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Gear Eye: Nokia 7610

Adam Nielson

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Remember that kid who tried too hard? He (or she) was probably a little overweight and unpopular in jr. high. He totally looked like one of those kids whose mom dressed in husky Toughskins and unfortunate shirts. Then at some point, usually early in high school, the kid lost weight, developed a little self confidence and started dressing himself. Proud of the weight he had lost, he tried to hang out with all the popular kids, but they still made fun of him for his clothes or his awkward social skills or whatever. With a little more financial independence, the kid went overboard, buying totally over top clothes and trying to out-attitude any of the popular kids. Of course no matter how hard he tried to emulate the popular kids and fit in with them, he always missed the mark, doomed to be that weird kid who followed them wherever they went.

Yup, Nokia finally slimmed down the Series 60 smartphone, and is bringing the thinner, lighter 7610 "imaging phone" to North America, but only after realizing it had stopped selling well in Europe and relaunching a slightly more "normal" looking 6670 there. The 7610 tries too hard to set itself apart in the name of style, sacrificing ease-of-use and mass-market popularity for the sake of looks.

A Euro-friendly version of the 7610 has been out for many months and is available for a reasonable price at most online resellers. The 7610b, which is the North America-friendly model we reviewed, should be out by the end of October.

Nokia 7610
The Bod: Yup

The is the first Nokia smartphone, and possibly the first Series 60 smartphone (the Sendo X may have actually been the first) that's small enough to fit in a Levi's change pocket. The shape is comfortable in the left or right hand, despite the fact that one side has a corner and the other has a curve.

The screen is big and bright under all lighting conditions. It has pretty fast refresh too, so using it as a viewfinder for the one megapixel camera in the phone doesn't make you sick to your stomach.

It sounds great, right, so why didn't we give it an "Oh yah?" Simple, The wacky keypad. There are at least 10 reviews out there that will tell you you get used to the wacky keypad and some even claim that they thought the crazy keypad was better once they got used to it. This is not one of those reviews. The non-standard placement and different sizes of each key makes it nearly impossible to get used to the keyboard enough to tap out a quick text. It's also difficult to get to the inappropriately small applications menu buttton (the one that looks like a sync icon) because it's constantly hidden under your thumb. The one redeeming quality of the keypad is that the D-Pad is surprising easy to use and accurate despite its relatively flat profile.

Battery Life: Yup
The 7610 gets about the same battery life as all new Nokia smartphones - a little over 2 days of normal use. This isn't really surprising since they all use the same high-quality large screen and the same medium-sized battery (with the exception of the N-Gage QD which has a cheaper screen and a bigger battery). There are reports of people who managed to squeeze the QD's battery into the 7610 for longer life between charges. We tried to, but the QD battery's additional thickness makes it impossible to get the battery cover back on, so don't get your hopes up.

Signal and Sound: Ugh
Earlier reviews of the Euro-friendly 7610 reported were quite impressed with the signal strength of the phone, so we were expecting equally impressive performance from our North American version. Sadly, we were disappointed. Not only was our 7610 not better than other Nokias, it was actually worse than both our 6600 and N-Gage QD, neither of which are exactly impressive when it comes to signal strength. When we asked if something was wrong with our phone, Nokia had no suggestions or explanations to improve reception.

At least the speaker and microphone are positioned well, are very loud, and sound great. As usual, speakerphone is only one keypress away during a call, and it's very useful, as well usable. If you manage to have enough signal to get a call, no one will complain about how the call sounds.

Menus: Oh Yah!
Series 60 is nothing if not consistent. The menus feel very much like a regular cell phone as opposed to some wacky PDA affair, so they're easy to use without having to read any manuals or relearn how you are used to doing things on your regular mobile. Nokia has also included a number of thoughtful features, like an indicator arrow that shows whether you can scroll down for more options and changes depending on where you are and how many items are in the list. This same arrow is also used for web pages and text display as well, adding even more consistency.  Tricks like using the pencil button for different text entry options are available in every application, so you'll learn to use them since they're always there. Literally the only trick to the menus is figuring out that the button that looks like a sync icon takes you to the applications.

Calling: Oh Yah!
Of course the 7610 supports all the normal shortcuts (redial, voicemail, etc.), and it does a good job with call waiting and conference calls. It also goes above and beyond the call of duty, doing and excellent job of taking calls while you're in other applications- much better, in fact, than most other smartphones. The only problem i would say the 7610 has calling is finding the speed dial application you have to use to assign keys 2-9 a phone number. The application is hidden in the tools folder instead of just adding the option to the Contacts menu. Still, it is quite impressive.

