Review: The Nokia E71 is a tough device to beat

It has been over 2 months since I wrote up my first impressions of the Nokia E71. At that time I was getting flooded with review and purchased devices such as the Palm Treo Pro, Samsung OMNIA, Touch Diamond, Treo 800w, MWg Zinc II, iPhone 3G and loads of applications with iPhone 2.0, Touch Diamond updates, and the iPAQ 910. Most of those devices are gone now, but the one that keeps earning the honor of carrying my AT&T SIM card is the Nokia E71. The fantastic hardware, valuable notifications on the standby screen, outstanding 3rd party application support, and form factor keep it in my pocket most of the time.

It has been over 2 months since I wrote up my first impressions of the Nokia E71. At that time I was getting flooded with review and purchased devices such as the Palm Treo Pro, Samsung OMNIA, Touch Diamond, Treo 800w, MWg Zinc II, iPhone 3G and loads of applications with iPhone 2.0, Touch Diamond updates, and the iPAQ 910. Most of those devices are gone now, but the one that keeps earning the honor of carrying my AT&T SIM card is the Nokia E71. The fantastic hardware, valuable notifications on the standby screen, outstanding 3rd party application support, and form factor keep it in my pocket most of the time.

Review: The Nokia E71 is a touch device to beat

The device I took you on a tour around before was a European version and since that time I picked up the North American version that supports 3G on AT&T's network. The hardware is the exact same as I detailed before, with the exception of the internal radio now supporting the U.S. bands so I won't go over the hardware again. I will say what I keep on saying to everyone that I talk to about the device, the hardware ROCKS!

Looks and feel: The E71 is targeted to the enterprise user and as soon as you pull the device out of the box you realize this is one classy and professional device with the sleek stainless steel and dense body. The front facing QWERTY keyboard challenges the BlackBerry and the business user who have Exchange should be pleased with the device. The E71 is one of the first Eseries devices that no longer supports the BlackBerry Connect functionality, which some people may understandably miss. I use an Exchange service and have been using RoadSync because it provides an advanced Exchange experience compared to the free Nokia Mail For Exchange utility (for example, better folder support).

I did notice there is more light present between the display and keyboard than there was on the European version and haven't seen folks mention this on the forums so I think this is just a slight device flaw that is not present across the line.

Keyboard: The keyboard is surprisingly very good and I actually like it better than my BlackBerry Curve for the most part because the keys feel more solid and smooth (the Curve buttons are hard and a bit loose) and I rarely enter text I didn't intend to enter. I love that there is a button for the @ character, comma, period, and question mark that do not require any press of a FN button like they do on my Curve. Unfortunately, Nokia hasn't fully embraced the keyboard into the device since there are very few shortcuts that you can perform on your device and most shortcuts are application specific. For example, did you see the TON of fantastic shortcuts I listed in my Nokia Email service post I would like to see Nokia integrate these types of shortcuts throughout the system and applications.

E71 notifications 1

Standby screen and notifications: The standby screen has gone through a major overhaul and one of my favorite features of the Nokia E71 is the usage of notifications. These notifications can be selected by going to Tools>Settings>General>Personalization>Home Screen>Mode Settings>Home screen applications>Enabled applications. Wow, talk about some hidden settings, huh? You can choose to toggle the notifications and selected applications you desire to see appear. I have missed calls, voicemail, and text messaging notifications appear along the bottom of the display, along with Nokia Email and RoadSync email notifications/email subjects appearing on the standby screen with the music player, organizer, and wireless LAN utilities. Where Nokia went even further than a simple notification is with the way you can interact with that notification upon receipt. For example, when a missed call notification appears you simply select it with the directional pad and then move the pad to the right to then see all of your available options for intereacting with that person, including send SMS, send MMS, send email, and more. These same type of actions can be taken when you receive text messages. Unfortunately, Nokia hasn't yet joined the Palm, iPhone, and Windows Mobile bandwagon of threaded SMS and needs to get on board soon. They did post the Conversations utility on the Nokia Beta Labs site so I hope they continue by including it in the OS.

Things to do with notifications

PIM: I think the PIM (calendar, contacts, tasks, notes) functionality on S60 overall needs some serious improvements and I know that Nokia can do it and knows what they need to fix because they have made some improvements in the E71. The month view in the calendar is very useful in the layout it offers. You can quickly move to any day and the appointments/details for that day will appear on the right. If you have more entries than fit on the display then they dynamically scroll up and down so you can view them all. The new meeting entry screen is much easier to quickly enter an appointment. Custom recurrence is not supported though and with my sports practices I like to enter things like Tuesdays and Thursdays each week, which is not supported on the E71. You can easily select a day with the center action button, scroll up/down to a time and then press the center action button again to set a meeting, memo, anniversary, or to do for that time block.

