18th Jul 2011 | 17:15
Nokia's X7 looks great. But does it end up being too much of a compromise?
Nokia X7: Overview, design and feel
The Nokia X7 ought to be a flagship smartphone – it has a vast screen, it runs a revamped touchscreen OS and it looks rather nice too.
The Nokia X7 runs Symbian Anna, a revamped version of Symbian ^3. Now, as Nokia is about to get all warm and cosy with Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 Mango, do we care that ^3 may have been improved from the rather disappointing baseline it set in handsets including the Nokia N8 and E7?
Well yes, we do actually. The X7 is in the wild, and it's only fair that we are interested in how well it performs.
We've nabbed a spot of video with the X7, so see how it fares in real-life use:
The X7 isn't a low-cost or budget handset by any measure of means. Our review sample came from Three, where it costs £380 on Pay As You Go and from £30 per month on contracts as we write, so it'll set you back a pretty penny. For that money you will expect a premium product.
Base specs are good. There's an 8MP camera, 8GB of storage courtesy of a microSD card (expandable to 32GB), GPS, Wi-Fi and HSDPA to kick things off.
And you get a fair slice of quality in the looks department too. The chassis has a rather pleasing design, with angled corners that look as though they house speakers in the sides. Well, two of them do. The other two? Well they're present for symmetry's sake, we suppose.
The top and bottom edges are flat as is usual for a handset, and the top edge houses the on/off switch, a 3.5mm headset connector and microUSB port.
The long edges are more curved and are made from metal that wraps round into the backplate. This is one of the factors that helps the Nokia X7 weigh a somewhat heavy 146g. While stylistically it looks good, the backplate does lead to a couple of shortcomings.
First off, you can't get at the battery, which is locked away behind that backplate. More important from an everyday perspective, the side buttons are tricky to access because they're set on a curve that runs away from your fingers.
The volume rocker on the right is slightly more difficult than usual to rock; plus the camera button, also on the right, is difficult to use.
On the left is the SIM slot, the cover of which we found impossible to remove, and a microSD card slot which we were able to get at.
The microSD card itself sits in a little holder that pops out of the chassis. You slide the card out of the holder if you want to hotswap. It's a faff and we'd have much preferred a simple hinged cover with a standard slotting mechanism.
Turning to the front, the 4-inch AMOLED touchscreen dominates. Under it there's a lozenge-shaped physical button that opens the apps menu. We like the minimalist approach.
The large screen means a large handset – at 119.7mm x 72.8mm x 119mm you'll have trouble reaching right across it if your hands are small.
As a piece the Nokia X7 is a solid-feeling, interesting-looking smartphone with a metal backplate that helps it retain a sturdy frame that should take plenty of knocks.
Nokia X7: Interface
When Symbian went all touchy feely with version ^3 we were less than impressed. Nokia knew it had to do something with its operating system, because ^3 was generally not received very well, and, before it announced its deal with Microsoft to put Windows Phone 7 into handsets, it worked on Anna, a revamp of ^3.
We've already seen Anna in the only other handset to sport it so far, the Nokia E6. Most notable of the changes is a new icon set – which we like – but among the other changes is the fact that menus are often slicker to work with.
The Nokia X7 starts out with three home screens (the E6 had four). You can't add more as you could with the E6, and that's a pity. Still, you can fill the home screens with widgets and shortcuts, and there's plenty of room on them for many people.
Finger sweeping between the home screens is a really comfortable experience. The responsiveness to touch is great, and while there is a slight judder as each new screen resolves itself, the wait is almost too small to notice.
Getting shortcuts onto home screens is slightly convoluted – tap and hold a home screen to get + signs where you can add new stuff.
If you wish to add something, just tap a plus sign and a whole raft of options pops up.
Tap what you want to add and it appears on the home screen.
Or to remove something, tap and hold it in the same way and interact with the pop up menu to clean things up nicely.
