Nokia has taken last year's E61 to the guillotine and, after a few simple strikes, has returned with one of the most attractive smartphones on the market at this time ... hang on, haven't we written this sentence before? Oh yeah, this is how we started the review of Nokia's E71, the E63's sexy twin.
It's back! We loved the design of the E71, with its sleek curves, QWERTY keyboard and landscape display. The E63 shares all of these aspects, plus comes in a range of fun. Our review unit is a cheeky ruby red, but a blue and black are also available.
The stainless steel chassis of the E71 is gone and replaced by soft touch plastics. The keyboard is exactly the same in its layout, though the keys feel more rubbery and kind of tacky, which helps when typing with the tiny buttons. Between the screen and keyboard are an array of shortcut keys — home, calendar, contacts and messages — with a large five-way nav key in the centre. One thing we can't understand is how the E63 features less hardware than its E-series sibling, but manages to be 3mm thicker. The difference isn't too great, though it is noticeable.
On the back of the handset Nokia has included a 2-megapixel camera with a self-portrait mirror and an LED flash. Holding down the space key on the keyboard switches the flash on so you can use it as a torch. Under the battery cover Nokia has wisely included a huge 1500mAh battery pack. The E63 doesn't have a volume rocker on the side of the handset, instead the nav-key changes the speaker volume during calls.
The phone is charged via the standard Nokia charging pin at the base of the phone, and the handset has slots both for USB connections and microSD memory expansion on the side of the unit. Unlike the E71, the E63 sports a 3.5mm headphone socket under a rubber plug on the top of the phone. Strangely, this protective plug isn't attached to the phone so you'll have to stow it in a pocket while you use headphones. Be prepared to lose this plug in the wash as soon as you buy the phone.
The E63 is an interesting mixture of inclusions and exclusions compared with other smartphones available. Its AU$509 price tag should suggest not to expect all the standard smartphone hardware, but you might be surprised at what Nokia has left in. The E63 is firstly a very capable messenger. It sports 3G connectivity and Wi-Fi, but not HSDPA. Most people should find this sufficient for basic mobile browsing and email delivery, though the E63 isn't the phone you'll want to use for mobile broadband sharing with a PC.
Those looking for a full featured business smartphone will find the E63 adequate. Using Nokia's PC Suite you can sync your contacts, calendar and to-do lists from MS Outlook, and share bookmarks with your favourite browser. Microsoft Exchange support is available as is the ability to log your E63 onto your business intranet.
The major difference between the E71 of last year and the E63, aside from no HSDPA, is the lack of an internal GPS receiver, and the price tag as a result. It's rarer and rarer for phone manufacturers to break up the holy mobile trinity of HSDPA, Wi-Fi and GPS, and if we had to drop one it'd probably be Wi-Fi first. There's plenty of people who can live without a GPS receiver, and Nokia is gambling that they are the same people who like red phones. However, we believe GPS is one component you don't think you'll use until you find you're using it all the time.
If you're happy with the features and components inside the E63 then we can guarantee you love the performance. The interface is as fast as any smartphone available and the battery life is second to none. Nokia estimates the talk time for the E63 to be 11 hours with an astounding 18 days standby time. During our tests we saw three or four days between charges depending on use, more like the BlackBerrys of old than the iPhone of today.
Web browsing is reasonably zippy and the pages render well. We found the navigation of large (data heavy) websites to be a little sluggish, but not so much that it marred our experience too greatly. Media playback is better, videos look fantastic on the widescreen display and play well after being transcoded in the Nokia PC Suite software during the transfer from a PC.
Should you buy an E63 or spend a little extra and get an E71? This is a tough choice and we don't envy those who are pressed to make it. Do you trade a GPS chip and HSDPA data for a 3.5mm headphone socket, a coloured handset and a cheaper price tag? At the time of writing 3 Mobile is offering the E63 on a $49 per month contract, while Vodafone is offering the E71 for the same price on a similar plan.
We suggest you grab the E71 unless you find this newer model somewhere for significantly cheaper. You never know when you'll use GPS and the option is good to have, and HSDPA data is great if you ever need to use your phone as a broadband modem. Either way it's a win-win situation. If you choose the E63 you can expect the same excellent performance in a very stylish handset.