5th Nov 2010 | 15:17
A slimmed-down and cheaper version of the N8 makes its debut
Nokia C7 Overview
The Symbian^3 operating system is really important for Nokia. The company has taken a lot of knocks from the iPhone and the many handsets running Android, meaning its market share has suffered.
So can Symbian^3 still come to the rescue? We're not so sure. The Nokia N8, which we recently got to review after a massive six-month wait, puts Symbian^3 into a high-end, flagship handset. We liked the N8 itself, but had some issues with how Symbian^3 worked.
That doesn't bode well for the C7, which runs the same OS and so works in pretty much the same way. At the time of writing, the N8 had a SIM-free price of £429 and the C7 clocked in at a still pocket-draining £389.
What do you get for your hard-earned cash, then? Well, the C7 totes an 8MP camera and has a front camera for video calling. It also has 802.11 b, g and n Wi-Fi; 8GB of built in memory; GPS and, just like the N8, Bluetooth 3.0.
This has a greater range and is a whole lot faster than Bluetooth 2.1 as long as you're connecting to another 3.0 device or enabled PC. Communicate with older Bluetooth versions, though, and the Nokia C7 is pulled down to their standard.
There's 8GB of internal storage too, and support for a microSD card to add more space. However, we think it's a design issue that you need to remove the battery to get to the microSD card slot – it's terribly inconvenient.
Anyone who likes to hot-swap their stills, video or other content is going to find themselves doing a lot of rebooting, which is never acceptable. And to add insult to injury, the SIM (which you hardly ever want to get at) can be removed without touching the battery.
The C7 can't compete with the N8 in build quality either. The body is mostly plastic, although there is a metal backplate that echoes the N8. Still, the plentiful plastic does mean a light handset, and the C7 has a heft of just 130g.
Despite its plastic frame, the Nokia C7 feels comfy in the hand. It's quite slim and has a fairly narrow profile too. It's easy for smaller hands to reach all the way across it for one-handed use – ideal when you're on the bus and holding on for dear life with the other hand.
Our review sample has a black all-round chassis, but you can also chose reddish brown (Nokia calls it Mahogany Brown) and silver (Frosty Metal) alternatives.
There's a fair amount of space both above and below the 3.5-inch screen. At the top it looks a bit wasted, although the rare front camera sits here, as does the Nokia branding mark.
Beneath the screen lie Call and End buttons, along with a wide, lozenge-shaped menu key. These all light up when you use the handset in entirely expected green, red and white shades.
There are plenty of buttons and connectors, mostly huddled on the top and right edges of the chassis. On top, there's a USB port for connecting to a PC, which is protected by a hinged cover. The 3.5mm headset connector is here too, as is the main on/off switch.
Meanwhile, the right-hand edge houses a camera shortcut button; a lock switch, so that you can make the handset lock down easily; a pair of buttons that double for volume and zoom controls; and the Voice Key, which sits between them. We'll come back to this a bit later on.
All on its lonesome on the left-hand edge of the chassis is a charge connector. The phone will also charge over USB.
Nokia C7 Interface
Nokia's new operating system, Symbian^3, has a lot that feels familiar about it, while offering some interesting new stuff.
You get three home screens that you can fill with widgets and shortcuts. That's a big step forward for Nokia, although the process of stepping through the screens is still a bit clunky.
The handset doesn't respond to finger sweeps as quickly as we would have liked. Having come to the Nokia C7 straight after the ultra responsive HTC Desire HD we really noticed the time lag between sweeping and the screen actually moving.
Rather like Windows Phone 7, the home screen system is a bit constrained. In both cases, widgets have to be the same size and Symbian^3 can accommodate six on each screen.
We can see precisely why Nokia likes this idea. When you tip the screen into wide format, the widgets neatly rearrange themselves.
And you've got some flexibility in that a widget can contain an application controller, such as for the media player or FM radio, information such as calendar or Facebook updates, or app shortcuts – four on a widget and six widgets per screen means a max of 24 app shortcuts on a screen.
But setting things up can be a pain, especially for app shortcuts. On an Apple or Android handset, you just tap and hold and app icon to put it onto a main screen. In Symbian^3, there's a lot more tapping to go through. The multi-stage approach makes the lure of dropping that great new app you just acquired onto a home screen much more of a grind than it is with Android or the iPhone.
When it comes to the main apps menu, Nokia shows that it doesn't have a clue how the modern smartphone user likes to work. Instead of offering one straight list of all the apps on the handset, Symbian^3 falls back to the old S60 days of nesting.
