I have had the Symbian-powered Nokia E7 for a month and 2 days now. I have deliberately left off writing a review until I have had the chance to use it extensively and get over any initial excitement.
Form factor and Display
The E7’s sleek lines, silver colour and nice curves screamed, “Look at me! Touch me!!” And we did. Again and again and again. I am trying not to flog it, but if bling and effizy is your thing, taking this baby with you to any meeting or event is bound to get you noticed. The E7 actually makes the N8 look ugly. Everywhere I go, I observe people lusting after the communicator in my hands. I’m not naturally a flaunter, but the E7 has tempted me sore in the last one month.
At first glance, it is a sleek touchscreen slab. But push the upper lip a bit in landscape mode and it reveals a glorious hardware QWERTY keyboard. The sliding mechanism is buttery smooth and produces a soft click when the keyboard is fully extended. The hardware is tops.
The Nokia E7’s display is amazing. Sunlight legibility is good, and the display is crisp and clear. Forget about the resolution on paper. In real life, the display is superb. Heard of Gorilla glass? If you’ve got that on your phone, it means that you don’t have to worry about keys scratching the display. Oh, and that screen will survive a 4-tonne truck running over it too.
Love watching videos? They look superb on that 4-inch display – and the audio output is good too! Also, the tilting screen just makes it a whole lot easier to watch those videos on your desk or just lying down in bed.
It is a capacitive unit and there’s multi-touch for zooming in almost every application – gallery, web browsing, etc.
Text Input & Manipulation
There are two camps of users in the smartphone world – those who swear by hardware QWERTY keyboards, and those who swear by onscreen keyboards. While I am able to use onscreen keyboards if I absolutely have to, I belong to the former camp.
The absolutely delicious thing about the E7 is that the hardware keyboard is absolutely stunning. It looks good, feels good, works well, and is highly functional.
Using the E7’s keyboard produces next to no typing errors, and typing is a breeze. But beyond typing, this keyboard has several nifty shortcuts that takes usability a notch higher. There are the PC-like copy-and-paste combinations: Ctrl + C to copy selected text; Ctrl + A to highlight all text; Ctrl + X to cut; Ctrl + V to paste. Those combinations alone take text entry and manipulation to a new level, and they work everywhere I have tried them out – notes, web browser, email, text messaging, etc.
There are other keyboard shortcuts. For example, when reading an email, pressing the “R” key puts the email in reply mode and you simply type your response and then send.
When typing or reading text, you can also select/highlight text using by pressing and holding the Shift key and then using the 4-way directional buttons. The extra functionality is that so long as the Shift key is held down, a “Copy” option is displayed in the left soft key on the display, so you can hit that to copy. If text is already on the clipboard, the right softkey also displays “Paste” so that you can paste the text. In all, the hardware keyboard is a very intelligent one.
Text correction is available with the keyboard, should you require it. Personally, I have it disabled and trust my fingers and eyes.
Messaging & Social Networking
Mail for Exchange worked fine for me from the word Go, and I have had my contacts and calendar entries in sync ever since.
One of the nicest things that have come to the E7 (and other Symbian3 devices) is IM/Social integration a bit similar to what I enjoyed on the Nokia N900.
The Contacts app displays the IM status of each person, as well as their current Facebook status. You can have individual Facebook friends associated or linked with contacts on your phone. I very much prefer this to what obtains on some other mobile platforms that simply flood your contacts with all your Facebook friends’ details.
I will be publishing a separate review of the IM application, Chat for Nokia, later, so I won’t get into details about that here.
I have no problems with viewing Flash-based sites and content, including Youtube videos. Actually, it handles everything that I throw at it nicely. Because I know some HTML, I have a startpage through which I am able to open new tabs whenever I want. The average user does not know HTML and will get frustrated with being unable to open new tabs at will. Thankfully, the new browser is ready, and I am hoping that Nokia pushes out the Symbian Anna update real soon.
