Walt Mossberg

Nokia’s Smart Phone Offers a Bargain Price For High-End Utility

After years of sitting on the sidelines as a minor player in the U.S. market for high-end smart phones, Nokia is about to enter the fray in a bigger way than it has in the past.

The Finnish cellphone giant is introducing a phone called the E62 that resembles, and is aimed at, the Palm Treo, the latest BlackBerry phones from Research In Motion and the Motorola Q.

Photo of Phone
Nokia’s E62

Like those other smart phones, the E62 has a full keyboard and is actually a little computer that is meant to be a serious email device as well as a phone. Like the Q and the Treo, it can play music and videos, surf the Web, and display photos.

Unlike the Treo and the Q, however, the Nokia E62 can run a service licensed by RIM that allows it to behave like a BlackBerry. It can send and receive email using either a corporate BlackBerry server or a consumer BlackBerry service offered by a cellphone carrier.

I’ve been testing the E62 and I like it. It’s fairly utilitarian-looking and won’t likely become an object of desire like the Q and the Treo. But it gets the job done and may well be the best bargain in its category.

In the past, Nokia has relied on a smart-phone design that was a thick, long device that flipped open to reveal a wide, horizontally aligned keyboard and screen. That design sold OK in Europe but flopped in the U.S. Now, with the E62, Nokia is adopting the American-type design pioneered by the BlackBerry and used by the Treo and the Q.

Nokia is being coy about the timing, pricing and wireless carrier for the E62. But I expect it to be available late next month from Cingular Wireless. And I expect it to cost even less than the Q, which at $199 is the least expensive product in this group. The latest Treo models, the 700p and 700w, are being sold by Verizon Wireless for $299 right now, after rebates.

The E62 works on the so-called GSM cellphone standard that’s universal in Europe, and used by Cingular and T-Mobile in the U.S. This means it can be used in both America and Europe, as well as in some other countries. The Treo 700 models, sold by Verizon and Sprint, and the Q, sold only by Verizon, use an American technology called CDMA that doesn’t work in Europe or in most places outside the U.S.

However, that GSM technology also saddles the E62 with its biggest drawback: It is much slower at receiving data such as email and Web pages than the Q or the Treo 700, or even certain BlackBerry models. That’s because it uses EDGE, a GSM variant that has been blown away by a technology called EVDO used by the Treo 700 and the Q. In my tests, EVDO has been up to seven times as fast as EDGE.

The E62 also lacks a camera, unlike the Q and the Treo 700. But, like them, it has Bluetooth wireless technology.

Nokia has built in a sharp, vivid screen with a resolution of 320 by 240. That’s better than the resolution on the Treo 700w and identical to the Q’s screen resolution — but inferior to the resolution on the Treo 700p.

The new Nokia is a bit larger than the Q — wider, thicker, longer and heavier. But it’s thinner and lighter than the Treo 700, albeit a bit wider and longer.

In my tests, the voice quality of the E62 was very good. Battery life was decent, with a talk time of between four and 5.5 hours. The phone accepts memory cards for storage of files and applications.

The BlackBerry Connect service and software, likely to cost around $45 a month, worked well. After I installed the BlackBerry software on the new Nokia and configured the service on the E62 and on an accompanying Web site, the service “pushed” all emails from my regular account to the E62 reliably. There’s no limit to how much email you can receive, though the carrier may intervene if it believes you are abusing the service.

The only downside of the BlackBerry Connect feature is that there’s a noticeable latency when you open an email before it displays on the screen.

In my tests, the N62 could open most major email attachment types, including Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and Adobe PDF files. It’s also supposed to work with PowerPoint presentations, but in my tests, this function failed.

The user interface on the E62 isn’t nearly as fast or slick as on the Palm operating system used by the Treo 700p. But I preferred it slightly over the Windows Mobile operating system used on the Treo 700w and some other smart phones. There were still too many menus and extra steps compared with the Palm system, but at least you can delete an email with one click. Turning on the speaker phone was also quick and easy.

I was able to synchronize the E62 with Microsoft Outlook, and bring over my contacts and calendar, using the separate Windows software that comes with the phone. And I was able to load up the memory card with pictures and songs from my computer and use them successfully on the E62.

All in all, the E62 is a solid and inexpensive smart phone.


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