Nokia E61: And I thought Microoft Was the King of the Customer Beta

by Moshe Yudkowsky

I've got my Nokia E61, and after a lot of fiddling with it I've decided to keep it. I think I can make it work, but the darn thing still feels like a beta release to me. I thought Microsoft was the King of the "let's release this beta to the customers and see what happens" school of product development; but Nokia certainly knows how to take the shine off a new toy.

Here's a list of gripes. I would definitely love to see some suggested solutions, by the way, so feel free to chime in with comments.

  • Wireless access. The E61 has a wireless network — but not all applications they've shipped have a clue on how to access it. The built-in web browser, for example, doesn't seem to be smart enough to use the phones "access point groups," the set of pre-defined wireless access points that I know about and have passwords for. In other words, even though I've entered this info, the web browser doesn't bother to use it. Other applications seem to have the same issue.


    Oh, and wireless access seems to come with some undocumented feature called "Easy WLAN," which I may have accidentally turned off and can no longer find. Never could figure out how it worked, as it was always asking me the same questions over and again.

  • Speaking of questions over and again, each time I accessed my email through TLS and the email client hit my non-standard TLS ceritificate, it asked me again if it were acceptable. No memory, and no option to save the certificate as trusted.

  • And speaking of non-standard, there's a so-called "IM" client that uses SMS to send and receive "chat" messages. In other words, nothing to use WiFi networking for IM, and nothing that does Jabber protocol. Very mysterious — one of the biggest reasons to get WiFi is free chat, and no free chat client is included.

  • Speaking of mysterious, I can't get my VoIP service to register from the phone. I use ViaTalk. I can get Gizmo to register; I can get pbxes.com to register ViaTalk, and I can register my phone as a pbxes.com extension and make calls outbound from ViaTalk (although dropping the European-style "+" from my phone numbers is a bit tricky), and my local softphone doesn't have problems registering itself as a ViaTalk phone. ViaTalk won't register from the E61, and I can't find any way to get any information out of the phone as to why it won't register.


    Admittedly, with pbxes.com working, it's hardly necessary to have a dual-use system where I use the E61 or the ATA/deskphone combination alternatively — but I'm still somewhat attached to my desk phone, for sentimental reasons. And besides, darn it, the E61 should register. (And ViaTalk's just isn't interested, and sent me off to Nokia.)

    Registration troubles took quite a lot of time to sort out.

  • Speaking of registration troubles, if I want to use this phone to talk to a service that doesn't need to register — e.g., to my Prophecy VoiceXML/CCXML/SIP server — I can't do it. The E61 insists that you register. There's no way I can find that lets me use the phone without registering; e.g., enter in the phone's SIP ID as "moshe@${LOCALHOST}" as my current name for the purposes of VoIP telephony and let the system sort out what my current IP address is. If I'm not registered I can't call out. Huh? Behind the firewall, I often make calls without any proxies or registration.


So, to summarize, this phone has some interesting potential. I can sort of get it to work; I managed to figure out how to turn on SMS with T-Mobile; I deleted T-Mobile's annoying t-zones service that attempts to hijack my connections. But the most important thing, the ability to connect to ViaTalk via WiFi, isn't happening, and other things that do happen, happen in a half-baked way.

Well, I'm running version 3.x of the software. Maybe next year they'll get it right. In the meantime I'll probably keep the phone... if I can persuade it to talk to my Prophecy server.

8 Comments

Cos
2007-03-27 03:26:54
I've had the E60, E61 and E70 working with Cisco's CallManager Express (using SIP, not the SCCP client that may or may not be available in the v3 firmware), but my experiences fiddling with the phones to get everything working put me off using one as a day to day device. I'm disappointed to hear the v3 firmware's still troublesome - a co-worker just got ours upgraded today...
Stan
2007-07-03 01:03:34
I get frustrated with the e61 too. My gripe of the day is that it is advertised as supporting VPN connections but this doesn't actually work unless you buy and install Nokia's VPN server software on your corporate network. Good luck convincing the IT guys to do that.
Root
2007-09-14 17:20:06
Hmm...and here I thought O'Reilly Was The King Of Things Tech. a) When this article was posted, the mobile in question had been out more than a year in Europe. It was also already one of the best selling smartphones ever. Hardly a beta product. But I guess, if you're in the US, you think everything is new when you got it. b) The browser does know of your access points, just go into settings and tell if you want one as default or if you want to be asked which one to use each time you launch the browser. c) The mail app works like a charm with normal IMAP, and over air push of Exchange. Also tried it with Zimbra. In both cases mails, calendar events and contacts instantly arrive. d) VOIP works well in a lot of different configs: I've successfully used Skype, Gizmo and standard SIP. e) There are several IM apps which consolidates AIM, MSN, Yahoo, Google Talk, etc. There's even one that also consolidates them plus IP voice for Skype and Google Talk. f) Also a very good Podcast app, if you want to listen on the go. g) Am still very surprised that you can get to write a 'tech report' on O'Reilly with such dismal research. On the other hand, even filing this phone under 'emerging' when I've had one for over a year seems like there are editorial problems as well.
Moshe Yudkowsky
2007-09-16 05:58:10
Goodness me, I have to confess that I am an American.


Other than that, I suggest that "Root" re-read what I wrote. The specific technical deficiencies I've listed have not magically healed themselves.

