Nokia has always a keen eye for creating mobiles business users want to use and keep on using. The Nokia E51 could well be another classic corporate creation, combining all the right ingredients for mobile messaging, email on the move and remote synchronisation and configuration. Its sleek candybar design provides it with an elegant, understated appeal that business users will appreciate, with sophisticated smartphone functionality under the bonnet that will get the IT department onside too.

The E51, the latest in Nokia’s Eseries of enterprise-class mobiles, will not only get suits hot under the collar, though. It could quite easily become a consumer crossover hit, too, as it combines the Symbian S60 smartphone functionality you get on Nseries models with a classy feel and some user-friendly design touches.

It seems that the E51 has been cleverly crafted to accommodate different types of user ability; it can be a simple to use mobile phone on a basic level, but it’s also optimised for business-class applications including corporate multiple corporate push email and remote synchronisation solutions, instant messaging support, Wi-Fi and high-speed 3G HSDPA connectivity, plus VoIP internet voice calling over Wi-Fi..

A standard full Nokia Web Browser is part of the deal too, along with a suite of Nokia office tools for personal organiser and productivity applications, such as document viewers.

Business isn’t without pleasure here. All the usual multimedia requirements you’d expect of a 3G Symbian S60 smartphone are to hand – a multi-format music player, FM radio, a RealPlayer multimedia player, a 2-megapixel camera and support for video and audio streaming.

Handling

Recently, Nokia has done great business with clean, classic designs like the 6300 that deliver exactly what’s required by the user and don’t try to over-elaborate. The E51 appears on the surface to do just that.

It has a lovely slimline look, with metal side and back panelling giving the phone a refined air. The front keypad and screen arrangement is decked out in serious black, although the E51 is available in three tasteful colour options, with side and back panel trim varying – Black Steel (black), Pink Steel (bronze) and White Steel (chrome).

With dimensions of 115(h) x 46(w) x 12(d) mm, it’s long, thin and pocketable. Its metal-body weighs it in at 100g, but this gives it a substantial, balanced feel in the hand rather than a slip-away feel ultra-slim handsets often invite. This is aided by patterning on the smooth metal rear that adds some palm traction.

The display is a reasonable 2-inch QVGA (240x320 pixels) screen, supporting up to 16 million colours. Text is a touch smaller than you’d normally see on a larger-screened Nseries device, but is readable.

Below the display, Nokia has implemented some sensible control rejigging and re-labelling to its regular S60 control pad layout. This makes for a simpler way of accessing the key business-oriented features.

A central navigation scroll key D-pad is the hub of the control system, as usual. On either are a pair of large icon-labelled control buttons. Nokia has ditched the “squiggle” symbol normally used on the main menu key of S60 phones and replaced it with a house icon – for home. The “C” clear key has also been relabelled with a back arrow.

Beneath the Menu home key is a calendar button, while opposite are phonebook and email keys, all appropriately marked for easy recognition. Another welcome touch is that these fast access keys will, with a long press, open up main functions within their respective categories – new calendar entry, new phonebook contact, compose new email, or see active applications on the “home” key.

These fast access buttons can be reconfigured for different functions, should you wish to, as can the Active Standby icons on the screen; six of these towards the top of the display can be set up for shortcuts to dozens of features or apps.

A pair of softkeys below the display can also be changed. These are a bit too narrow for our liking, but you get used to them quickly. The numberpad itself is excellent – very responsive, good-sized buttons clearly labelled and simply arranged.

Needing a bit more of a press are the few additional buttons dotted around the phone – a pair of volume keys plus a handy mute button between them, and a voice recording/voice commands key. Interestingly, Nokia has slipped in an infrared port on the side as well as including standard USB and Bluetooth connectivity.

Features

Despite its internal complexity, the phone is designed to be user-friendly out of the box, with Active Standby screen plug-ins for email and VoIP internet telephony set-up wizards. These disappear once connections have been sorted. There’s also a standby screen option to activate WLAN searches and initiate connections.

The Active Standby page helps you configure the main screen shortcuts to suit how you want to use the phone and what you deem important to get to quickly. A discreet notification light on the front of the phone is handy to keep you alerted to awaiting messages or missed calls.

