[Note: Pictures pending, I need to retake them]
A few months ago I bought an unlocked Samsung BlackJack II on eBay, and shortly after receiving it I was ready to dump it. In a word, it was crap. It was awfully slow, had a painfully laggy keyboard, didn’t have very good battery life and it picked up fingerprints like nothing else. It was genuinely hopeless, and after a month it made it’s way back onto eBay and out of my life forever.
I went back to my trusty N95 8GB, which had served me faithfully for several months, perfect for me in every way except one: the keyboard. It had an excellent number pad, but I despise using T9, I’m not terribly good at it. I like to have a key for every letter, that’s how I roll. I wanted a smartphone with a thumboard again, but nothing on the market suited. Windows Mobile seems to have lost the plot somewhere, Sony Ericsson’s UIQ devices are old and outdated, and the only Nokia available in a similar form-factor to the BJII was the E61i, which is too wide, ugly and old. Was is the operative word in that sentence, because the phone that I have wanted since I first read about it has been released, and I have since passed the N95 8GB onto my sister as I won’t be needing it anymore.
The phone is the Nokia E71, and it’s brilliant. Since buying it last week, and I haven’t been able to find a single problem with it. Nokia manage to make some crap sometimes, but they do get a lot right, and in the E71 that have created near-perfection.
The E-series devices have been designed as business communicators, with form following function. The original E61 was very sleek, but it was Blackberry-style wide and unwieldy. The E61i added a new d-pad, a low-res camera on the back, and not much else. The E62 was just a 3G-less E61i for the North American market (NAM, as you guys like to call it ).
Someone at Nokia realised that you don’t have to dispence with the pleasantries to make a functional smartphone.
The E71 is very similar inside to the E90, with HSDPA, WiFi, BT, GPS and FM radios, a 3.2MP autofocus camera (with LED flash), over 100MB free internal memory and a microSD card slot for expansion. Outside, however, they are very, very different. While the E90 is quite large and ungainly, the E71 is super sleek and stylish.
The E71 reminds me a lot of the Nokia 8800 Arte I tested recently. While seriously expensive, the the 8800 Arte was of the highest quality, with a metal case and solid feel. Nokia have performed the same trick here, with almost completely metal exterior, and quality-feeling plastic everywhere else. Fit and finish is outstanding, from the stainless steel battery cover to the fabulous keyboard. The bezel around the front of the phone is very glossy and reflective, yet it manages to remain relatively fingerprint free. I would go as far as to say the E71 is one of the best looking phones on the market, right up there with the iPhone.
If you are considering an E71, it is probably because of the thumboard. If you are, then you should place an order right now. I’ve tested quite a few thumboards over the past few years, and the E71 would be the absolute best when it comes to feel, speed and response. The BlackJack II I had for a month (bought and sold) had simply attrocious keyboard lag, so bad that it would often miss keypresses if you were typing quickly enough. It didn’t feel that great either. The E71 has absolutely no lag. None, zip, nada, zilch. It has a really nice feel as well, with good travel to let you know you’ve pressed the button, and no click-clack as you do so.
I’ve been using the E61i keyboard for a few days, and it doesn’t feel anywhere near as good. The keys are stiff and squishy, requiring too much force to activate and offering little feedback that they have actually been pressed. The E90 has a similar feel, which I don’t like either. The spacing between the keys has been eliminated all together, which may make it a tad difficult if you have large hands. I don’t, so it’s not a problem for me, so if you have large hands I’d recommend giving it a try first. The feel is bang on, but the close-quarters may be the clincher.
The easy of pressing them makes the E71 keyboard a lot faster for me, but die-hard E61 users may not have this problem.
The backlighting is a nice, soft, white glow that illuminates the keyboard evenly and clearly in all lighting conditions. The light sensors determines when the backlight is needed and turns it on accordingly.
Like most phones of this design, there is no dedicated number row, instead the numbers appear in a cluster towards the middle of the keyboard. The software on the E71 has obviously been tweaked to work properly with this layout, as you very rarely need to hold the function key to get numbers where only numbers are available. Setting times, dates, phone numbers, etc. all automatically recognise you want numbers.
One thing I did notice missing from the E61i was contact searching from the homescreen. If you pushed letter keys nothing happened. That was one of the more useful features of Windows Mobile Smartphone, and it’s nice to see Nokia has implemented a similar setup on the E71. Pressing letters begins typing, and you can very quickly narrow down your search to the person you want. It works with the letters with the number keys on them as well.
Not only can you make calls using the homescreen search, you can select the persons name and send them an email, SMS, or make a video call.
The navigation buttons are thoughtfully layed out and very functional. There are three programmable buttons on the front of the phone, with labels for Calendar, Contacts and Messaging. Since my most accessed apps on my phone are Opera Mini, Windows Live Messenger and Email, I set the actions for these buttons accordingly. To make them even more useful, you can set press-and-hold actions as well, to which I set Calendar, Camera (there is no camera button) and Music Player.
