A major improvement for the Nokia Eseries that faces tough rivals. (December 13th, 2008)
Product Manufacturer: Nokia
Price: $100 (3 yr. CDN, Rogers); $442 (US unlocked)
- Very sturdy, stylish design.
- Good keyboard and navigation pad.
- Much improved battery life.
- Good GPS mapping and media playback.
- Easily accessible card slot and USB port.
- Good camera versus many phones.
- Very reasonable price.
- Symbian still tough to use in some areas.
- Mail isn't full-featured despite the phone's focus.
- Camera is a step down from the N95 in most respects.
- Browsing is still limited; connections aren't auto-managed.
- Rogers music player still at the top level and not very useful.
the Symbian S60 interface and carrier-specific touches
Using the E71 is, unsurprisingly, a slight change from the N95 8GB tested earlier in the year given the shift from media playback to messaging. The home screen now has a much more modern front end that provides quick access to recently used apps and important notifications like e-mail or appointments.
Beyond that, e-mail itself is also easier. When the N95 was tested, setting up even a simple Gmail account was extraordinarily difficult: even with full knowledge of settings, the process was laborious. This time around, Nokia has learned its lesson and now has Symbian autoconfigure mail settings for many common account types. There's still definite room to improve, however: the phone doesn't automatically use the best connection or even set up automatic retrieval without your intervention. There's also no convenient way to batch delete or otherwise quickly burn through a large number of messages. Simply put, this isn't a BlackBerry in terms of being an e-mail machine.
That also betrays one of the core problems with Symbian: there's too much manual setup involved. To get the E71 to an ideal configuration, it's still necessary to wade through multiple fairly arcane menu systems that don't necessarily have features in logical locations. Some valuable features like the camera are also buried two or three layers deep instead of placed at the top. There's a good reason why many smartphones have a reputation as being unnecessarily difficult, and both the main interface and certain first-party apps like the e-mail client reinforce that all too well.
In its current standing at Rogers, the E71 is actually relatively unaltered, with most of the interface being the same as Nokia's default. Nonetheless, the few additions are regrettably annoyances. The carrier continues to insist on putting its in-house media player at the forefront, but it's really just an attempt to push music sales; it's too simple and emphasizes the store as much as it does the music. Users still have to (at first) dig for Nokia's eminently more capable player in the menus, which now also supports podcasts.
web access and GPS
GPS is virtually unchanged from the build seen in the N95 review (linked earlier on this page), but that's not necessarily bad. Nokia's built-in map application remains one of the best for those who aren't using a stand-alone GPS unit and provides spoken directions (including for pedestrians) plus data assist. The initial lock-in appears to be reduced, too, though it still takes longer than on the iPhone. It does behave more reliably and has more features (at present) than the quicker but limited Google Maps on Apple's hardware, though, so those who need strong navigation out of the box may want to choose this over both the iPhone and even relatively advanced map-capable devices like the BlackBerry Curve.