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Nokia E7 - Is This the End of the Communicator?
The Communicator has been synonymous with the word “big” in the mobile business, ok I’m kidding. Jokes aside the size of these devices never really mattered what mattered was sheer communication functionality the series was able to deliver. We’ve been without a Communicator for quite some time now but Nokia’s not been at the top of their game for awhile so it’s no wonder. In my opinion, the E7 along with the Nokia N8, were supposed to mark Nokia’s big comeback into the smartphone domain. The N8 did fairly well, no thanks to the not-so-impressive Symbian ^3 OS and now here’s a closer look at the all new Communicator, the E7.
Taking its cue from the funky looking, anodized aluminium shelled N8, the E7 is however quite a bit larger and heavier (176g). The 4.0-inch AMOLED capacitive touchscreen should have featured a higher resolution (360 x 640 pixels existing res) but what it does have going for it is Nokia’ CBD or Clear Black Display technology. This tech makes the display absolutely phenomenal for viewing in virtually any lighting condition including bright daylight. It’s easy on the easy on the eyes and extremely responsive. Encased in Gorilla glass, you’re quite assured of scratch-free viewing.
More elegant than previous Communicators
The Home key has been moved to the bottom-centre of the handset under the display and a micro USB/charging port, mini HDMI (adapter cable provided) and 3.5mm handsfree socket are located on the top. I unable to use the E7 with any other handsfree other than the one Nokia provided, as comfortable and well designed as they were. The little slider on the right side is to control the volume while the larger one on the left is for locking or unlocking the display. Just like the Nokia N8, the E7 is also a completely sealed handset with a little tray that can be extracted to slip in your SIM card. This isn’t necessarily a drawback of any kind though but this iPhone-like design didn’t bode well with me. To make matters worse, it features 16GB of internal storage with no means to support more i.e. no microSD card slot.
Quite slim and sexy with a slot for the SIM card
Keeping with tradition, the E7 Communicator also comes with a large QWERTY keypad under the display. While I found the keypad to be extremely comfortable to use, accessing it will take quite a bit of getting used to. The ‘pop’ mechanism is an issue I’ve been disappointed with since the first time I got to use the device back in October of 2010. In fact, I’ve even seen a few Nokia execs struggle a little trying to get the keypad to show its face. It requires a very precise push to pop it up, but once it’s open, the viewing angle and keypad layout is every bit as good as the Nokia N97’sor the Mini’s. The keys are soft and easy on the fingers and the separated buttons are perfect for speedy typing.
Overall, I’d have to say the E7 is a stunning looking handset that, although slightly on the heavy side, is a far sleeker Communicator than we’ve ever seen. If only Nokia had perfected the slide out panel a little more, I’d have had absolutely no gripes about the design at all.
Features and Performance
Everyone who’s mobile savvy will be able to tell you that the Communicators were, at many points of time, considered to be the most powerful of mobile handsets, sadly the E7 cannot boast of the same. It’s loaded up with a disappointingly low 680 MHz ARM 11 processor and a Broadcom BCM2727 GPU and 1GB ROM. In this day and age of 1 GHz and now Dual Core processing speeds on mobiles, how is going to survive? Still, the E7 is in no way a sluggish piece of hardware. I was able to use over 10 apps, open at the same time, and still watch videos and access the net without too much of lag. While most functions and features run quite smoothly, a few UI quirks could really get to you especially if you’re switching over from another smartphone OS like Android.
Large but comfy
The world has moved on to QWERTY virtual keypads even in standard mode but Nokia is sticking to the alphanumeric num-pad style with no option to change. The onscreen QWERTY that shows up in landscape is a little too constricted as well and not as functional as some others. Symbian ^3 feels a bit outdated in some ways - the desktop ‘widgets and shortcuts seem a little too ridged and structured, then again so is WP7’s. Sending messages requires a couple extra key presses than it would on other OS’ but access to new messages, connectivity options and a few other settings are quite easily available from the desktop. The task manager option is also designed to be quite handy and easy for multitasking or even closing running apps.
The Nokia Music player is better than average. The few presets, Stereo Widening and Loudness setting do help enhance the audio quality quite a bit. Tone quality is excellent with highs moderately divided so as to enhance vocals and higher frequencies and a bass line that resounds in your head (thanks mainly to the in-ear phones on the handsfree) with superb clarity. What’s still disappointing is that Nokia found it unnecessary to provision for a customizable setting in Symbian ^3. Older versions have 8 band graphics EQs for each preset and options to create your own; I don’t see why a new OS wouldn’t. The FM radio didn’t work out as well as I hoped. It was able to pick up 4 of the 9 stations that other handsets picked up in the same locations. You can access and download music via Nokia’s Ovi Music store.
