Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
8/24/2011 5:58:06 PM
Sharp screen, decent web experience, NFC capability
Lack of apps, only 2GB of storage, Symbian Belle still not as intuitive as Android of iOS
Nokia knows how to squeeze the last drop of juice out of a lemon, even an extremely acidic one that’s corroded the Finnish giant’s fortunes. The Symbian operating system – the company’s own OS that’s been one of the reasons Nokia has fallen from market leader to a battered loss-maker – is still alive, kicking and powering its latest smartphone, the 700. And Nokia knows Symbian is a wet kipper as the manufacturer is about to jump ship to Windows Phone 7. And despite Symbian having just been given a brand new update named “Belle”, it’s hard to shrug off the feeling the OS is lying on its deathbed, coughing and spluttering, waiting for Nokia to put it out of its misery.
Back to the 700, and starting with the surface, this is an alluring, sexy piece of kit. Slim, small and stylish, it looks super sassy and will get you agreeable nods when waved in front of friends. Measuring up at 110x50.7x9.7mm and weighing just 96g, this is one of the most compact smartphones out there (it even fits snugly in that little jeans pocket you use for coins) and will please those who value their pocket real estate.On the top sits a 3.5mm headphone jack, micro USB port and a connecter for Nokia’s mains charger (why it’s not a USB mains charger we’ll never know). The right flank holds the volume rocker, a lock button and camera button, all three of which are incredibly small and not so easy to find using muscle memory alone (although the tininess does help the phone maintain its trim shape). The left side holds sod all, and on the bottom you’ll find a bizarre-looking step.It’s a speaker grill poking out, looking almost like a stubbly unshaven chin, and when you see it your first reaction will be to try and slide the screen up, almost as if it’s got a vertical slide-out keyboard à la BlackBerry Torch 9810 (you’ll try and slide it knowing damn well it’s not going to move). Stare at the speaker for a while and eventually you’ll see a metallic smiling face, inoffensive and almost cute. Just above the speaker is a long rectangular strip with three buttons, Answer, Home and Bye.For a phone so small, the screen is impressive enough. The 3.2-inches of AMOLED Gorilla glass almost covers the entire phone, while the 360x640 resolution makes for a sharp 229ppi. It’s bright, colour-rich and the touch-screen is perfectly responsive. And while 3.2-inches isn’t ideal for full films (that said, keep in mind it’s only 0.3-inches short of an iPhone 4) we watched a few movie trailers and they looked pin-perfect. The Nokia 700 doesn’t disappoint one bit with its physical form and reminds us of Sony Ericsson’s superb Xperia Ray. It also reminds us how good the Finnish company can be at putting together extremely polished pieces of hardware.But unlike the Ray, which runs on the latest Android Gingerbread and has access to almost half a million apps, the Nokia 700 uses software that, as we’ve already discussed, has restraints. Symbian Belle is quite a leap forward from previous versions of the OS (it looks a lot cleaner and sharper for a start) – so much so in fact that anyone used to Android will be alarmed at the similarities between the two.
Belle, like Android, has multiple homepages (up to six) that you can customise to the hills with all your favourite shortcuts and widgets. Nokia Social lets you fuse your Facebook and Twitter accounts together into one widget so all your friends’ Tweets and inane “Eating a sandwich” status updates will flash up as they’re posted, and once you’ve signed in with your email accounts (which takes almost no time at all) you can see your emails pop up as they arrive. And like with Android (and now iPhone users armed with iOS 5) there’s a notification drop-down bar keeping everything in one nice and neat list. It not only keeps all your emails, messages and social networking feeds organised, but also gives you quick access to connectivity controls like Wi-Fi and Silence. It’s so like Android it’s almost alarming, and we applaud Nokia for the huge improvements, however unoriginal they may be. Hitting the Home button toggles you back and forth from the Android-alike homepages to a menu screen, one that’s more reminiscent to the iPhone with its simple grid layout.The software feels tighter and faster with Belle than it did with its older sister, Symbian Anna. It’s more intuitive and much nippier with no lag during navigation. But this is almost certainly because this phone packs a single-core 1GHz processor – a long way behind the dual-core 1.2GHz monsters that power Android heavyweights the Samsung Galaxy S II and HTC Sensation, but a lot more meaty than the 600MHz tofu-processors found in the last batch of Symbian-powered Nokias.Things turn sour when you crack open the apps store (for which you’ll need an Ovi account that takes a few minutes to set up). The marketplace, once called “Ovi Store” and now rebranded as the “Nokia Store”, has improved over the last few months, but it’s still dire when stacked up next to its Android and Apple counterparts. It’s grossly under-stocked, and has some of the most appalling pieces of software we’ve ever seen languishing at the top of its lists (Adventure of Ted will make your gums bleed) and many apps that are here are often much more expensive than they are on the other markets. You’ll get the biggies like Facebook and Angry Birds but if you’re an app monster you’ll be hugely unimpressed with the dismal offerings.Plus points include fast A-GPS with Nokia Maps (which wipes the floor with Google Maps) and the five-megapixel snapper with flash that take decent pictures with nicely balanced colours and good clarity – certainly good enough for a mid-range phone. And it’s got NFC for contactless payment, although how much use that’ll be remains to be seen.
If the Nokia 700 had access to the Android store it’d easily have nabbed another star – it’s a tasty little trumpet with an operating system that’s starting to show promise (just as we suspect it’s about to be killed off), but the lack of apps put this phone firmly behind the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray in the desirability stakes.