Nokia E7

1st Apr 2011 | 13:12

Nokia E7

Is the E7 too little, too late from Nokia?

TechRadar rating:

3 stars

With better software to support the hardware specs, this handset could be a market leader, instead it's simply a little too expensive for its asking price, and forgettable overall.

Like:

Easy to view screen; HDMI-out port; HD video recording; Classy chassis; Great keyboard

Dislike:

High price; Outdated software; Poor UI; Unintuitive media experience; Clunky browser

Nokia E7 review: Overview, design and feel

If beauty were only screen deep, the Nokia E7 series would stand a good chance in a Miss Handset competition, even up against the likes of the iPhone 4, HTC Desire S and Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc.

This QWERTY keyboard phone boasts a four-inch capacitive touchscreen, AMOLED ClearBlack display and sleek brushed aluminium casing that feels great in the hand. It's just under 14mm thick, but fairly lightweight for its size and depth.

A strong double-thumbed push to the tilt and slide mechanism will reveal the well-spaced, rubber-buttoned QWERTY pad. The hinge is a little stiff, but the solidity is appreciated.

The weight is nicely balanced held portrait, landscape or with the keypad out, and the touchscreen isn't overpowered by unwieldy additional keys.

Nokia e7

The soft keys it does have are spare and nicely designed, sticking to a keypad lock (which can be easy to accidentally brush with a palm), camera key, volume rocker and menu button.

Nokia e7

The colours look brilliant on-screen, despite a fairly low resolution and in all lights. It houses an 8mp LED flash camera and additional front-facing camera for video calling, HDMI-out, and did we mention that gorgeous-for-typing QWERTY keyboard?

Nokia e7

This is indeed a sleek handset. A pretty handset. A, dare we say, rather sexy handset. Oh okay, it's pretty much a bigger Nokia N8 with a dab of Nokia N97, but we'll let that slide.

Nokia e7

Then you delve a little deeper… and you realise this little pageant contestant probably isn't getting past the swimwear round. You open on a Home screen so cluttered, you're not sure where to look first, in fact, you're not entirely convinced this isn't just the menu for the entire phone.

Nokia e7

It's not, and there's even two more Home screens to flick through, each with that pregnant Symbian pause before it finally moves on to the next.

Running Symbian^3, this is supposed to be part of the 'next wave' of Symbian smartphones, but given the announcement that Nokia are pairing with Windows, this handset seems redundant before we even start; like a final attempt to push out a Symbian-powered phone that doesn't drive you insane with its lack of intuitiveness.

Nokia e7

It's also having a bit of a personality crisis – is it a PMP? Is it a business phone? It's not really sure what it is and ends up being neither one nor the other… a sort of bland mash of the two.

If you love to see the innards of a phone, tough luck. With a nod to the iPhone, the Nokia E7's battery is hidden away behind the metal casing, with a sliding SIM card tray and few ports. The HDMI-out, micro-USB and 3.5mm multimedia jack are all located at one end of the phone.

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

Overall it's a well-specced piece of kit, rather let down by the software it runs on, and given that it's debuting at £499 SIM free (you what, Nokia?!) or free on a £35 contract.

Nokia E7 review: Interface

Nokia E7 review: Interface

Ah, the interface. Here lies the reason why the Nokia E7 isn't the best available in its price bracket: it runs on Symbian. Even running the more lauded Symbian^3 doesn't help – it's still slow, laggy software.

If you're not a previous Nokia owner, then know that the user experience is clunky and filled with trial and error, though flipping from slab to slide-out QWERTY has thankfully no worse a reaction time than anything else you ask this handset to do.

Nokia e7

It's not instantaneous, though, and again Nokia proves that HTC handsets utilising Sense UI, such as the HTC Desire S and HTC Incredible S, are the only smartphones that can keep up with the iPhone 4 for usability.

Navigating the phone is everything you've seen before – grid menus, neat and organised (if not intuitive), and customising the three Home screens would mean you'd rarely have to dip into the main menu if you really wanted to avoid it.