Avilable in trendy colors
The E7 doesn’t share the Nokia N8’s penchant for video playback. While most H.264 and WMV files in DivX formats played without a hitch some coded in XviD didn’t. Another drawback is that the player can resume playback of only the file you’re currently viewing. Switch to another file and your space is a goner. Nokia has also added apps for streaming files from Paramount Movie Trailers, CNN Video, National Geographic and even E! Entertainment. Sadly it seemed like my 2G EDGE connection didn’t support video playback. Video and photo editing software are also on board. TV Out via HDMI supports Dolby Digital Plus.
The E7 didn’t come with any preloaded games and the level of games designed for Symbian still have a ways to go before they can be compared to those for iOS.
The Nokia E7 supports all kinds of connectivity from 3G to EDGE, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (With A2DP), what it lacks is DLNA support. For users who have services that don’t automatically send configurations for your internet, Symbian ^3 doesn’t make too easy to Do-it-yourself. The native browser is fairly competent and allows for pinch or double tap zooming in or out of screens. With Flash support web browsing is quite close to a desktop experience.
Painful to open but comfortable angle for viewing
Nokia’s Social Networking app allows you to stay connected with both your Twitter and Facebook accounts and post updates on both simultaneously. You can even add additional Twitter accounts but can stay logged in to only one at a time. You have the choice of uploading images to either Twitter or FB but nowhere else, not even Flickr. Another serious issue with Symbian ^3 is that the social networking integration with your phone book is very poorly managed. You have to manually sync each contact to their FB account as there’s no auto syncing method whatsoever unlike with Android, iOS or WP7.
USB-on-the-go is an excellent function to have in a mobile handset. Simply use the provided adapter for the micro USB port plug in a USB and you can access all files available on that drive including movies, music or documents. Nokia Email works well enough and is a breeze to set up accounts with a few simple steps. Access to the Ovi Store for apps and other downloads, syncing the handset to your Ovi Account as a backup and downloading updates are all provisioned for.
For the handset’s GPS functionality Ovi Maps (free for life) are on board. They’re quite intuitive with an easy to use UI and speedy satellite sync ability. Rest assured, getting lost is not an option. Plus Nokia has added in access to Burrp for places to eat, TripAdvisor for details on places your visiting and even a Lonely Planet app. A localised weather apps is also provided and the maps allow for both driving and Pedestrian modes. An Event option gives you information on stuff like movies etc. that are running in your area.
The E7, being part of Nokia’s business class series of handsets comes preloaded with a few functions suited for this type of user. For instance, QuickOffice is not a read only app but is fully registered and can be used to even create new documents – XL sheets, Word Documents and even presentations. Adobe’s PDF reader is also preloaded and so is a dictionary, Zip file reader and creator, Voice recorder, calculator and even F-Secure for virus protection and handset security and Anti-theft functionality like remote wipe, locate and locking options. What we could have used is Nokia’s Active Notes instead of the plain old standard option.
Great design except for the slider
Another bit of a downer is the E7’s camera. Although Nokia has thrown in an 8 MP camera with a dual LD flash, they didn’t seem to think autofocus was required. Face Tracking, geotagging plenty of scene modes, White Balance, Sharpness/Contrast control, ISO settings and a self timer are part of the camera’s feature set. Image quality was a non issue as it turns out. The quality of images in most lighting conditions proved to be quite good with colors and details retained to quite an extent in native size.
Fixed focus cam but clear images
With video stabilization, 720p (@25fps) video recording is also supported and don’t look too bad either.
The 1200 mAh Li-ion battery just didn’t seem sufficient for the kind of usage I wanted to manage. With a web browsing, messages and calls, social networking and a little music thrown in, I found I had to charge the handset on a daily basis each day. Keeping your desktop widgets active i.e. on all the time is not as well managed by the battery as some other handsets. Talk time averaged in at about 4 hours and 35 minutes, which is not too bad but doesn’t quite make the cut with me.
The Bottom Line
With a price tag of Rs. 29,990 (MRP) the Nokia E7 does not live up to its Communicator legacy. It could have potential as a WP7 device, when the OS is ready, like I’ve been saying. As is, it’s a more or less well designed handset with a quirky slider function though and an even quirkier OS. Nokia Loyalists will find great value with this device but with the current level of smartphone technology, the Nokia E7 is a little behind the lot, even as a business oriented device. In my mind, the Communicator series ended with the Nokia E90 and until I see a new one that offered what it did back in that day, the E7 won’t convince me otherwise. Nokia just needs to seriously rethink the Symbian ^3 UI, that’s all that’s keeping the E7 from its true potential.