Hits and Misses – The Nokia E7


The Nokia E7. Nokia’s answer to its loyal Fans who were waiting for a worthy successor of the Communicator. It’s also the answer to all QWERTY fans, finally wanting to get rid of their horrendous N97s. Announced at last year’s Nokia World in London, Nokia has set out to please fans from both camps. I have decided to gather my thoughts on the Nokia E7 in something called Hits and Misses – I will look at certain details of the Nokia E7 and either give it a plus or a minus – a hit or a miss. So what is an absolute hit for me? And where is Nokia missing something? Read on to find out what grinds my gears.


Nokia E7 Hits:

Build Quality: Let’s make one thing perfectly clear. Nokia is MILES ahead of everyone when it comes to build quality. Like the Nokia N8, the E7 is built like a tank. It is made from the same anodized aluminum, and thus features a feeling you won’t get anywhere else. Coming from a lot of old Nokias and recently Android devices like HTC Desire, Samsung Galaxy S and Nexus S, it is clear who is my absolutely favorite here. Everything is rock-solid and in closed position, the E7 feels like a candybar device. Even the plastic caps that hide the battery and antenna modules don’t feel like they’d come off anytime soon. THIS is how you build a phone, thank you for reminding everyone about that, Nokia.

Slide-open full QWERTY keyboard and its slider hinge: Let’s start off with the slider that reveals and closes the hardware QWERTY, and it is a textbook example of how to build something like this! As i said before, in closed position, the device feels like a candybar, you wouldn’t believe it consists of two pieces. And funny enough, a lot of people who didn’t know the Nokia E7 before, thought it was a candybar. Slide it open, in this N97-like angle and you still won’t feel any give. Amazing. Sliding it open, will reveal the biggest selling point of the Nokia E7, its full-blown QWERTY keyboard.  You see, i have tried and worked with a lot of different keyboards, on different brands and different devices. From some of Nokia’s earlier Communicators and N97s, the more modern likes of SE X10 mini pro, Vivaz Pro, the T-Mobile G1, the absolutely horrendous Motorola Flip out and many more. From all those mentioned Devices and all phones ever made, the Nokia E7’s keyboard is the best one i have ever seen, hands down. It doesn’t get any better than this. Nokia made the great decision to go away from the 3-row disaster on the N97/mini, and due to the big 4″ screen, gave it a fourth row, which in my opinion is the best deal. The keys are well spaced, give a great feedback and are just perfect in size. You don’t have the Milestone-typical problem of the furthest row being too close to the screen part. One could complain about the special keys like Ctrl or Shift only being available on one side, but i actually prefer this, instead of having more keys which would ultimately result in a loss of space and a more crammed keyboard. The space bar was put in the middle again, just where it should be. This keyboard is perfect.

Clear Black Display (CBD): Before i received this trial unit of the Nokia E7, i was given a C6-01 to play with. Both devices are the first to come equipped with Nokia’s brand new Clear Black Displays. Now i will spare you all the technical rubbish, but what Nokia basically promises, is an AMOLED screen with re-arranged layers in the screen matrix, set to provide a much much better readability in direct sunlight, a nice color reproduction and yes, clear blacks. Did this work out? Absolutely yes. Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re talking Super AMOLED levels of awesomeness here. No really. What you get on the Nokia E7, is a 4 inch 640×360 pixels equipped piece of gorgeousness. Visibility in direct sunlight has massively improved, with just minor reflections, but for me the real deal is the levels of black you will get. This is a REAL black, no reproduced stuff from the LCD screens. Apply a theme that has a lot of black elements in it (like PiZero’s Digiflower) and see what i mean. Sure, it might be oversaturated, so is any AMOLED screen, but Nokia has really managed to push out something great here.

Menu Key in the middle again: a minor detail, but a good move in my opinion. If you use the N8 longer than a day, you’ll see that the left side-positioned Menu Key is a huge problem in terms of usability. Nokia has fixed that and i like it.

USB on the go and miniHDMI: Well known from the Nokia N8, i just have to give those features a Hit again! USB on the go enables you to connect any (FAT32-formatted) USB stick onto the device via Adapter, which will start the file manager and give you access to the files on the USB-stick. miniHDMI lets you connect the Device to your flatscreens, in a nice crisp 720p output. Both adapters come in the box, which is a nice treat from Nokia.