Nokia e7

That said, actually customising takes too much effort in our opinion and you absolutely have to have four widgets to a column or none at all, which seems a little daft. Unlike previous handsets, the organization of the menu isn't particularly intuitive.

Thanks to the larger screen, email is no longer grouped in with Messaging and is lumped into the Applications widget. Not too awful, but it was handy to have an email inbox hooked up to the SMS/MMS inbox.

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

On the plus side, the Nokia E7 will happily multitask away, but closing any of those open apps takes an embarrassingly long time – in fact, the amount of times we accidently opened an app instead of closed it because of the lag was a constant source of irritation.

On the subject of lag, the sluggishness between Home screen swipes is also disappointing. It rarely crashed however, though if it did it would be because Nokia Ovi clients were humming away, forgotten in the background.

Nokia e7

The amount of interactions a simple option can take does make you feel like you're dialing the automated bank service of the smartphone world. "Choose from the following options… Press 1 to be a little frustrated. Press 2 for a dollop of 'Where did I find it…?' confusion…"

Overall it gels together provided you're used to it and takes a little bit fiddling around if you're not, which, while not too bad, isn't intuitive enough to excuse the price point.

Nokia E7 review: Contacts and calling

Nokia E7 review: Contacts and calling

This should be the bread and butter of the Nokia phone. Contacts and call log are accessed through Home screen shortcuts and laid out in a scrolling list view (whichever way you tip the handset).

Nokia e7

Here, it's a trademark Nokia phone all the way – utilitarian, useful, and a bit boring, frankly. Supported smart dialing and minimal social integration is about as interesting as it gets on the Nokia E7.

After transferring SIM contacts to the phone memory, we could search through 'social networks' (by this, Nokia simply mean Twitter and Facebook) and sync, adding imagery to the phonebook entry.

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

But to see any sort of social network status updates we had to then click through the Nokia Ovi client, wasting time while it loads and you sign in, to then have to dip into the Facebook or Twitter mobile site.

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Nokia e7

Nokia e7

Clearly this handset has nothing on the HTC range, including its closest in design, the HTC Desire Z. It also misses a trick not linking contacts to Foursquare, plus populating your contacts list with imagery takes a huge amount of time.

So, from the features it doesn't have, to the simple things it can do:

If you're called by an unsaved number, simply dip into the log, long tap the number and the option to save to contacts will appear.

Dip into the settings to set up speed dial shortcuts, which can then be accessed through the Call button on the Home screen.

Nokia e7

The dialler is easy to reach through a Home screen shortcut, as is the call log, though you can get to this through the dialler, too.

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Favourite contacts can be added to the contacts list, ensuring they're always at the top.

And smart dialing ensures typing in a number will bring up the corresponding letters from the alphanumerical pad, for quicker, intuitive dialing.

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There is the option of voice operated dialling, but amusingly the voice dialling recognition isn't very keen on Northern accents apparently; asking it to dial "Mel" would result in choosing to dial "Neil" or "Dan". Obviously not what was said, though others may disagree.

Unless your voice sounds particularly robotic in the first place, we'd stick to regular dialing.

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There's also a video calling option, though we'd hedge a bet that most of your contacts won't be utilising this particular feature, it's nice to know it's there.

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Of course, this is the one type of smartphone that will excel at actually calling people. Nokia's can never be faulted for that. The connection was tenacious, even in a loud pub with one bar of signal we could still have an clear-enough conversation.

It's great that despite being a sleeker-looking, fully featured phone, it still retains its 'Old Faithful' Nokia calling capabilities.

Call quality is clear and the volume gets nice and loud, and can be adjusted using the volume slider. However, clicking to the Home screen doesn't result in the call ending, meaning a few awkward voicemails were left before realisation dawned. Lesson learned: always click red, kids.

