If you're looking for a messaging phone that's shaped more like a traditional handset than most BlackBerry or Windows Mobile devices, Nokia's E55 might fit the bill. A candybar smart phone with a hybrid alphanumeric/Qwerty keypad and powerful on-board messaging features, it's available for around £250 SIM-free.
At 9mm thick, the E55 is extremely slim -- it's probably one of the slimmest smart phones currently on the market -- and its tall and narrow profile makes it look rather elegant. At first glance, the E55 doesn't look all that different to a number of Nokia's other candybar handsets. Look closer, though, and you'll notice one of its more unusual features: a hybrid keypad.
Most of the keys on the keypad are marked with two letters. You tap once on the key to input the first letter and tap twice to input the second. Alternatively, you can just turn on predictive text and use the keyboard as you would a standard mobile keypad, tapping once for each letter and letting the predictive text engine work out what word you're trying to type. The second method works best, simply because Nokia's text engine is so good. After some practice, we found texting with the E55's keypad significantly faster than using a standard mobile keypad, although not quite as fast as using a full Qwerty keyboard.
Familiar user interface
The E55 runs the Series 60 3rd Edition operating system, so the user interface will be almost instantly familiar to anyone who's used a recent Nokia handset. By default, the home screen is set up to show the number of new emails, and your calendar entries, along with a number of shortcuts to other functions. These are all customisable, so you can easily change the default layout to something that better suits your style.
Although the E55 is primarily aimed at business users, it's got something of a split personality, as you can quickly swap between pre-defined work and leisure profiles using an icon on the homescreen. These profiles can even be set to work with different email accounts, which is handy.
The rest of the user interface may be less jazzy than that of the iPhone or HTC Hero, but at least the grid layout is easy to navigate, and Nokia includes a number of useful apps, such as Quickoffice for viewing and editing work documents, and a slick Web browser that supports some Flash content. There's also a neat feature whereby the handset reads out your SMS messages and emails using a Stephen Hawking-style, synthesised voice.
Setting up the E55 for use with Gmail is very straightforward. You simply enter your Gmail username and password and the phone does the rest. Email is pushed to the phone using Nokia's own, free messaging service.
The E55 has on-board GPS, which locked onto our position quickly. Nokia has also preinstalled its Maps app on the phone. It offers turn-by-turn navigation instructions, and downloads maps on demand from a central server, so they're always as up-to-date as possible. You get free, trial access to the Nokia Maps service when you buy the phone, but, after the trial period, you have to cough up for a subscription to continue using it.
Connectivity options are excellent. Along with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the E55 also supports HSDPA for speedy downloads when you're out of range of a Wi-Fi hotspot. Call quality is also top-notch, but the phone really excels in terms of battery life. You can expect to get between 2.5 and 3 days' use out of it on a single charge, which is highly impressive by smart-phone standards.
Not everyone will love the Nokia E55's keypad, but it works surprisingly well once you've mastered it. It's not just the E55's keypad that impresses, though. It's also amazingly slim for a smart phone, has very long battery life, and offers good messaging features, making it easy to recommend.
Edited by Charles Kloet