JKE’s Nokia E71 review: (4) the fine print

The E71 is a busi­ness phone.

Having said that, it is also sui­ted for tho­se users who actual­ly have to cough up some savings and are loo­king for a decent mobi­le work­hor­se. As oppo­sed to an iPho­ne (no tac­ti­le feed­back) or ano­t­her QWER­TY-equip­ped Win­dows Mobi­le pho­ne, the E71 comes with the per­fect mix­tu­re of (a) usa­bi­li­ty, (b) design, © built qua­li­ty and (d) connectivity.

Howe­ver, it still has some flaws that need to be men­tio­ned here and may part­ly be chan­ged by upco­m­ing firm­ware upgrades.

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Com­ing from a Nokia N95, I am of cour­se alrea­dy spoi­led in terms of mul­ti­me­dia func­tio­n­a­li­ty. And this alt­hough I am one of tho­se users who pre­fer the busi­ness func­tions over to the mul­ti­me­dia capa­bi­li­ty. I pri­ma­ri­ly use my N95 for rea­ding e‑mails on the train, lis­tening to some music and taking a few snapshots from time to time (even in macro mode, which is qui­te decent on the N95). Rea­sons enough to allow a direct com­pa­ri­son of the E71 with my N95. But mind you — the fol­lowing obser­va­tions aren’t meant to be a com­pa­ri­son alone!

Size/handling/design: The E71 is one sexy pho­ne, comes with a per­fect form fac­tor (not too small, not too big), is VERY slim, has decent weight, a per­fect build qua­li­ty and a nice QWERTY key­board. I’ve never had a sexier pho­ne, actually.

The N95? Com­pa­red to the rest of Nokia pho­nes, the N95 appears to be some pro­to­ty­pe. Whoever inven­ted that dou­ble sli­der mecha­nism and allo­wed the screen to be lower than the sur­roun­ding frame should go back to school.

It may be a bit exa­g­ge­ra­ted, but the E71 actual­ly has this spe­cial aura I call the iPho­ne fac­tor: you see it on your table and just enjoy loo­king at it.

The Navi key alo­ne (D‑pad, joy­pad, scroll key) — that sil­ver, squa­red ring below the dis­play- is actual­ly rea­son enough to switch from an N95. As you can see from the pic­tu­re below, the N95 seems to have a slight­ly lar­ger Navi key — and still the one on the E71 is much bet­ter. And the­re’s much more to it than just four direc­tions and a but­ton in the midd­le: new e‑mails/missed pho­ne calls, etc are indi­ca­ted by a illu­mi­na­ti­on behind the key that flas­hes up in regu­lar inter­vals. Neat!

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E71 vs. N95‑1

The keboard is small but so was the key­pad on the N95 when I first used it. As Ste­ve Litch­field alrea­dy poin­ted out on his in-depth review of the E71: “you need to per­form even more fin­ger gym­nastics in order to type on the (45mm from q to p) tiny thumb key­board”. Right.

Being used to a Ger­man QWERTZ key­board lay­out, I’d actual­ly like to test it under dif­fe­rent (loca­li­zed) con­di­ti­ons though.

Also, some cha­rac­ters are hid­den under the bot­tom right “Chr” (cha­rac­ters) key. Why? Only God and Nokia engi­neers know..

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the key­board on the E71

Key­press is actual­ly qui­te nice. Plus you’ll be fas­ter typ­ing with both hands/more than one fin­ger — but well, aren’t we used to that from the iPho­ne? ^^ Noki­a’s phi­lo­so­phy of pro­du­cing pho­nes that can be ope­ra­ted with only one hand holds true for the E71 — it is doable (alas with some gymnastics).

Oh, and about tho­se num­ber keys: once you’­re on the stand-by (home) screen, you can just press the num­ber keys and they will appe­ar as a tele­pho­ne num­ber to dial or save (as oppo­sed to the assump­ti­on that you’d have to press that tiny grey arrow key on the bot­tom left first to acti­va­te num­ber input).