Nokia e7

Nokia E7 review: Messaging

Nokia E7 review: Messaging

The SMS/MMS messaging caries the bog standard recognisable interface for every Nokia handset anywhere, though it's simple and easy to use. There's a nice conversation view for SMS, but this is where the niftiness ends, and everything from here is bland but useful.

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

There's no universal inbox but the unified email client means you can easily switch between multiple protocols, and it's a doddle to set-up – just put in your email and password and the E7 does the rest.

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

For when you're using the touchscreen QWERTY keyboard in landscape or the alphanumeric keypad in portrait, there's a comforting haptic buzzing, but we can't believe there's STILL no mini QWERTY in portrait. Boo, we say.

Instead it's still the standard portrait experience of a touchscreen keyboard: middling responsiveness to typing, forcing you to slow down, and unintuitive spell correct that means you have to tap the correct word to replace the badly spelled one.

Nokia e7

But you're unlikely to use the touchscreen keyboards much when there's a gorgeous hardware keyboard – the standout feature of the phone. The landscape format makes for more comfortable typing than on, say, the BlackBerry Bold 9780, and the soft rubber keys are nicely spaced for quick typing.

Even for small-handed people, it's a comfortable and tactile keypad that you'd be happy enough to use if you've got a long email to draft.

However, if you're attempting to bash out a text with drink in hand, you'll have to find somewhere to rest that beer – the handset is far too heavy and clunky to use one-handed. There's autocorrect and autocomplete, but both are turned off by default.

An interesting option (but one we wonder about including) is the option to listen to text messages. Worth doing though, if just to hear a robotic voice say the words: "Mega awesome: smiley face, big smile."

Nokia E7 review: Internet

Nokia E7 review: Internet

With its beautiful four-inch touchscreen, 3G and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi capability, you'd think internet browsing would be a thing of joy on this machine. Sadly, this isn't so. It's a bit of a chore, actually.

The built-in Nokia browser doesn't automatically fit the page to the screen and is fairly slow to load perhaps due to the processing speed (680 MHz).

The capacitive touchscreen allows for pinch zooming and the quality of the pages on the screen are of passing crispness despite the fairly low 640 x 360 resolution, though it doesn't allow for zooming too far out and still being legible. Plus, when pinch zooming, the browser stutters often.

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

Flash Lite 4.0 is a welcome software inclusion, which also supports a majority of Flash 10.1 content, but pulling up the YouTube widget automatically takes you to the mobile site, means watching a tiny media player that doesn't fill the screen with patchy quality video when you do zoom in.

Streaming on the BBC iPlayer widget (which is essentially the mobile site) doesn't take too long to load, and stays a good quality when zoomed to full screen.

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

There's no text reflow, so get used to scrolling left and right if you need to zoom way in on the article you're reading.

Nokia e7

Aside from the frustrating speed, the browser is clunky to navigate and if you're not a Nokia or Symbian user, may take a little trial and error to get you around the browser's features as they're not clearly marked.

It takes far too many interactions, for example, to reload or find the browser history, which is rubbish if you accidently pressed a button and need to go back quickly. That said, when you do find the history, the swipeable thumbnails are a nice touch.

Nokia e7

Opera Mini is available to download for this handset. Funnily enough, it provides what Nokia can't in the form of a mini QWERTY touchpad in portrait mode. It's a little slower to load, if that's possible, than the built-in browser, but provides text reflow and a slightly-less-juddery zooming experience, so we'd use it over the E7's own browser if we were catching up on our news. Other than that, there's little to separate them.

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

Nokia E7 review: Camera

Nokia E7 review: Camera

Nokia e7 review: camera

The camera boasts a decent eight-megapixel camera with dual LED flash that handily beats the HTC Desire S's paltry five megapixels, but doesn't match up to the Nokia N8's 12MP. Although it's easy to open using the soft camera shortcut key built into the case, the UI is ultimately disappointing – it's too fiddly, with not enough preset modes, and those that are there are time consuming to get to.

