First Impressions –
Recently i got to trial the E7 thanks to the kind folks at WomWorldNokia. The moment i opened the package i was greeted by a small box inside which, the big E7 resided along with other box contents, which are exactly the same as what the N8 got except for the charger which is Micro USB, not proprietary 2mm.
First feeling after i took up the E7 in hand is “Damn, it is heavy”, weighing in at a hefty 176g, this is probably the heaviest phone i have handled, ever. The design, i felt, was very premium with high quality materials used all over the body. We are greeted by the 4 inch deep black screen (Clear black AMOLED touchscreen). When i say “deep black” i really really mean it. This is before turning on the phone, that is. And then the Symbian inauguration was followed by opening up the slide to reveal one of the USPs of this device, the well spaced four row qwerty keyboard which was a delight to type on . The slide is very reaffirming, giving us a clean snapping sound and it is quite strong, no rattles, no abrasion, it is very clean.It runs the same old symbian^3 as the N8, but it is quite optimized for its screen estate of 4 inches. Have to reiterate again that the 4 inch CBD AMOLED display is one of the best i have ever seen, right up there with the SGS2 display which is, of course splendid from what i have seen.Camera is EdoF and it is bad, i will explain why.
That’s all for the first impressions, let’s get on to the full blown review then, shall we?
The hardware, this is one of the most important aspects of a premium device like the E7, does it live up to the standards ?
The body is made of Anodised aluminium, which is scratch and dirt resistant. There have been instances when i just wiped off the scratches. The E7’s body is somewhat softer than the N8’s unibody aluminium. Feels great in hand but it is very slippery, almost dropped it once. When you look at the E7 face front, it looks like a solid single piece, the design is excellent, i mean, the top piece sits tightly over the bottom piece with the curves aligned beautifully on the sides. The weight, as i already mentioned quite a few times, HEAVY, while they have tried very hard to the keep the thickness down and considerably succeeded in that i ll say. One of the slimmest landscape QWERTYs i have handled.
See what i am talking about ? If you slide over your hands on the sides, you would not feel that this phone has two pieces to it, i promise. Let’s explore the phone now. The right side of the phone has the camera key, the volume slider and the Sim card slot.
The camera button sits on the curvature of the phone, so it is pretty hard to press and you have to press it harder to make it open up the camera app. It is not so comfortable to take photos with that button, thankfully camera being EdoF there is no two step button, if so, i am sure it would have been worse. I feel the C7 had the adequate feel for a camera button. The volume slider, looking similar to the lock slide is what Nokia calls, a new way of increasing/decreasing volume, i hate it, totally. Rocker buttons would have been better, period. The SIM slot is easy to take out, comes completely out as a card compartment and it is easy to fit the card in. But the problem is, people may mistake it as the memory card slot and straight away try to open it. And thanks to no hotswap in Symbian, it forces a restart every time the card comes out. I would rate the design of the right side of the phone as a disastrous failure, what were they thinking ?
The left side of the phone has the lock slide, which is very easy to operate and comes in direct contact with the right hand’s index finger in the portrait and the thumb in landscape, no qualms. The top part of the phone is the communications hub inside as well as outside. Three ports – 3.5 mm headset jack, HDMI out, Micro USB that supports USB OTG and a power button. The panel is made of very high quality plastic, way better than the N8’s crappy quality plastic which easily breaks. Moreover, the power button is splendid to use with adequate tactile feedback. Also, underneath is where the Antenna resides. Have a look at the comparison of plastic quality between the N8 and E7 :
The E7 is devoid of the micro SD card slot and the standard 2mm charging port, which is normally ubiquitous in the Nokia world. My thumbs down for these missing features, seriously, i can live without a 2mm jack,but lack of micro SD card slot is inexcusable. If i am able to run 720p divx movies on my phone, then there is a huge possibility of loading up the phone with collection, and moreover, high bitrate 720p videos from the camera occupy a lot of space on the 16 GB mass memory too. what about a huge library of music ? Nope can’t do. What about easy transfer of content from old phone to new ? Nope can’t do that too .Even apps/games sometimes take up a chunk of memory. Either they could have gone straight for the 32GB mass memory or they could have atleast given the E7 a memory slot. Design constraints, they say.Comfortable answer, i say.
