Sunday, October 4, 2009

Nokia 5730 express music - Review

The consumer-focussed sister phone to the successful Nokia E75 has now appeared and we tracked one down to explore what's different, what's good and what's bad. Is the 5730 really a case of 'fashion over functionality'? Or is it one of the most feature packed, and yet relatively cheap smartphones in the world?

Comparisons with the E75

The very first thing you should know about the Nokia 5730 XpressMusic is that 98% of it is identical to the Nokia E75, the side sliding business smartphone that debuted in Spring 2009 and which has been reviewed extensively here on All About Symbian (reviews part one, two and three + long term review) - it's tempting to simply think of the 5730 as the 'consumer' version of the E75 and, indeed, it's fairly easy to summarise the differences between the two: see the table below listing the 'advantages' of each, relative to the other. However, there's more to it than this, as we shall see.

All of which does seem like quite a list, and indeed there's a lot to discuss below, but don't let the table above kid you into thinking that these aren't, at heart, the same phone. If you look at the positioning of all the ports and side keys, if you look at the qwerty keyboard layout and spacing, if you compare audio and multimedia results, if you look at the recesses for ribbons and mechanism on the underside of the main keyboard, you'll quickly deduce that the E75 and 5730 are twins, separated at birth and led down slightly different life paths.

It's slightly odd that the 5730 XpressMusic has appeared so much later than the E75, and galling considering that there's nothing cutting edge in its firmware that might provide a clue for this timing - after all the 5730 still has Nokia Maps v2 and the 'old' version of S60 Web. There's not even an Ovi Store link. Clearly, the 5730 was designed and specified concurrently with the E75, but the timescales for either production or marketing slipped and then the summer break got in the way. Well, that's my theory anyway. (One compensation for the wait is that a digital compass got added to the GPS chip in the meantime, of which more later.)

But almost all potential buyers won't have seen an E75 in the flesh, so for the bulk of this review I'm going to treat the 5730 standalone, as a smartphone in its own right. For the guy or gal picking this up on a modest monthly contract in the High Street, what are they going to love and what are they going to hate (if anything)? I will put in some E75 comparison quips where needed, but I'll try not to let these dominate!

The Nokia 5730 XpressMusic

Essentially, the 5730 is a candy bar S60 smartphone with a hidden side-sliding qwerty keyboard. Such side-sliders aren't totally new to the High Street, with devices like the budget LG KS360 leading the way, bringing full qwerty to the masses. But the 5730's keyboard is in a different league. It's got four rows of characters, meaning that most symbols don't need shifting, and the key spacing is large for a phone. In fact, it's just about the perfect mobile keyboard for typing while standing up, using both thumbs, and it's lot faster than that in a typical Blackberry.

And it's the keyboard (and the main keypad) where the styling of the 5730 starts to hit home, both in a good and a bad way. The key legends are all printed in a 1980's-esque dot matrix font, adding a unique character to the phone. In bright light, readability's not too bad, but in murky conditions (say, a badly lit office) it can be hard to see which key is which. Compared to the striking clear white key legends on the E75, it's tempting to dismiss the 5730 XpressMusic out of hand, but doing that misses half the point of the phone.

This is aimed at the 15 to 25s market, targetting those with enough money to afford the 5730 and to also be able to afford the time and money (pre-raising a family) to have a night life. And it's at night that the 5730 XpressMusic shines. Almost literally. The dot matrix font, when backlit in a dark pub or club, looks extremely cool and is about the right visibility for bashing out texts, instant messages or social network status updates. In addition, the media control keys glow attractively and the translucent red strip around the 5730's frame catches spot lights and also glows, rather warmly. So, while it's tempting to lambast the design team for producing something with style over function, you can at least see how it might work in a typical user's (night) life.

Staying with the Nokia 5730 XpressMusic's keys, there are several aspects of note (other than the already mentioned opinion-polarising font):

* The number pad has discrete keys, which is good (the E75 has plastic strips, each with three 'keys'). And they're all domed for easy finger location. But, as with the E75, cramming the keys into such a small area does make for cramped input. Luckily, the presence of the qwerty keyboard means that such a restriction is easily forgiven.

* The d-pad has the lightest 'feel' of any that I've ever used. Which either makes it a delight (I'm in this camp) or a right royal pain (Rita el-Khoury's in this camp), with some finding that a direction gets pressed when you simply mash down on the centre. It all depends on the size of your fingers and whether you're using the pad of your thumb or the thumbnail - yet another personal choice for this polarising phone!

# The function keys (left and right) are at a level of at least 1mm below the surface of the screen, meaning that each appears somewhat sunken. As a result, you again have to approach them with the thumbnail rather than the pad of the thumb if you don't want the surrounding keys to get activated.

# The music control keys are large enough to hit accurately when you're looking at the phone, but they take some getting used to for controlling music playback 'unseen', e.g. when the phone's in your pocket. A degree of physical demarcation would have helped here - maybe a slight doming of each key, or perhaps a raised dot in the centre of each?

The gaming keys, on a plastic rocker above the screen, are quite firm to press - for sensitive gaming, they're a little too 'hard' in their feel. The keys (circle=A, square=B) only light up and respond when you're in an official N-Gage game, but it's quite cool when they do - with the 5730 held in landscape mode, with the d-pad on the left, the gaming keys are perfectly placed for traditional gaming, e.g. Fire/Jump/Strike.

