Preliminary review: smartphones and the Nokia E71

2009-08-13

in Geek stuff, Internet matters, Rants

Kitchen hooks

Since the E71 is my first smartphone, I am inevitably responding to both the general medium and the specific device. So far, my experience has been mixed. The phone doesn’t do anything as well as a real computer does – obviously – nor as well as I was hoping when I purchased it. While usable, the keyboard is awkward. The OS is a bit finicky and annoying. The web browser lacks capability and fluidity of use, and even voice calls seem to be of a worse quality than on my cheap old Nokia 6275i.

All that being said, the E71 has the considerable advantage that it puts the internet into a form that fits in a pocket and can be accessed from anywhere. The email and messaging features are those I use and appreciate most, with web browsing and maps following next. The media features are very basic, and I never use them. Coupled with a bluetooth keyboard, the phone is extremely capable for email, texting, and instant messaging. Even without, you can maintain one conversation at a reasonable pace, without needing to strain yourself excessively. Another feature that is surprisingly good is the speakerphone, which can be used quite effectively while cooking or sitting at a desk. The battery life is also good: enough to cover about eight hours of very active internet use. The built-in email app is ok, but limited. Annoyingly, the installable GMail application is only a bit more capable. It cannot, for instance, apply labels to messages. As such, they clutter up my inbox instead of being slotted away into appropriate places. Managing multiple streams of emails is far less intuitive with this interface than with GMail’s excellent online version (not fully usable with the E71 browser). Thankfully, Microsoft’s Mail for Exchange application allows perfect syncing of contacts and calendar items between GMail and the native Nokia apps. Never mind the oddity of using Microsoft software to help Nokia hardware and Google software work well together.

My specific complaints about the E71 include:

  • Annoyingly often, you need to tell the phone to connect to the internet, then using what protocol. For me, the answer is always ‘yes’ and the network is WiFi if available, GPRS otherwise. I dearly wish I could just lock those choices into the whole OS, rather than being forced to enter them literally every five minutes of use.
  • The keyboard is annoyingly small, though that comes part and parcel with a device smaller than an iPhone.
  • Copying and pasting requires an acrobatic manoeuvre: pressing three keys simultaneously, releasing, and then pressing three more.
  • The web browser doesn’t work with a lot of the menus at the back end of WordPress and can be very finicky about posting comments. It also has a viewpoint that lurches around violently as new portions of pages get loaded: super annoying if you are filling in a number of fields.
  • Even with a WordPress-specific app, the phone is not adequate for posting to the blog. For instance, it cannot interact with the WordPress media library, so as to include images in posts.
  • The device won’t download the full content of even small text-only emails. Each time you open one, it goes to a ‘retrieving’ screen that lasts 5-20 seconds.
  • Unlocking the keypad requires pressing two small keys in order. A dedicated lock switch would be better.
  • The camera is rotten, and the video recording is even worse.
  • Bluetooth connections go idle after an absurdly short period of time: maybe 60 seconds. There is no option to alter this.
  • There is no way to use the built-in read LED as a flashlight, as you can on the 6275i.
  • It lacks the super-useful automatic calling card dialler from the 6275i.
  • The voice quality isn’t great. If often sounds a bit like a VoIP phone without enough bandwidth.
  • Both applications and the whole OS crash pretty often, even when you are running programs one at a time. Sometimes, the only way to resolve it is to turn off the device and turn it back on.
  • For some reason, my unlocked E71 can only find a handful of applications in Nokia’s ‘Download!’ area.

Given how well reviewed the E71 is among smartphones, I can only guess that others have even bigger problems. I will admit to wondering whether the iPhone would have been a better choice. For web browsing and media, I would say ‘certainly yes’ since the demo iPhones I have tried are enormously better than the Nokia in both regards. In terms of messaging – which is my number one use – I still think that even a cramped physical keyboard is better than no keyboard at all.

At this stage, about two weeks in, I am less impressed than I expected to be with both smartphones and the E71. That said, it is a useful thing to have when computers are not readily available, and I may grow more accustomed to it as more time passes. One thing I mean to try but haven’t yet is tethering it with my G4 iBook.