The slider supporting the display and connecting to the keyboard is made of Aluminum and it is aesthetically elegant too. The main hinge is supported by a small secondary hinge underneath to stop the wobble, and there a few small dots on the top of the keyboard that provides the stopping point for the display. Even underneath the display is aluminum. Opening the slide is not easy for first timers, but, as i said earlier, it gives a very positive reaffirming feel once you open it. The easiest way to open the slide is, hold it in the landscape, keep your two thumbs on the top piece by the nearest side and push with adequate power.It snaps to the angular opened state in an instant. Sometimes i just played with the slide, opening it and closing it repeatedly just for listening to the snap sound/physical feedback. And it has beautiful branding at the back when in an opened state.
And then, after opening the slide, that godly keyboard is revealed to us.
Ok, i might be over reacting a bit, but it is really THAT good. Sufficiently spaced with excellent tactile feedback, the keys are a delight to use. A closer look :
Almost all the time, i used the qwerty for any kind of text entry and hence, the device was used majorly in the landscape position. The key placement is excellent but reaching the top most row out of four rows might be difficult for smaller hands, i had no problem with that though. The keyboard was perfectly suited for big hands like mine. The legends are very clear and legible, the keys are sufficiently backlit in darkness, have a look :
The functionality of the Keyboard is great too.Having the D pad means you can navigate the interface without touching the screen in Symbian, that’s a plus . The space key is rightly placed this time, with two useful shortcuts accompanying it by the sides ( @ and ? ). The backspace key is used as a delete key while accessing files/mails. Shift key is used for multiple selections. Ctrl is very helpful for copy paste functions ( Ctrl+c Ctrl+v ). Shift plus D pad easily selects text for cut,copy/paste. The Alt key denoted by the yellow arrow pointing to the north east of the keyboard allows you to select the alternate symbols over the primary keys, and finally the sym lets you select the other symbols by opening a window on the screen ( Like the * on T9 ). Only problem i faced in this keyboard is the closed type of this keyboard i.e it kind of rests in a recess on the phone, it is curved at the ends and not flat, so accessing the left most or right most keys is tough, especially when you try to use the alt key in combination. For example, it is very tough to swiftly select the ” ! ” on the keyboard. It’s just a minor usability issue, otherwise the Keyboard is great in look, feel and functionality, perfect. Most valuable asset of this phone .
Another great thing to boast in this phone is the beautiful display.
The display measures 4 inches in diagonal, covered by Corning Gorilla glass just like every other Symbian^3 phone. But the technology with which the display is made matters the most. The display is of the AMOLED type manufactured by Samsung ( originally made famous in the Omnia HD ).Nokia have called it the Clear Back Display AMOLED. The display is true to it’s name, blacks are so deep that you cannot see the bezel unless you concentrate very hard. What Nokia have done is, taken a polarizing layer and added it to the display as an overlay, this overlay “polarizes the screen” meaning – allows only selectively angled rays. Hence sunlight visibility becomes better with less reflections on the screen. On the other hand, the display also gains higher contrast and thereby showing blacks as black, or i should say ” Pitch black “. We can easily notice this whenever the screen is turned off, or better, compare it with the N8’s normal AMOLED display :
Can you spot the bezel on the E7 ? Nope,while you can easily outline the bezel and the comparatively bluer display of the N8. That’s the magic of CBD, also notice smudgier reflections on the E7. The colour and contrasts are very slightly better than the N8, not much of a difference. However i found the E7 is teensy brighter than the N8. Here’s a comparison of the same photo(originally taken on the N8)
If you keenly notice, you will find the E7 display a bit warmer than the N8’s. I liked the extra warmth, it made viewing white pages not look bluish . Only downside of the display is the screen resolution on nHD( 640 X 360 ), to keep compatibility with apps. But i didn’t notice jagged edges or weird text renderings. After i got used to the resolution, i found that the N8 was high resolution and found the iPod nearly equivalent to paper on a display. Relativity plays a key role here, if you had heavily used a very high resolution display you would find it hard to adapt to the E7. Otherwise, it is just fine with various optimizations in place to make your viewing a pleasure, enhanced by great angles and superb color/contrast. The menu button on the front is tons better in terms of feel than the N8, and it is placed exactly where i wanted, in the middle. And the button doesn’t bleed too much of light like the N8 in darkness, just adequate and it is well styled too.
