posted by Thom Holwerda on Wed 10th Dec 2008 10:17 UTC
IconIt's time for another phone review. PureMobile.com sent us the Nokia E71 for review. The E71 is a BlackBerry-style phone, with a full qwerty keyboard in a candybar form factor, meaning the E71 is direct competition for the phone we reviewed in October, the BlackBerry Bold 9000. Read on for our findings.

The Nokia E71 has 110 MB of internal memory and 128 MB of SDRAM. It is powered by an ARM 11 processor, running at 369 MHz. Dimensions are 114x57x10 mm, weighing in at 127gr; it's heavier than most other phones, but I actually like that as it gives you the idea that you're actually holding something sturdy. It's made mostly out of metal, which only adds to this feeling of quality and sturdiness. The black finish of the keyboard, combined with the dark metal creates a very slick and "professional" look, a look Nokia has really perfected over the years - I don't think there's another phone company out there that makes such proper use of metals in its phones (all hail the 8800!).

The Nokia E71.

Connectivity-wise, it supports GPRS, HSCSD, EDGE, 3G, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g, Bluetooth, GPS, and USB. I have no complaints regarding call or signal quality; even in speakerphone mode everything's loud and clear. With a 410h standby time, and 4h30m of talk time, you won't be running out of juice very quickly.

The USB connector is one of those still fairly rare micro b connectors, and sadly, it can't actually charge the device, which I find a huge missed opportunity. My previous phone did support charge-over-USB, which always came in handy when I was at a friend's place, without my dedicated charger, and an empty battery. It might be a limitation of the micro b port, I don't know. Going around the device, there's a headphone/headset port (non-standard), up/down buttons, charge plug, the USB port, and a micro-SD slot. On top you'll find the speaker and the on/off/profile button.

It has a QVGA (320x240pix) 2.36" display, which sports an ambient light sensor so it automatically adjusts the brightness of the display and keyboard lighting accordingly, saving battery power. Going from a portrait-oriented touch screen smartphone to a landscape orientation is a bit odd at first, but it actually works pretty well.

Right underneath the display is the phone's main feature: a full qwerty keyboard. As someone who regularly text messages his friends (SMS is more effective and less intrusive than calling), the keyboard is a blessing compared to numpads and a touch screen. I also use my phone as a diary to track my appointments, work hours, class hours, and birthdays, and adding entries into the diary with the qwerty keyboard is a beeze.

Each key is convex, which helps in allowing your fingers to differentiate between each key. You can use the entire keyboard with just one hand, or hold the phone in both hands and type with both thumbs, which is obviously faster, but not possible in some situations. The fact that it allows for full control with either one or two hands is a must for anyone who regularly does two or more things at the same time (guilty as charged).

The keyboard has a few dedicated buttons as well, such as two softkeys, green/red keys, a centre button (with built-in notification light, or 'breathing light' as Nokia calls it), and the directional pad. There are also home, diary/calendar, contacts, and messaging buttons.

For a phone aimed at business folk, it has a surprisingly capable camera. It sports 3.2 megapixels, autofocus, and a LED flasher. The phone lacks a dedicated one/two-press shutter button, so autofocussing is a bit troublesome: you need to press the t/2 button to engage autofocus, and then release the shutter with another button. And it also does video, of course.

Software

The phone runs Symbian OS, Nokia's Series 60 3rd edition. It was my first foray into Series 60 territory, and I must say, I'm rather impressed with the way the interface handles itself. There's a row of shortcuts atop that you can modify, and underneath that there are notifications like upcoming appointments - also definable. On my phone, I put the WiFi on/off switch there for easy access. It's fully themable, so I quickly downloaded a black/white theme, which really fit this phone.

What's really cool is the home button, which will always take you back to the main screen no matter where you are. Pressing and holding the home button brings up "alt-tab" so you can switch between running applications. Sadly, the "alt-tab" pop-up does not allow you to close running applications - you need to switch to the individual app first and close it from there. Odd, as well as annoying since not each application has its exit button in the same place.

Since the E series Nokia phones are aimed at business users, the E71 also comes with a load of business-specific applications, such as QuickOffice, with which you can view and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. It also has support for Microsoft Exchange email, but since I don't have access to an Exchange server, I couldn't test this functionality. Reports from other reviewers indicate that there are problems with the E71's Exchange support: the Nokia Mail for Exchange applications lacks support for sub-folders, so you can't access your Exchange emails if they're located in sub-foldes. To further illustrate the phone's business shortcomings, Nokia's Series 60 BlackBerry client application is incompatible with the E71.

Another cool gimmick is the text-to-speech functionality on the E71. The phone can actually read text messages aloud if you wish, but since my model only came with support for English (UK), I couldn't really test it on any of my text messages. I did try it, but pronouncing Dutch words in English? Apparently doesn't sond so good. You can also have the phone read callers' names aloud.

The browser on the E71 is remotely usable, but don't expect a desktop experience on such a small screen. It renders websites fairly well, and the mini-map helps, but it's still extremely cumbersome and not particularly useful. I'd much rather tether the phone's 3G to my netbook, and go from there.

Conclusion

Nokia's E71 is a great phone, but not for the users it was originally aimed at. As a business phone, the less-than-stellar Exchange support, as well as the missing BlackBerry support, will limit the phone's use. However, as a normal phone "for the rest of us", the excellent keyboard, sturdy design, and easy-to-use interface enables it to be a fine mobile phone.

Do you hate touch screens, like I do? Do you hate one person controlling what you can and can't do with your phone, like I do? Would you still like a smartphone? The E71 is a decent choice.

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