Smartphones are a little like restaurants in Manhattan: There's always a newer, hipper one coming along. And for the most part, they keep getting better.

Nokia's ( NOK) E62 for Cingular is the mobile-phone giant's long awaited entry into the BlackBerry fracas.

Fans of phones with mini computer keyboards like the leader Research In Motion's ( RIMM) BlackBerry will find this serious thumb-dandy a winner.

In addition to BlackBerry email, the E62 is packed with great features, such as a browser that gives a slide show of your Web page viewing history instead of the usual URL list, which makes for quicker and prettier navigation.

In fact, the graphics are so good on this phone that you too will likely find yourself immersed in the golf game that comes preloaded.

On the downside, though, the E62 comes stripped down on Internet speed.

Not only is there no WiFi capability -- an odd omission given the office user/hotspot soaker target audience -- but the product designers opted for the underpowered EDGE wireless technology instead of the faster 3G technology that is available in all Cingular's big markets.

The EDGE speeds are fine for email, but too slow for most Web viewing.

However, unlike the Motorola ( MOT) Q for Verizon ( VZ) or Palm's ( PALM) Sprint ( S) Treo , this Nokia does BlackBerry, the most popular mobile office email system.

It's also set up to work with Good Technology, another big-business email server, recently picked up by Motorola.

As a BlackBerry, the Nokia E62 is better than most of the RIM handset lineup.

The QWERTY-style keyboard is easy to use, despite its tiny size. It has a programmable button that you can set to launch the music player or whatever shortcut you desire.

It also has a dedicated "@" key, a key feature missing from some other email phones.

The E62 is a great email phone, but it does have some stiff competition in the wonder-phone category since it lacks a camera, WiFi and 3G Net speed.

Not only is there the thinner Motorola Q phone and a new crop of cheaper Treos (a traditional favorite), but newcomers like the HTC Dash for T-Mobile, Samsung's new BlackJack for Cingular and the compact BlackBerry Pearl will give the E62 tough competition for the top choice among gadget lovers.

To the Test

In the hand, the E62 is just over a half-inch thick, and about the size of a thin PDA.

It has a distinctively solid feel, thanks in part to its metal-back plate. But the drawback to cold steel is that it's a little slippery to hold. (Of all the phones I've used, none made me more certain that a disastrous drop on the pavement was imminent.)

The hard shell and sleek design are complemented by a three-inch diagonal LCD screen and a fairly nimble operating system.

While the E62 does bog down occasionally when fielding a lot of requests, it's never as bad as the fall-down, freeze-up performance that users of Windows Mobile 5 smartphones have endured on many occasions.

But for the business class, Nokia's BlackBerry replacement will be seen as a big improvement from some of the fat, squat units from RIM it's been tethered to.

In another shrewd move by Nokia and Cingular, the E62 comes preloaded with Golf Pro 2. The three-dimensional video game is very challenging and clever, and the rich-colored, depth-emulating screen makes for a thoroughly engaging experience. The BlackBerry crowd finally can have something a little more fun than BrickBreaker.

Consumers, however, may find the absence of a camera or fast Internet a deal killer.

How slow is it? In the New York City area, a region not particularly light on wireless infrastructure, the phone had surprisingly frequent Internet connection timeouts.

Overall, Net speed is painfully slow. Where other phones like the Q and the Treo manage to deliver Web sites in 15 seconds or better, the Cingular network can take more than a minute to load some of the same pages.

But while the network isn't so hot, the screen is scorching.

The E62's black screen background is the sweetest visual improvement since color displays. White letters and color graphics appear in clear, almost soothing, contrast. The viewing is good indoors, and surprisingly easy to read in direct sunlight. Unlike conventional white backgrounds that resemble computer screens and suck up lots of power, the dark background saves some juice.

Speaking of juice, the E62 goes for about two days before it conks out. One ridiculous annoyance -- the USB cable that syncs with a PC doesn't recharge your battery, unlike other smartphones.

New Cingular customers who sign on for two years will pay $100 for this phone. That's about the same offer BlackBerry shoppers will get, but below some of the hipper wonder-phones arriving on the scene.

The E62 is Nokia's best BlackBerry imitation; no doubt the next one will be even better.



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