There is also a proximity sensor and a front facing camera , they are nearly invisible to the naked eye. They work as expected, no qualms. That sums up the front face of the E7.
The back of the E7 features mainly the camera, the loudspeaker and the secondary microphone. Oh, and there is no Eseries branding except for a small Nokia logo etched into the aluminum. The back is very smooth with the camera in a small recess. The loudspeaker is awkwardly placed on the bottom, which, while placed on it’s back completely mutes the speaker. Bad design decision, just like the N8. Now onto the camera.
This is the much criticized EdoF 8 mp unit on the E7. Except the N8, every other Symbian^3 or Anna based phone has the same unit. Here are some image samples : View it and judge for yourself
These are my handpicked samples out of many photos which i didn’t show you because they were either blurred or shaky. Flash is quite ok, but EDoF spoils close ups with no focus, and the further we go, the flash fails to brighten up the subject. The colors are not vivid, contrast is dull, most photos get washed out, terrible results sometimes. By far, one of the worst cameras ever placed in a premium device. Forget focus, even long shots are bad. My experience with the C7 was much better, it produced better pictures than the E7 although they both are sporting the same unit. Software to blame ? i think so. Post processing plays a key role in digital camera, that might be a reason. Or maybe my review unit alone had a worse camera unit ? Only Nokia knows !
Another argument is, when buying a premium device, an user expects more out of the device, while he may feel happy about the design, feel, display and keyboard, he/she may not be satisfied with the poor results from the camera. It will not give them the premium feel or open up the options to explore ( Macro photography and all ). I am ok with EdoF in cheaper devices like the C7 or C6-01, heck even the X3-02 has a great still camera for it’s PRICE. There you go, thats the key, PRICE, one who pays out of his pocket to buy a personal device, expects a lot out of it, especially the camera, it is the most important feature in a phone which lets you capture memories of your loved ones or the snapshot of what your eyes loved at that instant. Providing a sub par experience at a much higher price is a turn off. Anyhow, let’s just assume that it is just a matter of software tweak, hoping it ll get rectified in Anna or belle.
While reading the above rant, you might have noticed i mentioned only stills, yeah thats what the E7 sucks at, the Video mode is fabulous, even better than the N8 in terms of keeping focus of closer objects ( 20 cm closer than the N8’s hyperfocal video mode ) Audio is very clear with stereo sound recording. The EDoF tech is perfectly suited for video. I find continuous autofocus great for macro videos but for casual recording, EdoF kicks ass. Something to be proud of. No, i don’t have a video sample for you, i am sure you can find a lot on youtube. The image quality in video mode surprisingly better ( again, post processing trick ? ) it is a bit warmer than the N8 and sharper.
The Symbian ^3 family of devices have a lot in common in terms of hardware innards that enable a non fragmented experience. They have the same CPU/GPU combo( 680 mhz ARM11 CPU and BCM2727 GPU ), USB otg, same audio quality using the same chip, same kind of video decoding performance, Pentaband 3G, FM transmitter.. etc. Not to mention great call quality with noise cancellation. The E7 comes closest to the N8 in terms on peripherals ( even the box contents ), both are the only Nokia devices to have , HDMI out, HDMI and USB otg adapters in the box. Both are great for multimedia consumption and presentation, in fact the E7 is slightly ahead of the N8 thanks to the awesome display. 4 inches of screen real estate, i find, is most suitable for videos and web browsing. On the hardware side, the only lacking things for me were the absence of micro SD card slot and the non removable battery which i despise on my N8 although i can remove the torx screws for replacement, the E7 goes one step ahead in eliminating any way to replace the battery, that i despise even more.
Apart from all the hardware similarities, they are similar, of course, in SOFTWARE. The E7 is a Symbian^3 device but not just any Symbian^3 device, there are quite a few scaling optimizations in place unless you notice keenly. You will understand what i am talking about right after seeing this picture :
Notice the increased distance between the icons on the E7 ? It was a pleasure to use some extra width in every application. I don’t know if the optimization is automatically done in Symbian itself or the engineers actually modified some code for E7, but everything utilizes the real estate well, kudos for that. Let me show you a system application behaving to a larger screen and then a third party application ” Gravity ” compared to the smaller screened N8.
