffer from much distortion or similar problems, with the other person perfectly understandable even over a car engine when travelling on the motorway. Of course, we were the passenger. Arrive alive and all that.
Just start typing numbers from the Home screen to dial manually, though the C5 also starts bringing up any contacts that start with the letters on the key you've dialled (so dialling the 5 key will bring a '5', but also names beginning with J, K and L) and you can then narrow down with further typing.
It's little odd to intend to type letters and get numbers as feedback, but it's a neat shortcut for quick calling.
Nokia C5: Messaging
On the Nokia C5, your email is set up and then quickly viewed right on the Home screen. There are ready-made options for Gmail, Exchange, Ovi and others, as well the ability to set up your own.
Gmail in particular is almost embarrassingly easy to get going, especially compared to the unnecessarily complicated mess we had with the Samsung Monte.
The inbox has, if anything, a little too much functionality for this kind of device. Emails are initially arranged by time periods such as today, yesterday, last week (something familiar to Outlook users). Each of these can be collapsed.
You can also change the sorting order of emails, view your draft and outboxes and so forth, add senders to contacts, mark all as read, and many more things besides.
This is all standard for email, but it's the way it's packed into such a tight interface that makes us wonder if it tries to do a bit too much.
It's not that confusing or poorly laid out, so we're just nitpicking, but it does come across as awfully heavy for a little screen.
The text message interface has changed so little since our trusty Nokia 6600 that even a monkey would know how to use it. Provided he'd owned a Nokia 6600.
At the the top is the field to add recipients, with immediate access to your contacts list. Below is the message field. Character counters are easily visible at the top, and MMS content can be inserted using the left softkey.
The keypad on the C5 is brilliantly tactile – each key depresses just a little before coming to clean click. The keys are large (compared to a lot of new phones), and curved to make touch typing as easy as possible.
We really have no complaints about texting on the C5. The keyboard is top class and the actual messaging app is exactly as good as it needs to be.
An Ovi Chat app is also included, for all your Ovi-obsessed friends. It's easy to set up and has a nice clean interface, but we're not sure about the pressure of instant messaging on a T9 keypad.
Regardless, the app is there, and it works well, so if it does sound like your kind of thing, you're in luck.
Nokia C5: Camera
The Nokia C5 has a surprisingly fully-featured camera considering it's only and 3.2-megapixel affair that would normally be on this type phone only as a courtesy.
There's an LED flash, which is good up to 1.5m, along with a variety of scene modes, including Lanscape, Sports and Night. You can also take panoramic photos and specify colour tone modes.
Light sensitivity modes can be adjusted, as can the white balance. The focus is handled by Extended Depth of Field (EDOF) technology, as featured on the Palm Pre Plus. There's a 4x digital zoom for those brave enough to try it with a 3MP snapper.
You can record video at VGA resolution at up to 15 frames per second in either the standard mobile phone 3GPP format or MPEG-4. The flash can be forced on for whatever it is you're videoing in the dark. Hey, we don't judge.
FURRY:There's quite good detail levels in the bark and the capybara's fur with the camera adjusting exposure for the shadow, but the detail at the top is crushed by overexposure
DIGITAL ZOOM:The same animal from the same angle. The four times zoom comes close to turning him into pixel art at full size
NOISY:The bird statue has a nice three-dimensional quality, but the sky is riddled with digital noise
DETAIL:The foreground and background have a good amount of detail, but the middle is oddly lacking. The colours are accurate, though
VIGIL:The background is all sorts of blurred (even taking the overexposed sky into account), but the nice middle-level of light in the rest of the picture makes the lookout and his tree tower nice and clear
LANDSCAPE:Though it seems okay at first glance, there's actually very little detail in this landscape. Surely Brunel deserves better than this? Oddly, we had to take this photo twice before the auto white balance got it right
FLASH: The white balance is a little off using the flash. We're about 70cm away from Wall-E, but he's lit up fairly well. The flash drops of rapidly though – see the noise in the top-right corner
PANORAMA:This is a nice surrealist piece. It's not supposed to be, though (Click here for high-res version)
Nokia C5: Internet
The biggest shame with browsing on the C5 is the lack of Wi-Fi. As a fairly low-cost phone, we can understand it being missing from the feature list, but with both a web browser and the Ovi Store on board, it would be nice to have.