Nokia e7

The dedicated key is a nice touch, making it easy to open the camera, but it does take a few precious seconds to load. The soft key makes it far easier to take actual pictures and video, though, a bonus that iPhone and HTC Incredible S users may envy.

There's tap-to-zoom but no autofocus, though there is face recognition software and the scene modes available include portrait, landscape, night and night portrait. Fairly limited choice, we would say… not a macro mode in sight. You're not exactly going to become the next Bailey or Attenborough with this handset.

If you're a dab hand with cameras in the first place, you can play (to some extent) with the white balance, ISO, exposure and so on, but most choices are preset and, given that you can't change the shutter speed, messing around with them only gives you marginally better photos.

The LED flash is surprisingly powerful; so much so that there's a chance we may have half-blinded a small Australian singer. Oops.

Nokia e7

Click here for full-res version

OUDOORS:In direct sunlight and automatic capture mode, the colour is sucked out of the picture almost completely

Nokia e7

Click here for full-res version

CLOUDY:In cloudier conditions and auto mode, the quality is much better with the images retaining a true-to-life colouring

Nokia e7

Click here for full-res version

INDOORS:Indoors in night mode is where the camera really shines. Taken during a gig, the quality and colour of this picture is excellent

Nokia e7

Click here for full-res version

EFFECTS:There are colour modes for editing. This is the above picture in black and white, which works really well and looks, if possible, even sharper than the colour version

There is the choice to upload to Twitter or Facebook. It also uploads photos in such a ninja-ery way that it's loaded before you can caption or generally add any explanation to the image that's about to land on your Facebook wall.

Nokia E7 review: Video

Nokia E7 review: Video

The video quality holds up better than the camera, boasting HD quality 720p resolution, shooting at 25fps.

In a dimly lit club, it made all the difference. The quality on the handset screen is excellent, though it loses a little clarity played back on a bigger screen. The microphone picks up a singer's voice in a noisy gig excellently.

But again, as with the camera, pre-set modes are sparse and you can choose from a selection of Automatic, Low light or Night mode.

Nokia e7

Somewhat making up for the lack of interesting camera modes is the video editing software. It's no iPad 2 iMovie, but you can make passably interesting videos with scene fades and titles. Sadly there's no using photo stills allowed.

If you're a video caller or a fan of MySpace ego-shots, there's a secondary camera tacked onto the front of the handset, but the quality is dire and grainier than your average British beach. Plus, despite the front-facing camera, the Nokia E7 doesn't yet support live-streaming, nor can you download Qik from the Ovi store.

Nokia e7

Taken in night mode at an indoor gig, quality is great and not as grainy as you would have expected. Audio is excellent. Using the full 3x digital zoom, the image was still excellent with very little pixilation.

Nokia E7 review: Media

Nokia E7 review: Media

Despite being billed as a Communicator phone, the Nokia E7 is media-heavy (the iPlayer widget means Prof Brian Cox on your handset, yay!) with an internal 16GB memory, though, the same as the smaller iPhone 4 size, there's no external memory card slot, or indeed, way to claw out the battery if the phone freezes and/or dies an untimely death.

It has a good array of apps, widgets and players, coming pre-loaded with a BBC iplayer widget, CNN video widget, YouTube and a Paramount movie trailers app.

The menu for the latter is so old, it reads like an airplane in-flight system from five years ago (Failure to Launch, really?). That said, if you like watching ancient movie trailers (you know, before you go rent the video from Blockbusters) the quality is good, the footage sharp – even in fullscreen mode – and the volume is excellent.

Nokia e7

You can have widgets for all of the above, plus the media player, on the Home screens, just a short finger swipe away.

Nokia e7

The Nokia E7 supports the usual suspects in audio codecs (MP3, WMA, AAC, eAAC, eAAC+, AMR-NB, AMR-WB, E-AC-3 and *gasp* AC-3) for the music player, and when holding the phone both landscape and portrait you're able to swipe through album covers in a rather, ahem, familiar-looking format.

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

Building a playlist is easy, simply long press the name of the song you want to add. You can even begin a new playlist there and then.

