Nokia's E71 will be the first Nokia QWERTY phone with 3.5G data-connection speeds to hit the U.S., and even at its relatively steep asking price of almost $500 (unlocked), it's a very enticing option for business users who want to stand out from the BlackBerry-toting masses. In addition to snappy performance and a very good Web browser, users will appreciate the Symbian S60 interface and the ability to switch between work and play profiles. (Editor's Note: Nokia hasn't announced a definite price as of yet, but they did tell us the phone will cost less than $500 and will hit shelves sometime in Q3 2008.)
Slim, Stunning Design
We weren't kidding when we said the E71 was thin. At 4.5 x 2.2 x 0.4 inches in size, this device is thinner than the BlackBerry Curve (0.6 inches thick) and just a sliver thinner than the Samsung BlackJack II, which measures 0.46 inches. The E71's stainless steel exterior, available in two versions (white steel with a white keyboard, and gray steel with a black keyboard), make this phone one of the classiest we've ever held.
Its 2.4-inch (320 x 240 pixel) display is slightly smaller than the 2.5-inch display on the BlackBerry Curve, but it offers the same resolution and is large enough for viewing Web sites and watching videos comfortably. However, we wish this LCD were slightly brighter.
On the left side of the E71 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. 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 E71 are a bit chubby. They're comfortable and provided good feedback, but they're set a little too close together for our tastes. In general, we prefer the BlackBerry Curve's more spacious keyboard to the layout on the E71, but the E71's keyboard is fine once you get the hang of it.
We really 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.
Dual-Personality User Interface
The E71's UI will be familiar to S60 users, in that it's quite similar to those of the N95, the N82, and other Nokia handsets. Yet it has distinct differences that make it more attractive. For one, the home screen offers quick access to your appointments, the Internet, Nokia Maps 2.0, notes, a file manager, and device/Internet search. The home screen also has an icon to directly dial your voicemail, and when you get a new message, the corresponding icon will display on the bottom right-hand corner. All of this happens very fluidly, and the E71 rarely, if ever, lagged.
You can switch between work and play profiles by clicking a black-and-white icon on the top right of the home screen. The work profile defaults to messaging and appointment information while displaying your preconfigured work e-mail accounts. The play profile shows photos, messages, maps, the browser, and the music player. You can set either profile to display anything you want--even a shortcut to your personal blog. Each profile can have its own background, too, so you can save more scandalous photos for after 5 p.m.
E-mail and Instant Messaging
The E71 supports Microsoft Exchange e-mail accounts, and Nokia claims it supports more than 1,000 ISP accounts as well, including POP/IMAP/SMTP accounts. We set up our Gmail account within 5 minutes easily enough, but the interface became sluggish while the account downloaded our 5,000-plus messages. After the download completed, however, the e-mail program ran much more smoothly. You'll need to manually retrieve e-mails by asking the E71 to connect and grab new messages at various intervals, but it's not true push like BlackBerry phones.
If you have a Microsoft Exchange, Visto, or Intellisync account, you'll be able to set up push e-mail. You'll be able view only the headers of each e-mail, and then you'll have to wait for the rest of the message to download each time, but if you're surfing on a 3G or 3.5G HSDPA connection, that download is almost instantaneous for text-based e-mail. You can view HTML messages, but they're sent as an attachment to the original e-mail, which loads in plain text. We wish the e-mails would load with HTML formatting right off the bat.
Sending off e-mails and SMS/MMS messages becomes more efficient with the E71's auto-complete option, which on our tests performed accurately. The phone guesses what word you're typing; if correct, you can click the space bar to insert it into your message. If it has guessed 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 businesspeople 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. If your company has a virtual private network (VPN), you can access it using the Intranet option in the Office folder, but we were unable to test it as it's not supported in the U.S.
We were able to load CNN.com in 5 seconds over AT&T's 3.5G HSDPA network--much faster than with AT&T's BlackBerry Curve, which loaded the same site in 12 seconds over EDGE. (We're presuming the HSDPA-enabled BlackBerry Bold will be much faster.) The E71 supports 802.11b/g connectivity, but not 802.11a, as the BlackBerry 8820 does. ESPN.com loaded in 6.5 seconds over an 802.11g connection.