Report a typo or inaccuracy

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

. August 13, 2009 at 8:11 am

Five Benefits of the Microsoft-Nokia Partnership

Perhaps you’ve heard that Microsoft and Nokia announced a strategic partnership to develop Microsoft application tools and support for the Nokia Symbian-based mobile devices. Some analysts see this as some sort of admission by Microsoft that Windows Mobile is a failure. I don’t agree that Windows Mobile is on its death bed just yet. Regardless of how successful Windows Mobile is or isn’t, it will never achieve 100 percent market share, but by forging relationships like this Nokia alliance Microsoft can ensure that companies will rely on Microsoft servers and applications no matter which mobile device platform they choose.

. August 13, 2009 at 12:07 pm

This approach is diametrically opposed to that of Symbian – the operating system of, for example, Nokia and Sony-Ericsson handsets. Symbian, as opposed to Windows Mobile, doesn’t (generally) use system-level connections. That is, you can’t just start a “global” connection and make all your programs requiring an Internet connection use it. Instead, a program wanting to pass to the Net displays you a list of “hotspots”, which includes your data accounts (and already-used Wi-Fi access points if the handset is Wi-Fi capable). When you exit the application that has opened the connection, it will also be closed, unlike in Windows Mobile (WM). That is, if you, say, connect to the Net by starting Internet Explorer Mobile (IEM) on your WM phone, after you shut down IEM, it’ll still stay on. (Note that Symbian, per se, doesn’t offer auto-timeout at all.)
As active data connections consume a lot of additional battery, you will want to make sure you close them. This is particularly true when operating in 3G mode.

Matt August 13, 2009 at 1:05 pm

I’m surprised to read about your disappointment, and wonder if the E71 implements some things in Symbian differently than my older E51 does. I would say the E51 exceeded my expectations considerably, although I bought it when the iPhone was still a 2G device (with no app store), and so my 3G phone was considerably more capable in terms of connectivity.

The call quality issue also surprises me, as I don’t have that issue at all with my phone, although actual VOIP calls on my phone are laggy (which might be the provider I chose, which I chose based on their cheapness).

Finally, I was wondering if 3G is available in your area because you mentioned GPRS. GPRS is a very slow data transfer implementation. It’s considered 2.5G, and is behind EDGE (3G) which is behind HSDPA (3.5G) in terms of speed. Your phone would support all of those protocols, so perhaps in terms of browsing speed, you’re not getting as much bang for your buck as you could.

Milan August 13, 2009 at 1:20 pm

The connection options I get are:

Fido GPRS
Fido MMS
FIDO WAP

Are MMS or WAP better than GPRS?

Milan August 13, 2009 at 1:41 pm

Is EDGE something I need to set up myself? The Fido website shows Ottawa-Gatineau as a high speed region, but doesn’t seem to include any information on getting phones to connect via EDGE.

Matt August 13, 2009 at 2:13 pm

The easiest way to figure out if things are working right is to observe the symbol under the reception strength ‘bars’ when your phone is transferring data. If it’s a G it’s GPRS, if it’s a E it’s Edge, and if it’s a 3.5G it’s HSDPA (this is the one you want). Also, when your phone is just sitting there, not doing anything with no programs running, you want it to display a 3G symbol instead of the old school antenna symbol.

Under Menu->Tools->Settings->Phone->Network->Network Mode you want ‘dual mode’ selected. Or, you can select UTMS to force it to the 3G network (if you roam ouside a 3G area on this setting, though, your phone won’t automatically switch to GSM or 2G).

Under Menu->Tools->Settings->Connection->Packet Data you want to select High Speed Packet Access “enabled.” You might want to experiment with the Access Point setting here, as it may allow you to cut down on the annoying “which network do you want” pop ups (I’m not sure about this, though).

As for Fido GPRS, MMS and WAP.

