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Nokia E50 review

Nokia has goes back to basics with a serious business phone

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Our Verdict

The E50's features and low price will make it a tempting proposition for the business buyer

For

  • Web browser with large screen

    Hot swappable, expandable memory

    Smartphone programming

Against

  • Lacks 3G speed and services

    No Wi-Fi

    Poor pictures from camera option

There's no shortage of handsets that seek to entice the corporate buyer and the business user. In fact, if you take away a few models finished in pink plastic, then practically every phone in the market could end up being used by company executives. But some are definitely more fit for the purpose than others.

And although Communicators, BlackBerrys and Pocket PCs have their place, the cost-sensitive company accountant ensures that most workers that get issued with a work mobile get a handset that is rather more down to earth. It's no budget basement model but a no-nonsense and unpretentious number, that doesn't just cover all the basics, but covers them well.

When it comes to producing such reliable workhorses Nokia has always been the master. Hidden within the current catalogue, there are unassuming handsets such as the 6230i and the 6310i that despite their unflashy looks and specification fill this niche perfectly.

Now Nokia has a new contender to fill the corporate pocket - the E50. It sits on the bottom rung of the recently-introduced E-for-Enterprise range. But unlike the other models there's no typewriter keyboard. There's no Wi-Fi connectivity. And there isn't even any support for 3G networks and services. It looks reassuringly old school, and if you want to make a call or access information, then you must use a standard GSM link.

This phone is far from dull, and those that have doggedly been holding on to their 6230i may find it rather radical. Most significantly, this is a smartphone, using Nokia's favourite Symbian S60 platform. This allows the E50 to be customised to the needs of the office environment like no other handset in its class has been before.

It may not look like an alternative to a BlackBerry, but it supports a whole range of push email solutions none the less. It offers a full-blown web browser, and can open up and read standard document files and attachments. It can be customised with a company's or an executive's particular suite of apps, utilities and amusements.

Slim pickings

But despite all this it retains the slender monobloc look of its predecessors. It tapers along its length, but even at its thickest it measures just 16mm deep - making it the slimmest S60 handset that we have yet seen. And although it tips the scales at just over 100g, its thick metal cladding reassures you that this model will steadily gain a reputation for reliability and ruggedness.

The height of the phone is put to good use, housing a quarter-VGA 262,000-colour screen. The LCDs generous proportions make the onboard web browser workable, even without the WLAN and 3G connection speeds that other handsets may offer. The dimensions also allow sensibly-sized buttons that no one can complain about. Furthermore, the joystick provides perfect and easy navigation through the standard menu system.

The one feature that may come as something as a surprise on a phone that is meant to get corporate buyers excited is the onboard camera. There are enough companies out there that are jumpy about cameras in the workplace, that this may well be the one thing that discourages big orders. But Nokia has a simple solution for this.

The E50 comes in two versions - one with a 1.3- megapixel camera, and an otherwise identical version that does without. Buy SIM-free and you can expect the difference in price to be as little as a fiver.

The one contentious handling issue that users will face is that the memory slot is hidden behind that thick metal backplate. There's no need to reboot or remove the battery, but it is a fiddly operation all the same. The only defence is that the small microSD cards are so small that you don't want to be changing them every five minutes anyway. There is no card in the box but if you don't need to carry around masses of digital files the 70MB of integral storage may well be adequate.

Of course, the phone does make an excellent filing cabinet, or alternative to a USB flash drive, as it is capable of reading a variety of different file types. Its ability to display Word, Powerpoint and Excel spreadsheets will be of particular interest to those carrying around correspondence and marketing material. And just as useful is the ability to open up PDF and ZIP files.

Media players also mean that the handset can play most popular video and audio files too. The large screen is ideal for watching video clips, although the reliance on GSM technology means that this is not a great handset for video streaming. It's a touch awkward, but you can even get footage to fill the whole image area.

Music for the masses

MP3 playback through the speaker on the side of the handset is actually extremely good, giving an acoustic performance and volume that is superior to that found on most handsfree facilities. Surprisingly, Nokia only throws in a single, monaural, earpiece which is more useful for calls than tunes. Invest in a compatible stereo headset (or the £13 Nokia AD-15 adaptor, so you can use standard 3.5mm-jacked cans) for the full musical experience.

Push email solutions that are supported include Nokia's own Intellisync, the popular BlackBerry Connect system, plus Visto Mobile, Microsoft Activesync Mail for Exchange, and Altexia. And if office IT integration is what you want you may also get use out of the Avaya one-X software provided, which enables integration with the company PBX - allowing, for instance, you to have separate work and personal numbers. This works by having your office number routed to your cellular number when away from your desk.

Another new office application, this time from Nokia, is Teams. This is an advanced version of phonebook groups which simplifies the set up of conference calls, group SMS and Push-to-Talk services between colleagues.

It is a tribute to the E50's RF capabilities that it locked on to a network - we normally have problems receiving and kept the signal doggedly throughout our tests. Voice calls were first rate, and GPRS connections were as quick as non-3G technology would allow.

The downside, however, is that on the fringes of coverage, the battery did not fare well, lasting just 55 hours during which we had made around 20 minutes of calls. We are confident that in a normal range of signal conditions, this handset would keep going for days.

One area of performance that did give concern, however, was the camera. The pictures that we took looked rather washed out. Detail in close-ups was quite good, but exposure left too much to be desired.

As non-3G business phones go, however, the E50 is undoubtedly something of a bargain. Its combination of features and low price tag are almost guaranteed to make it a tempting proposition for the business buyer. Chris George

Camera: The corporate cameraphone question is solved by having one version of the E50 with, and one without

Memory card: The E50 offers the option of hot-swappable microSD memory cards with a slot under the back panel

Smartphone:As well as being geared up for the serious business user, the E50 is a very capable Symbian smartphone too

Design: Thin, pocketable and with a touch of old school mobile solidity, this is bound to be a business hit