To Nokia fans, it is the latest avatar of the legendary Communicator series, which many consider to this day to be the closest a handset has got to a notebook. To its critics, it is the last major smartphone to appear on the Symbian platform, what with Nokia getting all warm and cosy with Windows Phone 7. Whichever way you look at it, it would be insane to deny the importance of the Nokia E7, which represents Nokia’s first QWERTY-touchscreen offering in its famed E Series targeted at enterprises.
Photos by Eshan Shetty
When it was first announced, there were many who called the E7 an N8 with a keyboard. Well, if there had been a lot of dispute over the looks of the Nokia N8 – some loved its solid metallic feel, others called it bulky and almost industrial with its multitude of ports – there is none about the Nokia E7. We loved the looks of the new Communicator, with its predominantly metallic build. Even though it is slightly thicker than the N8, it looks relatively sleek, because it is longer and well, one does consider that it packs in a bigger display (4 inches as compared to 3.5 inches on the N8) and a full slide out QWERTY keyboard besides. The port deluge has been toned down, with only a volume rocker (which also doubles as a zoom control when the camera is switched on), dedicated camera button and a SIM card tray on the right side, and a display on/off rocker on the left. The front is dominated by the four-inch AMOLED display with a single button that serves the purposes of menu, back and home (depending on when you press it) below it – in the centre rather than on the left as seen in the N8. The back of our unit houses the 8.0-megapixel camera with dual LED flash. Pushing on the left side (a bit hard initially) reveals one of the most spacious four-row QWERTY keyboards we have seen on a handset with praise be, the spacebar right in the middle. The slide out motion takes a bit of getting used to but the keyboard is rock solid, with no screen wobbles at all. All in all, the E7 looks good and feels solid to hold – something we have not said about a Nokia handset for a while.
The Communicator Series has been known for being heavily specced and the E7 certainly lives up to the legacy. The four inch AMOLED display has a 640 x 360 resolution which is the highest seen in the E Series, if a trifle modest by Android and iOS standards, and in terms of touchscreen responsiveness is as good as any in the business. The 680MHz ARM processor, might strike those swearing by GHz-plus chips as being on the slower side, but is in fact very brisk by Nokia handset standards. Memory specs stand at 256 MB RAM and 1 GB ROM, while onboard memory is 16GB – there are no memory expansion options here, but we stopped missing them the way the iPhone was launched. There is just about every connectivity option you can think of – from 3G to Bluetooth to Wi-Fi to GPS and best of all, HDMI and USB-on-the-Go, the former lets you connect your handset to a TV, the latter lets you attach a USB flash drive and a few other USB devices to it with minimum fuss. If we had a disappointment, it was with the camera – we like its pixel count, the dual flash and the HD video recordingly ability, but the absence of autofocus is galling!
The software running on the Nokia E7 is the largely the same as seen on the N8 – Symbian ^3. It is by far, the most touch-friendly version of Symbian we have ever seen and retains the operating systems core strength of excellent multi-tasking, but is honestly not in the same league as iOS and Android in terms of speed, looks and ease of use. Yes, it does offer multiple homescreens (three) and widgets, but neither will make the competition lose sleep, be it in quality or quantity. But even then, the E7 packs enough in the software department for most users, with Nokia’s Ovi Mail, support for Exchange Server, Ovi Maps for navigation, a complete office suite for those wanting to mess around with documents, spreadsheets and presentations (QuickOffice), and Nokia’s app for social networks. There is also an image editor for those wanting to tweak the pictures they do take on the handset. The absence of a card reader, however, hints at the camera’s weakness, and while one can get more apps from the Ovi Store, the fact that the Ovi Store has to be downloaded on to the device (it is not preloaded) is surprising – something we noted on the N8 as well.
How well or badly the E7 performs really depends on your expectations of the device. Those who have been using Symbian handsets will love it, as it works smoothly for the most part with the odd lag excepted. However, if you have used iOS, Android or Windows Phone 7, you will find yourself missing the smoothness and speed that is the trademark of those interfaces – and the onscreen QWERTY keyboard that still eludes Symbian ^3 devices in portrait mode. To its credit, the E7 does most of the things that the other operating systems do – it only does so in a slower and less elegant intuitive manner. The classic Symbian icons are eyesores and while the display is excellent for viewing video and images, browsing the Web remains a pain as the default browser is a dull shadow of the mobile versions of Chrome and Safari, support for Flash notwithstanding. Where the E7 shines is with its excellent slide out keyboard which makes typing effortless, and in its connectivity – to be able to transfer files by dragging and dropping from a thumb drive is fantastic (you do need to connect an adaptor, though) as is the fact that the phone picks up GPRS and 3G settings of every operator whose SIM we placed inside it. Top that off with excellent battery life – it lasted almost two days of thorough use, both on calls and online, with some GPS navigation thrown in – and this seems indeed to be the Communicator reborn. Unfortunately, the “fixed focus” camera ruins the show utterly, spewing out dull pictures, just about tolerable video (resolution is not all that matters in a video, folks) and making us wonder about the rationale of its inclusion in the first place if “cameras are not expected to be high class in an enterprise device,” as one of the Nokia executives pointed out in its defence.
Smart design, superb hardware (barring the camera), reasonable software, great connectivity – a few years ago, that threesome would have been enough to make the E7 a runaway hit. Today, alas for Nokia, things have got far more competitive and interface and apps have emerged as kings when it comes to smartphones. The E7 falters on both these fronts, which might make some people pause before spending Rs 29,000 on it. Yes,it does do a lot, but unlike its predecessors, it is not the only handset that can do so. And its strengths (great keyboard, build, display, connectivity) are severely undermined by its weaknesses (mediocre interface, widgets that work not, relatively fewer apps and a poor camera). It remains a very good option for any person who likes to get a decent-looking handset with everything installed and a good display and keyboard to boot, with not too much concern for downloading apps. Alas, the numbers of such people are decreasing…