Would it really cost that much more to get a receiver chip with 802.11g built in?
Ah, well. We've got 3G mobile access, with the phone even going so far as to identify 3.5G super-even-faster broadband when it's available.
Adobe Flash is built into the main browser, but bear in mind this is a mobile out-of-date version of the plug-in, before you go lording it up over your iPhone-owning friends.
For example, BBC iPlayer is non-functional, requiring a new version, immediately taking most of the fun out of proceedings. There is a YouTube app for negotiating that particular pitfall.
The browser tends to load pages already in a zoomed-in view.
This wouldn't be so annoying if the scrolling didn't consist of going slowly… slowly… slowly… thenveryfaststraightpastthebityouwanted. If you want to see the page as a whole, you have to dig that choice out of the options menu.
It's not a terrible browser for a phone this size, but it's hardly doing the internet justice. But there is hope…
After deciding the default browser was a dud, we got our first taste of how handy this handset can be. We fired up the Ovi Store aiming to look for trusty Opera, and found Opera Mini right near the top of the lists.
You might recognise Opera Mini as the version of the browser that processes the web page for you server-side, then pushes you a lower-bandwidth version.
This can cause it to come up with some odd page formatting, but seeing as the C5 is sadly lacking Wi-Fi, it's actually pretty handy. It's less strain on your monthly data plan, and means quicker web access.
Ultimately, browsing using Opera Mini is perfectly suited to the 2.2-inch screen. This is no internet consumption device, let's face it. Nevertheless, having an option that makes that screen space work is very welcome, especially in the World Cup weeks.
To describe our browsing experience as transformed would be somewhat over the top – it's still a case of zooming right in to read anything – but it was snappier, worked more to our liking, and simply improved the handset for a cost of zero pounds and zero pence.
Nokia C5: Media
To be blunt, the Nokia C5 isn't really a media phone. It writes plenty of cheques in terms of format support, but it just doesn't have the software to cash them.
The music player supports MP3, WMA, AAC, eAAC and eAAC+, so the hundreds of millions of iTunes users should find themselves sitting pretty, as will Windows Media Player enthusiasts (you know who you are…).
Music can be dragged and dropped onto the memory card straight from Windows Explorer/Mac OS X Finder, or Nokia's Ovi Suite offers media management.
The songs we loaded were a mix of AAC and MP3 and all played fine, though none of the song information bar the track's name was recognised (it's definitely in the metadata, so we guess the C5 is just being snippy).
The music player is basic. Songs can be sorted and info is available, but the interface is spartan and can be quite sluggish. As with many things on the C5, it's not bad by any means – just budget.
Sound quality is about par for a fairly cheap phone. Loud, bright songs sound best simply because they hide the distortion that creeps in.
The C5's output is just too quiet over either the supplied earphones or another pair we tried it with. Crank the volume all the way up and it all the finesse of the music gets lost (and it'll still be drowned out by traffic).
The actual music reproduction isn't bad. Bass in particular seems very well defined, and individual instruments can usually be picked out even in cacophonies of noise, it's just that the overall sound can be undone by the distortion.
Basically, a bit of pop and upbeat rock will suit the C5 just fine, but load your acoustic sessions and be prepared for disappointment.
Stored video is watched by hunting around for the Video Centre, which is helpfully located nowhere near the music player. After shuffling through a few menus, you'll find it nestled at the bottom of the Applications menu.
Opening it switches the phone to a landscape view. It hunts for videos on the memory card (often taking just long enough for you to think it hasn't worked), and displays them with little thumbnails.
The video quality is actually surprisingly good in the right conditions. Colours seem fairly accurates, and the image is quite vibrant overall. Fairly static videos display a good amount of detail – especially those recorded on the device.
As far as your own videos goes, the C5 will play 3GPP, AVI and MP4 files encoded with H.263, H.264 and the MPEG-4 Standard compression. This makes it compatible with the multitude of iPhone video converters available, so getting content to the right format shouldn't be an issue.
Let's be honest, the 2.2-inch screen is simply too small to be taken seriously for heavy media playback, but it's nice to know that if you manage to record a nice little video from the camera, you can show it around without the phone ruining it.
Short video bursts can also be found in the YouTube app. It doesn't offer the casual browsing you'd expect from smartphone apps, but you can search for videos easily enough.
