Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
6/6/2011 5:51:45 PM
Excellent email, free sat-nav, decent touch-screen
Occasional lags, clunky Symbian OS, lack of apps, bloated homescreen setup
Nokia was once great amongst geeks and no other was greater than its Communicator mini-PC range. The E90 in 2007 was the last to carry the name, but it's now been revived in the E7 - even as Nokia announces its intent to ditch Symbian for a partnership with Microsoft exclusively making Windows Phone 7 smartphones. For narrative value, the good looking, powerful E7 would have been a great swansong for Symbian, but unfortunately, its dated Symbian software makes it incredibly frustrating to use.
Outwardly, this is one professional looking phone. A classy metal casing gives it a nice heft, while the four-inch touch-screen boasts Nokia's ClearBlack display and a 360x640 pixels resolution. The touch tech itself is nicely implemented, with a lovely muted haptic blip to show your touch has been recognised. Below the screen sits the home button, which also doubles as all-programs when you're actually home. On the sides are a dedicated camera button which can launch the snapper when pressed and held, volume control and a lock-screen switch.
There's also an HDMI port for watching HD content from the phone on an HDTV.All's well and good until you try to use one of its defining features - a four-line slide-out QWERTY on a recalcitrant sliding mechanism that requires a lot of pressure to activate. Once you do, the keyboard flies out with a resounding snap that feels like it could trap your fingers. The board itself is great to type on, though smaller hands will feel a bit of a stretch as there's a set of direction keys that move the center of the keyboard farther to the left than usual.
Symbian^3, which is meant to be a refresh on the old-school Symbian found on Nokia's more elderly smartphones, arms the phone with a business-like look that's all rectangular edges and uniform widgets. You get three home screens to customise with the stuff you use most, though one of the more annoying features is that you can't directly add app shortcuts to the home screen - you have to add a shortcut widget to which you then add the apps. Inexplicably, Nokia has removed the tiny clock-time that sits in the top corner of just about any phone, and replaced it with a full-sized clock and weather widget that you can't remove. The OS is a cosmetic improvement on past versions, but it's no competitor to the tactile usability of Android and iPhone systems, nor is it as efficient as the more straitlaced BlackBerry OS.
The E7 has the full lineup of smartphone features: email, web, sat-nav, camera and social networking, Nokia style. There's a preloaded shortcut to setting up all the accounts you'll need, though for social networking, you need to first create an Ovi account in order to use Nokia's Facebook/Twitter offering. It's an annoying extra step, but then again, Android phones require a Gmail account to activate.
Using the phone via a combination of touch-screen and keyboard is generally comfortable, and the touch-screen is responsive enough that the virtual keyboards, which appear as a T9-style number pad in portrait orientation and QWERTY in landscape, are highly usable for entering text too.
Making a call is simple - you can just type in the first few letters of a contact's name to bring up their profile - but the text message interface is clunkier. To add a recipient, you have to tap the contacts book, start writing the friend's name, select them, then select the method you want to contact them by.
A 680MHz processor puts the device below the latest batch of 1GHz-packing superphones, but unlike, say the iPhone, it does 'true' multitasking though, allowing programs to run in the background so you can, for example, check your emails while waiting for a webpage to load. Everything grinds to halt when around eight programs are open, with a popup message warning you to shut something down - which you can at least do via the multitasking menu, unlike on Android phones. Perhaps due to its multitasking abilities is the very mediocre battery life - we clocked up around nine hours with Wi-Fi on, but no music or sat-nav. If you want the phone to last through your after-work drinks, you'd better be charging it at your desk.
Though its four-inch screen is plenty big enough for comfy web browsing, the browser itself is clumsily set up so that when you hit the bottom right to display address bar, at least half the real estate is taken up by the resulting boxes to help you navigate to the next page. If you want to go back a page, the Back button takes you to a carousel of previously visited pages. It's kind of useful, if rather counterintuitive to what most other phones offer.
The same goes for the social networking app, which comprises Facebook and Twitter feeds. Unnecessarily large bars on the bottom and right obscure the activity feed that is the meat of the page, while on Twitter, there's actually no ability to retweet, only favourite and reply.
Things pick up a bit with the eight-megapixel camera, which has auto-focus, face focus and a dual LED flash. There are tons of pre- and post-production tools you can use to tweak your photos, including preset scene modes, exposure/contrast setting as well as cropping, rotating and colour correction. There's a cool bit where you can pinch the screen to adjust the aspect ratio between widescreen and 4:3.
Shots we took in daylight looked decent, but showed pixilation when zoomed in. Colours are a little darker than in real life, but when we adjusted exposure, light colours became over exposed. There's a certain artistic aesthetic to it all, though it's nowhere near a point and shoot, as the earlier N8 was.
There are two giant redeeming features on the E7 - top of the line email and sat nav. You can sync up to 10 email accounts, with inbox widgets automatically popping up on the home screen. The email app lets you easily switch between different accounts, while keyboard shortcuts let you reply, compose and delete emails with alacrity. The white text on black background is plain but efficient for what it needs to do.
Whether its Microsoft Exchange server email or webmail, new messages dropped in immediately and sometimes arrived before they showed up on our desktop account. If you really, truly only want a phone for email, the E7 would certainly own it. Meanwhile, Nokia's totally free Ovi Maps is a comprehensive sat nav replacement, particularly on the E7's comfortable screen. The GPS is accurate to the door number, and the software has tons of features - voice directions, the ability to set a 'home', and Michelin and TripAdvisor add-ons for info on what's nearby with user reviews.
Business features get a look in too, with a copy of QuickOffice, Notes, PDF reader and even a zip file maker. Voice Reader reads back your text messages, with surprisingly accurate rendition too.
The most frustrating about the E7 is that it has so very many features and cool bits - and it gets most of them wrong because of the Symbian OS that just isn't made for immediate, intuitive user experience most people expect in the superphone era. Clunky, confusing and rife with holdover glitches from olden Symbian, the E7 could be good for email and sat nav if these features weren't totally overpowered by how very annoying the phone is to use.