Take the File Manager for example. To find it, you need to choose Applications from the main menu screen, then choose Office, because that's where Nokia thinks the File Manager should be. Ditto the voice recorder, calculator and a number of other apps.
There's one other aspect of the interface that needs a bit of attention. Voice commands. The idea always sounds like fun, but tends to turn out to be a bit silly. Who really wants to talk at their phone to launch an app? The touch screen should be all you need.
In the case of the Nokia C7, the voice commands system proved a waste of time.
To start the process, you tap that side-mounted Voice Commands key we mentioned earlier – on the right-hand edge of the chassis. Then say a command and you get a choice of possible matches that pop up on screen. If what you want is at the head of the list, wait a second and it will kick in. If what you want isn't at the head of the list, scroll around and tap what you want.
So, we said "Facebook". But the handset offered us things like the voice recorder and music player. Turns out that to launch Facebook you have to say "application manager", then tap the screen to choose "installed apps" then tap again for Facebook.
So we tried a different tack and used a phrase we found out is available by looking at the commands list – "What time is it?" This was recognised first go, so we waited a second and a horrid computerised male American voice said, "It is one oh 15." Frankly, we'd rather glance at the clock on screen.
Add in the fact that the button is a bit of a fiddle to press, and you can deduce that we left this feature alone pretty quickly.
Nokia C7 Contacts and calling
Contacts management is quite straightforward in the Nokia C7. If you've got an Ovi account, sign in and you can synchronise contacts, calendar and notes.
You can set up time intervals for this so that if you use Ovi as your main calendar tool, your handset keeps itself nicely up to date.
The Nokia C7 will pick up contacts from your SIM and you can add them manually too. Because the Nokia C7 has a video-calling camera on the front of the chassis, you can even designate a separate number for video calls.
But if you want true social network integration, you're going to have to look at another handset, we're afraid, because the offering here isn't up to much.
To use social networking from the Contacts app, you need to be looking at someone's contact screen and then click on the Social Networks option that appears there.
After that, Ovi runs and you can see a contact's Twitter or Facebook data – if they've got the same username as you have for them in Contacts. If not, then you have to type out their actual username and repeat the search. Only then can you add profile info to a contact.
It is just too convoluted and not rewarding enough. Will you remember the Twitter and Facebook names of all your friends so you can complete the searches? Can you really be bothered to go through this process for everybody just to be able to see their profile and send them a message?
We can't, which means we'd probably leave it at using the standalone Social Networks app for an overview of Twitter and Facebook updates; the ability to tweet and reply; and to send messages, comment or like in Facebook.
On the plus side, you can have a Facebook Updates widget on one of the home pages that gives you scrolling updates and links into a nicely designed Facebook page. There's also a Social Networks widget that gives both Twitter and Facebook updates.
In stark contrast to social networking, making calls is a great experience. The Nokia C7 produced a crystal clear voice at our end, and nobody we spoke to complained, so we assume they could hear us perfectly well.
The dialler starts to search for matches as soon as you tap a key to type a name or a number. If you don't have many friends, this means one single key press could be enough to highlight the person you want to phone.
The huge Call button on the dialler is hard to miss too, and when you are in a call there are equally giant Hold and End buttons.
Video-calling works over Wi-Fi as well as 3G, although you might be hard pushed to find a handset you want to call that actually supports it. Still, if you don't get through, you are offered the option to send a message or make a voice call instead.
Nokia C7 Messaging
Lots of people spend a fair amount of time writing text on their handset. Mobile email types write longer missives, while texters and tweeters keep it short. Whatever your preference, you need reliable text input, so anything that helps speed things up is welcome – and there's both good and bad news here.
The screen of the Nokia C7 measures 3.5 inches, and 640 x 360 pixels – a ratio that tells you it is a fair bit taller than it is wide. That means accommodating a full QWERTY keyboard in tall mode is a bit of a challenge.
So we forgive Nokia for opting for a mobile phone-style keyboard in its tall mode screen. Predictive text helps with text entry speed if you don't want to take the multi-tap route – and who does, really?
But it feels clunky, because you have to tap into a white text box until you hit the green tick, at which point your message pops into its proper screen, such as the SMS interface.
The same white box situation prevails if you switch into wide mode, except that the text box is much smaller. At least you get a full QWERTY keyboard this time around, and there are tap-and-hold options for numbers and common punctuation.
