Although the Nokia XpressMusic range has so far been playing lower down the bill to its Nseries smartphone lineup and its mid-tier chart-toppers, Nokia has started generating plenty of positive audience reaction to its recent music moves.
Following the launch of Nokia's Comes With Music unlimited download service and the announcement of Nokia's 5800 XpressMusic touchscreen smartphone, Nokia's mobile music profile is certainly on the up.
Currently offering only a handful of XpressMusic handsets compared to Sony Ericsson's cover-all-bases expanse of Walkman phones, Nokia has recently extended the line-up with a couple of new models, including the Nokia 5320 XpressMusic.
Say and Play
The 5320 XpressMusic is a candybar design handset, packing in Symbian S60 smartphone functionality as well as the promise of a hot music performance.
It makes the right noises for a music phone, with dedicated control keys ranged up the side in the trademark XpressMusic way, a 3.5mm headphone socket on the bottom for plugging in quality ear-gear, a dedicated audio chip under the bonnet for improving sound quality.
It also introduces a new 'Say and Play' function – press a button, say the name of the song, artist or other track details and it should start playing.
A 1GB MicroSD card is supplied in-box, to go with the 140MB of onboard user memory, although additional cards of up to 8GB can be slipped into its side slot.
The 5320 XpressMusic supports HSDPA data connectivity, for high speed downloading, browsing and streaming, and has a decent base level of multimedia and other smartphone-style applications. It supports N-Gage high quality gaming, too, with an 8-way gaming-optimised D-pad and additional controls for gamers.
Until the 5800 arrives, the 5320's the top-specced XpressMusic phone, but within Nokia's range it's more an affordable middle class option. Its camera is an average 2-megapixel shooter, and it doesn't do the high-end smartphone stuff like Wi-Fi and GPS location finding.
The 5320 follows the XpressMusic family look with a glossy black plastic casing, with high-contrast metallic red or blue edging and D-pad details. It's an otherwise plain looker, without the eye-catching asymmetrics or skinny-look of the 5220 or 5310 XpressMusic models.
A bit of curvy detailing on the numberpad separates the keys, while the controls flush around the D-pad are a little cramped for comfort and totally accurate pressing.
The bodywork is average candybar sized – 108(h) x 46(w) x 15(d) mm – and the screen is a standard 2-inch QVGA 16 million-colour job. It's OK– but not as big a display as we'd prefer for real smartphone multimedia action, and text info on certain functions can look small. A video call camera sits above the display.
The S60 user interface incorporates similar elements to more upmarket Nokia Nseries phones, albeit rearranged and squeezed into a smaller screen.
A row of five user-swappable shortcut icons is ranged at the bottom of the standby screen to take you into key features. When music's playing in the background, track details are displayed onscreen, making it easy to operate with the side panel music controls (pause/play, forward, rewind). These work equally straightforwardly with the radio too.
The menu system, accessed by pressing the 'squiggle' button, is typically Nokia S60; a grid of option icons, leading to more sub-menu grids or list options. There's plenty to get round, this being a smartphone, but you quickly work out where everything is.
The handset responds promptly as you select options or switch between open applications, and multi-tasking doesn't appear to impede its zippy performance.
Familiar music player
Rightly enough, the music player headlines the XpressMusic show. Nokia doesn't throw any curve-balls for regular operation; it's maintained a familiar set of track categories (artists, albums, playlists, all songs, podcasts, genres and composers) and user options in its music player, and the usual album cover art is supported if available. You don't even have to use the external controls when the music player's onscreen, with the D-pad doubling up on music control duties.
The novel Say and Play voice control gadgetry is intriguing, but only partially effective. You press and hold the button above the display, then call out the name of the artist, artist and song, album or playlist; in a few moments (in theory) the track pops up and plays, with a list of selectable alternative results presented onscreen for a few seconds.
Trouble is, it didn't always pull up the tracks we called, and had a random shuffle-like element to it. It's neat and impressive when it works – and definitely the sort of gimmick you'll show off to impress your mates – but realistically, it's not the most effective way of choosing tracks. You might find it a bit of fun though, if you're not frustrated by the lottery factor.
Using conventional music player control methods, however, the 5320 is an absolute breeze to operate. And its audio performance can be excellent.
Nokia supplies an average set of 2-piece earphones, which really don't do full justice to the sound this device can blast out. But the 3.5mm headphone socket provides an easy (and not necessarily expensive) way to upgrade these so you can make the most of the top-class audio experience of which this phone is capable. Through decent ear-wear you can get rich, deep and complex sound that's very pleasing.
Bluetooth headphones are also supported, and if you want to share music with the public, the loudspeaker can really broadcast at loud volumes.