The E71 also supports full HTML browsing using Nokia's own browser. We were able to load Facebook.com in 24 seconds using a 3G connection and 10 seconds over an 802.11g connection. The Nokia E71 was able to load YouTube over 3G in 5 seconds and began streaming a one-minute video after another 10 seconds. Sites such as Netvibes.com, which rely on Ajax support, loaded completely but weren't rendered as well as on our desktop and aren't nearly as usable. We were impressed to see that our iGoogle.com page loaded just fine, but you can't interact with it the way you can on a computer. For example, you can move your information tabs around the iGoogle page on a computer, but not on the E71.
The browser has limited support for Flash sites. While some basic ones load, others such as Addictinggames.com refused to fully load individual games. Still, the browser is far superior to the BlackBerry browser and is a welcome feature on the E71, even if not every Flash site loads.
The E71 offers a load of multimedia options. You can use the 3.2-megapixel camera to shoot pictures and 320 x 240 videos and directly upload them to your Ovi, Flickr, or Vox account quickly. Outdoor shots in the sun were washed out, and our photos weren't as sharp as photos taken on other Nokia devices such the 3.2-MP N78, which benefits from better Carl Zeiss optics. We did appreciate the flash, but shots taken in the dark were noisy andcolor was distorted.
Our recorded videos were good enough for YouTube, but again, they weren't as crisp as we've come to expect from other Nokia devices such as the N82, which shoots at a more fluid 30 frames per second than the E71's 15 frames per second. We wish we could have used the video camera on the front of the E71 for video calling, but it's only supported on international networks that offer video calling as an option.
We enjoyed listening to Lupe Fiasco's "The Cool" on the E71, (it supports MP3, AAC, and WMA files), and the interface is quite similar to the one found on other S60 v.3 devices. Unfortunately, unlike the Curve, iPhone, and other Nokia phones, the E71 sports a 2.5mm headphone jack instead of a 3.5mm one, so listening to music is a little less convenient since you'll likely need to buy an adapter for your headset. Some may prefer to go the wireless route with stereo Bluetooth headphones.
If you feel like ditching headphones altogether, the external speakers were loud enough on the E71 to listen to our music while we washed the dishes. While Nokia's over-the-air music store is available on this phone, the feature is not supported in the U.S.
We played back an MP4 movie trailer for Choke and appreciated the smooth playback and clear audio. You can opt to play the movie in full-screen, too. The device also supports 3GP files. You can also use the E71 to record audio and listen to podcasts and radio after you've downloaded your local stations from the station directory. You'll need the wired headset to listen to the radio since it also doubles as an antenna.
The E71 has AGPS built-in, and you can use Nokia Maps 2.0 to geotag your photos or find points of interest around your area. We love the street views and easy-to-follow directions, as well as the ability to locate nearby restaurants or gas stations. The map software is even fun to use at a global level: zoom in and out of Earth by pressing the * or # keys. The phone's GPS established our connection nearly instantly, and fairly accurately, and was never more than a block off. It plotted a route in New York City equally fast, and let us choose between walking or driving directions. While reception was a little spotty, owing to the skyscrapers, the E71 did a good job keeping up with our pace, even calculating our rate of speed. When we strayed off course, the phone was quick to reroute us; if we went more than half a block off the prescribed route, the software redirected us almost instantly.
With a full signal, we experienced stellar call quality while speaking to a landline user. However, calls made to T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless networks were crisp on our end, but both callers had minor complaints. One said we sounded a bit like a robot, and the other complained about background noise while we stood on our usual testing spot: a New York City street corner. Since call quality can be a subjective measurement and is more often determined by the wireless carriers and other caller's signals, we're putting more weight on our landline calls.
We were able to go 1.5 days with heavy e-mail usage, talking, and streaming media over Bluetooth before having to recharge the phone. That means the phone is a good choice to bring along on a weekend trip without having to worry about leaving the charger behind. Rated talk time is up to 10.5 hours, which we'll be putting to the test to update this review.
Nokia made a unique choice to create a device that further blurs the line between work-centric devices such as BlackBerrys and fun devices like multimedia-packed flip phones. We love that the E71 lets you switch between work and play, but we bet users will likely stick with one profile most of the time. Its satisfactory music player and solid browser make the E71 a great tool for entertainment on the road, and perfect for finding information at high 3.5G speeds on the go. It's an expensive purchase at nearly $500, but with quad-band world roaming freedom and no contract, this smart phone is a good value for anyone who doesn't want to be tied to a single carrier.