Anna is bringing performance improvements, ability to open new tabs from the menu, and other usability improvements. Come Anna; o come!
Organiser & Office
This is where the E7 shines again. There is the Microsoft Communicator suite that is built in (which I have not used). There is also Quickoffice, which is now very much an excellent touch-optimised group of apps. Quickoffice lets you create and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents – and they work well. I have created a number of such documents on-the-go without issues.
There’s also a calendar (which syncs well with Google Calendar), file manager, dictionary, a ZIP application, notes application, Adobe PDF reader (which is still not touch-optimised and fails in usability), among others.
In effect, everything you need to work and organise is well covered.
While the E7 is not sold as a multimedia device, don’t let that throw you. It stands its ground in that area too.
The 8 megapixel EDoF camera is not its cousin, the N8’s 12 megapixel auto-focus camera, but believe me when I say that it does a good job. For most people who don’t know how to use autofocus, the E7’s EDoF camera is God-sent. Point. Shoot. Problem solved.
Where the camera fails is with close-ups. But keep a good distance and you get clear, crisp shots.
However, note that if you really area photography enthusiast, the N8 is your preferred device, as its camera outguns the E7’s outrightly when used by someone who knows what he is doing.
Beyond still shots, the E7’s camera really shines when it comes to video. It packs HD video recording, good audio quality, and 3x zooming. The results are stunning. See my previous article, HD Video Recording on the Nokia E7.
Of course, video playback and viewing on the E7’s 4-inch display is a joy. The E7 also plays some video files that my N8 does not play, so Nokia has improved on the video player here to some degree.
Music playback is good too, but I will rate audio quality a notch below what the N8 churns out.
Battery life is always a big issue for me. I hate having to nurse a phone to keep it from dying on me during the day. That is just too distracting.
The Nokia E7 shines here. I have my Mail for Exchange account connected all day, my office mail account syncing at an interval of 1 hour, and Social Networking and Chat are almost always on, alongside my calls and lots of web browsing. With this configuration, the E7 almost always sees me through a full day, even when I have to get home at 10pm.
Besides the Nokia N8 and E7, it has been a long time that I had a smartphone that gave me this much peace of mind when it comes to battery life. Most of the others die sometime between 12 noon and 5pm.
Is there anything on the E7 that I dislike or find annoying? Sure. For one, I wish there is a microSD slot; but there isn’t one. I wish it had that new browser yesterday, but that’s coming anyway.
I wish that the camera was autofocus so I can use it as a document scanner the way I use the N8. I mean, its a business device afterall.
What else? Honestly, there is little to dislike about the Nokia E7. It really is an excellent device.
The Nokia N900 was my smartphone of the year 2010. The E7 is a combination of things I loved about the N900 and the N8, so it is likely to replace the N900 at that spot this year.
Consider that the upcoming update takes Symbian devices to a totally new level, in a few months the E7 will be a totally different device – that user interface, that browser, those speed improvements – those are things that I am looking forward to.
My senior colleague at WapReview, Dennis Bournique, has used the Nokia C7 astound that’s running a pre-Anna firmware, and he has the following to say in his own Nokia E7 review (which you should read, honestly):
Frankly I’m tired of Symbian^3 in it’s PR 1.2 form. The new firmware on the Astound has spoiled me, everything works better on it, the user interface is much more responsive, Gmail and the browser are finally usable and the split screen portrait QWERTY rocks. I can’t wait for the PR 2.0 update. If it’s anything like the Astound firmware it will totally transform the E7 and other Symbian^3 phones.
Read WapReview’s E7 review.
In my opinion, Nokia is not spouting hype when they say that the E7 is a true emblem of success and class, as well as the perfect companion at work and at play. It looks and acts the part, and will be even more so after getting a dose of Symbian Anna. Of course, I will do a follow-up review after Anna arrives.
So, are we looking at my smartphone of the year 2011?
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