6th Sep 2010 | 09:30
A phone for work and play – does it deliver the best of both worlds?
Nokia E5: Overview
The Nokia E5 is the latest handset from the mobile phone giant to try to straddle the professional and personal lives of its users. Once upon a time, Nokia's E series handsets were purely for the suited and booted. Remember the E55, for example?
But the great build quality and services of E-series handsets became popular with funsters too, and soon the likes of the E72 popped up – a mini keyboarded BlackBerry-a-like with a clever ability to switch between two home screens, the idea being you could set one screen up for staid old working, the other up for fun and freaky play.
Now with the E5, Nokia is continuing the trend. This is a phone that again offers switchable home screens – and you can choose to have the switching link on the home screen itself or buried deeper if you don't need to use it much. And there is a whole host of business and leisure related software built in.
For £259 from Nokia, the phone makes sense as an option for the small business user or the more frugal IT manager looking to equip their workers with an emailing handset - or just fans of the E-Series.
The question is, though, does the £259 SIM free Nokia E5, with its small old-fashioned letterbox main screen and lack of touch support, stand up against today's smartphones well enough to capture our hearts?
If you are thinking that the E5 is similar to the recently reviewed Nokia C3 then you are giving the presence of a QWERTY keyboard in both more credence than it really deserves. Even in the build it is clear that the E5 is streets ahead (and compare the C3's £120 SIM free price too, incidentally).
The E5 has the headline smartphone features of HSDPA, Wi-Fi and A-GPS, as well as a 5-megapixel camera with flash, and plenty of software. Symbian S60 3rd Edition is the operating system of choice, and you can bulk out the provided apps via the Ovi store.
The E5 sports a solid-feeling silver metal backplate that provides great protection, and enhances the black and silver colour scheme of our review sample. You can also opt for white, brown, grey and blue instead of the black, should you prefer.
The front houses a very well built mini QWERTY keyboard, which we found quite comfy to use. Fingertips or nails are best for tapping out the words, but pads will do at a pinch.
Like all well-behaved phones, if you start tapping out on the keys that share both letters and numbers while on the home screen the phone thinks you want to make a call and pops up a little dial box.
The keypad contains a couple of useful shortcuts too. There's one to turn Bluetooth on and off, a mute button, and if you long press the space bar, the camera's LED light, hidden on the back of the casing, turns on – doubling up from its main role with the camera to a secondary function as a flashlight.
This is something we've seen before and really like.
Above the keyboard on the Nokia E5 is a large area containing shortcut keys. The D-pad is large and comfortable, and the Call, End and two soft menu keys are all integrated into an easily accessible flat panel.
Two thin lozenge-shaped buttons, for quick access to the Home screen and messaging, are raised from their surroundings and so also easy to hit. We've no problems with any of this arrangement as it's comfortable to hold and use in the hand.
The screen, though, is potentially the weak link in the chain. It measures just 2.36 diagonal inches across, delivers 320 x 240 pixels, and is not touch sensitive.
Perhaps because you can put a whole host of shortcuts on the home screen, Nokia hasn't bothered too much about side buttons.
There are two quick release notches for the backplate on left and right edges, and a volume rocker on the right too. The bottom is clear, and the top houses 3.5mm headset connector, microUSB port and the main power connector. And that's your lot.
Nokia E5: Interface
Unlike many of its touchscreen rivals, the Nokia E5 doesn't have multiple home screens between which you can sweep and swipe.
But as we've already hinted, it does have has a dual home screen system. On the handset these are referred to as Business and Personal.
You've got lots of options as to how you'd like to set these up, with many different elements available.
You can have a screen peppered with shortcuts and notifications, perhaps one that shows a contacts bar, offering your key contacts as little thumbnails, or maybe a more simple vertical menu sitting down the left hand side, with submenus that pop up as you pass the cursor over them.
There are various colour themes available on the Nokia E5, plus you can configure which apps appear as shortcuts on the six app bar and allocate the two softmenu keys to a range of different shortcuts. By default they are set up to take you to the main menu and to contacts.
That ability to switch between two different modes and layouts gives you two chances to personalise the home screen to your liking, of course, so play around a little and you can customise things a heck of a lot.
The home and messaging shortcut keys have a little surprise up their sleeves too. Short press on the messaging screen and you are into the messaging main menu, where you can create new messages and view existing ones.
If you just want to send a quick text on the Nokia E5 though, long press the messaging key and you are right in the texting screen.
Meanwhile a long press on the Home key calls up an app switcher that lets you quickly shuffle between already opened apps
Nokia E5: Contacts and calling
You can record quite a lot of information for each contact on the Nokia E5 (including a nickname in case their given name isn't how you know them)…
Three mobile numbers, three landlines, three emails, a car phone number, three video call numbers, three fax numbers, pager, three internet call numbers, three web addresses, spouse, children and home address details, two more addresses, birthday, anniversary and note - nothing about their favourite method of cooking chicken, though.