Enhanced experience for business customers: Clearly labeled as the successor to the communicator-series, Nokia went on down to deliver additional apps and functionality for today’s business. I’ll be perfectly honest to you, i don’t really use them, as i’m clearly not the targeted customer (more on that later on), but some of the new goodies include a full version of Quickoffice, Nokia Mobile VPN functionality and a very nice new Communicator functionality, that let’s you chat with contacts you have as Mail for Exchange contacts. I have been told there will be more options to come, like improved calendar features etc.

Nokia E7 Misses:

Symbian^3: Probably the biggest problem I’ve found on the Nokia E7 is the operating system. I have been an avid Symbian Fan most of my life and always enjoyed its great functionality. With time passing by though, Symbian has gotten stale. And although the guys behind the scenes are working very hard (which you can see from the recent PR2.0 leaks), it is clear that Nokia has a long way to go before them. It starts off from the rather fixed widget homescreen, to the endless login disasters, the horrible browsing experience, the text-entry system (which is not a problem on the E7) and so much more. Sure, it still has a true and very good multitasking experience, but it just doesn’t cut it for me anymore. The whole OS is still stuttering sometimes and lagging. I also have to report some random restarts on the device, even after deleting all possible reasons, like Nokia Bubbles or Whatsapp. In the past I have always been a hardware-oriented guy, with a good camera experience being one of the reasons that could decide whether I buy a device or not. Times are changing more and more, and my focus has clearly shifted to a more user-experience orientated guy, who looks for a seamless, fluid experience using the OS and it’s provided Apps either on-board or from the App Stores/Markets.  And even if I absolutely love the Nokia E7 in terms of hardware look and feel, the OS makes me wanna run away.

A little example you say? Well, let’s take the setup process for example. You start your brand new E7 and it puts you through the Setup process, which is a good thing, right? You enter your Ovi details and should be good to go. That is in case you store your contacts etc with Ovi, but that is a whole other story. I also like that you have the “switch devices” feature right in the setup, which also makes life easier if you come from another Nokia Device. But then, if you have finished the setup you see one of Nokia’s problems. Open the Ovi Store – it asks you for your Ovi Details, again. You have already entered it at the start, right? And it’s not enough, enter Ovi Maps and surprise surprise, you get asked again. This is not what I call a fluid experience AT ALL. It’s all these little things that make people cry, here’s where Nokia has a big chunk of work ahead.

The good thing however, an OS is something that can always be updated. And with Nokia promising us that ALL Symbian^3 devices will get future updates, there’s a huge chance that your E7 will not be a lifeless brick in a year from now, but will in fact become awesome. I’ve seen those recent leaks and gotta say, if Nokia continues like that – and most importantly SPEED UP – there will be a lot of people saying: “So symbian isn’t dead after all!”. Because Symbian is far from dead, mark my words.

Camera: As long as i can remember, Nokia has been the leader in terms of Cameras on mobile phones. Remember the good old Nokia N95? One of the first 5 Megapixels ever in a phone. Nokia N82, one of the first phones equipped with a Xenon flash, giving unrivaled results for months and years ahead. This list could go on and on forever, and the good camera work, even on mid-range devices like the Nokia X6 or C6 has always been outstanding. It never surprised me when i was in one of the local phones shops and people were buying Nokia devices because they also wanna do some decent snapshots when on the go.

Fast forward to 2011, and it’s one of those cases where Nokia is taking a good look, aiming carefully and shooting itself in the foot from a very short distance – or in other words, they tried to fix something that was never broken. The Nokia E7 features an 8 Megapixel, Dual LED Flash equipped camera with 720p movie mode and excellent audio capturing. Decent setup, until someone at Nokia forgot to take his pills and decided “Autofocus? hey how about we ruin the hardware and just skip that? would be dope, right? RIGHT??” That’s right, there is no Autofocus in the Nokia E7. The camera is a so called EDoF unit, meaning everything from 40cm till infinity is sharp. While the rest kinda.. isn’t. Nokia has done a lot of tries to explain and convince people that the EDoF cameras are a good, space-saving thing, and while that might be true, i wanna call b***sh*t here. Yes, Steve Litchfield and All about Symbian has shown that there can be decent results with the fixed focus, I’m just not buying it.