Widgets are a fixed size and there's room for six on a home screen. Any of these widgets can be designated for shortcuts and can then contain four small icons, each of which you can populate separately.
This is a multi-step process. First configure a widget for Shortcuts, as above, then tap and hold a shortcut and choose 'Settings'.
Now you can decide what to put in each of the four shortcuts – which can be an application or a web bookmark.
The Nokia X7 screen auto-rotates, and widgets fit into a grid pattern in both wide and tall screen modes.
You can put a WLAN scanner widget onto a home screen, but it isn't necessary, because a tap at the top-right of the screen will call up a little shortcuts bar telling you whether WLANs are found. It also offers a shortcut to set an alarm (tap the time), check on percentage battery charge (tap the battery) and the full connection manager (tap the connection icon).
At the bottom of each home screen on the Nokia X7 is a row of three touch buttons.
Options enables you to do things such as fiddle with wallpaper, turn widgets offline or online and switch between open apps. Call opens up the dialler. The middle button flicks you between home screens. It's redundant really, given that you can finger swipe to do that.
If you want to see the full apps list, hit the lozenge beneath the screen. Then you are into a full screen of shortcuts with an Apps button at the bottom left that takes you into a vertically scrolling second screen showing more apps, including anything you've installed.
A little circle to the top-right of any icon indicates that an app is running.
It is a slightly convoluted system. We'd prefer a single apps screen that scrolls, with the added opportunity to categorise apps yourself if you want to.
In the end, though, you are likely to stick lots of shortcuts on the home screens and rarely venture into this part of the Nokia X7 - and plaudits should go to one of the few operating systems that offers up widgets rather than just long scrolling lists of applications.
Nokia X7: Contacts and calling
Contacts are very easily accessed on the Nokia X7 from a shortcut on the main screen or from the dialler, which you access by hitting the Call button at the bottom of every screen.
If you're business user you might like the Microsoft Communicator feature, which enables you to configure account settings. You can add a huge amount of detail for each contact, including various social networking data.
But Symbian Anna simply isn't as capable at contact management as rivals, most notably losing out to Android handsets with the HTC Sense UI overlay, such as the HTC Sensation.
The worst offence is that the contacts app on the Nokia X7 doesn't automatically pull everyone in from your social networks.
You can hit the Social Networks button on the Contact Summary page and search for individual contacts on either Facebook or Twitter one by one if you want.
But that's hardly workable if you have more than about 20 contacts, and we couldn't find a way of importing them en masse. Which is a bind.
You can import your contacts from Ovi, and setting the handset up for this is as simple as entering your Ovi login information when the handset switches on, then going into the Ovi Sync app and deciding what you want to synchronise.
There doesn't seem to be smart dialling support on the Nokia X7. Head for the dialler and start tapping out a number and all you see in the search box is the number itself.
We're slightly confused, as in Symbian^3 you have smart dialling support, which isn't present here, and there's no reason Nokia wouldn't have brought it across to Anna. We're having a word with the company now to see if it's a bug, but it looks right now like smart dialling to call up contacts more easily isn't enabled.
Still, the good news is that call quality was great and signal strength on our review sample, from Three, was good at all times. We didn't notice any dropping out during calls, and whenever we wanted to make a call, we could. Mind you, we were in well provisioned London throughout the test period.
There's noise reduction provided courtesy of a microphone on the back of the handset that also picks up sounds when you are recording video.
This seemed to work quite well. We tested the phone in a variety of scenarios, and in all cases we weren't asked to speak up at all, which is a large occurrence when we're using other phones even with noise cancellation like the HTC Sensation.
Nokia X7: Messaging
Symbian Anna has a new QWERTY keyboard in portrait mode (that was inexplicably missing from older Symbian versions) and we found it comfortable to use on the large 4-inch screen of the Nokia X7. We did, however, have trouble with the space bar.
Nokia has put a row of shortcuts underneath the space bar row, and because we expect the space bar to be right at the bottom of the screen we kept hitting the screen too far down.