Nokia e7

The sound quality of the speaker is sharp but interestingly, when testing video with our own headphones, we could only hear the background noise, not the person speaking. This occurred when watching the BBC iPlayer app and YouTube, but not with video we'd recorded ourselves.

Similarly, listening to the music player with low-end headphones produced an odd, tinny/underwater sound, but after a little futile fiddling with the equaliser, delving into the settings instead and pulling the balance all the way to the right restored the vocals to the backing track for the media players and music player.

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

The Nokia earphones the handset comes with feel cheap, but attempt to provide a little comfort with different sized in-ear buds. Listening to them for an extended period would be hideous though, and the sound quality is as middling as expected, with awful distortion at the highest volume.

The chassis is comfortable enough to hold while watching movies and the audio jack is nicely placed to the top right, meaning no jabbing into prone palms. Again, you can add a shortcut to the Home screen for ease of video watching (and indeed, photo viewing).

For the video player itself, supported codecs include MPEG-4, VC-1, Sorenson Spark and Real Video 10. Once you're into the player, it's simple to navigate.

Videos are browsed in a list, rather than thumbnails, and the touchscreen controls are simple and easy to use.

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

Social Media integration for media goes as far as being able to share with Twitter and Facebook (no YouTube integration) but even then, the recorded HD video files are often far too big to be posted to Facebook via the mobile site.

Nicely, there's not just an FM radio, but a DAB Digital radio. Sweet! We thought. What a nice upgrade from your standard – oh wait. We have to use the Nokia Digital Radio Headseat DAB with it? No other headset will do? Oh. Well.

What a letdown, Nokia. Still, at least we have our FM radio, and that's nice and clear. It doesn't record, or do back flips, but it can play away in the background to whatever we're doing, so what do we need DAB for? Hmph.

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

Nokia E7 review: Battery life and connectivity

Nokia E7 review: Battery life and connectivity

The embedded 1200 mAh battery apparently offers a talk time of up to nine hours. We'd concur, having charged it every few hours when the battery dropped to two bars following heavy media and intermediate internet use.

Actually, we'd go further than concurring, to say that if you're not rabidly streaming video or consuming internet, you'd probably get a solid two days out of the phone, given that you can turn it onto standby at night and still be woken in the morning by the alarm. Plus, on the bright side, the battery beats its HTC Desire Z and HTC Incredible S competitors.

The Nokia E7 is seriously blessed when it comes to connectivity options, offering an HDMI port, micro-USB connector, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, USB On-the-Go, plus Bluetooth 3.0 as per the Nokia N8.

Nokia e7

There is, of course, also a wall charger included in the box… for nostalgic purposes, we can only imagine.

Nokia e7

Connecting to the TV via the HDMI cable is pretty awesome; there's little sluggishness except for what we've already seen and anything that's already of a high definition (so not YouTube videos) will be decently rendered on the larger screen.

Audio files sound great, and the Spotify app makes anchoring the handset to a TV the perfect party piece.

The only complaint would be the cutting off of image when playing video – apart from that, this is an excellent feature.

Tethering to a PC is simple – head on into the connectivity settings > USB settings and be prompted by a kindly Nokia note. The Nokia E7 makes for a relatively slow modem, but in times of need and no open Wi-Fi to connect to, it would be a passable connection.

We had no grumbles of 3G overriding any Wi-Fi connections, unlike the Nokia N8. All applications consistently opened using Wi-Fi where present, and only ever politely asked what to connect to when it wasn't available. Excellent job, Symbian^3, we'd pat you on the head if we could.

As for PC connectivity, Nokia Ovi Suite is what it is – not a revolution, but perfectly usable. Or it would be, had the E7 been able to connect to the PC via Bluetooth. Despite several attempts, the handset simply couldn't find the tester netbook.

Nokia e7

Luckily, USB 2.0 was there to save the day. If you're not too taken with the Ovi Suite then there's the standard drag-and-drop (often quicker than syncing).

