Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/09/10/review_phone_nokia_5530_xpressmusic/

Nokia 5530 XpressMusic

Budget touchscreen phone, anyone?

By Sandra Vogel

Posted in Phones, 10th September 2009 12:02 GMT

Review Nokia’s touchscreen user interface has not had many outings. We’ve seen it before in the original Nokia 5800 XpressMusic and in the much more highbrow, Qwerty keyboard toting N97. Now we have a third appearance in the shape of another XpressMusic handset, the 5530, currently an exclusive offering from Carphone Warehouse from £130. To reach that price some compromises have had to be made. So, while Wi-Fi is here, as well as the ubiquitous Bluetooth, the handset does not support 3G and there is no GPS.

Nokia 5530 XpressMusic

Nokia's 5530 XpressMusic: touchscreens shouldn't go any smaller than this

The 5530 XpressMusic isn’t all that different to look at to the 5800 XpressMusic. It takes a candybar shape, is mostly screen on the front, and has an array of three buttons beneath the screen: call, end and menu. Like the 5800, it is narrower than the standard touchscreen fare.

The 640 x 360 resolution screen delivers clear, sharp viewable information indoors, but outside it was a bit of a pig to see in bright sunshine. The resolution is the same as the 5800, but the screen size is reduced from 3.2in to 2.9in. That reduction might sound slight, but it makes a big difference in terms of usability, and we think it is about as small as a touch screen can go. Overall the phone measures 104 x 49 x 13mm and it weighs 107g.

The build feels fairly solid, and the plastic materials are nowhere disguised as faux metal. In fact, the stainless steel surround to the screen is heavily disguised as black plastic. A red band sits round the edge of the casing, which is otherwise black. There is a camera lens on the back of the casing with a small LED flash unit. Top and bottom on the front are two speakers for stereo output from the handset itself.

Nokia has managed to put a 3.5mm headset connector on the 5530 XpressMusic, which is essential for a music-focused phone. However, there are two problems in this regard. The slot is on the bottom edge of the handset rather than being in its optimum location on the top edge. This isn’t a deal-breaker, but more of an issue is that the provided headset is one piece. The headset delivers reasonable quality sound, and benefits from round in-ear buds, but really we’d have preferred a two-piece headset to use our preferred headphones.

Nokia 5530 XpressMusic

All in one headset assembly limits options

There are big, finger friendly shortcuts to contacts and four user configurable apps on the home screen. On the front of the handset just above the screen is the XpressMusic button we first saw in the 5800. Tap this and a menu drops down up giving you access to music, images, video, the Web and online sharing.

Well, we say ‘tap’. Actually it needs a bit of a push to get it to work. But it does mean you have quick access to some key multimedia features wherever you are in the phone. There is also a useful slider on the right edge of the casing for disabling the touchscreen so you can’t make inadvertent screen presses when the handset is in your pocket.

Nokia 5530 XpressMusic

The tab on the right covers the Sim and Micro SD slots

The Sim and Micro SD card both fit into slots on the left edge of the casing. These slots are protected by a single, long, thin, hinged cover. The Sim slides in easily and is likely to stay in situ for a long time. The Micro SD card is more of a bother. You get a 4GB card to augment the phone’s 70MB of built in storage. It is easy enough to get a card into the slot, but a bugger to get the card out.

You need either a long fingernail - which we don’t have - or a pointy object such as a stylus – which the 5530 can provide. The stylus is tucked away in a housing on the back left bottom edge of the casing.

Touch screens should really function without the need for a stylus, and the good news for the Nokia 5530 XpressMusic is that we only found one instance when it was handy – one aspect of the text entry system. But if pinky presses get a bit too random, it’s worth giving the stylus a go.

You have several options here. When the phone is in portrait mode there is a mobile phone style keypad. Switch to landscape mode by turning the handset in your palm and invoking the accelerometer and you can have a Qwerty option. Both can be used with fingers.

Nokia 5530 XpressMusic

Just one of the stereo speaker grilles with call and menu buttons above
Note the dedicated camera button to the right.

There is handwriting recognition in both orientations and for this you probably will need the stylus though you can use a fingernail if you have one. The handwriting recognition system copes fairly well if you write carefully. Dextrous touch-keyboard users will achieve faster text entry. As for the touch interface, S60 Fifth Edition looks and feels very much like the old S60 3rd Edition interface with touch bolted on top. Unlike the iPhone interface, it isn’t designed from the bottom up with touch at the core.

Slight haptic feedback helps but, as with the 5800, we were galled that some options need a double tap while others only need a single. You’ll probably remember the conventions easily enough after a while, but we’d prefer single taps all round for ease of use, speed, and to get rid of that awful pause when you tap and nothing happens.

As well as turning the screen in some – though not all – applications, the accelerometer can be used to silence calls and snooze alarms. You just turn the handset face down in both instances. You can disable these features individually depending on what suits you.

Sample Shots

Nokia 5530 XpressMusic

Click for a full-resolution image

Nokia 5530 XpressMusic

Click for a full-resolution image

Nokia 5530 XpressMusic

Click for a full-resolution image

At 3.2Mp the camera is a pretty unsophisticated affair by Nokia standards, and also features video offering at 640 x 480. The LED flash is small and not much use for anything apart from close range shots. The results are a mixed bag. Sometimes colour reproduction was spot on, but sometimes it was way off the mark.

The sample flower shot is a fair way off colour for example. The camera had difficulty coping with wide ranges of light and dark elements. The sky colour in the landscape shot is all over the place and nowhere near its true colour.

As for the music player, the headphone output could be a tad louder and, as per usual, the stereo widening effect is best avoided – although it does produce some surprises from the gutless low-fi stereo speakers. However, with headphones, phasing artefacts are pronounced and the loudness option kills mid-range sounds too.

Nokia 5530 XpressMusic

Light touch: compromises are inevitable at this price point

Video playback tests of widescreen MP4 content were actually quite watchable. The colours appeared bright and vivid and there’s an aspect ratio option to show the whole of the movie, a zoomed version to fill the screen or a stretched option, presumably to correct squashed 4:3 clips. The speakers are plenty loud and seemed better suited to this sort of content rather than being exposed to the listener’s fidelity expectations with music alone.

Nokia puts battery life at 4.9 hours of talk, 14 days on standby and suggests you’ll get up to 27 hours of music playback. Not in our world. From a full battery charge it managed just over 6 hours of music playback. Ideally we’d want eight hours or more from a phone with music playing pretensions. Still, call quality was fine with it quickly re-establishing reception when emerging from London’s Underground.

Verdict

There are some compromises on features to get to the price, including a screen which borders on being too small for a touchscreen, the absence of 3G and GPS, lacklustre battery life and a mediocre camera. If you are on a budget and want to try the touch edition of S60 then this is your only option, but the overall experience is not in the same ball park as you’ll get with devices whose touch interface is designed from the bottom up, and the absence of higher end features arguably leaves this handset hampered in some key respects. ®

Thanks to Mobiles.co.uk for the loan of the handset.

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