First impressions: Nokia E7 with Symbian Belle

As I’m working on a long and detailed article about Psion and Symbian (similar in setup to the Palm article), I need to dive into a number of devices that I have never personally owned. One of the devices that was atop my list was what I think is the ultimate Symbian device: the Nokia E7 – the last of the long line of Communicators, released in early 2011. While more detailed information about it will find its way into the Psion/Symbian article, I figured it’d be interesting to give a few first impressions.

The Nokia E7 was one of the first Nokia phones to sport the ‘Lumia’ shape the company still uses today, but unlike the similarly-shaped N8 that came before it, it sported a landscape QWERTY keyboard, hidden behind what is by far the best spring mechanism I’ve ever seen – it opens and closes with an incredibly solid, satisfying, and firm spring motion. The keyboard itself is a joy to type on.

The E7 is built almost entirely out of anodised aluminium, and is remarkably thin for a device that houses a full landscape keyboard. It’s got a nice 4.0″ 640×360 Clearblack AMOLED display, which, while outdated, still looks pretty damn good. It’s a capacitive touchscreen, and responds well to touches and swipes. The distance between the glass surface and the actual pixels is fairly large, though.

All in all, the E7 feels like an incredibly solid piece of engineering, and there’s no flex or bending anywhere on this device – remarkable for a hinged device. It’s so sad that devices like this aren’t made anymore, because I would drop every phone I have if Nokia released a new, modern variant of the E7. With today’s technologies it’d be even thinner and stronger, although I don’t think Windows Phone would be the right software for such a device (should be Android). I never liked touchscreen typing, so the full QWERTY keyboard is very, very welcome.

As for the software.

Oh, Symbian.

The grand dame of the smartphone operating systems, with a heritage that dates back to the early ’80s at Psion. The E7 runs Symbian Belle (Symbian version 10.1; it originally came with Symbian^3 Anna, which is version 9.5), which is entirely touch-optimised, and indeed, is actually very easy to use with touch. Response is excellent – especially taking into account it has a single-core 680Mhz processor – and animations, swiping, and scrolling are all relatively painless.

Symbian is a bit of a kitchen sink operating system, and there’s actually a whole bunch of cool stuff it can do. It supports USB-OTG, so I’ve already been using it with a mouse and keyboard; it supports mass storage as well, like a USB HDD. It also has an HDMI-out, so I’ve also been playing with Symbian on my 43″ TV. Deep down, Symbian also shows its business-focus, with loads of features I don’t understand but which are clearly for enterprise users.

Application-wise, there’s something for everything, but quality is often lacking, and applications that are and native, and integrate visually are rare. Multitasking is a given on Symbian, and works reasonably well – however, the task switcher is often flaky and unresponsive. As a bonus, it comes with a very recent version of mobile Microsoft Office.

As a crucial part of the research for the Psion/Symbian article, the E7 will be my main phone for a few weeks, starting today. Since my last Symbian experience was with the Nokia E71 in 2008, any recommendations for applications and the like are welcome.

Oh, the things I do for OSNews.


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