On the homescreen, the two softkeys can be programmed too, bringing the total to 8 applications on the homescreen, and 6 everywhere else. It’s fantastic
If you do need an application that isn’t hotkeyed, you’ll have to venture into the main menu by pressing the Home key. This key flips between the homescreen and the main menu. On previous Nokia’s, the icon on the button was different (two balls swirling around), which wasn’t very descript, especially to those who haven’t used a Nokia Series 60 device before. It also took you straight to the main menu when pressed, as opposed to the homescreen like the new button does. I prefer the new way they have done it, since I more often than not want to return to the homescreen than I do the menu when switching from an application.
As if that wasn’t enough, Nokia have added a new feature that lets you switch between two phone modes, allowing you to set one up for work (eg. Push Email switched on, calendar and business applications showing on the homescreen, etc) and other for home. While I found no use for it, I think it’s a great idea for businesspeople who want to be able to leave the office and switch into home mode, without emails bombarding them.
Looking at the rest of the hardware, it has all the bases covered. Every radio you could possibly want is built-in, as is fast!
I hate to say it, but moving around between the menus is smooth and quick. By that I mean I hate that we notice when a MENU is smooth. Unfortunately there are many phones out there these days that can’t even run their own menus properly.
Like all higher-end Nokia phones, the E71 is loaded with several must-have applications right out of the box. Quickoffice is there for viewing/editing of documents, Adobe PDF reader for reading PDFs (duh), Nokia’s excellent web browser, the usual PIM applications, music and video playback apps, a business card scanner (that I could never get to work right), a Dictionary (Google anyone?), ZIP extractor/compressor, and a trial of Nokia’s Maps GPS navigator.
I’d like to start by asking Nokia to stop being cheap-skates and including the navigation only as a trial. If you were to include it as a full application, and advertise these phones as full-fledged GPS navigators I’m sure you’d sell even more of them! In the 7-days that my trial was active for, I used it several times and found it to be very good. The navigation instructions were played out through my car kit which was fantastic!
Quickoffice is only version 4.1 unfortunately, but it is still very good. Being able to read and alter documents without completely destroying them is very handy.
The PIM applications have received some tweaking reminicent of the E90′s versions. The month view is fabulous for seeing a large block of time, whilst being able to see the appointments you have scheduled on the selected days.
The Contacts app is fine, however you won’t need to access it too often as you can call up (both dialling and opening) peoples contact cards just by typing their name into the homescreen. It’s very nicely implemented.
There are a few applications that I add immediately to my phones, namely Mail for Exchange, Opera Mini, Gmail and Windows Live Messenger. With the onboard suite of applications and these extras added, the E71 really is amazing in it’s capabilities. Instant push email from my Exchange account, fast web surfing using Opera Mini, excellent web standards support in the Nokia web browser and instant messaging via MSN.
With my phone plan I get 4000mins of Skype to Skype chatting, using a tweaked version of the S60 Skype client. This too worked brilliantly on the E71. If you were overseas and needed to phone the office, you could hook up to a wireless hotspot and make the Skype call free of charge straight from your phone, it’s just brilliant!
Storage is well catered for, with about 120MB free internal memory, and a bundled 2GB microSD (yes, 2GB!) for additional storage.
I’ve seen some people lamenting about the drop in screen size from the E61i. Personally, I think it was the right decision, as it allowed Nokia to decrease the width of the phone, making it less of a brick. It looks a lot sharper, since there is less of a gap between each of the pixels. It’s the same resolution, so you aren’t loosing out on anything. It’s brighter than the old display too. I’ve been using it on the stop just below max and it’s perfectly readable in daylight.
In what appears to be an ongoing trend, the display is now flush with the front of the device, making it a lot easier to clean, and impossible to gather dirt in the corners (urgh).
And now to talk about one of the make-or-break features of a device: the battery life. If a phone can’t last a single day, it’s pretty much failed in my book. Doesn’t matter how many features it has, how good it looks or how slim it is if it has the usefulness of a paperweight before the day is over. I am pleased to report the battery life on the E71 is outstanding, especially when you consider how small it is! Despite it’s svelte form factor, it has the same battery as the E61i and E90. You can see when you take the stainless steel battery cover off that it dominates the interior of the phone. My question is how?? There has been some very impressive engineering gone into this phone to ensure it doesn’t skimp on size, performance, connectivity or build quality, whilst still giving it an enormous battery. It’s also great news for current E61/E61i/E62 owners, as and spare batteries you may have will slip right in!
I’ve been using the E71 for a little under a month now, and there is only one area where I have found it to be “average”: the camera. In daylight, it takes very good photos, a little washed out, but still quite good. At night it does turn into a mess, with extremely high noise levels. The puny little LED “flash” isn’t any help.
I’ve been anticipating this device for months, and Nokia Australia won’t have review units for a little while yet, so after a quick search on eBay and a 20 minute drive, I had one of these in my hands for AU$549. Frankly, that is an absolute bargain. The N95 8GB costs over twice as much, the 6220c over $100 more yet lacks WiFi and build quality, the N82 is more expensive and is ugly, and the original N95 needs to pack up and go away. How it can be this cheap compared to other high-end Nokia’s is beyond me!
It’s been some time since I have been this happy about a phone. The Nokia E71 just gets it right in so many areas, it’s hard to find a place to fault it. It’s well made, looks great, very slim, has a fabulous keyboard, a clear bright screen, every radio available, plenty of storage, excellent performance, and great battery life!