MMS is used for sending picture messages. GPRS and WAP are both internet access, and again I’m not sure about which would be preferable to use. Traditionally WAP has been a crippled mobile version of the internet, so I’d be inclined to recommend GPRS. That being said selecting GPRS as your option doesn’t mean your phone is achieving only GPRS speeds (this depends on the settings I mentioned above). Rather, it’s just the (stupidly chosen) name Fido has selected for internet the access point.

Matt August 13, 2009 at 2:27 pm

The cellphone industry is a confusing mishmash of acronyms, unfortunately. Part of the problem is that certain acronyms refer to call/voice related technology and others to data transfer technology. GPRS, EDGE and HSDPA are all data technology. These are layered onto call technology, GSM (2G) and UTMS (3G). What’s even more confusing is that EDGE is technically considered a 3G technology but it was introduced over existing 2G networks. Because of this, it is sometimes called (2.75G)

To sum up: GPRS and EDGE are layered over GSM (2G) technology.
HSDPA and the new HSPA+ are layered over UTMS (3G) technology.

Milan August 13, 2009 at 2:49 pm

The icon in the top corner says different things at different times. Sometimes 2.5G, sometimes 3G, sometimes 3.5G, sometimes E. It isn’t noticeably faster at dealing with email, even when at 3.5G. With web browsing, the awkward interface is actually much more of a problem than the comparatively slow download speed.

Under ‘packet data’ I switched it from ‘when needed’ to ‘when available.’ There is nothing listed under Packet data > Access point

Milan August 13, 2009 at 2:52 pm

The single most annoying thing about web browsing on the E71 is this:

You only see a little section of any particular webpage at a time. Each time it loads a new element (an image, some more CSS, etc), the screen lurches but your view does not stick with what you were viewing before.

It’s like trying to read a book through a photographic slide embedded in a black sheet of paper, with a bored child yanking the whole assembly around from time to time. In my experience, the iPhone doesn’t do this.

Also, the fact that buttons like the ‘submit’ button below only work 1/3 of the time is maddening. Every time I fill out a series of fields, it is more likely than not that I will be unable to submit them and will have to reload the page and retype them (having copied and pasted the largest single one).

Matt August 13, 2009 at 3:01 pm

The screen on your phone is a lot smaller than the iPhone’s. It’s not practical to show a whole webpage on it. I think the iPhone may have been the first, or if not it was among the first, to show a full webpage.

That said, if you move the cursor to a blank piece of a webpage and hold down the middle key, you will be allowed to select page overview. It doesn’t allow you to do much in this view, though.

Perhaps a more media intensive phone is what you want, like a Google phone, the iPhone, the N97, an upcoming Garmin Nuvifone, etc. Something with a big screen, basically.

Milan August 13, 2009 at 3:14 pm

I am simply scaling back my hopes of what it is possible to do on the web with this phone. Messaging was what I was most intent on when I got it.

It would be nice if the GMail app was a bit more capable.

BuddyRich August 13, 2009 at 4:29 pm

Look into opera mini. It’s a full webpage browser. It should work with the E71. It does work through a proxy compression technology so if that concerns you you might want to give it a pass.

It’s too bad opera mobile wasn’t supported on the E71 or I would recommend that.

You could always try a beta… er alpha actually of Mozilla Fennec but I don’t even know where it’s at dev wise or what handsets and mobile OSes it supports

Milan August 13, 2009 at 4:35 pm

I tried Opera Mini and generally like it less than the Nokia browser. I will give it another try, however.

Tristan August 13, 2009 at 6:47 pm

I’m considering upgrading my laptop – if I buy a new one I’ll get a free itouch. Not really a smartphone because it isn’t a phone, although it can be used with skype. Anyway, if I do get it I will surely give it a review.

R.K August 14, 2009 at 9:28 am

If you come to a smartphone expecting it to browse the web as well as a laptop, you will be disappointed.

There must be a WordPress app out there somewhere that can handle images.

Milan August 24, 2009 at 1:12 pm

Rather irksomely, the E71 abruptly stopped working with my Apple Bluetooth keyboard. An hour of fiddling and help forums has fixed nothing.

