- Review Date: 01/14/11
- Bottom line:
The Nokia E5 is a solid, affordable messaging smartphone, but it feels increasingly obsolete as we head into 2011.
Quality construction and QWERTY keyboard. Free, global GPS navigation. Low price for an unlocked smartphone.
Dim, low-res screen. Dated OS. MicroSD card slot buried beneath the battery.
Unlocked smartphones tend to cost hundreds of dollars, but the Nokia E5 is a welcome exception. It's essentially a lower cost clone of the solid Nokia E72 ($319, 3.5 stars). That makes it a good option for anyone needing an inexpensive cell phone that accepts AT&T, T-Mobile, and prepaid SIM cards here, and prepaid cards when traveling overseas. That said, it's nowhere near as advanced as today's more sophisticated Android and iPhone OS devices.
Design and Call Quality
The Nokia E5 measures 4.5 by 2.3 by 0.5 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.4 ounces. It's not as thin or expensive looking as the E72. But it holds its own, with a black and silver, all-plastic construction that manages to avoid feeling cheap. The 2.4-inch LCD displays just 320-by-240-pixel resolution, and looks dim and flat compared with, say, a recent BlackBerry. The five-way control pad and six function keys worked well. The four-row QWERTY keyboard retains its accurate, comfortable typing feel, and doesn't succumb to the prepaid Nokia C3's cheaper, less-precise key mechanism.
The E5 is a quad-band EDGE (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) and tri-band HSDPA (850/1900/2100 MHz) device with 802.11b/g Wi-Fi. That means it works on AT&T and foreign 3G networks, and on T-Mobile's 2.5G EDGE network. Voice quality was excellent overall. I heard a clear, full tone in the earpiece with plenty of gain and a natural timbre. Callers said I sounded as good as ever; impressive for a 2G phone with relatively marginal T-Mobile coverage in a rural area. Reception was average. Calls sounded clear through an Aliph Jawbone Icon ($99, 4 stars) Bluetooth headset. The voice dialing triggered over Bluetooth, but it was difficult to set up and use. The speakerphone was a disappointment; it didn't go nearly loud enough to use outside, or even in a moderately noisy office. Battery life was good at 9 hours and 18 minutes in EDGE mode.
User Interface and Apps
The E5's Symbian OS is popular in Europe, but alien to most Americans. It's complex, with many key presses needed for average tasks. The Symbian S60 3rd Edition OS includes Feature Pack 2. The E5 has 256MB of RAM and a 600 MHz ARM 11 CPU; response times were speedy for the most part, and the extra RAM is a big jump from earlier Symbian devices.
You get the free Ovi Maps (Free, 4 stars) app for voice-enabled, turn-by-turn GPS directions. There are plenty of e-mail platform hooks, including Mail for Exchange and Lotus Notes Traveler. That gives you Outlook contact, calendar, e-mail, and task syncing, plus support for up to 10 accounts. Facebook and Twitter clients are preloaded, and you can view Microsoft Office attachments and PDFs via the built-in Quickoffice suite.
Nokia's WebKit browser comes with limited Flash support. While its cursor control-based design isn't as easy to use as on an Android phone, its HTML rendering engine is just as accurate. You can also install Bolt or Opera Mini, but no matter which browser you use, the 320-by-240-pixel screen will remain a limitation. You can download third-party apps from Nokia's Ovi Store, but it remains difficult to use and lacks compelling free content. There's no getting around the fact that this is an old platform, no matter how you approach it.
Multimedia, Camera, and Conclusions
The standard-size 3.5mm headphone jack is welcome, and there's also a built-in FM radio. The microSD slot is buried underneath the battery; my 32GB SanDisk card worked fine, and Nokia throws in a 2GB card to get you started. Music tracks sounded crisp and clear over Motorola S9-HD ($129, 3.5 stars) Bluetooth headphones. The music player was a little clunky to use, but it indexed my tracks and displayed album art without issue. Standalone WMV videos played smoothly in full screen mode, but the E5 stumbled and stuttered on a 30 frames-per-second, 320-by-240-pixel MP4 clip that gives few other smartphones trouble.
The 5-megapixel camera lacks auto-focus but includes an LED flash. Test photos exhibited vibrant color and were nicely detailed, and shutter speeds were quick. But most photos had a grainy quality to them, and outdoor photos could have been sharper. Recorded 640-by-480-pixel videos were a little jumpy, but mostly even at 15 frames per second. Hold the spacebar down and the E5 becomes an LED flashlight; it's always good to have one on hand.
Here at PCMag, we've always liked the Nokia E series, and the E5 continues that tradition. That said, its time in the spotlight has long passed, and this model doesn't do much to change that perception aside from its unusually low price. It's a great choice for frequent international travelers, and gives you a real smartphone for messaging and multimedia on the go. The Sony Naite ($159, 4 stars), our Editors' Choice for unlocked phones, costs less up front and is much smaller. But it lacks a QWERTY keyboard and isn't a real smartphone.
Continuous talk time: 9 hours 18 minutes