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, (c) 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 320×240. 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 @ 640×480 (“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! :-)

5 comments » Write a comment

  1. The biggest selling point for BB is the push-email. You can pull upto 11 emails accounts to the phone. This allows me to monitor multiple email accounts although I don’t read/reply all my emails from the phone as I prefer MS Outlook.

    The good thing about BB is that it automatically ‘switches-off’ in the holster or you can set it to hibernate like a computer thus conserving the battery life when you are not using the phone though you can still receive calls or emails.

    I don’t think smartphones will ever replace computers unless they make them bigger (large screen and key board). So let us not expect too much from smartphones.

    Tell your nokia friends that I will switch to a nokia PDA as soon as they have push email.

  2. Try out Nokia Email service – it works really well on the E71, the client is great, My gmail appears faster on my phone than it does in the web interface for Gmail, and it runs very smooth on the E71. I love this device – it makes the blackberry look so large.

  3. Wow, that is one extensive review JKE. Very interesting read too, thanks for putting all the work into it.

    By the way, the picture of the phone on the tree is great!

  4. Pingback: WOM World / Nokia » Blog Archive - E71 – one ‘sexy’ device

  5. Still can’t make up my mind…Only problem for me with the N82 is the lousy keypad, slightly thin, but there’s quite a bit of screen real estate, which is good. So it’s a 60/40 with E71 in the lead, but we’ll see…Let me keep reading on.