Milan August 25, 2009 at 10:30 am

The email client on the E71 can be really buggy. It disconnects for no reason, and sometimes messages can only be read by hitting ‘reply’ and scrolling down. Just hitting ‘open’ leaves the machine thinking for 10-30 seconds, at which point the screen briefly goes white before dumping you back in the inbox. Even when it works properly, it often takes a bewildering amount of time (30 seconds plus) to download a short text-only email.

The E71 also sometimes ‘forgets’ connection settings, requiring them to be manually re-entered.

R.K. August 28, 2009 at 5:22 pm

Does the E71 have a decent resale value? If so, perhaps you should sell it and try something else.

Milan August 28, 2009 at 9:21 pm

I don’t think I am quite at that point, though those iPhones are ever more alluring.

Milan September 1, 2009 at 10:45 am

One thing the E71 has going for it is much better GPS tracking than the 3G iPhone.

I was in a car with two iPhone users, with all three locations displayed on Google Latitude. While mine was mostly on target, they were often shown kilometres away from me, and from each other. This was even with the iPhones up agaist the window for a clearer view.

Milan September 2, 2009 at 9:40 pm

Another bug has cropped up:

For some reason, I get ‘out of memory – close some applications’ errors when I am using only the default messaging app. I need to reboot to fix it.

Urs September 14, 2009 at 7:44 pm

while I share your general disappointment with mobile operating systems (including the iphone) I have a few comments and suggestions that might improve your experience with the E71:

– while the e-mail client lacks any comfort I don’t experience sluggish behaviour. but then I don’t use Gmail..
– to copy/past I simply hold down shift and scroll over text using 4 way key. once highlighted I hold down shift again and then tap either soft key, so maximum number of keys to use at a time are two which I find reasonable. btw: c/p was a std feature on E61, long before iphone.
– birdsteps smartconnect is free for E71 and might help reduce prompts for network connections (haven’t really tested it myself yet)
– I find handy taskman a extremely handy app to help with:
– closing misbehaving apps (hardly any reboots needed after)
– quickly switch between started apps
– quickly start apps by typing first letters of apps instead of navigating submenus = equivalent of shortcuts
– I can live with the builtin player although the library is kind of finicky about different codecs
– I definitely agree with your opinion on browser and camera. they’re crap. definitely prefer opera mini (check out the two different modes) although still far from perfect.
– I can live with the keyboard but want my bright clear screen of the E61 back!

P September 15, 2009 at 7:37 pm

Does anyone know how to sort text messages properly by date and time? When I try this in the sort options, any messages sent today don’t appear at the top, I presume because they only have a time entry instead of a date entry next to the message title.

Milan September 18, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Urs,

Thanks for the suggestions. I am still not too happy with the E71, but I will learn to live with it.

P,

I haven’t tried to do that. Apparently, there is no way to make the text message senders appear with their first names first.

spaiduhz September 23, 2009 at 12:48 pm

there are some finicky issues that i have with my e7a, but my experience has be quite pleasant, on the overall.

The symbian browser does take considerably longer to load full sized websites as compared to opera mini, but it has a significant advantage: the symbian browser has Flash Lite support, which will allow you to watch youtube videos if you point the browser to [m.youtube.com].

another feature that i like is the battery life. Heavy usage of the mail client and web browsing, and i can make it last a day, that is provided i set the mail client to sync every 10 minutes as opposed to sync “soonest”.

copy pasting isnt that hard. You dont have to hold the three buttons simultaneously, mind. one method is to highlight the text you wish to copy using the shift key, and while holding the shift key with the text highlighted, hit the left action key to copy. to paste, hold the shift key, and the right action key.

another method is the “ctrl-c” + “ctrl-v” method. hit the number-shift key, then hit the ctrl key, then hit c to copy highlighted text. repeat, but replace c with v to paste. this also allows you to “cut” text if you use x. its annoying, but it appears the nokia learnt their lesson when they released the e63. you can access the ctrl key without having to hit the number-shift key beforehand.

Milan September 23, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Yet another bug has cropped up with the E71.

For some reason, it will no longer put the names of people in my contacts beside text messages they send me. Now, it just puts their phone numbers.

What a maddeningly buggy phone!

