Hardware Tour Of The Nokia E7: A True Masterpiece

Very few devices have seriously impressed me in terms of build quality these past years. As mobile phones got larger and more sophisticated, many manufacturers moved to cheaper materials to balance the cost of the phone, and many other manufacturers simply failed to make a solid phone because of the bigger touchscreens that introduced more fragility to designs. For the past months, I’ve looked back at my Nokia E71 and wondered: will we ever see the same grade of heavy duty build with the modern industry requirements?

Thankfully, Nokia, in a time when everyone is questioning their ability to compete, whipped out the big guns and delivered two premium devices: the Nokia N8 and now the Nokia E7. With everyone focused on Symbian’s shortcomings, Nokia keeps proving that they know how to do phones: phones that work well as phones, that don’t creak squeak or rattle, phones that feel fantastic in your hands, phones you are tempted to caress and stare lovingly at for hours, phones that stand true to the legendary saying about Nokias “throw a Nokia at a wall and it’ll come back in your hand, fully working”. The E7 is that and more. Join me for a tour of the E7 in pictures.

Placed innocently on a table, the E7 looks big. Actually, when Anssi Vanjoki introduced it during Nokia World 2010, he said “it’s BIIIIG” and he’s right. The front of the device is taken by the 4″ Clear Black Display screen covered with Gorilla Glass. Around it, a black bezel hosts the front camera, proximity sensor and light sensor on the upper side. Both “Nokia” and “E7” are engraved in silver there. Below the screen is the centered Menu button. On the upper and lower side of the screen, you can see a dark line that shows the separation between the screen element and the rest of the device.

Despite being quite huge, the E7 fits well in the hand. However, it’s heavy and borders on being too large for a small female hand like mine. I have personally found that 3.5″ and 3.7″ screens hit the sweet spot of being large enough but not too much. 4″ is borderline for me, but that doesn’t mean that other people won’t enjoy it. I know quite a few who are perfectly comfortable with 4.3″ and even 5″ screened devices.

The back of the E7 is taken in its majority by the anodized aluminum. It looks beautiful. No, wait, let me emphasize that: it looks and feels GORGEOUS. There’s an elegance in that design and a simplicity that oozes finesse. Now I’ve never been excited about a plain looking phone and I don’t really like the fact that the battery is non-removable, but pulling this sophistication off without anything fancy is a true triumph for Nokia’s designers. The anodized aluminum also adds to the effect. It’s freakishly solid and it’s cold to the touch, but turn the phone on and use it a while and it will start getting milder: it’s like the phone is warming up to you and this creates a tight relationship between you and your phone that can’t be easily achieved otherwise.

The anodized aluminum is engraved with “Nokia” and encases the 8 Megapixel fixed-focus EDoF camera with dual-LED flash. Don’t expect greatness from this camera: it simply won’t work for close macro shots, it will deliver decent shots at night, and good photos in daylight and from a distance. On the other hand, it will do fantastic High Definition video and deliver unrivaled clear video and audio.

The lower side of the E7 has a black plastic covering it, showing Nokia Corporation, Made in Finland, Nokia E7-00, the model number and the FCC approval. There’s a small microphone hole as well.

The top of the E7 holds the 3.5 mm headset plug, the power button, the HDMI-out flap door, and the microUSB port. This port comes with a small light to notify you of charging status, it also serves as input, thanks to the microUSB to USB cable that ships in the E7’s box: this allows you to activate USB on-the-go and read any USB flash drive from the phone.

The right side of the Nokia E7 houses the Camera shutter button, the Volume rocker and the SIM card door. This is the first time that Nokia moves away from the 2 buttons for volume, and I admit I was quite taken by surprise the first time I held the E7 thinking this was the lock switch. I can’t say I’m a fan of the rocker idea as it doesn’t provide as good a tactile feedback as pressing a button, but it gets better with time.

Going back to the SIM Card door, I found it to be quite stiff. I’m a girl which involves long nails, and having had 2 different E7 units, one of them gave me a LOT of trouble to get the SIM card door open. Granted, I had nail polish on that I didn’t want to ruin, but well I don’t see men being able to snap open that door easily, or women with nail polish on.