Screen size: with 2,36″ (~2,4″) about 0,2″ smal­ler than the N95, but still big enough for plea­sant working, same screen reso­lu­ti­on of 320x240. While the one on the E71 is only hori­zont­al­ly ori­en­ta­ted, the one on the N95 may be swit­ched, eit­her on the press of a but­ton or — sin­ce the latest firm­ware upgrade — also auto­ma­ti­cal­ly. The­re’s a moti­on con­trol sen­sor insi­de that con­trols the screen dis­play on the N95 and which also pro­vi­des lots of inte­res­ting soft­ware gim­micks (e.g. soft­ware that auto­ma­ti­cal­ly silen­ces the N95 once you turn it around, or racing simu­la­tor that allows a stee­ring by moving the dis­play around). Both screen sizes pro­vi­de a simi­lar brow­sing experience.

Bat­te­ry run­ti­me: 1500mAh on the E71 vs. 950mAh on the N95‑1. Actual­ly, I’ve expec­ted an even lon­ger run­ti­me on the E71. With an average usa­ge bet­ween 6–8hrs/d, the pho­ne needs to be rech­ar­ged after 2–3 days. Still much bet­ter than the N95‑1 for which I’d bought a desk crad­le via eBay — you’ll have to rech­ar­ge the N95‑1 on a dai­ly (!) basis. Now com­pa­re that with the old Nokia 6310i which came with an acti­ve stand­by time of about 8–12 days (LiPo accu).

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BP-4L (E71) vs. BL-5F (N95‑1) — the big­ger, the better?

Came­ra:

E71: What a hor­ri­ble came­ra sen­sor! Point the came­ra into a slight­ly dar­ker cor­ner and it a) won’t focus and b) also gives lot of image noi­se. Bah!

It also does­n’t have a decent flash. Why not? Why??

Default mode is fixed focus, auto focus may be added while pres­sing the “T” key. Why did­n’t they put this in the midd­le of the Navi key? Becau­se it doesnt pro­vi­de enough sen­si­ti­vi­ty. Nokia could impro­ve on that and remap the key to a dedi­ca­ted came­ra but­ton on the side. But they didn’t.

If the came­ra is THAT important to you, you may be inte­res­ted in ano­t­her phone.

Macro mode is qui­te nice though — see Ste­ve Litch­fiel­d’s dedi­ca­ted review on this. For an under­per­forming came­ra (sen­sor?) that comes ship­ped with the E71, it’s rather asto­nis­hing that the macro mode is so good.

Defi­ni­te­ly lots of room for an impro­ve­ment here, part­ly solva­ble by an upco­m­ing firm­ware update (the cur­rent firm­ware ver­si­on is 100.07.76 — go figure…100!).

N95: the queen. I’ve taken most of my pho­tos on Flickr sin­ce August 2007 with the N95 ONLY. A came­ra pho­ne will of cour­se never be as good as a dedi­ca­ted came­ra, but the N95 comes qui­te clo­se to achie­ving that (and in my case, it just did that — sub­sti­tu­ting my digi­cam for some time).

Still, both came­ras are good enough for snapshots (and to be honest, I’ve seen qui­te a few images on Flickr late­ly that have been taken with an expen­si­ve DSLR and were hor­ri­b­ly out of focus. So it’s not about the equip­ment alo­ne, but rather about how to take good pictures).

Mul­ti­me­dia: The­re are dif­fe­rent play­ers on both the E71 and the N95 for audio and video con­tent, and while the N95 comes with a bet­ter audio play­er, both just do the job.

Unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly, this isn’t the only dif­fe­rence, as the N95 has a 3,5mm head­pho­nes jack while the E71 only has the 2,5mm one. 3,5mm is what you’­re pro­bab­ly used to from other equip­ment, mea­ning: you could also use the mic that comes with your daugh­ter’s “My first Sony”-baby­pho­ne tog­e­ther with the N95, while the E71 only accepts the 2.5mm plugs. Why? May­be becau­se of design and mar­ke­ting reasons.

The HS-47 head­pho­ne set that comes ship­ped with the E71 is almost as bad the one that came with the N95. Remem­ber that issue I had expe­ri­en­ced with the AD-43 con­trol unit befo­re? Well… a cheap bat­te­ry insi­de kil­led the wired remo­te con­trol unit after 4–5 mon­ths in use. Took me some time to figu­re that out, bought ano­t­her con­trol unit via eBay from Chi­na and am cur­r­ent­ly only using a 10,- EUR SONY head­set with no addi­tio­nal functions.