There's also the Ovi Music Store for adding music instantly to your collection. Well, we say instantly – lack of Wi-Fi means you're at the mercy of local networks for download speed here, and that goes for the YouTube app too.
Finally, we have the Radio app. It requires the supplied headphones to be plugged in as an aerial, as is standard, and the first thing it does is to suggest downloading a directory of your local radio stations, which is a nice touch.
Scanning is done quickly and easily by the phone if you don't download the directory, and manual tuning is an option too. The interface is (surprise, surprise) not very fancy, but we can't knock the functionality.
Nokia C5: Apps
First off, let's make one things clear. Ovi Maps is awesome. There's no digital compass in the Nokia C5, which is a little disappointing when on foot, but when using the free navigation software on the road, it's brilliant.
We were located by the GPS pretty much immediately, and any location we typed in to navigate to was found in the offline search.
Initially, distances were given in metric, like we're some sort of continentals, but a bit of fiddling in the settings soon fixed that.
You can see your route from a birds-eye view, 3D view (as is the norm with sat-nav devices) or there's an option to see just information about the next turning.
ABOVE:Don't worry about the 'Waiting for GPS' – we never saw this once during actual road use, we just took our screenshots in a bad spot
Normally, we'd say the last is a bit superfluous, but on the meagre 2.2-inch screen, this might actually be smart way to do things.
The speaker on the back is easily drowned out by a car's engine, especially on the motorway, so some sort of extra speaker connection is recommended.
The Facebook app does what it needs to, but is undeniably basic. A Home tab shows a kind of feed for you, while Profile shows your activity, Friends is your standard list of pals and Inbox contains a map to the magical pixie universe. Just kidding – it's where your messages go.
The Calendar app is about as plain as you could design on a colour screen, but we can't knock it for basic functionality.
The office apps section cheekily includes what we would consider utilities, like calculator, convertor and notes, but also features trials for Quickoffice and Adobe PDF reader.
Yes, trials only sadly – not that we'd imagine you were planning much hardcore work on the road on the C5.
There's plenty of other apps of various usefulness (as in: ranging from 'you'll use rarely' to 'you'll never use'), but so many of them require internet access that we're again drawn to wonder about the lack of Wi-Fi access.
The Ovi Store offers a nice selection of apps for download, at a range of prices. While there's a Facebook app preloaded on the phone, there's no Twitter app, for example. A quick search of the Ovi Store can fix this with either an ad-supported free app or paid-for program.
We noticed music identification service Shazam is also a popular choice. Why are we mentioning this? Really, just because it's nice to talk about these options on a simple candybar phone.
Inevitably, things aren't always super smooth. Our choice of Opera as a web browser improved things, and being able to add functionality is also great, but there's plenty of app not available to the C5 for various reasons.
When preparing this review, we started looking for a screenshot tool. The internet suggests there's plenty available, but none was forthcoming on the Ovi Store.
We ended up downloading an app on our PC and loading it onto the C5 manually (which is an option with the S60 OS, but we don't recommend it for everyday use).
The only app that would work with the phone required an Edit button on the handset, as seen on many Nokia smartphones from the 6600 onwards, but conspicuous in its absence on the C5. The app was useless.
Okay, this isn't a scenario you might find yourself in, but it's indicative of the primary issue with making downloaded apps a bonus, rather than a central feature – many either aren't available, or simply aren't designed to work with the C5.
Nokia C5: Battery life and connectivity
The little battery in the the Nokia C5 is rated for 12 hours of talktime and 630 hours on standby. In practice, we found battery life to be pretty good, but we weren't blown away.
It's obviously hard to waste lots of battery on a large screen when you haven't got one, so that goes in the C5's favour, but internet browsing does it no favours, unsurprisingly.
We know that Wi-Fi access chews through battery severely, but it's not like 3G mobile broadband access sips on power. If it takes 20 seconds to open a web page on 3G that would have taken 10 over W-Fi, wouldn't we have saved some battery use?
In any case, we charged the C5 up when we first got it and then spent just over four days using it. During that time, it was occasionally hooked up to a computer, so it did pick some charge.
At the end of four days of talking, texting and much browsing of the Ovi Store and using Ovi Maps, we were just about out of power.
Not bad by any means, but, as we said, it did pick up some charging on the way, and one things in the C5's favour is that it seems to charge very quickly.