The auto correct leaves a bit to be desired, too. Automatic insertion of apostrophes seems to have been entirely forgotten, and that's really annoying because there's no tap and hold to get second characters such as the apostrophe.
You have to go into a second keyboard screen of the Nokia X7 for the apostrophe and other characters, which just wastes time.
In wide mode you get a larger, easier to use QWERTY keyboard, but can see less of the text you are working on.
You've got a good range of messaging options on board beyond just SMS, with Chat catering for IM via the likes of Ovi Chat, Yahoo, Google Talk and MSN – but again this all functions via Ovi itself, and it feels a little slow and clunky.
It is annoying that both Chat and Email are nestled in the Applications folder while SMS is in Messaging, and that appears in the main apps listing. That's one of the odd hangovers from Symbian that you learn to live with - although you can move them around to different folders to organise things more easily.
You can set up mobile email easily, and a range of email services including Google, Yahoo and Hotmail have preconfigured settings so all you need to enter are your login details. Other email services need a bit more detail by way of SMTP and POP information, and that's available from your ISP if you've got the will or know-how to go and find it.
With email accounts set up, you can configure schedules for auto retrieval of email on the Nokia X7 so as to get a good fit between battery life and being up-to-date.
Social networking is a bit of a pain to use efficiently. Nokia defines social networking as Facebook and Twitter, and to get to either you need to use the Social app on the handset, which itself kicks in via Ovi. It is a bit long-winded, although login is mercifully easy.
Once you're there, the big screen delivers well, and it is easy to post updates once you get past that blasted space bar issue.
Nokia X7: Internet
The Nokia X7 offers HSDPA and Wi-Fi connections, the former with a top download speed of 10.2Mbps, so internet access on the fly should be no problem.
The web browser in Symbian Anna loads pages quickly. The TechRadar home page loaded in under 10 seconds for an overview and around 25 seconds for the full home page. Bookmarks can be put onto a home screen for quick access, which is another boost to fast use.
There's a little on-screen icon you tap to call up a huge set of options that help you make the most of web browsing, including providing quick access to bookmarks.
There's pinch to zoom support, and text reflowing works well for nearly every website we encountered, keeping the X7 in the same league as the Galaxy S2 in such scenarios.
Flash is supported on the Nokia X7, and we were able to stream content from websites such as BBC iPlayer. It's only Flash Lite 4.0 on offer, so many sites won't load up too well - but it hits the main options nicely, and is a cut above Apple's Flash hatred.
And there's good back tracking support, with a Back button on the home screen and windows showing your browsing history so you can page through them and flick about.
But all is not quite rosy. Pinching to zoom wasn't always smooth, and Flash video was a bit jerky too thanks to only being the Lite version. Sometimes sound and vision didn't synchronise as a result.
There's a screen resolution issue on the Nokia X7 too – at 360 x 640 nHD it's not the sharpest. Generally we were surprised to find this not a problem, but we did notice it most when web browsing, and in particular when zooming in, because text was a bit on the fuzzy side.
There was also an issue with some web pages sticking themselves in a constant reload loop, something which seems to be a little bit of leftover clunk from the Symbian phones of old.
We also noticed that the Nokia X7 handset got a bit hot when web browsing, and we wonder how good that is for the long-term life of the phone - but then again, that's an issue with plenty of smartphones when the processors get stressed loading a ton of content, so we're pointing our fingers far and wide here.
We think some of these problems are down to software bugs, which might be ironed out over time, but obviously there's nothing that Nokia can do about the screen resolution.
Nokia X7: Camera
With an 8MP camera on board, the Nokia X7 clearly doesn't have the N8's capabilities, but 8MP is still a lot in smartphone terms.
Nokia boosts this with 720p video recording, and a good double-strength LED light that sheds more light than usual on indoor scenes.
Still, we're upset at the lack of twiddles and tweaks in the camera settings, which means you can't have a huge amount of fun with pictures.