With a friend on the contacts bar, you just have to click on their thumbnail photo to get into a contacts area where you can phone or message them. A phone call to your very best friends or most important business contacts is no more than a couple of key presses away.
The Nokia E5 will pick up contacts from your Facebook too. The first time you log in to Facebook using the app on the E5, you are asked if you want to make the connection to the E5's Contacts app.
Say yes to this and the phone does a quick trawling exercise matching your FB contacts to any it finds on the phone. Subsequently you can make Facebook links individually when you add new contacts to the E5.
The link means that a contact's Facebook photo is used as their thumbnail, and you can view their Facebook profiles and send them Facebook messages.
But what you can't do is populate the Nokia E5's contact book directly from Facebook, or from anywhere else come to that, except for your SIM. You can use contacts stored on Ovi, though.
The Nokia E5 was very good at maintaining a signal. Using an Orange SIM, we found signal strength did drop to three bars at times, but in general we maintained 3G well – though our testing was all done in and around a major city, and your connectivity experience may depend on where you live.
Call quality was good too – we didn't have any problems hearing the people we phoned, and they said we sounded fine too.
Nokia E5: Messaging
The Nokia E5 supports both Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Note Traveller, so that business users should be able to keep up to date with email while they are on the move.
In addition, there is access to Ovi Mail and up to ten personal email accounts. These are all accessed from the Messaging menu, as is SMS.
You can also long press on the messaging key to call up the SMS, box so that you can start writing a text in the twinkling of an eye.
Nokia's IM application is also here for your instant messaging needs, and Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk and Windows Live Messenger are also supported.
Whatever your messaging preferences the keyboard is vital. We found it quite easy to get to grips with, though it's not as good as the very best on offer.
The keys are well-made and solid, although we'd have liked just a bit more action in them, and a bit of a click too, just so we could be sure we were tapping away properly.
One real plus point on the Nokia E5 is that if you are typing email addresses out by hand, then the separate key for the @ symbol is really welcome. We also like that the D-pad has a white flashing backlight that can alert you for incoming messages.
As we've already mentioned you can message people via Facebook using the built in app. You can get right to a person by choosing them in contacts, if you have made a Facebook connection to them as described earlier.
Alternatively, you can run the Facebook app and then compose an update from within it.
There is also a shortcut to Twitter hidden away in the Internet folder of the main apps menu. This just takes you to the mobile Twitter web site, but it is handy to have it separate from the web browser.
Nokia E5: Internet
Web browsing is where things start to go a bit pear-shaped as far as the Nokia E5 is concerned. Before we get to the browser itself, though, it is worth mentioning Wi-Fi.
The Nokia E5 incorporates Nokia's superb Wi-Fi sniffer, which can sit on the home page and tell you if it has found any networks. All you need to do is activate it, and it'll keep its virtual eyes open.
It is then a matter of selecting that notification so you can log onto a Wireless network, and you are ready to browse over Wi-Fi instead of using up your 3G data.
Web browsing itself is not the best experience we've ever had. The 2.36-inch screen is just too small for comfort, and can't show very much information
You can zoom in and out of a page using the * and # keys on the Nokia E5's number pad, and there are other shortcuts too, which are something of an assistance in getting around. Plus, there is a page overview mode that lets you select an area for a quick zoom-in that you access by pressing the 8 key.
But even with helpful bits and pieces like this, it is all a bit too cramped for comfort. There's no Flash support, either – so viewing footage from the BBC news web site, for example, is not possible.
There is a YouTube client, though, and this worked well for us – although video is shown in an almost impossibly small window.
Nokia E5: Camera
The Nokia E5 sports a 5-megapixel camera, and it has the usual straightforward to access set of controls that pop up when you hit the left softkey.
You've got access to a fair range of scene modes, including one that is user defined, and a little explanation is given of what the modes are ideal for – which could be handy.
The self-timer runs to 2, 10 and 20 seconds and there is a lot of flexibility, with sequence shooting even running to taking a shot every 30 minutes – great if you want to try your hand at some time-lapse activity.
Video mode has a different array of options, with just automatic and night scene modes on offer, and there is a panorama mode setting too.
In general the camera produced dull images that lacked vibrancy and colour. This scene was photographed on a fairly dull day, but even with the lack of surrounding light the photo really should be brighter.
In this photo some of the silver parts of the bike frame are way too over-exposed
Indoors, the Nokia N5 also seemed to have trouble letting in enough light in many instances, though this close up of a sleepy cat is fairly well-defined and bright.
In panorama mode the Nokia E5 stitches several photos together to make one long, wide photo. The resolution of the panorama is 1220 x 8000 pixels. Photos are shot automatically by the camera as you move it to frame shots within a defined area.
Automatic processing of the image was a rather time consuming affair. A major issue is that the camera seems to have made an error with the middle of the image, using the same photo twice.
Nokia E5 review: Video
Video can be shot with or without sound on the Nokia E5. The maximum resolution is 640 x 480, and the quality was reasonable, although, like stills, a little lacking on the colour depth front. Playback was smooth.