GPS experiences: After returning my iPhone 3G, I then went to using my E71 GPS receiver with Google Maps and Nokia Maps to get around. When I was in Singapore I downloaded the Nokia Maps for Singapore onto my PC and then onto my E71 to navigate around the country and it worked very well. I see it pick up GPS satellites and get a fix within about 10-15 seconds and I have been very happy with the GPS functionality. I haven't tried any voice navigation on it since my needs generally don't require that much assistance.

Multimedia experiences: One of my main uses for S60 devices is the Nokia Podcasting application (a podcatcher) since it allows me to subscribe to and wirelessly download podcasts right to my device. I can be found listening to podcasts in the morning and evening while on the Sounder train and hated that I could only stream podcasts on the iPhone 3G (come on Apple get it together). Windows Mobile also needs to integrate this functionality into their devices, although I have recently found that the Samsung OMNIA has a utility for this and there are some RSS readers that support this. I download podcasts and then connect the E71 to the Nokia BH-903 A2DP headphones and listen for a couple hours a day without ever hearing my podcast skip on the headphones.

While the camera is 3.2 megapixel, I think it only does a fair job capturing images and is definitely not a strong point emphasized by Nokia. Images appear with a purple tint and some of these issues may be fixed by a software update. However, it does a good enough job to get by for simple cameraphone shots, but I like to see a better camera on my devices. A Carl Zeiss 3.2 megapixel camera would have been a super choice.

I only tested out the loaded default videos and the ones that I shot with the E71, but they played back very well and the single speaker is quite loud. I haven't yet tried converting videos to Nokia format since my main media PC at home crashed and all my test videos are locked on it for now.

The OS does support YouTube video without any special application (i.e. right from the web browser) and I found that YouTube videos played pretty smoothly. You simply select the video and the onboard RealPlayer starts up to let you play the video. You can then choose to save the link to the video on your device or memory card for later viewing.

Messaging/Email experiences: My primary need for the QWERTY keyboard is text messaging and email. I send quite a few text messages to my wife and daughters and the E71 makes this very easy. I also can be found writing emails on the go and really don't limit myself with the E71. Windows Mobile has had very good predictive text features for a few years and for the most part I wouldn't think you really need it with a QWERTY device. However, I turned it on for the E71 and find it assists me with word completion and accuracy and if you have an E71 I recommend you try it out because I think you too may be impressed with it.

Like I said above, Nokia needs to get threaded SMS integrated into the OS, especially with Windows Mobile, Palm, BlackBerry, and iPhone devices all supporting it now. The default email application is also a bit weak and basic and needs an upgrade. I use the Nokia Email service for my email, along with the excellent Gmail Java application.

Surfing experiences: While the integrated S60 web browser is a very good web browser and better than most mobile browsers, I actually prefer to use Opera Mini 4.1 on the E71. I find Opera Mini to be much zippier when I scroll around the site and like the numerous keyboard shortcuts that it supports for quick navigation. There are limits to both of these browsers, but for mobile needs I find them more than satisfactory.

I had the European version and North American version both for a day so I did some testing between AT&T EDGE and AT&T 3G and measured the following load times on the devices:

  • International device: CNN (23 seconds), SeattleTimes (35 seconds), (56 seconds), ZDNet Mobile (24.5 seconds)
  • North American device: CNN (8 seconds), SeattleTimes (20 seconds), (22 seconds), ZDNet Mobile (8.5 seconds)

In checking out the DSL speed reports site I was seeing 65 to 150 kbps with the International device and 675 to 850 kbps with the North American device. As you can see 3G really does give you a better browsing experience with more than twice the surfing speed in most all cases.

Battery life: The Nokia E71 comes loaded with a 1500 mAh battery and I was expecting to see the type of life I get on my T-Mobile BlackBerry Curve. This isn't really a fair comparison though since the Curve is chugging along on EDGE while the E71 connects over HSDPA data networks. However, even with my push email turned on with RoadSync and push email coming from Gmail via the Nokia Email service I am able to get through a full 15 hour day with the E71. This is with no WiFi usage, one hour of Bluetooth usage connected to a BT A2DP headset, and about 50 minutes of web browsing using Opera Mini. I tend to charge my devices daily so if I can get up in the early morning hours and then get back home after all the sports practices with battery power to get me in the door then I am satisfied. FYI, I get 2 full days on my BlackBerry Curve and that sucker seems to just go and go.

