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Nokia E-phones might finally mean business

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Analysis When Nokia launched its most serious business phone yet, the 9210 Communicator four years ago, TV adverts to promote the device showed executives in suits doing stunts on pedal scooters.

Leaping executives. On pedal scooters.

Why?

We still haven't been able to figure that one out, but it suggested Nokia was really rather hopeful about capturing the hearts and minds of IT departments.

Finally, after threatening to do so for many years, Nokia at last looks an enterprise contender - at least in the sense that it's got all the technology in place. Now Mary McDowell's division needs to figure out how to sell data devices into corporate accounts where phones today simply mean voice - something we contend that no one, not even RIM, has yet done.

We'll start with the technology, which is slightly terrifying.

The three E-series phones Nokia unveiled yesterday seem to have been designed to prove the point that the great acronym race of recent years wasn't a problem for the company. While the competition hasn't stood still, with the JasJar (reviewed here) offering an impressive tick list of features, the veteran mobile manufacturer has simply taken them in its stride.

All three phones in the E-series range support the latest high speed networks including Wi-Fi in its 802.11g, 802.11e and 802.11i flavors, and W-CDMA 3G. Push To Talk is supported on all models, and a previous taboo, IP telephony, is now touted as one of the strongest selling points. It is indeed a potential 'killer app' for enterprises, and we'll deal with this in a moment - but first of all, let's look at what the E-series means to the pound phone in your pocket.

The ever shrinking phone

Most immediately impressive is the form factor. Overnight, these phones double the screen acreage on offer to a Series 60 user today. Apple isn't the only company that can squeeze last year's technology into a tiny space to make room for this year's, with its ever-shrinking iPod, as this week's product announcements show.

It's hard to imagine that it was only two years ago that Hutchison launched its 3G network into Europe with a range of phones that wouldn't have looked out of place in the A-team: and even then, these gigantic and cumbersome devices barely had enough juice for an hour's talk time.

Nokia E70

Nokia E70

Sony Ericsson seemed to be intent on proving the same point this week when its P910i successor the P990 added 3G and Wi-Fi in a package only 1mm larger all round, and only 5g heavier than its predecessor. (And knowing hardware designers, I'll bet that millimeter was very hard fought). Now Nokia's phones are even smaller.

Alongside a no-nonsense model, the E60, is a BlackBerry knock-off, the E61. Previously, Nokia has been positively Lutheran in its determination to segment its market between one-handed phones and its two-handed 9000 Series Communicator. Now it seems to be saying: "hey, if you want a BlackBerry clone, we'll give you a BlackBerry clone".

And Nokia's secret weapon, the design most envied by its rivals, finally appears in a Symbian version: the fold-out, "mousetrap" keyboard. Most BlackBerry users send messages shorter than 100 characters, suggesting that the device is used primarily for reading. But when a reply is needed - and usually it's a very quick acknowledgement - the market has voted for QWERTY keys.

This mousetrap design first appeared in the 6800 two years ago, and combines the best of both worlds: one-handed, it's a compact phone; two-handed it offers a keyboard better than what any of its rivals such as RIM, Palm or HP currently offer.

Have a look at the comparison table on the next page to see how the E61 and E70 shape up.

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