There's a second set of options available if you hit the Sym key, again with tap-and-hold second functions, giving quick access to a lot of characters. And you get Swype included with the C7 (something that's not offered on the Nokia N8) – a system that enables you to sweep a finger over all the letters of a word rather than tapping individual keys.
Swype can be fast if you know where letters are, but since your finger covers the letters you're moving over, it can be a bind if you aren't familiar with keyboard layouts. Still, you can always try it and reject it if it doesn't work for you.
What's more, typing the old-fashioned way on this screen can be a slow process too. The screen is capacitive, but not as responsive as many. We had to slow down a little from our top typing speed to ensure accuracy – and we're by no means bullet-fast.
When it comes to messaging options, you've got Yahoo! Mail, Gmail, Windows Live Hotmail and Exchange ready to go, with most of the info needed already in the phone, and the ability to set up POP accounts too.
There is good news in that the SMS viewer lets you see threaded messages in conversation style, and you can create audio messages as well as text-based ones.
Nokia C7 Internet
TThe screen of the Nokia C7 is a bit on the small side at 3.5 inches and 640 x 360 pixels. That inevitably means you don't get to see quite as much of any single web page as you do on, say, new Windows Phone 7 devices such as the LG Optimus 7, with its 800 x 480 screen, or even our old favourite the HTC Desire, which has the same number of pixels.
We ought to mention the ClearBlack display too – an AMOLED tweak that's designed to give a high-contrast result. It certainly does that, though it is not, for our money, as sharp and bright as the Super AMOLED used by Samsung in its Galaxy S.
The pinch-to-zoom system, which you'd think might add value to the browsing experience, is iffy. We found that, just as with the Nokia N8 it was jerky and unresponsive at times. It seems to falter most when zooming to a smaller screen view rather than when homing in on something for a detailed look.
If it is just text you want to zoom in on, then you can do a quick double tap on the screen to go one level in. Double tap again to go move back out.
This sounds great, but there's no text reflowing, so you're left needing to do a lot of panning to read information. Sometimes you can fix that situation by flipping the screen into wide mode, but that strategy doesn't always work.
We also found the actual process of using Nokia's web browser really, really tedious. With a new operating system, you might have thought Nokia would take the opportunity to revamp its entire web experience. But no.
We really dislike the way the user interface works. Sure, it's great that a web page is shown full screen with no menu bars consuming space, but the menu system is convoluted.
To get to menus and options you have to tap a little arrow in the bottom-right of the screen. This calls up menu screen number one, which disappears after a very short time if you don't make any selections.
Tap the top icon (the three lines) and up pops an enormous menu of choices. It's just a bit too 'round the houses' for our liking.
There's also a YouTube client, which has its moments – both good and bad. One time, it managed to crash our review handset in mid-play, which resulted in the need to remove the battery and reboot. Never fun. However, for the most part, playback was smooth.
If you pinch to zoom in a video, though, things can go squiffy.
On the other hand if you double tap on a video to bring it to full screen, things are fine.
You can get the BBC's iPlayer too, which means catch-up TV is at your fingertips. This worked well for us in full screen mode. It is best watched over Wi-Fi, and a quick double tap on a video toggles it to full screen mode.
However, as with the Nokia N8, the flash support isn't perfect. The Nokia C7 is reliant on Flash Lite 4.0, so really intensive videos might present a problem. We couldn't watch video from the BBC news website, for example.
Nokia C7 Camera
The camera specifications are pretty high-end on the Nokia C7. There's a double LED flash next to the 8MP main camera, which has a video capability of 720p. Still, it's not quite up to the standard of the Nokia N8's 12MP shooter and Xenon flash.
There are a few potentially useful features here, though, such as face detection and a vivid colour tone option in addition to the more usual black-and-white and sepia treatments. The camera is easy to use thanks to its side button, and it kicks in quickly enough for you to shoot a candid shot or video. There's none of the start-up lag here that we saw with the N8.
In addition, there's a front facing VGA camera for making video calls. Not to everyone's taste, but we can't see the harm.
The camera did well to pick out the detail in this photo on a dull day. Click here to see the full resolution image.
There is a maximum of 2x digital zoom for stills, and you can even zoom when shooting at 8-megapixels. The zoom level and resulting image quality are both pretty good. Follow the links to view the full size versions of the station and zoomed in tracks.
The sepia option lets you add an air of age to any photo. We did think there was a bit too much grey rather than brown in the photos we took, though. Follow the links to see the full size normal and sepia-toned versions of this shot.