The powerful messaging and office tools are key attractions. The phone can support a variety of email options including corporate push email solutions such RIM BackBerry, Microsoft Activesync, Mail for Exchange, Nokia Intellisync Wireless Email, Visto Mobile, Smarner, Seven Always On and other third-party applications.

Nokia’s addition of VoIP support makes it compatible with a range of add-on business voice solutions, for low-cost calling, office corporate wireless voice networking and so on.

Nokia Office Tools 2.0 provides a suite of work-friendly applications. The E51 is supplied with Quickoffice and Adobe PDF document viewers pre-loaded, plus a ZIP file manager app. Quickoffice enables you to look at Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents that have been sent as attachments or loaded up on the phone. You can edit documents too – though you’ll have to pay to upgrade the software to do so (there’s a link in the app). The E51 also supports Nokia Bluetooth keyboards, so if your email or mobile-based workload increases, you can carry a fold-away Qwerty keyboard around as a typing upgrade option.

A Team suite of office apps enables group messaging or call initiation, plus grouping of relevant elements, such as web links. Nokia’s sophisticated personal information management applications are included too – and can be synced with a PC using supplied Nokia PC Suite software. Nokia has added an upgraded notes option – Active Notes – which enables users to combine text, images, video clips and voice notes to entries.

Corporate users may appreciate the Nokia Maps application too – now standard in Nokia S60 phones. Although there’s no internal GPS receiver on this Nokia smartphone, you can search for addresses, businesses and points of interest across a wide range of categories, and get routing information sent over the air. Connect via Bluetooth to an optional GPS receiver, and you can get precise sat nav location-finding, mapping and step-by-step navigation information.

One of the main benefits of having a Symbian S60 device is the range of software you can download to customise it to your own requirements. The E51 has a standard Nokia Download! app that links you to a range of software you can add to the device. This includes Windows Live Messenger and Hotmail apps, WorldMate travel software, F-Secure Anti-Virus, MobiPocket Reader Pro ebook reader, Text to Speech voice updates, WidSets mobile widgets, plus other work, rest or games apps.

Taking time off from the work apps, the E51 features a Nokia music player which provides a very decent mobile music experience. The player stacks up tunes in the usual categories, and is controlled by the phone’s D-pad rather than using dedicated music keys. With 130MB of onboard memory plus MicroSD Card expansion (the slot’s tucked away on the side, under the back panel), you can enjoy the E51 as an alternative to a standalone music player in between meetings. The supplied headset is a reasonable set of earphones, connected by a 2.5mm jack. Upgrading to higher quality headphones will require a cheap 2.5mm-to-3.5mm adapter, or the purchase of Bluetooth headphones. As usual, if you’re after the best sound quality possible, adding better ‘phones is recommended.

You can side-load easily from a PC using standard Nokia PC Suite software, or download tunes via from a compatible over the air service (not Nokia Music Store as yet). Similarly, you can enjoy videos on the phone’s RealPlayer in very watchable high quality, viewable in full screen landscape mode too.

Video recorded by the E51’s back-mounted camera isn’t great quality however – not a patch on the N82 or N95, for instance, recording in QVGA quality.

The 2-megapixel camera puts in a decent performance in good lighting conditions, but lacks a flash for low-light shooting, while indoor shots aren’t as precise or balanced as its best results. It’s fine for snaps but its lack of a real camera-like user interface and limited options suggest that the photography part of the spec isn’t high on the priority list for this phone. Not surprising really in a corporate orientated device. Face-to-face video calling is also absent from this phone, as there’s no secondary camera on the front.

Performance

Call quality, reliability and good battery life are key requirements for any business-centric mobile phone. The E51 manages to hit its targets here with exemplary in-field voice-call and messaging performance with excellent audio quality.

You’d expect heavy-duty battery life from a corporate handset. Nokia quotes optimum standby time of up to 13 days between battery recharging, or 4.4 hours of talktime, which should give busy business folk enough leeway for sustained usage between charges.

While heavy usage, particularly of the more juice-sapping functionality, will significantly impact on charging frequency, the E51 didn’t let us down with any surprising power drainage. We kept the E51 going regularly with moderate usage for 3 - 5 days off a charge but naturally, less if we maxed out on Wi-Fi, music player and other features.

Looks: 4/5
Ease of use: 4/5
Features: 4/5
Call quality: 5/5
Value: 4.5/5