There's no front camera on the Nokia X7, either. We'd have liked one even though we don't use them very often - but if not having one keeps the cost down, we're fine with that.
Because the camera button is on a curved edge and fitted flush, you can neither see it when you're framing a photo nor feel it easily with a finger. So tapping to shoot is a bit of a trial and error activity until you get a feel for where the button is.
There is some fairly nifty image editing software on board that you can use to play with your photos after you've taken them. This includes a big range of different filters.
NORMAL: The Nokia X7 captures a fairly good still image but you don't have to zoom in very far to get fuzzing
SEPIA: The sepia filter does a fairly neat job
BLACK-AND-WHITE: Black-and-white shots are another of the relatively few shooting modes on offer
VIBRANT: Probably the best shooting mode is Vibrant – this lifts the colours a tad above their normal shades
INDOORS:Indoor normal shooting mode is a bit washed out
FLOURESCENT:But switch on the fluorescent white balance mode and things don't improve
Nokia X7: Video
With 720p video shooting at 25 frames per second, the Nokia X7 promises quite nice things for video shooting. We like that it is possible to zoom within a video capture, although in reality – as our samples show – focusing isn't even throughout the zooming process.
Nokia X7: Media
Right then, here's a place where the Nokia X7 ought to shine. The large screen and its AMOLED technology should be able to do video footage justice.
Given that video playback is one of the USPs of the Nokia X7, you might wonder at the low screen resolution. But actually video playback on the 360 x 640 screen is remarkably good. This is particularly the case if you're looking at video shot on the handset itself, but it works equally well with third-party video too.
DivX, XviD, MP4, H.264, H.263 and WMV are supported and our sample files in all formats were smooth and displayed good colour performance. Video and photos are brought together in a single screen, and you just tap at a thumbnail to view what you want.
Sound quality is good too. There's plenty of volume from the two speakers. You'll remember before we mentioned that the four corners of the chassis look like speaker grilles, but only two house speakers.
Storage is a bit of an issue, too. There's a mere 350MB of internal memory. Now, Nokia does provide an 8GB microSD card, but that's hardly enough, really, to keep us happy. Not when the Nokia E6 offers up to 40GB of storage with the built-in and external memory.
The handset is quite comfy to hold when viewing moving media, though to be honest we'd have liked a kickstand so we could prop the thing up and sit back comfortably.
The integrated YouTube player picks up video from the web and streams it nicely, too.
Audio is handled by a player that sadly failed to pick up album art from our microSD card. Still, again output from the built-in speakers was quite good for our audio files, if a little high on the tinny tones.
There's an equaliser with precious few presets and no chance to set up your own – we'd have liked that option.
You can slap a widget onto a home screen to give you control of music playback when you're not in the player, and if you hit the tiny album art thumbnail it offers, it'll open up the full player.
An FM radio delivers nice quality sound and quickly searches and finds new stations - you obviously need the headphones as usual, but on the whole it's a static-free experience.
It also offers a link into the Ovi store in case you fancy buying a little bit of music.
There's an app to use with the Nokia DAB headset should you prefer DAB to FM.
However, Nokia doesn't offer either an FM transmitter or any kind of DLNA support. For a media-focused handset the latter, in particular, really ought to be here.
Nokia X7: Battery life and connectivity
We've already noted that Nokia does the dirty and puts the battery behind a non-removable metal backplate on the X7.
This might make for sleek lines in design terms, but it is irritating when it comes to swapping the battery for a new one for extended life, and even to doing a forced shutdown if there's a serious software issue.
Either way, we think inaccessible batteries are bad news.
Nokia says the battery will provide six and a half hours of GSM talktime, four and a half on 3G, six hours of video playback and 50 hours of music playback if you are offline (who plays music offline, really, unless they are on an airplane?).
The good news is that we got through two days of usage with a moderate amount of internet access, mobile email and video viewing over both HSDPA and Wi-Fi and the battery was down to around 40 percent.