RF reception: There have been a few people writing about the poor RF reception on the Nokia E71-2 and I have to say the E71-2 continues the Nokia tradition of very good reception for me. I tested it with both T-Mobile and AT&T and have never had an issue losing the signal and always saw more bars (I know this isn't a very good test) on the E71 than I did on the iPhone 3G so I wonder if there were some defective devices released.

Phone performance: As with most Nokia phones, the phone call quality has also been excellent. The E71 only has a single speaker on the top, but it is LOUD and works well as a speakerphone. The smart dialing standby screen feature is a major bonus in my book and makes the device much more usable for me. I also like the respond with text messaging capability that appears when a call comes in.

Reader Q&A: I am finding that my reviews are better when readers post questions for me or send them to me after my first impressions articles and plan to do that regularly from now on. The following questions were received for the E71 and I did my best to anser them for you.

  • There are a few things that I haven't seen covered well enough (or at all) in some other walkthroughs - how well does video conferencing work? Sorry, this feature is not supported in the U.S. by any carrier and I was unable to test out this capability. Maybe a reader who has an E71 in a different country can chime in here on this one.
  • What can the infared be used for? There is a setting in the Connectivity folder to turn on the IR radio and then you will see an icon flashing for about 30 seconds as the port is left open and activated for a connection. Very few of my devices have IR anymore, but I did find my USB IR dongle and discovered I could connect to Nokia PC Suite via IR. It actually connected flawlessly and I was surprised by how easy it was to just select IR in the PC Suite and have complete connectivity. This is a nice option if your laptop has IR, but no Bluetooth to connect wirelessly to your E71. You may also be able to connect it with other mobile device for wireless access.
  • Can it charge via the USB or just transmit data? The microUSB port is only able to transmit data. You can buy a Nokia USB cable to charge via USB, but it connects to the standard Nokia charging port on the device. I too look forward to the day when everyone standardizes on syncing and charging through the same port, like most Windows Mobile devices.
  • Please let me about the media applications. I mentioned many of the media functions I have personally used above. I also wrote about using with Mobbler. Other media applications include the music player, FM radio, voice recorder, and Flash player. RealPlayer is used for video playback and I still need to test this out a bit more.
  • Can you tell me about the GPS usability and comment on turn-by-turn guidance (can it replace my Garmin)? I mentioned my use and experiences with GPS above and as I stated, I haven't tried turn-by-turn on the device, sorry.
  • Nokia seems to make some great mobile phones. How do you compare the Nokia E71 to the Blackberry Curve? I personally feel they are both very good mobile devices and my T-Mobile SIM lives in my Curve while my AT&T SIM is living in my E71. The E71 is faster on the 3G network (you can get 3G Curves on Sprint and Verizon though), the camera is slightly better, and the E71 supports Exchange. They both have long battery life, great keyboards, good 3rd party application support (still a bit better on the E71), and the choice comes down to your specific needs.
  • Please test GPS lock-on times and report on whether they are reliable or consistent under a variety of scenarios. I tested GPS in the center of Seattle and out and about different roads. It does take a bit longer when buildings surround me, but it still does pick up a signal much better than what I saw on the Nokia N95.
  • How is the speakerphone? The speakerphone is very good, especially since there is only a single speaker on the device.

What don't I like about the E71? I am unable to run my screenshot application and receive a mysterious error (USER 0) every time I try to run it. When running some applications I will get occasional errors appearing, but I think these issues are related to the specific 3rd party application I am trying to run.

I also want to see the S60 messaging client updated to at least match those we see on other mobile operating systesm.

Closing thoughts on the Nokia E71: The Nokia E71 is a fantastic device for the most part and at just around US$400 for an unlocked US 3G model it is priced to sell. I am always surprised how low these Eseries devices sell for compared to the Nseries that can be found for US$600+ in most cases. If you want a solid QWERTY keyboard device with a good battery and super form factor then I highly recommend the E71. It has almost the exact same measurements as the original Apple iPhone, but a completely different target market and I am a serious candidate in that market. Nokia made some major improvements over the E61i and I am quite happy with the device.