Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The Magic of Nokia E71

If I was ever trying to find the right way of describing differences between Nokia E71 and HTC Magic, I'd say that E71 is like loving, caring and hard-working but not-so-beautiful wife, while Magic is hot and sexy wamp, ready to please you in any way you want, but not care about you much after that.

Having finished my recent Android & me experiment, I have switched back to Nokia E71 which I've been sticking to for over a year now. While HTC Magic is truly appealing device and Android OS platform is generally very prospective, it still can't beat somewhat ugly and dated Symbian/E71 combo in few areas. I thought it would be nice to explain which are these areas that I feel Nokia particularly excels at.

First of all, the form factor. Elegant, slim, lightweight and - of course - sporting a full, hardware qwerty keyboard right in the front. For me, a huge qwerty fan, E71's form factor is simply unbeatable. To be fair, keyboard is not perfect, keys are quite small'ish and prone to typing mistakes (hey, we all do typos even on 'real' computer keyboards, don't we?), yet still - this is a hardware keyboard, far more friendly than its virtual equivalent. I've been seriously struggling over past week to type anything quickly and without any errors using Magic's on-screen keyboard.

Hardware keyboard also makes placing calls to contacts ten tons easier. Fancy calling someone from your contacts list? Don't even bother opening up the contacts list, just start typing his/her name straight off the homescreen to get it instantly. Simple as that and not a chance with on-screen keypad, I'm afraid.

The next great thing in Nokia, but not necessarily in Magic is calendar and all related PIM functions. Having the ability to view upcoming calendar events straight on the homescreen is great plus. Well, it's not great, it's actually quite essential to me. Also, built-in support for tasks/todo list along with SyncML client gives perfect opportunity to use services like GooSync and applications like Swim, and close the loop of managing personal agenda consistently in both the 'real' web browser and in the phone at the same time. Of course, someone could say that I need to use 3rd party services and apps to accomplish the task. The answer is yes, but it essentially works perfect altogether, while Android with native support for Google Calendar sync is still behind.

It is not that far behind, tough. As I already posted, it needs certain polishing and hooking-up with Google Tasks service to be nearly as perfect in terms of Personal Information Management as E71 currently is.

Built-in and heavily integrated with OS Voice over IP support is another excellent feature that I love my E71 for. Although configuring SIP profiles is probably the most confusing thing in the world, I like the fact that I can set more than one profile and then use it on-demand basis from the comfort of my homescreen. Placing VoIP calls to any number also couldn't be easier. Speaking of VoIP calls, I couldn't go away not mentioning brilliant Truphone app that not only provides another SIP profile for cheap VoIP calling over WiFi, but also seamlessly provides the service in areas not covered by WiFi networks (although it only makes sense when you have a decent bundle of inclusive minutes in your calling plan). Simply put, cheap international calling couldn't be easier with E71, really.

And there is another thing that keeps me, very personally, sticking to Nokia. It's Field Test Display (aka FTD) along with CellTrack applications which are simply a must if you're a hardcore BTS hunter or simply have great interest in mobile networks monitoring. ;)

The !Magic of Nokia E71

All-in-all sounds sweet, right? Time to explain things that aren't that sweet then, and that mainly is a mobile internet experience. This is quite broad topic that touches couple of areas, which altogether do not create very positive impression.

First off, a built-in web browser. Painfully slow and not exactly friendly to navigate. It actually does pretty good job in rendering pages and has multi-tab (window) support, which is nice, but it's mostly that slowness which drives me crazy and puts me off using it. This area, however, is well covered by excellent Opera Mini, which seems to be a good compromise: it's blazingly fast and easy to use, but on the other hand has no multi-tab support and sometimes does weird things in terms of rendering pages.

Second annoying thing is email handling. A Blackberry-style device like Nokia E71, should have solid, robust and seamless support for any email account I could possibly imagine. Generic accounts like Gmail should be handled even better. Unfortunately, this is not quite the case. Built-in email client has IMAP IDLE support, effectively meaning push-email from any IMAP account supporting this, Gmail included. And yes, this works fine actually, but for some strange reason there is no way of telling it to keep IMAP connection alive. It just randomly disconnects from the service. There's not even any specific timeframe - sometimes it keeps connection for an hour, sometimes just for 5 minutes. Why? Don't ask me. Firmware upgrades never fixed this, so I assume it's not a bug but a feature. Very annoying feature.

There is rather promising alternative to built-in email client, and that is Nokia Messaging application, which integrates with system rather nicely and delivers a true push-email experience. Yet again, seems nearly perfect, but has other shortcomings, like - for example - inability to keep emails that are more than 3 (yes, three) days old in the Inbox. Not very useful.

Google Mail dedicated application sounds like a perfect solution for Gmail users, you might think. Well, yes and no. It's great in handling Gmail accounts, but on the other hand it doesn't provide push-email experience, it's a standalone Java application that doesn't integrate with system in any way, and finally - most bugging thing for me - any external link opened via this app, brings up a 'mobile version' of page, optimized on-the-fly by Google, and there is now way of switching this nasty thing off. Doh!

Lastly, there is rather poor radio sensitivity of Nokia E71. I've mentioned that while covering my Android experiment earlier - Nokia E71 isn't very decent in handling areas of poor network coverage. It usually looses the signal first, and is last to re-gain it back. That is mainly contributing to the poor mobile internet experience, as GPRS/3G connections are being disconnected pretty frequently. I haven't been facing this problem in such scale while using HTC Magic for a week and commuting on the same train, the same route on daily basis. Nokia E71 allegedly has antenna located under the keypad, where microphone and charger socket is - if it's really so, then I'd like to congratulate 'engineers' who invented this. Really great to have antenna covered by hand all the time.

One last thing, that isn't necessarily annoying, but would be nice-to-have, is centralised applications repository. I was always happy to install standalone SIS packages scattered all around the web, and some of those apps are truly great to have and use. But I've been totally converted to the idea after seeing Android Market and easiness of adding and removing 3rd party apps in my phone. Recently released Ovi Store for Nokia phones isn't unfortunately as good as Android Market, it's actually quite bad - uber-slow, unfriendly to browse around, has poor rating system and finally sometimes app installation is failing without giving any reason, whatsoever. Very bad user experience overall.

So, is Nokia E71 Magic or !Magic?

However Symbian OS might seem imperfect, boring, dated and not really up to compete with the latest and greatest mobile platforms nowadays, with Nokia E71 it just does the job, and does it pretty well. For me, forgiving couple of shortcomings I mentioned above, E71 is a true workhorse that I can count on. Magic and Android in general on the other hand is shiny, attractive and very promising platform with all means to take over a world in near future. Yet still, up until few Android flaws gets ironed out, and there will be no decent Android-based hardware qwerty device, Nokia E71 (and quite possibly Nokia E72 soon!) is still going to be my daily tool of choice.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more...
    Very well put!
    I have also tried other phones but the E71 with its very easy switch between profiles day/night mode and work/home is outstanding.