The HS-47 appar­ent­ly doesnt need a bat­te­ry, as it only has a small switch and a micro­pho­ne. So why is it only “almost” as bad? Becau­se Nokia — EVENTUALLY! — did what I had anti­ci­pa­ted for a long time: moving the micro­pho­ne clo­ser to the left head­pho­ne. If you’­re a SonyE­ris­son user, you’ll know what I mean: a micro­pho­ne at the height of your mouth — whe­re it’s sup­po­sed to be, and not some­whe­re on the chest.

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the left head­pho­ne on the BH-903 Blue­tooth head­set (extra!)

Need­less to say that Nokia would­n’t know how to gene­ra­te some extra inco­me — which is why tho­se kind folks from WomWorld/Nokia also pro­vi­ded a BH-903 Blue­tooth head­set (part­ly pic­tu­red abo­ve) which I’ll cover in a fol­lowing post. The most important dif­fe­rence bet­ween the stan­dard (HS-47) and the extra Blue­tooth (BH-903) head­set: the ear­pho­nes on the BH-903 are coni­cal­ly shaped, much like tho­se 10,- EUR SONY ear­pho­nes. Round vs. coni­cal is a big dif­fe­rence becau­se the stan­dard, round ones will at one point just fall out of your ears, espe­cial­ly while wal­king. Trust me, this is an issue.

Firmware/CPU: as men­tio­ned, users are wai­t­ing for a firm­ware update. It took about a year for Nokia to sup­ply it’s users with a decent firm­ware for the N95 (20.xx.xx & abo­ve), but the E71 still has some issu­es that could/should be sol­ved by a firm­ware update.

Both the N95 and the E71 are based on Sym­bi­an S60 FP1. What does that mean? For me and you as users, this could mean anything, but then: the E71 is MUCH fas­ter than the N95.

Well, is it real­ly fas­ter? What about the CPU insi­de? What about video mode, for instance? Does­n’t the video func­tion on the E71 only pro­vi­de 10–15 frames / second as oppo­sed to the 30 fps @ 640x480 (“You­Tube mode”)? The N95 comes with a dedi­ca­ted 3D gra­phics chip for such spe­cial tasks while the E71 does­n’t. So how come it still feels fas­ter? Is that due to the many app­li­ca­ti­ons that are run­ning as default on my N95 and aren’t run­ning on the E71? Could be a reason.

That is, my N95 some­ti­mes hangs. You ter­mi­na­te a call and the­re it hangs, dis­play­ing the “Anruf been­den” (end call) mes­sa­ge for at least some 5–10 seconds. Stu­pid! Sounds like a faul­ty “refresh rou­ti­ne” on the firm­ware to me, but hey, I am not a pro­grammer… (and I’ve updated my N95 not only once, etc.).

So, yes, the E71 feels fas­ter than the N95 while brow­sing the menu. Somehow nice, an impro­ve­ment over to my N95. Could be a faul­ty N95 btw, as other E71 users out the­re aren’t that hap­py with the cur­rent speed and/or per­for­mance of the firm­ware. I’ve also noted a few “hick-ups” of the firm­ware on the E71which urgent­ly need to be fixed by Nokia.

Yeah, ok…so what else isn’t that gre­at on the E71?

1. Rub­ber covers on the side that con­ce­al the USB and microSD port.

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Some­thing tells me the­se will come off some­time in future. Hmmm…

2. USB port: the port its­elf is loca­ted at the side of the pho­ne (see pic­tu­re abo­ve) and thus can not be used in an e.g. dou­ble-crad­le sta­ti­on (USB + DC power sup­ply). Also, it would be nice to rech­ar­ge the pho­ne via USB (like on Moto­ro­la pho­nes), but that still isn’t pos­si­ble with the E71 (upcoming/other Nokia pho­nes may fea­ture this though).
The port its­elf is a spe­cial USB varia­ti­on, smal­ler than the Mini‑5 plug on the N95. I pre­fer the lat­ter ver­si­on as it’s the same that comes with many exter­nal 2,5″ hdd enclo­sures — so if you’­re at the office and for­got­ten your data cable, you may just as well use the one from your 2,5″ hdd. Not so with the E71… (again, mar­ke­ting rea­sons from Nokia, I guess..).