The SIM card slot goes out completely from the device so you can insert your card in it and replace it on the E7. It’s a bit of an awkward design and I guess you better not try inserting or removing your SIM on the street, in a moving train, or near a gutter: there might be a chance you’ll drop the extension and not find it again.

The left side of the Nokia E7 only has the actual lock switch that doubles as a flashlight trigger: hold it down for a little while and the flashlight (dual-LED flash on the back) activates. In the below picture you can also see how the screen element separates from the rest of the device, leaving a slightly larger gap on the left. I thought this was an error in my own unit, but the more I look at other E7 devices, I keep noticing it. It seems to me that this gap makes sliding the screen easier, as otherwise, it would be too stiff.

The one regret I have with button placements is that the left side, the one that actually faces you when you open the E7, only has the lock switch. It would have been more appropriate to have the volume rocker here as well, so you can change the volume without having to reach for the back of the phone.

Opening and closing the Nokia E7 requires a hard push. The movement is fluid after a certain point, but the first few millimeters are all reliant on your strength. This adds to the solid feel of the device, making it hard for it to open or close by mistake: only intentional forces will work on it.

The screen and the rest of the body are held together by a thin plastic lever (visible above) and a much bigger swivel (look below). This swivel houses the connection cable that transmits all data information between the screen and the rest of the phone. If you remember back when the N97 was announced, many people were annoyed by the fact that the cable was exposed. Here, they didn’t really house it, but they offered a decent protection to it by sticking it on the inside of the swivel.

Another nice detail on the swivel is the “Designed In Finland” engraving that Nokia has carried from the Nokia N97 days. It’s a great touch to the E7 owner, telling him that he has purchased something from a superior design team.

When fully open, the screen sits at a 30 degree angle approximately. This helps it face you at a perfect angle for watching videos, browsing, looking at pictures, or even keeping an eye on your Facebook or Twitter stream with the E7 sitting at a desk in front of you.

The keys on the QWERTY are well separated and raised. The perfect amount of pressure is required to press them, making them easy to type on yet not stiff or too loose in any way. Nonetheless, I have found the size of the keys a bit exaggerated and I believe that making them slightly smaller would have granted space for an additional column of 4 keys that could have been used for shortcuts.

The QWERTY is a 4-row keyboard with the numbers occupying a secondary function on the top row. The rest of the keys offer punctuation as a secondary option. Primary functions light up in white while secondary ones are yellow. There are separate keys for Symbols, Control, Shift, Function and @, a very large spacebar, and the great surprise is the inclusion of 4 directional arrows on the right side. These, in conjunction with the Enter button, allow you to navigate through many applications without having to reach for the screen, however you will still have to use the physical Menu button below the screen and the Back/Exit functions from the screen.

One downside to the E7’s design is the fact that the keyboard’s sides are raised. Personally, these didn’t give me any issue at all, as I hold QWERTYs with my thumbs coming from below to type. My friend, another QWERTY addict, holds her N97 Mini with her thumbs coming from the side, and she had lots of trouble adjusting to the E7’s raised sides and couldn’t easily reach the borderline keys. Also her long nails didn’t allow her to access the top row of keys without hitting the side of the screen. These probably aren’t great issues for the majority of users, and they can be fixed with a small change of habits, but I felt I should highlight them as they might be a downside to some of you.

I mentioned in the beginning the Clear Black Display that the Nokia E7 holds, and this is a picture of it in action. Although you won’t appreciate it until you see it with your eyes, the colors just jump at you, and the dark black shades are beyond anything I have seen on a screen, mobile phone or TV or anything in between. It’s wonderful.

On my opinion, the E7 (and the N8 before it) is a real triumph for Nokia in terms of build quality and design. Never has a communicator-like device felt so incredibly sexy without compromising on the solidity. And the moment you hold an E7 in your hands, you realize two things: the first one is that you’re in the presence of E71-grade greatness, and the second is that every other manufacturer be it Samsung, LG, Motorola or others, is slacking and approaching modern designs lazily. Nokia just proved that you can make a 4″ screen phone with a swiveling QWERTY keyboard, with premium material, not a hint of weakness, and while keeping the whole package visually appealing. A true masterpiece.