Root
2007-10-19 16:11:18
Hmmm...maybe you need to re-read it yourself. The majority of the thing you have problems with are obviously third party software troubles. But as you say you would like to see suggested solutions, here's run down:


a) The built in browser knows, and has known all the time - it's not something Nokia has magically healed - how to use the predefined access points and access point groups. Just launch it, go under Options/Settings and what is the first thing you can set? The access point.


b) EASY WLAN is the same thing as going to Menu/Connections/Connection Manager, but without leaving your app. In other words, you use it to 'quick find' an access point if you are somewhere where you haven't already predefined one. Don't know how you managed to delete it, but that doesn't seem like a problem with the phone. The reason it asks the same questions over again is because you typically use it in a new place, with a new hot spot, and thus need to go through the same set up questions you do for every access point configuration.


c) Certificates can be handled in the Applications Manager. There go can tell apps not to care about them.


d) The fact that the phone doesn't come with an IM app pre-installed is not really a valid gripe, is it? Nokia can't stuff everything in there. Especially when the whole Symbian sphere is teaming with software. Let me suggest Fring (www.fring.com), which lets you chat with Skype, Google Talk (Jabber), ICQ, Twitter and MSN users. (If you miss AIM/iChat in that mix, you can just register your Google Talk/Jabber account with a Jabber server that has an AIM transport). And here's the kicker: Of course this includes voice. Yes, you can audio chat with Skype and Google Talk buddies et cetera. And to make it extra easy, the app also does SIP.


e) Again, your problems with ViaTalk sound like third party issues, You should probably ViaTalk about that. The phone works fine and dandy with at least three different VOIP set ups: 1) Gizmo/pbxes.com, 2) Challenger Mobile and 3) Truphone. Gizmo has also released a client for the E61, so if you don't want the hassle of making SIP settings, you can download that and it works like the desktop client.


Truphone is interesting, in that they give you a client that does the configuring for you, but you don't need it to call - you use the regular phone interface for that. Truphone also works with Google Talk, so on top of normal VOIP calls you can make audio calls to people on Google Talk, and they can call you. This week Truphone also did a demo on an iPhone, so that would increase the numbers of Truphone users you can VOIP call for free... :-)


f) You can use the phone perfectly well unregistered. You can for instance have several SIP profiles, and have them all unregistered, and than register the one you want to use prior to using it. (If it is a service which wants registering.) But you can also have all of them unregistered. Just go into the SIP profile and change "Always" to "When necessary".


As you see, non of these issues are or were technical deficiencies with the phone. Nokia hasn't 'magically healed' them. Nor could they, since 4 of your 5 points related to third party software issues. But even those were fixable. Although I am the first to agree that you shouldn't have to read a manual for a mobile phone, in this case it would have helped. But only because SIP things are still a bit technical and the E61 configuration method doesn't help.


But that is not the same as saying that it's not working. I'm IM:ing and SIP:ing over WiFi everyday with Fring, Truphone and Gizmo. And having mobile access to IM over 3G is extra handy if you are out and about a lot, but still need to be in touch with those Skype or Google Talk contacts.

Moshe Yudkowsky
2007-10-30 04:59:19
Root,


I've been out of the office, and I wasn't able to approve your comment to appear on the web site until this morning.


While what you've written is correct from a technical viewpoint, and is valuable to the new user, it doesn't really address the deficiencies I mention. I've just had the opportunity to use my E61 in Japan for a couple of weeks, which in some way highlighted even more of the unfinished edges in the phone.


One annoyance is that there's no simple way to unequivocally turn off the WiFi signal. For use on an airplane, that's deadly. I might be able to set both my Pbxes profile and my Truphone profile, manually, to "as needed," and WLAN reporting to "never," but does that really turn off wireless? I am not certain, and without access to the router itself I won't know. For a business phone for a business traveler, it's amazing that there's no simple method to disable wireless access.


As you state, I can enter a certificate into the phone's DB of trusted certificates -- but how? Logically, when I view the certificate during the email connection process, I should be able to decide then and there to enter the certificate into the db -- but the phone doesn't let me; there's no such option. So how am I supposed to enter the email certificate? I have to hunt around for a copy, download it to the phone, and then save it into the db. Again, this is not only cumbersome, but beyond the capabilities of the general public.


I take these deficiencies, and the others to which you've provided workarounds, to be evidence of a beta feel to the product.


I am not certain about the battery life issues that I've seen and experienced on this phone; I'm running some experiments right now to see if the short battery life I'm experiencing is due to 3G vs. UMTS or if it's an artifact of using Truphone. I am also very disappointed that Nokia hasn't issued any recent firmware updates for the phone; I feel abandoned.


Oh, and if you try to use the phone in the Kyoto train station to access their (for-pay) wireless network, the browser crashes -- it suddenly exits entirely with no error message. I wonder what that's about...

John
2007-11-05 02:41:43
Moshe,
the E61 does have an "offline" profile that turns off all wireless connections. It is detailed in the manual. Easiest way to activate is to gently press the power switch and scroll down to "offline".
John
Moshe Yudkowsky
2007-11-05 03:06:03
John,


When I read the manual, I couldn't decipher what "offline" actually took offline -- did "offline" include WLAN or not? The manual doesn't say so explicitly (I can't put my hands on the manual at the moment, but that's my recollection). When I do put the phone into offline mode for airplane travel, I still see the wireless logo in the upper right-hand corner of the phone, even though the cellular connectivitiy icon is replaced by "offline." The clear implication, as presented the telephone's icons, is that WLAN is on even though cellular access is off.


I just tried the phone in offline mode, and I see that if the phone is in offline mode and I attempt to reach a web site, it asks explicitly if it should create WLAN connection in offline mode. Hmmm... so perhaps offline really does take WLAN offline.


Oh, and it also seems that the phone has managed to forget (because I swapped SIM-cards?) my office's WLAN password...


I use this phone, but I'm disappointed by it.