These small differentiations make for a better experience on the E7, especially with that beautiful keyboard, text entry pains are solved. I typed more sms/mails on my phone than ever, and of course loved to tweet on this phone using gravity. Apart from these small things, the overall experience on the E7 was quite smoother than the N8, dunno why ! Maybe because there was less of apps installed on that new E7 ?
I got through my daily usage with few key apps installed and mail configured. I used Gravity for twitter ( My most used app on a daily basis, follow me on twitter @bharadc23 if u don’t believe my words 😉 ) in built client for my gmail, opera mobile for browsing ( The inbuilt browser sucks really bad ) 4squick for foursquare and youtube downloader from pico brothers for daily dose of on the go entertainment. These apps got me through a busy day, no i don’t have time for games, but there are some good ones if u really want ( Angry birds, Fruit Ninja and I must run are my favorites ).If you want more, there is the Ovi store for you, but don’t expect your favorite internet services to have dedicated apps there.
Apps aside, the OS and the hardware makes the E7 a multimedia powerhouse just like all the Symbian^3/Anna devices. Native divx support, support for subtitles in the movie player, a wide range of other codec support, and apps like Play To for DLNA, Big screen are gems that are highly capable of delivering a great experience. Trust me, if you are looking for a multimedia consumption focused device, the E7 is a strong competitor.
Key differentiation factors with respect to software
The E7 is supposed to be a business phone aimed at previous generation communicator users. It’s no where close to what Nokia wanted it to be. The preloaded free office suite is no longer exclusive to the E7. Only thing exclusive for now is the VPN features and the Office communicator. And don’t even think about it’s succession to the communicator series, it’s not at all designed to be one.
Some general rants and thoughts about Symbian
Generally Symbian as a whole is considered to have a sucky UI and an annoying user experience. I agree, but certainly it is one of the most feature rich OSes out there. And when it comes to Symbian^3, i am sold for the features alone. What you can do on the phone without connecting to a network, is what defines a phone’s offline capabilities. And they are so awesome on the Symbian^3 devices which are basically converged hardware . I have used my N8 as a standalone PC for sometime, it is THAT independent, hardware and software in the right mix made it possible. World class GPS, great multimedia capabilities and independent local file management with added advantage of USB otg makes it very viable. Sure, we could do with better stuff, like better Internet browser for a start. Qt apps offer some respite, but they need to be more in number and of higher quality.
After the feb 11 announcement it’s been out of trend for anyone to buy a Symbian device. But there are still lots who look at just hardware and brand value. For those, Symbian or whatever, doesnt matter. I acknowledge that the landscape is rapidly changing, people are becoming much more aware, it will be quite a challenge for Symbian to stay afloat. Soon,Windows phone to the rescue, let’s just hope it comes soon enough.
Standout features :
Display, Keyboard , premium design/build, Multimedia features, special hardware features like HDMI out, USB otg,FM transmitter, OS/features ( for some )
Camera, some design decisions, OS/apps ( for many )
I think Nokia have produced a very good device, but they have failed mainly in their argument which clearly screams ” Style over Substance “. Let’s ask a question and assume how they have answered through the device.
Q : ” Why is the camera not upto the mark ? ” Ans : ” No, it is really good, and hey, look at this beautiful keyboard and the design/build of the phone for which we had to go certain extremes ” User : ” ooooh *rolls eyes*”
Insert same answer for every argument, this is how they have made the E7 to what it is today. These kind of fallacies have made the users somewhat confused in their decision making. However, i understand the need for them to do so, there can’t be a better device than the N8 so as to avoid competition between their own devices. I understand the need for choice too, but it was a bit awkwardly priced at the start. It was very high, staring at around Rs.29,000 , it is now retailing at Rs. 24,000 /- , making it much more attractive as an option. With Nokia planning to support Symbian for a longer time to come, software woes are very slightly eased. If you are getting the E7 now, it will ship with the latest Symbian version ” Anna “.
At this stage i don’t see myself recommending this device to either geeks or normobs. Geeks won’t like the OS, normobs won’t like the camera. But the standout features are worth something right ?
Alternatives in the Indian market : HTC desire Z ( Retailing at around 23 -24000 INRs/- )