When it hit U.S. shelves last year, the E71 was one of Nokia’s first (and thinnest) phones with a full QWERTY keyboard to make it to these shores. The AT&T E71x, a version of the E71 which we originally reviewed as an unlocked device, is now the first (and only) 3G smart phone offered by a major U.S. carrier that runs the Symbian S60 operating system with a full QWERTY keyboard. While some slight software changes have been made to cater to AT&T’s deck services, the phone remains just as impressive as before. At $99.99, it’s $200 cheaper than the BlackBerry Bold—and a device that no prospective smart phone buyer should overlook.
Slim, Stunning Design
We weren’t kidding when we said the E71x was thin. At 4.5 x 2.2 x 0.4 inches in size, this device is thinner than the BlackBerry Bold (0.6 inches thick) and just a sliver thinner than the Samsung BlackJack II, which measures 0.46 inches. The E71x has a stainless steel black exterior and keyboard that gives it a James Bond sleekness.
Its 2.4-inch (320 x 240 pixels) display is slightly smaller than the 2.8-inch display on the BlackBerry Bold, and the resolution isn’t as sharp, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.
On the left side of the E71x is a microSD slot and a mini-USB port for transferring data to and from your computer. The bottom of the phone has a small charging port, and the right side has volume controls, a speech command button, and a 2.5mm headphone jack (we’d prefer a full-size 3.5mm jack). The power button and a small speaker are on top of the device, and a 3.2-MP camera with flash is on the back.
Keyboard and Buttons
The keys on the E71x are comfortable and provide good feedback, but are chubby and set a little too close together for our tastes. In general, we prefer the BlackBerry Bold and Curve’s more spacious keyboards to the layout on the E71x, but the E71x’ keyboard is fine once you get the hang of it.
We appreciated the four shortcut buttons just above the keyboard for quick access to the home screen, our calendar, the address book, and our messages. Around those shortcut keys are four buttons, two for placing and ending calls, and two soft-keys for UI menus. In the center is a D-pad with a silver border for navigation.
Nokia E71x User Interface
The E71x runs the Symbian S60 operating system, and while AT&T added a bit of its own spice on top of it, most of the UI from the unlocked E71 we tested previously remains intact. One glaring omission from the device is its ability to switch between two different home pages. On the original E71 you could customize one desktop with shortcuts for work applications and set the second desktop with personal apps, but that’s not an option on the E71x. AT&T’s services on the phone include the basics, such as AT&T Music, Cellular Video, GPS, Yellowpages, and MEdia Net. All are accessible from the main menu.
Nokia adds in a ton of useful shortcuts. From the home screen, you can just start typing the name of a contact, and his or her number will come up; it’s much better than digging through a phone book. Six icons line the top: Messages (which comprises SMS and e-mail), the Web browser, AT&T Navigation, Bluetooth, your phone’s mode (e.g., silent, vibrate), and alarms. You can customize these icons to include e-mail notifications, calendar appointments, and available Wi-Fi networks.
The E71x supports Microsoft Exchange e-mail accounts, and it also comes packaged with Xpress Mail from AT&T. You can use Xpress Mail to setup POP/IMAP accounts as well as AIM, AOL, AT&T WorldNet, AT&T Yahoo, BellSouth, Comcast, EarthLink, Hotmail, and Yahoo accounts. We easily set up our IMAP Gmail account within 5 minutes, and it pulled down our 25 most recent messages in about 2 minutes. After it’s configured, you can set the inbox to pull up to 300 of your latest e-mail messages.
Sending off e-mails and SMS/MMS messages becomes more efficient with the E71x’ autocomplete option, which performed well on our tests. The phone guesses what word you’re typing; if correct, you can click the space bar to insert it into your message. If it’s wrong, simply press the up arrow to insert whatever word you’ve typed.
Other features include support for opening and viewing Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files using Quickoffice Version 4.1.34. The software also allows you to create the equivalent of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files from scratch, which business users on the go will really appreciate. Quickoffice is a cinch to use, and we were able to create a quick PowerPoint file and insert a picture in less than a minute. You can also open PDF files using Adobe Reader LE version 1.5.