The out-of-the-box track storage is reasonable for a lower level music phone, but not exceptional, but higher capacity cards than the 1GB one supplied can be added for reasonably small cost.
Adding entertainment, the 5320 has an FM radio onboard too, and a Podcasting application enables fast searching, subscribing and downloading of podcasts. Downloads from mobile network operators can be fast, thanks to HSDPA connectivity at up to 3.6Mbps max. Downloads of videos or music can take just a few seconds.
Nokia Music Store is supported, too, enabling users to stock up on more tracks over the air as well copying over from a PC. Downloading from here will cost – it's not currently part of Nokia's Comes With Music portfolio (and data costs may have to be added to track prices).
HSDPA means you get a sharpish browsing experience too. It's pretty efficient, without being iPhone-like impressive, and you can view pages in full screen, zoom and pan, with a navigation toolbar to help you along. Pages render speedily, although the small screen view is not ideal for easy on the eye scanning or browsing. Nokia's larger screened models are certainly better for this. RSS feeds are supported on this handset.
Nokia hasn't put imaging top of the XpressMusic priorities. The camera is an average kind of Nokia 2-megapixel shooter - although there is a camera button on the side, and on the back of the phone there is an LED photo light, which offers a bit more for low-light illumination than you'd get on a basic entry-level 2 million pixel model.
Still, the shooting performance wasn't impressive. There's no autofocus to help out, but shots are still softer than we'd have expected, and colours generally appeared a bit subdued and lifeless.
There's a typical roster of shooting adjustments you can make and effects you can add, but the quality and results are way off what Nokia's better mid-tier shooters can achieve, not to mention its Nseries big-hitters.
Still, the typical XpressMusic phone buyer may not be looking for family album quality snaps, and Nokia does offer the option of sharing images – and video clips – online, with options to upload to services including Flickr, Vox and the Nokia Ovi service.
Video capture quality may not be great – shooting at QVGA resolution max at a wobbly15 frames per second – but playback of video downloaded to the phone using the RealPlayer app is decent quality. The screen may be too small for truly satisfying viewing, but it plays back nice and smoothly.
XpressMusic buyers may appreciate more the N-Gage gaming capability of this phone than the megapixel count. With a more flexible 8-way D-pad control than normal, and the doubling up as some buttonry as gaming controls, it's easy to play and enjoy the sophisticated games, and trial versions of games, you can download.
The multiplayer and community elements of the game may also get users reaching more for the gaming options than the camera ones, and offers a bit more – and different – to distinguish the 5320 in the busy mid-tier music phone market.
Mapping is becoming another Nokia mid-tier staple application, and although there's no GPS receiver inside, Nokia Maps software is included. This offers over-the-air route planning and searches, using addresses and key words, plus a nearby service and places finder. You can hook it up via Bluetooth to a standalone GPS receiver for exact positioning, but don't expect built in Sat Nav.
This web-based service is one of several that are now standard for Nokia devices. Yahoo! Go and Nokia's WideSets widgets apps are included for a choice of apps offering aggregated online information updates, news, email and other useful services on one screen.
As you'd expect on an S60 smartphone, there's plenty of flexibility to add your own applications to the pre-loaded set. You can use a Download! tool onboard to check out what Nokia's currently offering. But there's a suitably extensive set of organiser functions and office tools already stashed inside.
These include a calendar, convertor, calculator, notes, voice recorder, dictionary and translator, and text to voice reader software. Also, Quickoffice and PDF viewers are installed, allowing documents files attached to emails or copied over to the phone to be read or viewed.
Voice call performance was perfectly acceptable on this handset, with no complaints on sound quality or call holding.
Nokia quotes optimum battery performance figures of up to 300 hours standby time or up to 2.5 hours of talktime in 3G coverage, or 4 hours talktime on GSM-only networks, which is reasonable but not outstanding. How much you get in practice will depend on just how much you hit that music 'Play' button and do other stuff.
Nokia says with music playback only, you can get 24 hours battery life, or alternatively N-Gage gaming will reduce this to 4.5 hours. In tests, our average phone use with some music gave us around 2.5 days of action between charges.
While it's currently top of the tree as far as the XpressMusic series is concerned, the 5320 XpressMusic is overall towards the lower end of Nokia's smartphone range, lacking top-drawer features like Wi-Fi, GPS and a high quality camera.
It may not look a pulse-racer in the XpressMusic range, but its key music playing performance can be exceptional through the right earphones, and with N-Gage gaming and a decent spread of additional gadgetry, there's enough value for money appeal.
If it came with Comes With Music, it could be even more attractive.
Ease of use: 3.5/5
Call quality: 4.5/5