3. Ope­ra­Mi­ni: the often nee­ded Back­space key does­n’t work with all instal­la­ti­ons of Ope­ra­Mi­ni becau­se Nokia is said to use a stran­ge map­ping of keys insi­de their firm­ware (~ dif­fe­rent lan­guages may work but still haven’t tes­ted this). Wai­t­ing for an Ope­ra­Mi­ni update on this (Ope­ra­Mi­ni!) bug.

4. Brow­ser: As men­tio­ned in my pre­vious post on mobi­le blog­ging, the pho­ne’s inter­nal S60 brow­ser is .…how do I say this deli­ca­te­ly?.…“just ok”. It works, right now the only opti­on as Ope­ra­Mi­ni has this Back­space-issue, but I’d pre­fer to have a bet­ter browser.

5. moti­on sen­sor: The N95 has one, the E71 does­n’t. As the screen may only be used in a hori­zon­tal mode on the E71, the­re’s no real need for such a sen­sor, but it would be nice to have it any­ways for the afo­re­men­tio­ned addi­tio­nal soft­ware gimmicks.

6. Icons: the default the­mes on the E71 suck. I am using this lovely black & simp­le the­me on both pho­nes, alt­hough it does­n’t come with its own icon set. So the­re’s a way to chan­ge the icons if you dis­li­ke them.

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mono spea­ker (left), power but­ton (right)

7. Exter­nal spea­ker: the N95 has two spea­kers, one on each side, pro­vi­ding a phat ste­reo sound that can easi­ly sub­sti­tu­te your ste­reo sys­tem if you feel like enter­tai­ning tho­se around you (like the kids down­town). The E71, being a busi­ness pho­ne, only has one spea­ker on the top side.

Read in ano­t­her review that ppl weren’t hap­py with the sound, but in all hones­ty: it just works fine for me. Hands-free spea­king is sawa­sa­wa

8. E‑Mail: Now, for tho­se of you who com­p­lai­ned about the mis­sing PUSH e‑mail cli­ent (also known as Black­Ber­ry Con­nect), Nokia — of cour­se — tried to come up with their own solu­ti­on: Nokia Email.

Still have to test that one as well as other exter­nal ser­vices such as Seven and Emo­ze, but I am also only using the PULL cli­ent, as I am an old-fashio­ned & rather con­ser­va­ti­ve user who likes to be in con­trol of such things as e‑mail. I’ve set up one sin­gle e‑mail box for all my addres­ses on the net and pull the sub­ject lines via IMAP.

The E71 also comes with an e‑mail set­up cli­ent that will help you set it up for you, but in my case, with my pro­vi­der they auto­ma­ti­cal­ly set it to POP3 ins­tead of IMAP which is why I had to cheat the soft­ware in order to manu­al­ly enter all desi­red set­tings (for some rea­sons, it only offe­red the auto­ma­tic set­up. stupid?).

9. Speech syn­the­sis: press the top left soft key on the E71 and all your unread e‑mails will be read to you by the speech syn­the­sis pro­ces­sor insi­de the pho­ne. Hai­aaa! Reminds me of that lovely speech.tos prog­gy I used to have on my Ata­ri STF 1040 back in the days. Works just fine!
Pro­blems? Well…could be a bit bet­ter and I still need to figu­re out how to pro­per­ly use all the­se speech things on the E71. Speech reco­gni­ti­on / speech com­man­ds used to be gre­at on other pho­nes (like my old Nokia 6230i), but sin­ce Nokia mes­sed it up on the N95, i am still frigh­te­ned to even try it on the E71!

Also, the­re are dif­fe­rent lan­guage packs avail­ab­le from Nokia via the Down­load! app­li­ca­ti­on on the pho­ne. I’ve instal­led both Eng­lisch ver­si­ons (UK & USA), Indian Eng­lish :-), Ger­man and have cur­r­ent­ly acti­va­ted the Japa­ne­se ver­si­on (“muschi muschiiii..”). Funil­ly enough, the Ger­man male voice is cal­led “Jür­gen” — like me!

10. The clock screen­saver. It just rocks! (this isn’t a pro­blem actual­ly, but I like num­be­red lists :-)

11. wrong screen­shots: both manu­als (short and long ver­si­on) and even the Nokia maps brochu­re come with ver­ti­cal­ly ali­gned screen­shots that clear­ly come from ano­t­her S60 device. No pro­blem to me, but may­be irri­ta­ting to new S60 customers.