Packing some useful features, the browser on the E71x offers a pretty good experience given the limited screen size. A handy Page Overview option lets you view an entire Web page and zoom in on specific areas of interest. Still, it’s not as slick as the iPhone, whose touchscreen lets you manipulate Web pages in its browser far more easily.
Unlike many smart phones, including the BlackBerry Bold and the iPhone 3G, the E71x’ browser offers limited support for Flash sites, which means Web forms and embedded content that take advantage of the Flash Lite will load correctly. That meant that more sites were usable on the Nokia E71x than with the BlackBerry Bold; for instance, the Web Site for the Long Island Railroad Web loaded correctly and we were able to interact with a drop-down menu to find our train schedule. On the other hand, the E71x can’t load Flash 9 or 10 content, which is what powers Hulu videos and most Flash games.
The browser was fairly speedy; the mobile version of CNN.com loaded in 8 seconds over AT&T’s 3.5G HSDPA network, which is just a hair slower than the original phone’s; ESPN.com loaded in 12 seconds while NYTimes.com took just 9 seconds. The E71 supports 802.11b/g connectivity, also; using Wi-Fi, we were able to load the full HTML desktop version of Nationalgeographic.com in a relatively brisk 18 seconds.
The E71x supports MP3, AAC, and WMA files, and the interface is quite similar to those on other S60 v.3 devices. Unlike the Bold, iPhone, and other Nokia phones, the E71x sports a 2.5mm headphone jack, so listening to music is a little less convenient since you’ll likely need to buy an adapter (AT&T cut that out of the E71x package), and the phone doesn’t come with headphones, either. You can always go wireless with stereo Bluetooth headphones, however.
If you feel like ditching headphones altogether, the external speakers were loud enough on the E71x to listen to our music from a few feet away.
Streaming video from AT&T’s Cellular Video was on a par with most phones that use the application. A Saturday Night Live digital short looked smooth over the phone’s 3G connection without any buffering issues, but the picture quality was a bit blurry. The E71x also lets you play back 3GP files of your own.
You can use the E71x to stream XM radio over AT&T’s network for $8.99 per month, but the original FM tuner found in the E71 was removed from the E71x. That’s unfortunate, since it performed well on the original phone, and you could even download podcasts directly to the device.
While the E71x doesn’t have the excellent Nokia Maps (as on the unlocked version), the preinstalled AT&T Navigator, powered by TeleNav, works almost as well. It was able to pinpoint our location in about a minute and a half, and created a route from the train station to our house in just over 40 seconds.
While we prefer Nokia’s Maps 2.0 because it offers directions and points of interest worldwide through its Guides feature, TeleNav provided voice-guided turn-by-turn directions admirably well. AT&T Navigator also lets you look up points of interest using the keypad or your voice, which is useful while you’re driving and looking for a quick bite. AT&T also includes the Yellow Pages app which leverages your GPS to help you find specific points of interest based on your location. (As of press time, Nokia would not confirm whether Nokia Maps 2.0 would be supported on the E71x.)
The E71x features a 3.2-MP camera, which takes good outdoor shots where there’s plenty of light, and decent pictures indoors under incandescent lighting. However, we noticed a lot of noise under darker conditions. Shots of an apple in a dark room came out with tons of colorful speckles, and many had a greenish hue to them. There’s a flash, but it blurred the shot a bit. The camera can shoot video at 15 fps which plays back very well on the device’s screen. If you’re looking for a phone that can replace a digicam, though, we recommend a device like the Nokia N82, which can shoot at a full 30 fps.
Calls made from the E71x sounded good on AT&T’s network in the New York City area. While callers did sound tinny or we had to ask them to speak up in a few instances, we experienced no dropped calls during the few days of testing. However, some callers noted that they could hear background noise during calls.
Given how slim it is, the E71x exhibited stellar battery life. We were able to go two full days where we surfed the Web frequently and made about 2 hours worth of phone calls. Surprisingly, the phone sat on the last bar of the battery for quite some time.
Nokia E71x Verdict
At $99.99, the E71x is a great bargain smart phone. It’s thin but chock-full of the features mobile professionals and prosumers are looking for, including 3G and Wi-Fi, GPS navigation, and robust e-mail support. Additionally, the device has excellent battery life and a decent keyboard. The lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack is annoying, but overall, the E71x is a beautiful device that performs well.