Matt September 23, 2009 at 1:13 pm

Why not try a firmware update? Is a newer one available?

Milan September 23, 2009 at 1:49 pm

I have the latest firmware – at least, as of about a month ago.

Milan September 23, 2009 at 2:04 pm

I should look into the resale value of the E71. Mine is still in perfect condition and the guy at the store told me that they resell at good prices these days.

Much as I dislike the on-screen keyboard, the iPhone seems like a much more polished product.

Urs September 23, 2009 at 5:26 pm

I think you should switch. You are the iPhone type. Period. I’m not, not only because the E71 has a keyboard and does multitasking while the apple does not.

Milan September 23, 2009 at 5:28 pm

The major reason I didn’t get an iPhone is because of the mandatory three-year contract. With my unlocked E71, I can go month to month.

I figured out why the texting name bug cropped up: for some reason, my phone duplicated all my GMail contacts, through the Mail for Exchange app. Now, I need to manually delete hundreds of copies.

Tristan September 23, 2009 at 7:55 pm

The Itouch is an amazing machine. I’m working on a review for my blog in which I argue its something like a sign of the arrival of the long anticipated future.

. September 23, 2009 at 7:56 pm
Tristan September 24, 2009 at 12:10 am

Is the Ipod touch a message from the future?

Milan September 28, 2009 at 11:11 am

Here’s an absurd idea:

I could get the JoikuSpot software to turn my E71 into a 3G-backed WiFi hotspot. Then, I could use an iPod Touch through it. Of course, that would only work properly for web browsing and email. Phone calls and texts would remain the domain of the E71.

It would be a pain to carry around two devices, but there would be some advantages too.

Tristan September 28, 2009 at 11:48 am

I think that’s a really cool idea. Especially since you could share the 3G network with friends, i.e. in a car on a road trip.

Milan September 28, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Though using the E71 that way apparently really eats batteries.

Still, it has unusually good battery life normally, and could be plugged in when driving.

Milan October 4, 2009 at 11:42 am

My phone has developed the most annoying bug yet.

It will not let me add recipients to text messages. I can hit ‘add recipient’ and then scroll through the list of my contacts. I can select any number of contacts, but there is no ‘ok’ button to go back to composing and sending the message.

This really impacts a key function of the device, so I am understandably miffed about it. Now, I can only respond to texts from other people.

Milan October 4, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Perhaps mercifully, the E71 has now died completely. It will not boot past the Nokia logo.

I will take it back to the shop where I bought it tomorrow. It should still be under warranty, as I have never dropped it, gotten it wet, or anything.

Matt October 4, 2009 at 3:40 pm

I guess it’s safe to say that at this point, you got a dud.

I’m really getting excited about the possibility that one of the new entrants into the Canadian wireless market, DAVE Wireless, will prove to be good. If, when they launch, they have plans that suit me (and hopefully some cheap data rates) I will be dumping Rogers for good. I really have my eye on the Nokia N900 using their new operating system Maemo 5. That particular phone will work on the Advanced Wireless Spectrum that DAVE will be using.

Milan October 5, 2009 at 12:56 pm

I dropped the phone off back at the shop where I bought it. In the end, I am glad I bought it at a bricks and mortar place that sells unlocked phones, rather than a website that might be hard to deal with.

Milan October 5, 2009 at 12:59 pm

E71 Timeline:

20 July: Phone purchased and activated

24 August: Would no longer pair with Bluetooth keyboard

25 August: Connection settings vanished

2 September: ‘Out of memory’ errors when only one small app running

23 September: Contact list duplicated on phone and GMail server

4 October: Recipients cannot be added to text messages

4 October: Phone will not boot beyond Nokia splash screen

5 October: Phone dropped off for service

. October 5, 2009 at 5:04 pm

Nokia E72 NAM up for $469 preorder on Amazon

It’s not hard to find Nokia users that believe the E71 is the finest S60 device (if not the finest device, period) that the company has ever made, so expectations for the E72 are at a stratospheric high. Impatience for a retail release is also at a stratospheric high, coincidentally, so Americans will be pleased to see that Amazon now has the unlocked North American version of the “zodium black” phone listed for $469 — without a release date, unfortunately, so it’s still a guessing game as to when these will actually be shipping out. All things considered, it’s not a bad price for an unbranded phone of the E72’s capabilities, but when you figure how easy it’s been to find awesome deals on North American Nokias around the interwebs this year, it still might give some potential buyers pause — just imagine if it were $299?

