About six months ago I bought the best phone that I have ever owned: a Nokia E71. Obviously this is a personal thing, since the E71 wouldn’t suit everyone’s needs or tastes, but for me it just fitted into every situation I put my phone in. It is the perfect messaging device, with it’s QWERTY thumboard that has excellent feel and feedback, it has outstanding battery life thanks to it’s enormous 1500mAh battery, it is as thin as possible without being uncomfortable to use, it has an bright, rich display, that while low on dimensions and resolution, looks absolutely great and manages to comfortably display web pages without issue. Then of course the fact that it looks so good in it’s stainless steel and chrome suit.
I wouldn’t call it outrageously priced either, since you’d be hard pressed to find something as compact, full featured and with such a quality feel in the same price range. While it may be good value (in my mind anyway), it is still out of reach of many who would like the functionality on offer, but aren’t able or willing to fork out the dollars that the E71 demands. Realising this, Nokia have produced a cut-priced version of the E71 called the E63, which manages to hold onto the majority of the E71’s feature set, whilst being priced considerably cheaper.
Lie them on a table and you will be hard pressed to spot the visual differences. The front of the two are almost identical, with only a few tweaks to separate the two. Up the top of the E63 there is no camera, so video calling is out. Down the bottom, the microphone has disappeared, moving to the bottom of the phone. On the keyboard, you will note the spacebar is quite a bit smaller, making way for two extra keys down the bottom. Also, a few of the function labels have moved around.
Along the left side of the phone, you will still find the microSD and microUSB connectors, protected by rubber covers, but no sign of the frankly useless IR window.
On the right side, all the buttons have disappeared, as has the 2.5mm headphone/headset jack.
The headphone jack has moved to the top, and has grown to 3.5mm, which means standard headphones can be used without an adaptor, yay!! Considering this phone is in a lower price bracket, and available in a couple of different colours, it will likely to find its way into the hand of consumers who want to play music on their devices, without having to mess around with adaptors.
The speaker is still mounted at the top (a perfect place for it IMO), but the power button has moved to share the end-call button. Only problem with this is you have to return to the homescreen to change profiles (not reeeeally an issue, but something I do on occasion).
In the hand, the E63 feels great, since it’s not very thick (13mm) and not overly wide (59mm). The E63 is all plastic, which isn’t as nice as the metal-clad E71, but still feels of high quality and doesn’t creak, bend or rattle. The front is gloss, in either red or blue, the sides are black, and the battery cover (which encompasses the whole rear of the phone) is the same colour as the front but is rubberised, securing the phone in your hand. While I’ve never had a problem with the E71 slipping out of my hand when typing, the E63 adds that little bit of extra security.
As mentioned before, they keyboard feels almost exactly the same as the one on the E71, with nicely domed keys that feel solid under your fingers, and have great feedback when pressed. The E63 has picked up an additional two standard-sized keys on the bottom row, shrinking the spacebar from it’s previously 4-key width to just two keys. It really doesn’t feel any different, since you press the middle of the key anyway, so the addition of two keys is excellent. With the extra space, Nokia have added open and close bracket function keys, which is really handy if you like using smilies in your messages. There are still quite a few keys that don’t have secondary functions, but this serves to make the keyboard look less cluttered.
The specs indicate that the display on the E63 is the same as the E71, and I certainly couldn’t see any difference. It’s still as clear and bright as its bigger (well, slimmer) brother. It is a shame Nokia hasn’t moved up from the QVGA display, but in 6 months of use it hasn’t bothered me, and I use my phone a lot for messaging and web surfing.
A few of the cost-cutting changes are to be found under the hood. The 3G radio in the E63 isn’t HSDPA-capable, so you’ll have to make do with “only” a maximum data speed of 384kbit. Sure this is far from the E71 top (read: not quite) speed of 3.6Mbit, but it never felt slow or painful to web surf on the E63. Most buyers would hardly know the difference even if they had the chance to use the E71 and E63 one after the other.
The only radio to take a hit is the GPS. It’s no longer there. Whilst this is a shame, I can’t see it being to much of an issue for the E63’s likely owners.
Fortunately that’s where the radio slashing stops, as the E63 still gets Bluetooth and WiFi. Nokia’s WiFi Wizard makes it super simple to find and connect to a wireless network, then get surfing immediately. I’m not sure how much it will get used, but it is still nice to have WiFi onboard. Of course you still get an FM radio as well, which teams up nicely with the 3.5mm headphone jack.
The camera in the E71 was it’s weak point, a 3.2 megapixel with auto-focus and a lackluster LED flash. The E63 has to make do with a 2 megapixel shooter that doesn’t have auto-focus. Neither are any good at night time shots, but both are sufficient in well-lit situations. With their 8 megapixel phones around the corner, it would be nice for Nokia to start upping the ante in their low-end and business phones as well, would make corporate espionage easier.
One thing I did notice over the last few days is the battery life on the E63 seems to be even better than that of the E71. Whether it’s to do with lack of HSDPA and GPS I’m not sure, but it definitely had a few extra bars at the end of a heavy-use day. As I’ve said before, the battery life on the E71 is definitely something it can brag about, so to do better than it is certainly a feat
On the software front there is more déjà vu. Roaming through the menus, you’ll find all the same apps as on an E71, which means you still get things like QuickOffice for opening/editing of Microsoft Office documents, Adobe PDF reader, ZIP extractor, voice commands, and the E71’s dual-personality mode that lets you setup your phone for both business and personal use, and switch between them at the press of a button.
One little neat thing I found during testing was a feature that lets you turn on the LED flash and use it like a torch. On the spacebar is a picture of a torch, and when held down on the home screen for a few seconds activates this handy feature. It came in handy last night when out with friends, one of them decided to take a shortcut through the bush from his house to the local pub, which as it turned out was absolutely pitch black. Using the torch on the E63, I only lightly twisted my ankle instead of breaking it.
Depending on the market, the E63 will be bundled with a 1GB microSD card. Considering the cost of a microSD card these days (I mean you can pickup 1GB cards for less than $10), a larger card would have been welcome, but it is certainly better than nothing. The E63 officially supports up to 8GB microSD cards, so if you need more space it won’t cost a lot to upgrade. Apart from the memory card, the included accessories are sparce, obviously the keep the price down. You still get a headset, and of course and AC charger, but you don’t get a case or wrist strap like with the E71. Honestly though, I think it’s better for those who want it to buy it separately, than have everyone pay for it in the sales package.
I’ve been using the E63 for a week now, and it felt almost exactly the same to use as my E71: brilliant. Battery life was great, the screen was bright and easily read outdoors, all forms of messaging were a joy on the thumboard, software features were exactly the same and it still slipped in my jeans pocket without a crease.
I guess what I’m really trying to say in this review is that the E63 is so close in functionality to the E71, that if you can’t justify the higher price tag of the E71, that you’ll still be getting a highly-capable device that looks good and performs just as well, but for a few hundred dollars less.