Smartphone head to head: Nokia E61 vs Palm Treo 750v

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Steve Litchfield compares these two thumb-keyboarded communicators...

Putting similar form-factored smartphones from different manufacturers is always interesting, especially so when one of these devices is a much-talked about hybrid of technologies from two previously competing companies.

E61 and 750v

The Nokia E61 is unusual for Nokia, (apart from the E70) their only keyboarded S60 smartphone. The comparison below also applies in the main to the E62, a version for the US market, by the way.

The Palm Treo 750v is the first Europe-marketed Palm Treo running Windows Mobile - gone are the days when Palm and Microsoft are arch-enemies. The Treo 700w (in the USA) and 750v represent Palm's attempt to take the standard Windows Mobile interface and add their own (significant) usability tweaks.

  Nokia E61 Palm Treo 750v
Form factor, build qualityWider, not very phone-like, lighter at 144g, solid, mainly metalNarrower, just about the maximum width acceptable for a 'phone', heavier at 154g, mainly plastic but very solidly built
Screen size, clarity320 by 240 landscape, very large and clear, no touch-screen layer, so good contrast in sunlight240 by 240 square display (unusually), but very clear in most light; dulls a lot in bright sunlight because of touch-screen
Comms optionsAll the usual suspects, including 3G and Wi-FiAs the E61, but no Wi-Fi
Usability, one-handed interfaceYou can't really type one-handed, and it's a stretch to move to the left function key with just the right thumb. Best used two-handed, despite the S60 interfaceAlthough the presence of a touch-screen and stylus might suggest a two-handed interface, Palm (and Microsoft) have done a cracking job at making 98% of operations possible one-handed; with the qwerty keyboard so narrow, you can thumb type one-handed, too
Text inputLarger, superior keyboard, thumb typing quite practicalIn theory, the stylus can be used for input, but there's no point when there's a qwerty keyboard. This is rather fiddly and only recommended for those with medium to small fingers with sensitive finger tips
Impression of speedOnce apps are running in RAM, overall speed is quite acceptable, but you have to become expert to really make the most of thisFaster at almost everything, partly thanks to the faster processor and partly due to efficiencies in Windows Mobile 5
Battery lifeLonger, unless significant use is made of Wi-Fi; charging every two to three days acceptableAcceptable, charging every two days recommended
PhotographyNo camera on E61 or E62An average 1.3 megapixel camera, with tiny lens and over-eager edge-enhancement in software, but surprisingly useful 352 by 288 pixel video capture.
Multimedia3GP and MP4 playback, most clips supported via RealPlayerMost 3GP, MP4 and WMV clips supported, via the flexible Windows Media Player
Office suiteSymbian's Office Suite is very higly featured but opening and saving documents is very slow and there's advanced formatting loss when round-tripping back to the desktopWord Mobile, Excel Mobile and Powerpoint Mobile all included; despite the names, they're very cut down versions from the desktop applications. Still, opening and saving is very fast, the look and feel is familiar and they're pleasant to use, especially with stylus control. There are the same round-trip problems as with the E61's software though
Web browsingHas the 'love it or hate it' Nokia OSS browser - I personally like it when used over Wi-Fi, with data cost not an issue, excellent rendering of web pagesPocket Internet Explorer is better, most of the time, with a choice of rendering modes and good compatibility with many interactive sites. Some pages produce wierd formatting though. Stylus control works well for web browsing, as you'd expect
Third party applicationsA high quality choice of applications, though slightly limited in numberA much higher choice, in theory, although not every Windows Mobile application works perfectly on the smaller Treo 240v screen.
Availability, price£300 SIM-free, or with contract, all networksOnly through Vodafone on contract at the moment (November 2006), SIM-free value after that likely to be £450

You'll have picked up from the comments above that both devices have their strongpoints and that picking an overall winner isn't really possible. It's fair to say that the Treo 750v really surprised me, though. It feels superb in the hand, is quick and responsive and has an acceptable camera. At the end of the day though, the clinching factor for most people is going to be keyboard size - if you're going for a device with a qwerty keyboard then you want one you can use without continual mistakes - the Treo's is perhaps just a little too small, but it's certainly worth a try if you're passing a Vodafone shop.

Now if Nokia produced an E63, with the same form factor plus a good camera....... 8-)

Steve Litchfield, October 30th, 2006

PS. There's a video review of the Palm Treo 750v in Smartphones Show 17