QWERTY Hits Back in Style


5 Aug 2011
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Nokia’s E series has always been aimed at business users, but other than the bland looks, there hasn’t been much to differentiate them from the N series and the hundreds of Nokias with 4-digit model numbers. The first few E series models were bulky, devoid of multimedia features, and unattractive to anyone, but this has changed. Today’s E series devices not only look good but come with compelling features for the business set. The E71 is the newest kid on the block, and it might just turn out to be the most successful member of the family yet.

It’s got lots of things going for it. It has a full QWERTY keypad and still manages to stay compact. It’s actually quite good looking, and will appeal to a larger slice of the mainstream audience than a hardcore business-oriented device would. It comes with brilliantly optimized software. And it’s powerful enough to beat the pants off most phones that claim to be tailor-made for the business set.

The E71 is available in light or dark shades of metallic grey, with white or black keypads respectively. The darker model looks a lot more sophisticated, but the overall look is lightyears ahead of the older E61. The same row of four shortcut keys first seen on the E51 (and now an E series calling card) can be found flanking the navigation pad, and the soft keys aren’t too difficult to press or too far apart as on older QWERTY models. The rear flap is a solid metal plate with a pattern of raised dots, while the 3.2 megapixel camera and its flash sit in a protruding bump above. The left edge has a microUSB port and microSD card slot, both protected by plastic flaps, while the right edge has the volume controls and a standard headset port. One design quirk is the bright red power/profile button on top—an impulsive touch of color in an otherwise staid look.

There are only a few negatives. While the use of metal certainly makes the E71 feel solid and look good, it’s a bit too heavy in the hand. The casing is a magnet for smudgy fingerprints. And while the convex QWERTY keys are large enough, they’re squashed a bit too close, making typing just a little too cramped for our taste. Typing speed and accuracy were definitely lower than average, but it might just be a matter of getting used to the constricted layout. It’s still better than T9 for SMS texting, but it isn’t going to serve well for typing long email messages or documents for work.

Like its predecessors, the E71 uses a large 320 x 240 pixel screen which can show 16 million colors and is bright enough to be used comfortably even outdoors. An ambient light sensor next to the earpiece adjusts the screen brightness and keyboard backlight (which is nice and even) on the fly. The border of the D-pad blinks when a message or missed call notification is waiting for you, which is less visible than the light above the screen in other E series models. Ringtones are loud, if not very clear, thanks to a mono speaker on the phone’s upper rim, and you’ll even find an old-school infrared port for copying small files and syncing devices.

The now-signature E series buttons work exactly the same way as they do on the E51. The Home key switches between the home screen and currently active applications. The Contacts, Calendar and Messaging keys bring up their respective applications with a regular press, and the New Contact, New Calendar Entry and New Email screens with a long press. The actions of each key are programmable, should you choose to reassign them.

The E71 supports Bluetooth for A2DP for wireless stereo headsets, as well as the usual file transfer and PC synchronization services. Wi-Fi is of the 802.11 G variety, and you can have the phone constantly scan for available hotspots.

The camera is rated at 3.2 megapixels, and sports autofocus as well as an LED flash with red-eye reduction. You can choose between automatic, burst, macro and night modes, as well as set the white balance and exposure compensation. Video recording maxes out at QVGA resolution, 320 x 240 pixels, and 15 frames per second. Photos and videos are just average, which isn’t surprising, considering that Nokia’s N series phones are designed to concentrate on features like that. Similarly, don’t expect anything too exotic from the Music Player application. It’s perfectly OK for listening to songs, but if you want a mobile entertainment device, this one probably isn’t the way to go.

And of course there’s GPS navigation built in, with the Nokia Maps and Landmarks applications which let you plot routes and get turn-by-turn directions in addition to simply showing you a map and pinpointing your location on it. GPS reception is weak or unavailable indoors, but this is true of most GPS devices.

The E71 uses Symbian S60 Third Edition with Feature Pack 1, which is quite standard across current S60 devices, but with a few tweaks to take advantage of its form factor and keyboard. The Calendar uses a split-screen view with a grid for the month on one side and a list of the current date’s appointments on the other. The SMS inbox looks like a desktop email application, with columns for the sender, date and text preview. You can even sort messages by each of these columns’ parameters. Unfortunately the phone book has had no such enhancement.

Even the home screen has had a makeover. Missed calls and messages are now shown in bubbles in the lowest row, and navigating to a bubble with the D-pad pops up a window with detailed information and options to open or dismiss the notification. There’s space for more shortcut icons in the top row, one of which triggers a second home screen, which you can set up with different wallpaper, standby screen applications and shortcuts just like a second virtual desktop on a PC. Switching between desktops isn’t instantaneous, and you can’t set up different phonebooks or menu items, which would have made it more like having two phones in one. There’s even a neat dialing trick: start typing a saved contact’s name on the keypad, and a filtered list from your phonebook shows on the screen. You can use the D-pad to highlight a stored number and use the Call button to dial it instantly or the menu entries to compose a message, open the phonebook, or perform some other task.

The E71 supports data encryption on both the internal memory and an expansion card. Longtime S60 users will be familiar with QuickOffice for Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, as well as ZIP and PDF file handlers, and Nokia’s own ActiveNotes application for text memos with embedded audio, video or photos.

All the other standard apps are present, such as Themes, Clock, Voice Commands, Recorder, and Sync. The only real novelties are the Podcast and Barcode/Visiting Card Scanner applications. Podcast allows you to search for and download episodes of your podcasts, while the scanners help you create notes and contacts. You take photos of visiting cards and the software does a pretty good job of figuring out what should go into each field, although the character recognition accuracy depends a lot on the distance and angle you hold the phone at.

The one notable absence is support for Blackberry Connect. It seems that Nokia has removed this to promote other push email solutions, including one of its own. Not only has this omission been glossed over in the company’s publicity information, but the hype about previous E series models supporting Blackberry Connect gave us no reason to suspect it wouldn’t be included with this phone. It’s a shortsighted move and a number of buyers will be sorely disappointed, if not upset.

Performance and Conclusion
We found the E71’s battery life to be more than adequate, lasting two full days with heavy voice usage and minimal Wi-Fi and GPS activity. Call quality was excellent, and we had no complaints about the signal strength and reception. The phone’s CPU is fast enough to handle whatever we threw at it; the menus never lagged and we didn’t run out of resources with multiple applications open.

The E71 is a powerful and attractive phone that will tempt a lot of business people into upgrading, thus opening the door for users who have so far been happy with ordinary consumer phones. The cramped keyboard and few other niggles aside, it’s an excellent phone and email device for business use.

Source : Chip magazine.
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