We were bowled over last month when we came face to face with the first of Nokia’s new smartphones, the E71. Its combination of usability, battery life and business features saw it elevated to the lofty position of A-List champion, rudely elbowing aside our long-standing favourite, the HTC TyTN II.
The next Nokia in the queue is the E71’s sister phone, the E66, but we’re not quite as taken with it. It doesn’t have a Qwerty keyboard for starters, so entering text isn’t as easy as it is on the E71. And there’s no touchscreen for handwriting recognition or stylus text entry, as with Windows Mobile Professional handsets.
Don’t stop reading just yet, though, because the E66 is still highly capable. And for those who prefer a phone with a numeric keypad, it’s clearly a more appropriate choice.
The E66 has other potential advantages over the E71 too. While it’s a little thicker (4mm to be precise), the E66 is also considerably narrower, which means it’s slightly easier to slide into your pocket. It’s also an easier phone to use – its simple numeric keypad is equipped with large, easy-to-press buttons which make it much quicker to tap out phone numbers than on the small keys of its stablemate.
And it looks at least as good as its compadre, complete with shining metal panel at the rear, chrome trim around the front panel and mirror-backed control cluster. It’s available in white or grey, and both colour schemes look very nice indeed. The extra thickness of the E66 can be attributed to its sliding mechanism, which actuates with a pleasing thunk to reveal the numeric keypad underneath.
The only weakness we could find in the physical design was the location of the delete key. This is situated, rather thoughtlessly, just below the directional pad on the shortcut key cluster, and we kept hitting it by accident as we moved from screen to screen on the phone’s OS.
Start using the E66 and the differences between it and the E71 begin to melt away. The screen is equally as good – it’s bright, colourful and transflective, which means it’s just as easy to view outside in bright sunshine as it is in the office.
It’s extremely nippy to use – a world away from the wading-though-treacle experience we had with the HTC Touch Diamond – and for mobile data it boasts high-speed HSDPA connectivity, plus a Wi-Fi adapter for office and hotspot use. There’s also Bluetooth 2.0, an FM radio tuner and assisted GPS.
The latter is especially impressive: fire up Google Maps, switch on the GPS feature in the menu and the phone will pick up a satellite lock in well under a minute – impressive for a phone-based receiver. Nokia’s own mapping software comes preinstalled to take advantage of it, and even offers turn-by-turn driving instructions at a $16 per month premium, but it’s not as responsive as Google Maps for general use.
Email support is good too, with brilliantly simple POP3 and IMAP setup – we had a test Gmail account up and running in minutes, with just a username and password required – and Nokia’s Microsoft Exchange client is ready to go for over-the-air synchronisation of email, contacts, tasks and calendar entries.
The former offers an impressive amount of control, allowing you to specify a schedule for the push email function – turning it on during working hours, Monday to Friday, for instance, and having it pick up mail once an hour when you’re at home.
There is another small advantage to owning an E66 over an E71 – it has a sensor inside, like the iPhone’s and the HTC Touch Diamond’s, which will flip the screen from landscape to portrait mode automatically as you move the phone around in your hand. Flip the phone over when a call arrives and that same sensor will silence the ring for you – handy if you’re a bit forgetful about switching to Silent mode for meetings.
The only other difference between the two phones, in terms of significant features, is that the E71 includes a fully activated version of QuickOffice, while the E66 does not. This means you can only view Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents rather than edit them – but then this is less of an issue with a phone that has a numeric keypad.
Battery life is a bigger concern. Where the E71 included a monster 1530mAh lithium polymer battery, which lasted for three to four days of light use, the E66’s battery is only 1000mAh. On a single charge you’ll be lucky to get more than two-and-a-half days of light use out of it – above average for an HSDPA-equipped smartphone, but nowhere near as impressive as the E71.
There’s also no BlackBerry client for the E66 just now, an omission we hope will be remedied in time. And it’s worth pointing out again that the E66, like the E71, can’t be charged over USB. The prevalence of the new skinny-plug Nokia charger blunts this somewhat – there’s usually someone nearby with one to hand – but we’d still like the option to be able to charge while we sync without having to connect to the mains.
So the E66 turns out to be a bit of a mixed bag. It’s a beautiful phone, no doubt, and a very capable one at that. It’s stuffed full of features, including the essential push email via Microsoft Exchange, and it’s nippy and easy to use.
Its weaker battery life and lack of any kind of fast text entry means it can’t be a serious contender for the crown of best smartphone ever. But if you’re resolutely against Qwerty keyboards, it’s well worth a place on your shortlist.
By Johnathan Bray
Nov 5, 2008 12:18PM
Nov 5, 2008 12:18PM