Nokia E7 review: Maps and apps

Nokia E7 review: Maps and apps

The Nokia E7 comes nicely kitted out for the modern business person on the go – there's Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Skype to connect you to the world, CNN widget for the news and BBC iPlayer widget for the, er, PMQs.

Skype is clear, but despite the front-facing camera, it doesn't give you the option of video calling. Still, it's a nice little addition for those with friends and family in more interesting places than London.

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

Nokia e7

There's QuickOffice and Adobe PDF reader, although attempting to work on a presentation would be hell on this less-responsive touchscreen. Of course, for typing, there's the lush keyboard, so at least long emails to your minions won't be a difficulty.

Nokia e7

Spotify is available for all your premium account music needs and the phone comes stocked with a range of other fun but less-used apps, such as Last Minute hotels, Qype and the Metro.

If you're not a fan of the simple usability of the Nokia Social Networks client (we weren't) then Snaptu is available from the Nokia Ovi store, or Gravity, but that'll set you back a cool £8. £8! For Twitter?

Nokia e7

Again, all of the apps can be customised to make Home screen shortcut widgets, which is useful if you're addicted to something in particular.

As usual it's the Nokia Ovi store that's the weak link in the equation. There's a decent base of gaming and social media, but sadly nothing such as, say, a free Posterous or Tumblr app, which would have been a joy to use with the available hardware.

Maps

Now we've raved about Ovi Maps before, and on a capacitive screen of this size it's even more fun. Pinch. Zoom. Pinch. Zoom.

Although it takes a few seconds to locate via GPS, it's a strong and accurate lock when it does, and the compass doesn't waste precious seconds recalibrating the way the iPhone does. Okay, some may say it's not as pretty as Google Maps, but it's just as functional and we rather like the 3D view.

Nokia e7

The sat nav is free and incredibly easy to use. Just hit 'Drive' and input your destination and you'll soon de directed by the usual women's voice. Heading abroad? Download the free pre-cached maps for using over there and not eating up data. Score.

Nokia e7

Nokia E7 review: Hands-on gallery

Nokia E7 review: Hands-on gallery

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Nokia E7 review: Official gallery

Nokia E7 review: Official gallery

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Nokia e7

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Nokia E7 review: Verdict

Nokia E7 review: Verdict

Nokia e7

So much potential! So! Much! And yet… it's rather squandered by a sluggish OS and not a good enough processor to make the media capabilities shine.

For this money, we're not sure you wouldn't want to pick the HTC Incredible S or HTC Desire Z for a more intuitive UI or shell out the extra few pounds a month for a better browsing experience with the iPhone 4.

We liked

It has such a pretty four-inch screen with AMOLED display. The colours are sharp and the screen is usable in whatever light scenarios you can dream up. It has a great battery life for a smartphone, and the keyboard is the cherry-on-top making typing a breeze (with two hands, that is).

There are lots of great features, including the tethering, the HDMI port, the 720p filming capability, the attractive and balanced chassis, the four-inch capacitive touchscreen, the office apps and the QWERTY keyboard.

The outside of this handset is pretty much faultless and we'd be happy to slip the anodised aluminium beauty into our pockets any time.

We disliked

Symbian^3, you're not winning us over, we're afraid. You lag, mate. You make internet browsing more of a chore than it ought to be, especially with such a gorgeous screen to enjoy it on. You make the User Experience a bit… pants.

With a more responsive and intuitive OS, this phone could be a star in its category, but instead it limps behind the HTC Sense UI and is barely a step on from the Nokia N8.

It's also a real shame that the media is so unintuitive to use.

Verdict

It has a plethora of great features, many of which regular Nokia users will take in their stride. It's a pretty smartphone and the QWERTY keyboard is the tops.

But with better software to support the hardware specs, this handset could be a market leader, instead it's simply a little too expensive for its asking price, and forgettable overall.

Nokia E7 smartphone Symbian touchscreen camera phone
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