. October 5, 2009 at 5:08 pm

How would you change Nokia’s E71?

Handset lovers in some regions of the world not named North America have been enjoying the luxuries of Nokia’s E71 for some time now, but those of us waiting around for a version compatible with 3G here on this side of the planet have just recently been able to indulge. Make no mistake, though — this piece of QWERTY goodness ain’t cheap. Ringing up at right around 500 bones, USers have the right to have some pretty high expectations, and we’re here to ask if those expectations have been met. Are you satisfied with the ultrathin smartphone? Is the display up to snuff? How’s that keyboard? Are you kosher with the white keys? What else would you do to improve upon the E71? Leave it all in comments below.

Milan October 5, 2009 at 5:31 pm

I can’t really say why people like this phone so much. Either mine was seriously defective in a number of ways or other people have lower standards than I do when it comes to electronics.

Matt October 5, 2009 at 5:52 pm

Yours would eventually not boot past the start up screen. I’d call that “seriously defective.” If it was the norm, people wouldn’t give good reviews to the device, and you’d certainly hear about it on websites that discuss phones. I suspect the spurious functioning of other features were a result of a defective phone.

While I sympathize with the fact the device is broken, I also don’t think it’s fair to compare the features of a malfunctioning phone with properly functioning competitors.

Milan October 5, 2009 at 5:54 pm

I didn’t like the phone much even when it was working well. Even ignoring the bugs, it was pretty counterintuitive to use.

None of the complaints in my original post are consequences of the bugs that cropped up later.

Milan October 5, 2009 at 6:04 pm

Well, this one might have been because of flaws with my specific unit, rather than the physical and software design of the device:

“Both applications and the whole OS crash pretty often, even when you are running programs one at a time. Sometimes, the only way to resolve it is to turn off the device and turn it back on.”

Having found a way to get it to boot, the shop I got it from initially wanted to return it to me with no further work. I am insisting they fix at least the Bluetooth and text messaging issues.

. November 16, 2009 at 11:43 am

Amazon’s US pre-order site hasn’t heard the news yet nor has Nokia USA’s on-line store. Nevertheless, Nokia assures us that the E72 is “in stores now” and should cost €350 (as announced) before taxes and carrier subsidies are applied. Remember, this S60-powered followup to the much loved E71 sports a new 5 megapixel autofocus camera, 3.5-mm headphone jack, microSD slot (4GB included in the box), A-GPS and integrated compass, 10.2Mbps HSDPA, and new optical navigation pad right where a thumb would like it. The E72 also packs the latest version of Ovi Maps and Nokia Messaging with homescreen access to your IM accounts.

Milan December 16, 2009 at 6:08 pm

One other quibble about the E71:

It is too easy to accidentally delete contacts. Often, I need to delete an old phone number for a friend who has changed theirs. If you select a particular number and hit ‘delete’ it deletes the whole contact (email, photo, etc), not just the selected number.

Milan January 12, 2010 at 9:56 am

I will now have the chance to compare the Nokia E71 with a Blackberry Curve 8520.

We will see which seems like the superior device, after a few months of use.

Milan May 13, 2010 at 11:12 am

The E71 is an OK phone, after you stop expecting it to be a good phone.

It has picked up a few more quirks since I last wrote. Most annoyingly, it no longer vibrates consistently. Since I usually keep it in ‘silent’ mode, this is rather annoying.

Milan March 1, 2011 at 10:22 pm

My preliminary review of the iPhone 4 is that it is much better than the E71. The web browser is miles better, and everything about the interface is more intelligently designed.

The only issue with the iPhone is that it cannot last through a whole day of heavy usage. It needs to be charged at some point mid-day, or it is dead by 7:00pm or 8:00pm.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: