Looking rather like the Blackberry mobile device, the Nokia E61 is clearly targeted at people who need a proper keyboard on the move who need to work with documents and stay in email contact. A quick glance at the specs shows two welcome additions that help (and the lack of a camera means that you'll be able to use this phone when data policies forbid devices with cameras).
The first is Wi-Fi, which allows almost seamless connectivity via a hotspot when you don't want to pay the mobile phone chargers. The Series 60 Symbian-based operating system is set up to ask which connection point an application will use whenever it is asked to go online. So when you request a web page you get a dialog coming up asking you how to connect to the internet, either search for a hotspot, or through your network. And there's very little headache setting up the network, as the E61 has a built in database of all the settings for the majority of the world's providers. It checks your SIM, decides the most appropriate network, and does the setup itself in the background. Very nice, and another little touch that helps the mass market adopt these phones - they'll just work out the box for you.
The E61 has one of the largest amounts of built in flash memory with 1GB of storage, which is a lot more than you need for a few names and addresses (if this isn't enough the E61 takes an SD card for even more storage). This is so you can make best use of the second major addition... the built in office software. The E61 comes bundled with a full word processor, spreadsheet and PowerPoint presentation editor, all of which use the Microsoft Office file formats. This coupled with both the default email client and the PC connectivity means that you can work on your documents while away from your computer.
The PC Suite allows seamless synchronisation of your PIM Data (Outlook, Outlook Express, Lotus Notes or Lotus Organiser) and contrary to what you may have heard, it's as reliable as Palm's HotSync or MS ActiveSync. The PC Suite is now a very mature product and you will see your E61 show up as another disk drive in Windows Explorer, allowing you to move files back and forward to work on them as needed.
Sporting a landscape orientated QVGA screen that feels larger than on the other (portrait orientated) Nokia devices, the E61 can put a lot on display if needed - the email client shows as many inbox messages as it can. Compare this to the contacts screen, where the font size is increased. The assumption being that you need a clearer view when dialling as you bounce down the street is borne out in practice. The large screen is a great bonus in pretty much every operation, from reading email and browsing the web, to the aforementioned document editing.
Can the E61 replace a laptop? Not completely, but it is the smartphone that comes the closest to doing so. If you're on a day trip away from the office, then you can certainly rely on the E61 to keep you working, connected.
It looks like a smartphone, does everything you'd expect, and has plenty left over to continue to surprise you.