First off, Nokia has recently explained that the decision to put an EDoF module in it, was because of Space and to keep the device thin. This shows that Nokia doesn’t look at competition, because otherwise the ultra thin Samsung Galaxy S 2 or Sony Ericsson Arc would ring a bell. I have never been excited about Samsung’s cameras, but the SE Arc makes some pretty decent pictures and videos in a body just 8,7mm thin. Secondly, I have been told, it’s cheaper to put in EDoF modules. I’m sorry, but we’re talking about a € 600 device here. i REALLY wonder how much it would’ve cost me. No matter what, i would’ve payed the few more bucks and I’m sure everybody else I’ve talked to would too. And third, the Nokia E7 is a business device. Well color me surprised! I love how Nokia never fails to tell us how great you can separate private and business life on the E7. Yes, i always wanna take blurry portrait pics in my private life too or show the world how blurry my delicious lunch pizza was, when i share it to Facebook. And business card scanning? Not so much, or at least not without tricks. So much for an otherwise perfect hardware. Nokia, for the love of Christ, stop fixing things that aren’t broken and concentrate on where you should REALLY move forward!!

Stop giving us stuff that is “good enough”: It’s the same story all over again. When asked about certain specs, you’ll get a nice “because it is good enough” in 90% of all replies. Why do you put only 640×360 pixels in the 4″ display? It’s good enough. Why the outdated processor specs? It’s working well enough. Why only a 1200mAh battery unit? Symbian^3 has great battery management (which it has), so it’s good enough. Well here’s some news for you Nokia, good enough is not good enough anymore. How about you stop giving us something that “works” (or sometimes not so) and give your last troops of Nokia fans something that impresses them? Or maybe something that you were good at a couple of years ago, by blowing your competition out of the water? You have set the standards some years ago, then got beat down by a fruit and a robot? Look at your devices, 680Mhz + GPU, where your competition brings Dual-Core 1GHZ to the party. 1200mAh batteries in your top range devices, while you can have up to 1930mAh in a Motorola Atrix. Imagine how much battery life you’d get out of such a monster. Oh and display? Sure, CBD is awesome, but would a few more pixels hurt anyone?  This could go on and on, but I’m just sick and tired of Nokia bringing awesome build quality and material choice, that spec-wise is far away from being competitive.

Is it really a communicator? This is a question that popped when i was at Nokia World last year and saw the official introduction of the Nokia E7 labelled as the “successor of the legendary communicator series”. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure about that. Remember back when the communicators had Series80 running? Where you could see a very clear line drawn between devices? There is a good and a bad thing about this: Symbian^3 brings all those fancy tools to every device, clearly blurring the lines and questioning the needs of a dedicated E-series. Do you see a difference when you have a N8 and E7 next to each other? Absolutely not. On the flipside however, you don’t have to have any drawbacks coming from a N8. You have the fancy music player, the video player with all codecs you’ll ever need etc. You see, the lines are blurred. Is it a “real” communicator? No. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, I just wouldn’t have advertised it that way. For me, it’s just another Symbian^3 Smartphone, although a very good one.

Conclusion

:

So, what is it with this Nokia E7 then? Hardware-wise, Nokia has perfected it’s year long experience to a level i would describe as flawless. There isn’t really anything i could complain about in terms of hardware quality and material choice. Head over to your local shop and get a Nokia E7 in your hand, you will see what I mean. The Clear Black Display keeps up with that, giving us Super AMOLED-like contrasts and intense color reproductions while also being very well readable in sunlight. Hiding underneath the big 4″ screen, is the hardware QWERTY, that is revealed if you slide up the display in a tilted position. Same as the rest of the device, the keyboard is equally great. 4 rows, very well spaced, great tactile feedback .. it really doesn’t get much better than this.

However, the biggest enemy of the device itself appears as soon as you switch it on. Symbian^3 has improved a lot from the horrid S60v5, but still has a long way to go to be competitive – and most importantly, to be fun again. There are a lot of small niggles, logic holes and tiny bits that make you wanna throw your head against a wall. But as mentioned above, the good thing with the OS is, that you can always wait for the next update. And yes, there will be updates, with PR2.0 supposed to be available in the next few weeks. Another big flaw, which you can’t update unfortunately, is the camera with the lack of Autofocus. You can explain and make excuses as much as you want, I’m not buying into it.

Should you buy the Nokia E7? Yes, it’s hardware delivers unseen quality and while not being the most fluid and user-friendly OS, it’s a) still very functional and b) ready to get updates in the next months. I see myself using the E7 a lot more often than the N8 for example, simply because it enables me to be a lot more productive on this great keyboard! I really like my E7.

You can check out all the pictures you see here in full size over at my Flickr Set for the Nokia E7!

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Author: Michael Hell

Michael Hell, certified geek, mobile jedi, amateur photographer, music addict. Down to earth and always up for new challenges. Also blogging on www.michaelxhell.com, which is my private blog for things like Photography and personal things :) Feel free to add me on http://twitter.com/michaelxhell or http://www.facebook.com/michaelxhell