Worse news was that the battery life indicator seemed to be stuck on five bars during that time and then dropped right down to two bars.
It's a bug or glitch, but a serious one if you are relying on the battery indicator on the Nokia X7.
All the usual connectivity suspects are present – Wi-Fi, HSDPA and GPS. Nokia's USB on-the-go is also here – so you can plug in external devices such as hard drives if you have an adaptor for the microUSB port. Nokia doesn't provide one, so you are left to buy it as an accessory.
Surprisingly, there's no DLNA on offer, but we're hoping that this is something that can be rectified with a dedicated application or future firmware update.
Nokia X7: Maps and apps
Ovi Maps is the direction finder of choice and comes on the Nokia X7 in its new updated format that includes public transport routes. There are lots of other apps pre-installed too.
Maps look great on the big screen and there are plenty of views on offer including 2D and 3D views and a night mode for when you need things that little bit less bright. You can even overlay transit lines – such as the tube lines in London, and scrolling around the application was generally slick, although the constant loading did produce a little judder.
A folder labelled Office contains all manner of bits and bobs including a calculator, voice recorder, notes app, Adobe Reader and QuickOffice for viewing – but not editing – Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.
You've also got the BBC iPlayer which uses the aforementioned Flash Lite player - although unlike the long-forgotten Nokia N96, we can't download the files to view later.
And the Ovi App Store is on hand to boost your apps list as and when needed - but could do with being much more widely stocked. It will be interesting to see what effect the Nokia Windows Phone handsets have on this portal - will users get access to the thousands of extra apps created for Microsoft's platform?
Nokia X7: Hands-on gallery
Nokia X7: Official gallery
Nokia X7: Verdict
Nokia's X7 shows off Anna, an update to Symbian that Nokia must hope is more endearing than version^3 was. It packs that into a neat chassis and combines it with a 4-inch screen. Sounds like a great media handset, then.
But the screen resolution is low, at 640 x 360, and while this doesn't show the cracks as much as you might think, it is far from perfect.
Then there are the subtle things such as a chassis design that lets you think there are four speakers, only to let you down with just two.
And Anna itself, while an improvement over ^3, doesn't blow us away. It might look nicer, and have a better menu structure, but it still suffers from old Symbian problems such as nested menus.
Finally, we found ourselves waiting at times for apps to start running and for video to catch up after pauses. The 680MHz processor might just not be quite up to the job being asked of it here.
We know we've disrespected the screen resolution, fo'sho', but the quality of the Nokia X7 display for many purposes is good enough - just not the high quality we've seen from the iPhone 4, HTC Sensation or Samsung Galaxy S2.
The overall hardware design is appealing. It's just that little bit quirky and different from the norm, and of course, like most Nokias, battery life is good and can offer two days' decent use.
The lack of built-in storage in the Nokia X7 is mean. OK, Nokia provides an 8GB microSD card, but really, we'd have liked 8GB inside too, particularly because this handset is touted as one that's good for media playback, and media needs plenty of storage space.
The caddy system for swapping microSD cards is fiddly to use.
For a handset with such a large screen, we're surprised at the relatively low screen resolution and lack of DLNA.
And as we've mentioned before, Nokia really needs to work on its Facebook and Twitter integration.Please, Nokia, sort this out as soon as possible.
And while we're impressed with the improvements to the internet browser, the Anna update still doesn't bring Symbian in line with Safari or the Android efforts.
There are nice things we can say about the Nokia X7. It has good hardware design, a basically pleasing screen and good battery life. And Symbian Anna is a step in the right direction.
But we just aren't sure where Anna is headed in the long term, and that alone could make the Nokia X7 a blind alley. And it doesn't do anything supremely well.
If you are a Nokia fan and want a top quality camera you should be looking at the Nokia N8.
If you want a superb physical keyboard, then the Nokia E7 is worth your attention.
Great social networking integration? Go Android instead, with something such as the HTC Sensation.
With those bases covered, it's tricky to see precisely where the Nokia X7 fits in.