As noted, Wi-Fi is lacking. We don't want to harp on about this, and we really do understand why Nokia would leave it off the feature list of a relatively simple, cheap phone, but why then make it so web-centric?
Add in a new contact and want to link them to a Facebook profile? Better have good signal.
Want to see your email messages right on the Home screen? Only as long you don't live in a lead-lined bunker. Or a house made before 1970.
Infuriatingly, the Ovi Store seems to demand updates awfully frequently. We can cope with an app downloading slowly, but why can we not even access the store because the update server won't play unless you've got a strong connection?
So many pre-loaded and Ovi Store apps just seem to immediately try to access the web, even when you wouldn't think they'd need to, that not having Wi-Fi just wanders into the inexplicable.
Otherwise, connectivity is much what you'd expect from the modern mobile. Bluetooth 2.0+EDR features for file transfer, as does USB 2.0 over the micro-USB port.
Connecting to your PC brings up options for Mass Storage (offering access to the memory card), PC Suite for connection to the Ovi Suite, Image Transfer, Media Transfer and Connect PC To Web, for USB tethering.
The reportedly simple drag-and-drop way of adding music is nice in theory, but sometimes the C5 just wouldn't bother to refresh its lists and update with the new files.
In one case we attributed this to iTunes' pointless of the .m4a file extension instead of .aac, but it doesn't explain the tardiness to spot the perfectly viable MP3 files.
Nokia C5: Hands-on gallery
Nokia C5: Official gallery
Nokia C5: Verdict
The Nokia C5 not a smartphone. It's too small, too limited and too awkward with apps.
The Nokia C5 is not a dumbphone. It's got social network integration, feature expansion through the Ovi Store and free turn-by-turn navigation.
No, the C5 insists on another moniker than the two above. Or maybe it doesn't need to branded.
What we have here is a simple phone with a classic design that offers room to grow. It's easy to use for those just want a phone that makes calls, while offering the increasingly important lure of an app store.
The C5 is a beautifully made bit of kit. It may not have the cutting-edge style expected from certain ends of the phone market, but it's obvious Nokia have been keeping an eye on the more expensive phones and nicking bits of flair they like.
Not only is it good-looking, but it's solid. We wouldn't worry about dropping it, and we'd be surprised if there were ever any mechanical issues throughout the life of the phone.
The maturity of Symbian S60 as a platform is what give the C5 its headroom. The Ovi Store offers apps, themes and tweaks galore, meaning that this phone can stay as the factory intended, or become very personalised.
Ovi Maps is a great addition to the featureset. Yes, the screen is too small the be a proper satnav. No, the speaker isn't loud enough on its own. None of that matters when the actual software just works so well. Oh, and is totally free. With a Surfer Dude voice option.
At times (quite a few times, in fact), the C5 flies too close to the smartphone sun and the limited software and hardware combination comes a cropper.
Every app and every option seems to be web connected, which is great, except for the damn lack of Wi-Fi. We found the Ovi Store itself quite forgiving when it came to slow connections speeds, but the updates it needed would flake out constantly.
Even games and similar apps seemed to be always wanting to go online. It's just bizarre to have such an online-focussed software set and rely on the dodgy 3G coverage in this country.
Add to that the stunted Facebook integration, and come to realize that the smartphone parts are just a little too rough around the edges.
The media options are awfully barebones, when we're not convinced they need to be so cheap. Music players can be nice and sexy, but someone should tell Nokia this.
When using the drag-and-drop interface for adding media, it's a bit hit-and-miss as to whether the C5 will decide to recognise it or not. Sometimes it just appears to be sluggishness, sometimes it seems to just be stubborn.
You can't not like the C5. Nokia has known how to make a perfectly good mobile phone since 1998. From the perspective that this device is for making calls, there's very little to fault.
If you're a Nokia user considering an upgrade, and this falls within the right price bracket for you, we've no qualms recommending it.
If you less familiar with Nokia and want something fairly simple, but might like to do a bit of Facebooking, then you should also consider this a recommendation.
If you're looking for a great web-connected social handset, then we'd advise you to slow down. The functionality is here, but you might be better served at the lower-end of the Android market.
Ultimately, the people who'll get the most out the C5 are long-time mobile users who want to ease into the new world of apps and online integration. You may not want a smartphone yet, but you probably will after a length of time with the Ovi Store. Make no mistake – this is a gateway drug.