The 720p video is shot at 25 frames a second, and it is one of the best examples we've seen. Sharp and clear, it becomes slightly jerky on our fast panning, but we've seen a lot worse.
Nokia C7 Media
The music player automatically searches any microSD card you insert for songs and podcasts and adds them to its library, integrating this with whatever else is already on the handset. With content duly processed, you get a scrollable carousel of your library. Tap anything to play it.
The player looks quite cool on screen and sound quality from the handset speaker is great. It's loud and perfectly good enough to listen to without feeling your ears are being assaulted by a set of stones grinding together. Plug a decent pair of headphones into the top-mounted 3.5mm slot and, again, the quality is impressive.
There is an equaliser, but it doesn't have a huge number of presets and you can't save a personalised one. There's an FM transmitter too and this worked perfectly well, sending tracks to various radios we tested with no problems (with track listings even showing up as RDS info where applicable).
The FM radio autoscans for stations the first time you run it and saves what it can find, which in our case was a hearty 19. You can scroll through stations by panning left and right.
Where the wide, narrow screen might not be best suited to web browsing, it comes into its own for video playback. We were able to watch a good range of movie trailers and other video content we'd downloaded. Again, sound quality was pretty decent too.
The C7 can support a wide variety of video formats, including MP4/H.264/H.263/WMV, all of which look nice on the ClearBlack OLED screen and offer a fairly decent movie-watching experience.
Nokia C7 Battery, apps and maps
The Nokia C7 has a 1200mAh battery, which on paper seems a little low to us. And since the handset functions particularly well as a music player, we suspect it could get a lot of use in that respect, which would usually result in fast battery drains.
Still, with what we consider to be an average usage pattern, including plenty of Wi-Fi, some GPS mapping and some music playback, we got two days straight from the handset without having to worry about recharging.
What's more, Nokia has put oodles of apps onto the Nokia C7 and there should be something for most users here. We've already mentioned some of the apps.
Document lovers can take advantage of QuickOffice for viewing Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, although you have to register before you can use it and can't edit documents either. There's a PDF reader too.
Photo and video editing is catered for; the Tesco groceries app is present; Filmscope tells you about movies, both those upcoming and showing now; Sports Tracker monitors your training; and there's a candidate for stupid app of the year in the shape of World Class Excuses. Its silly little excuses can be texted, emailed or posted to Facebook.
And if nothing that's built in takes your fancy, you always have the Ovi Store, of course.
It should be no surprise that the Nokia C7 packs Ovi Maps, and we found the GPS to be very good at maintaining a fix in built-up areas. We were impressed at how quickly it got a fix too, even being accurate when we were indoors and with a half view of the sky through a window.
Nokia C7 Hands on gallery
Nokia C7 Official gallery
Nokia C7 Verdict
As an early Symbian^3 smartphone it will certainly garner some attention. But we aren't sure Nokia has done enough to make its revamped OS special. It still has nested menus that would make HTC and Apple cringe, and our review handset crashed a couple of times, which ought to make any handset manufacturer hang their head in shame.
Symbian^3 just doesn't feel like it has the sparkle or ease of use to take on the leaders, we're afraid.
Neat and tidy to hold with a thin design.
Superb speakers and a well-positioned headset slot coupled with an all-too-rare FM transmitter.
Superb battery life.
A good camera that produced some great 720p footage.
Three home screens with a reasonable amount of flexibility in widget placement seem fine to us, although we can see how some people might not like the rigidity of the grid design.
No handset should ever crash.
Symbian^3 just doesn't feel modern enough. Sometimes, there are two different menu systems – for instance, when using the camera – which can be confusing. Also, nested apps in the main menu should really be a thing of the past.
Poor integration of Facebook and Twitter data with contacts.
No text reflowing in the web browser.
Some aspects of the Nokia C7 are great. We like the good battery life; the screen is sharp and clear, if a little small; and there are plenty of apps on board. We find the three home screen system is perfectly liveable, and the camera and video playback are both well above average.
But Symbian^3 might not be enough to lift Nokia from its current popularity levels into the stratosphere.We feel that Nokia has tried to box clever by retaining much of the old S60 look and feel in order to prevent forcing a steep learning curve on existing fans. In doing so, it's constructed a new OS that is too close to its predecessor for us.
Nested menus in the main menu listing is a disaster for quick access, as is having to remember how to navigate through two different menu systems when using the camera.