Politeness: Yup
Silencing and diverting calls is as easy on the 7610 as any phone. Like all Nokias, tapping on the power button brings up a profiles menu, which even supports a timed option that will set the phone to silent whenever there's a meeting in your schedule. However other than editing or selecting a different profile there is no way to change the ringing volume on the phone. There are no side volume keys at all, so to adjust call volume, you have to feel around or take the phone away from your ear to use the D-Pad. Although you get used to it, especially if you've owned other Series 60 phones before, it's still a bit of a pain.

Contacts: Oh Yah!

Because of some changes (for the better, believe it or not) that Nokia made to the OS starting with this phone, it's not compatible with iSync. Normally we don't like that but it's not really Nokia's fault. You can still send vCards to the phone from any computer or phone or PDA, and Nokia includes a new sync package for PCs on the CD that comes with the phone. The contact application can hold a huge variety of data from numbers and email address to postal address, birthdays and more. It's easy to call or email from the contact app just by pressing the answer key. The only ding the contact application gets is that it stinks at displaying alot of data for a contact, there's no "summary card" type screen. Well, that and postal address are displayed in the weirdest way.

Messages: Oh Yah!
We were actually considering inventing a new rating for the 7610;s performance in this category called "Hell Yah!" Since the 7610 will exceed pretty much all your messaging expectations, it's not fair to give it a rating that other phones could achieve. From setup to use, the 7610 (and all Series 69 version 2 phones) have the nicest, most complete messaging abilities around. It supports SMS, MMS and email with equal aplomb. You can add a menu item to the home screen called "New Message." Select it, and it asks Text Message, Picture Message. Configure an email account, and it adds email to the new message list. Select a contact, compose away and you're done. Retrieving email is equally easy and more configurable than many other smartphones. Reviews from power users complain that it doesn't support HTML messages or a few of the fancier security protocols. Who cares? What type of HTML email do you get that's not spam anyway?

Calendar: Oh Yah!

The 7610 does everything it has to do, it even goes above and beyond the call of duty. It can sync vCal data with PCs or receive them from other devices. It deals with meeting alarms well. It can set itself to Silent during meetings. And it can turn itself on to tell you something's happening. The alarm is equally good, even if like the speed dial, it is buried in a folder and the application is actually called clock. It's hard to say much about this category since the phone works exactly like it should.

Browsing: Yup
It's a shame that Nokia does not include a real HTML on a friggin smartphone. It has included a copy of the very powerful Opera browser on the CD for many of it's Series 60 phones, but it's never been pre-installed. Dear Nokia, you've made Opera the standard browser on the Communicators, we'd appreciate it if you do the same for Series 60. Basically the 7610 is stuck with a large screen version of the same browser as on most regular phones these days. Sure it's well designed and works fairly quickly, but it's still a WAP browser. You'll be able to surf your carrier's home page and other mobile sites, but forget the "real" web.

Nokia 7610 back
Pictures: Yup

We were expecting more considering the 7610 has a megapixel camera. Pictures from the 7610 still comes out looking very pixelated. Worse, because Nokia has tweaked its brightness settings to compensate for the lack of flash, all the pictures look washed out. Pictures we took on beautiful blue-skied days came out looking like the San Francisco fog had settled over the city. Brilliant colors were bled out to dull grey tones, and without enough color in the original image, no amount of Photoshop trickery can save these snaps. The one redeeming quality of this fancy auto balancing system is that the phone does take pretty good pictures in low light despite the lack of flash. An additional complaint is that if you have a memory card installed, the phone will save all your pictures to it. That's great except when you go to the gallery application to look at your pictures, you have to manually select the memory card or you'll drive yourself nuts wondering where all your pictures went.

Personalization: Oh Yah!
The D-Pad is the only thing that's not customizable on the 7610, pressing in on it will always take you to the Contacts list from the home screen. You can customize the right and left soft keys to almost any shortcut imaginable. You can re-skin the entire UI with new themes and replace the ringtones with just about any file format including MP3. The 7610 even has changeable faceplates front and back. Basically you can customize the entire phone to fit your personality or style.

Other Stuff:
There are no games on the phone, however the included MMC card has demo versions of a few games like Lemonade, Inc. It also includes some other applications, none of which matter to you. Thankfully, there is a large Series 60 community, who have developed a number of excellent games and applications for the phone, many of which are free. Pick your own games, but download Agile Messenger, an excellent multi-IM client, and plunk down a couple of bucks for the Opera browser if it's not on your 7610 when you get it from Nokia or your carrier.

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