12. high SAR value & anten­na posi­ti­on: the (maxi­mum) spe­ci­fic absorp­ti­on rate on the E71‑1 is 1,33 W/kg — much more than the 0,58 W/kg on the N95‑1. Well, what do you expect from a device tha­t’s almost com­ple­te­ly cove­r­ed with metal?
The GSM anten­na is loca­ted at the bot­tom of the device, just below the key­board, next to the micro­pho­ne. To impro­ve Rx/Tx in rural are­as (= less base sta­ti­ons), you may want to per­fom some acro­ba­tics with the pho­ne. If in doubt, use a head­set and keep the pho­ne away from your body and other sen­si­ti­ve parts and hold it upsi­de down :-) Maxi­mum allo­wed SAR is 2,0 W/kg.

13. Firm­ware: as men­tio­ned, the cur­rent firm­ware needs to be impro­ved. Details like the pur­p­le haze issue on the came­ra may be irri­ta­ting, but I think what this pho­ne real­ly needs is an impro­ved over­all sta­bi­li­ty. It should­n’t restart while having some “hick-ups” and should never “swal­low” sounds which it some­ti­mes does. It seems as if the­re are still some open issu­es on the com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on data bus (?) & depen­dan­ci­es bet­ween run­ning app­li­ca­ti­ons and the firm­ware its­elf. Going by the cur­rent firm­ware ver­si­on 100.xx.xx, it appar­ent­ly took them qui­te some time to release a final deploya­ble ver­si­on. Add the fact that the pho­ne is FP1 only (ins­tead of other cur­rent Noki­as that are FP2), it must have been in the deve­lo­pe­ment pipe­line for qui­te some time. I’d say sin­ce the end of 2006 or may­be even earlier.

Also, the­re’s no firm­ware ver­si­on avail­ab­le online. So if you feel like refla­shing your pho­ne with a brand new firm­ware, you’­re pro­bab­ly for­ced to return it to a Nokia Ser­vice Cen­ter whe­re this is nor­mal­ly done free of char­ge wit­hin the first year if you have a plau­si­ble rea­son. Other than that, you could try to find an unaut­ho­ri­zed dea­ler who has the necessa­ry flash files. Cus­to­mers won’t need to know this though — most just want it to per­form and not to fail.

14. weight: the E71 is a bit too hea­vy and some­ti­mes it just gli­des away. Howe­ver, you only rea­li­ze this while com­pa­ring it to other pho­nes. On the other hand, it should­n’t be lighter!

15. cal­cu­la­tor: the cal­cu­la­tor that cur­r­ent­ly comes ship­ped with S60 FP1 is pure hor­ror. It’s the same as found on the N95, so if you’­re in need of a decent cal­cu­la­tor, try Cal­ci­um or other free­ware versions.

16. LED: as men­tio­ned, the came­ra is only equip­ped with an LED light but no real flash light. For the came­ra its­elf, the LED may just be enough, but a bet­ter came­ra and some flash light would be better.

Des­pi­te of all the­se details, the E71 is a very nice pho­ne and I am real­ly temp­ted not to keep it after the 2 weeks tri­al. I’ve used it tog­e­ther with my N95 and haven’t real­ly mis­sed anything from the N95 so far. Sure, the came­ra on the N95 is much bet­ter, but then again, taking a fast & incon­spi­cuous snapshot (some­thing I loved on my Nokia 6230i) is by far easier and fas­ter on the E71.

If I had to deci­de for a cur­rent Nokia pho­ne, I’d eit­her take the E71, the N82 or the Nokia 6220 Clas­sic. But I am stuck with the N95 which — after 14 mon­ths of dai­ly use — is slow­ly wea­ring off. The N95 also reminds me of my pre­cious 7110 I’d bought in 1999: “I will never get a sli­der pho­ne again!”, I’d told mys­elf back then. Well…

Ok — tha­t’s it for today. I will con­ti­nue tes­ting the E71 and will also talk about the BH-903 Blue­tooth head­set as well as the “spe­cial tri­al soft­ware” that came pre-instal­led on the E71 during my next posts as part of this review. So stay tuned! :-)