We can't explain away the vertical band running down our video in the recording, though we hope it was just an issue with our review handset and not symptomatic of a wider problem with the Nokia E5 handsets.
Nokia E5: Media
With 256MB of built in memory and a 2GB microSD card provided, you can store a fair amount of music and video for playback on the Nokia E5 - although the option to expand the microSD is always there.
There is an FM radio too, with the ability to download and recognise stations from the internet or manually tune.
The music player had no trouble at all picking up music from our microSD card and adding it to the library.
The composer tag is supported, which is handy if you like to listen to classical music, and playback quality is reasonable. An equaliser helps you fine tune things.
The player itself does not look great, though, and the software failed to find an album that we had stored in the same folder as our music on the microSD card we were playing from.
MP3, WAV, WMA, and eAAC+ are all supported according to Nokia, so we're not sure why the album was hidden from view.
The RealPlayer provides access to video clips, with the Nokia N5 liking MP4 and .3gp. It played movie trailers happily from our microSD card, but obviously the screen quality hampered the Nokia E5's chances of being a real media machine for movies.
MP4, H.264, H.263 and WMV are all supported, but get over a certain resolution and only the audio will play, which is a common fault for Nokia phones using Symbian^1.
You've also got access to downloadable video and music via Ovi, and a utility for streaming media over your home wireless network.
Nokia E5: Battery and maps
With GPS built in and Ovi Maps on hand, getting around should be no bother on the Nokia E5. The Ovi Maps menu offers a neat little set of options, including the ability to get weather data for your current location.
The A-GPS was remarkably quick in locking on to our location, even on occasions when we sat indoors near a window, and it positioned us accurately on those occasions.
However, it let us down when we tried to use it for walking guidance on some short trips. Not only does it not know about parks and other shortcuts, it insisted on sending us on a long-winded route along main roads. Walking for drivers, then.
This is a general Ovi Maps issue, rather than being one specific to this phone.
The Nokia N5 comes with a 1200mAh battery. Nokia says you will get up to 13 hours of GSM talk and 38 hours of music playback. We certainly got more than two days on the trot from it with might to medium use, ie using the camera, web browsing and a normal amount of talking and texting.
The small screen helps with battery power conservation, of course, and we'd say even quite demanding users ought to be able to get through a day or more between charges.
Nokia E5: Comparison
If you are looking for a handset with a small QWERTY keyboard, you have quite a lot of choices. Nokia's C3 is a much lower grade alternative that will cost you a lot less, and has many of the features you'll find here – read our review for the detail.
Or you could go for a larger typing interface and opt for the Nokia C6, with its slide-out keyboard and much-maligned Symbian S60 5th edition touchscreen.
At this high end of the spectrum, though, the Nokia E72 is the main competition as far as own-branded handsets are concerned.
Nokia E5: Hands on gallery
Nokia E5: Official photography
Nokia E5: Verdict
The Nokia E5 has taken the best of Nokia's recent business-focussed handsets and made it available to non-business users too.
This makes huge sense, really, since a lot of features cross the divide and are useful in both contexts.
Where Nokia really scores with the E5 is in allowing you to set up two completely different home screens, depending on which mode you are in.
We've seen this before, of course, and we like it every time it pops up.
The build might not be as robust as that of the Nokia E72, and the design is a little lacking in comparison too, but we do rather like the overall effect.
The keyboard is well made and easy to use at a fair speed. We always want more, of course, and a bit more key action would have been nice, but we were able to type reasonably quickly.
The ability to switch between two home screen arrangements is a good foil for the multiple home screens of Android smartphones.
The WLAN sniffer that can be sat on the home screen is a great little tool. Again we've seen it before, but it is just so handy.
Battery life is good, and a frugal user might even be able to take the Nokia E5 on a weekend business trip or short leisure break and leave the charger at home.
It is a feature of Symbian S60 that the main menu structure involves folders into which apps are hidden. With platforms such as the iPhone and Android not bothering with folders, and often letting you organise apps how you like, the menu structure, which can hide things away, feels unfriendly and old-fashioned.
There isn't enough social media integration for us. We do like the Facebook app and its ability to link with contacts, but we want to download our contacts from Facebook and Gmail, thanks very much.
Web browsing is quite simply a chore, thanks to the small screen.
If one key feature lets the Nokia C5 down, it is the camera. It is very disappointing.
The Nokia E5 is not a great looking handset, and it certainly doesn't have the wow factor that the E72 has in our eyes. And with a largely plastic chassis, bolstered by a metal backplate, it might not be all that robust.
But what goes on inside is mostly good stuff. We do wish there were a way of Nokia getting a larger screen into play, though. Even by squeezing the central button bar to get us another centimetre of height would be welcome.
Overall, though, it will be the clever dual home screen system that sells this smartphone to people wanting a phone for business and for their home life, and for around £250 it just about justifies its price tag.