The main qwerty keys are ever so slightly textured, giving good grip when needed.

The main display is the same as that on the E75 - limited to 2.4" diagonal by the form factor and the need to fit in a numeric keypad on the front of the phone. Visibility is good though, with the transflective backing making it easy to read even in direct sunlight. The resolution's the 2007/2008 standard QVGA and, while this looks a little small compared to some of the smartphones being released, it's fine for a 2.4" screen and it'll be fine for the target market here.

On the 5730's left are flush-covered ports for microUSB (for connection to a desktop, for filling with music, principally) and microSD, an improvement on the weird covers on the E75, which stick out awkwardly. Also good to see is the inclusion of a 8GB card to get new users started. Indeed, for many casual users, 8GB may be enough for all their needs. On the downside, extracting the microSD is quite tricky, harder than on the E75 because of the extra 1mm width of the plastic casing - the card is just that little bit further inside the hatch and is hard to grab hold of.

On the 5730's top is a 4-way (i.e. smartphone) 3.5mm audio jack. Supplied in the box are a great set of stereo, in-ear (complete with spare rubber seals) headphones with hands-free microphone pod a third of the way down the main cable. Perfect. Sound quality is very good through these headphones (though E75 owners should note that this device sounds identical through the same headset, more evidence that the internal electronics are the same.)

On the device's right are a volume up/down rocker (which also works in Photos, to zoom in and out) and a functional two-stage camera shutter button.

As with the E75, there's the (fairly unique) option to charge in two completely different ways. Either via the supplied 2mm mains charger, or via microUSB, from either a data cable or (indeed) a microUSB mains charger. You can even plug in both at the same time, though the 5730 doesn't actually charge twice as fast! It's good to have this dual charger compatibility and a very flexible arrangement.

Bringing up the rear - oh dear

Turning the 5730 XpressMusic over brings several more points of note, most of them bad. Most obvious is the one piece plastic back of the phone, which hooks into the right side of the device and then clicks into place in 'landscape' fashion - don't worry if that sounds tricky, as Nokia helpfully attach a sticker to every new phone, with a diagram! On the plus side, the matt plastic is immune to greasy fingerprints and it's also very light. On the minus side, presumably in order to keep enough tension in it to keep the cover in place, Nokia has bowed it slightly, meaning that the 5730 is at least 1mm thicker than it needs to be - in fact, there's enough space inside the bowed cover that the battery physically rattles if you shake the phone. I've stuck a folded Post-It note in there to pad out the battery a bit.

Also reeking of 'designed this on a Friday afternoon' is the way the 5730's loudspeaker is muffled by the cover. The device's speaker has a pretty good raw frequency response, as can be heard in the E75, which positions a nice little metal grille over the right spot, with plenty of tinkly cymbals in music and crisp voice overtones in podcasts. The 5730 XpressMusic's solid plastic back cover has no such openings, other than a little sound leakage through the extreme top right corner, completely ruining the frequency output from the speaker. There's a simple fix, of course, more DIY(!), and (risking Rafe's wrath) I'm going to be taking my drill and making my own 'grille' of holes - watch this space for photo proof 8-)

Last, but by no means least, on the Nokia 5730 XpressMusic's rear is the camera, identical in specification to that of the E75 and more than its equal in terms of quality. Which is saying something, since the E75 has just about the best 3 megapixel camera I've ever seen in a phone. The 5730 adds a Carl Zeiss-branded lens, bringing slightly sharper detail and slightly better colours. The difference is marginal, to be honest, but it can be seen. There'll be more on the 5730 XpressMusic's camera in part 2 of my review, but in the meantime, have a look at these blow-ups of the same sunny scene: the E75's photo is on the left, the 5730's on the right. Note how the red play equipment is redder, the green leaves are greener and the blue sky is bluer. The railings are also slightly sharper, if you look closely enough.

Although not quite capable of semi-pro photos and dubious for printed blowups of more than 7" x 5", 3 megapixels, combined with this lens and sensor, is certainly enough for good casual photography. As you might expect, the unit struggles in low light, but even here it performs a lot better than, for example, the camera in the Nokia 5800 (and sister devices) and miles better than the mountain of 3mp camera phones from many other manufacturers.

Wireless matters

The number of aerials in each phone that comes out these days just goes up and up. In the 5730 XpressMusic we have GPS (complete with an integrated magnetometer - i.e. a digital compass), an FM radio, Wi-Fi (b and g variants), quad-band GSM and tri-band 3G. Some people have reported network reception problems in the E75, but I've seen none in either that device nor this one - signal strength has been excellent.

I also had no problems with GPS lock, when taking Nokia Maps 2 out for a spin. Yes, version 2, a little disappointing, although plugging the 5730 into Nokia Maps Updater on a PC upgraded things to Ovi Maps 3.1 and brought me bang up to date for free. I'm guessing that an official Ovi Maps 3 update will slip into an upcoming firmware.

Sadly there's no FM Transmitter, something which I'd been starting to take for granted in recent S60 smartphone launches. Still, at the current £250 and at the predicted £200 price point, it's fair to say that something had to be left out. Having GPS and Wi-Fi and Carl Zeiss optics in the camera are already most welcome!

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