Nokia 5530 XpressMusic Review: Best Touch-Screen Phone Under $200

3 May

Everyone’s hawing and hemming about the latest super high-end handset, which means the low-ends don’t get much love. And it’s really too bad, because the 5530 XpressMusic is one of the most capable el cheapo phones out there. More inside.

Hardware

The 5530 XpressMusic is a pretty pocketable phone. It’s small, thin, and fairly lightweight. It’s also solidly built, and not as cheap-feeling as the 5800 XpressMusic. Carrying it around was a heck of a lot more preferable than lugging around my monster-sized N97, despite the loss of a couple key features.

It’s interesting to note that, while the 5800 XpressMusic had actual buttons (Send/End/Menu) on its face, Nokia has opted to make those keys touch-sensitive areas. It works well, and I actually prefer these buttons to the tactile versions. It’s much easier to press in one-handed operation. The XpressMusic shortcut key is still not customizable, but works well for quick access to what will probably be your most used functions anyway. (with the exception being the “Share Online” shortcut, this is garbage)

Moving on to the display, I found the 5530XM touch-screen on par with the 5800 XpressMusic – that is to say, it could be a little bit more sensitive, a la N97.

Software

Even though the 5530XM runs the same flavor of Symbian S60 Fifth Edition as the N97 and 5800XM, it brings a few improvements to the table. Kinetic scrolling, long missing from the latter two phones (although recently added to the N97), is *almost* present everywhere: apparently someone at Nokia forgot to add it to the main menu. Transitions between screens are surprisingly fluid, and the phone gives you the feeling that it’s faster than it probably is. It definitely ups the user experience.

Frequent readers might recall a certain blog post I made a couple of months ago which came to the conclusion that the 5800 XpressMusic’s onscreen keyboard is mostly a piece of junk. I am unhappy to report that this has not been remedied in the 5530 XpressMusic. The keyboard is still horrible, and more or less forces you to type below a certain speed to avoid missing letters. The problem is that keys don’t fire when you touch them – they fire when you let go. This means that if you’re hitting two keys in rapid succession, only the second one will register. Please fix this Nokia.

The web browser is based on WebKit, and renders webpages reasonably well. It’s not perfect, however. There’s two issues: first, there’s a lack of kinetic scrolling that’s evident when browsing nearly every page – you’re stuck having to “backscratch” the touch-screen to scroll down. It’s an obvious oversight, and I’m not sure why this wasn’t picked up during testing. And second, visiting certain sites like Gizmodo causes the application to suddenly quit. No warning. No error message. At least you get a nice transition out effect.

Data speeds on AT&T’s EDGE ran an average of 153.05 kbps down (20 KBps), compared to the 292.8 kbps theoretical max of the device. 20 KBps doesn’t sound too quick, but strangely enough I didn’t have a problem with EDGE. It was certainly browsable. (speed tests measured with mobilespeedtests.com)

Call Quality

As well as can be expected from a typical Nokia – that is to say, very good. The only problems I had were due to AT&T’s crapper network. Voices came over clearly, and I had no problems in this department.

Multimedia

The stereo speakers on the 5530XM, like the 5800XM, are very, very good. It’s hard to say which is better – my money’s on the 5800, but either way, music sounds great, and different from the typical “tinny” can speakers that are in most cell phones these days. Note that the Music Player on the 5530XM is the old version, not the newer one that’s present in the latest N97 update.

I also attempted to watch some YouTube clips – they worked, but the quality was so lousy that, in one tennis match, I could barely make out the players. Streaming video is probably not the 5530XM’s strong point.

The 5530XM includes some preinstalled games like the infamous Bounce, Trivial Pursuit, and Asphalt 4, American Idol, and Global Race Raging Thunder. After trying Bounce, I came to the realization that the 5530 simply can’t handle any serious 3D game – Bounce was choppy, laggy, and the controls are just plain lousy (no accelerometer support in this version). Trivial Pursuit, on the other hand, was a nice time-waster even though the computer cheated like hell.

Battery Life

In one word: excellent. I was able to go almost six days straight of random light/moderate usage before the phone crapped out on me, and that’s simply amazing. By comparison, I can only go, at best, two days on my N97 with the same usage. Sure, you can’t just compare the two like that (3G and a larger screen are probably a big reason why), but the 5530 XpressMusic is still a winner in my book when it comes to battery life.

Final Conclusions

I’d call the 5530 XpressMusic a budget phone that doesn’t feel like a budget phone. It’s got a lot going for it: solid yet lightweight, great battery life, amazing speakers. And it’s super cheap. Cheap enough that it can be found pretty consistently well below the $200 range, and it’s well worth it for the money. Of course, if you’re looking for GPS, or 3G, or an OS other than S60 Fifth Edition, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Isometric view of the 5530 XpressMusic.
Another view of the 5530XM, with the original XpressMusic sticker.
Bottom of the 5530 XpressMusic.
Top view of the 5530 XpressMusic - power button.
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