Sunday, 7 August 2011

Nokia X7 review

This is no secret that Nokia is currently undergoing the toughest times in their recent history. Stephen Elop announced sudden switch in strategy which essentially converts Nokia into mere hardware manufacturer for Windows Phone based smartphones. However unpopular that decision was, and no matter how upset people (and stocks) became, we all just need to deal with it. Period.

Nonetheless, since that announcement was made, things at Espoo are getting just worse. Shipments of WP-powered mobiles won't happen immediately, so Nokia has to fill the gap somehow to remain relevant, and that emergency plumbing is done with help of ill-fated Symbian smartphones.

The most recent launches in Symbian territory which were supposed to keep Nokia on track are business-oriented E6 and multimedia-powerhorse X7. I have had a chance to review E6 already and my feelings were quite positive, despite the fact Symbian is no longer attracting me enough to dump Android altogether. Now, once again thanks to WOMWorld/Nokia people I've got X7 in my hands to play with for couple of weeks.

Nokia X7 X7 back
Nokia X7

First thing to notice about X7 is its sleek, eye-catching and unique design. Sharp edges with distinctive cut corners and completely rounded back. I say Nokia X7 is very attractive piece of kit, a kind of eye magnet, however I also reckon it's a type of design that one either love or hate. Materials used to build the device are of high quality, build quality is also top-notch and rounded back feels great in hand. Design-wise Nokia X7 scores high, that's for sure.

However, inspiring design does come with the price to pay and I'd say it's quite expensive. Let's cut the chase: Nokia X7 is exceptionally beautiful and utterly unergonomical at the same time. Blame goes mostly to rounded back and side buttons (ie. volume rocker or camera shutter). I found really fiddly adjusting in-call volume while holding phone by ear, and I couldn't help impression that it will just slip away from my hand. Same worry goes towards operating camera shutter. Curved back of X7 forces user to hold it in awkward way which makes unintentionally dropping device really easy. And suddenly beautiful design becomes a curse...

Nokia X7 has pretty huge, 4-inch AMOLED display which offers quite good quality, is bright and reasonably readable in direct sunlight, however its decent real-estate is wasted by ancient 640x360 resolution. I'm not sure why Nokia insists to use that "nHD" resolution while de-facto smartphone standard nowadays is 800x480 and there are devices with ultra-crisp 960x540 screens coming out lately. Sticking to 640x360 is especially debatable knowing that Nokia somehow managed to squeeze 640x480 into tiny 2.4-inch display of Nokia E6, making it one of the most crisp displays I've ever seen.

X7 display close-up

Nokia X7 is allegedly targeted as multimedia and entertainment smartphone. But is it really? Let's start with speakers. Looking at X7 one could think it has four, presumably quadrophonic, high-quality speakers. Well, not really, as it only has two speaker on the bottom sides, while top looking-like-speaker-grilles are just there for decoration. I'm not even sure if these speakers are actually stereo, as official specs don't say a thing about this.

When I was offered X7 for a review, I was told it was great for watching movies on the go. I've been doubtful about that initially, yet I've got nicely surprised to see videos in popular xvid format (.avi) playing off the bat in X7's default media player. Large screen + xvid = success. Kudos for that.

And then comes gaming experience. I am not a particular fan of mobile phone games but since X7 came preloaded with couple of them, I gave it a shot. While playing Galaxy On Fire HD was OK, racing in Asphalt 5 wasn't top notch experience. When a lot of dynamic action within a game was happening, it became clear that device is underpowered to provide sufficient fluidness and ultimately a decent gaming experience. Well, this is not something I'd expect from entertainment device...

X7's camera is 8-megapixel EDoF shooter, presumably being exactly the same unit as in Nokia E6. EDoF stands for Enhanced Depth of Field and is pretty much just a fancy way of saying Fixed Focus. Photo quality provided by this camera is rather reasonable, however not groundbreaking either. I would have thought that multimedia oriented device, as X7 is trying to be, will feature high quality camera with autofocus, but well... I guess I'm just wrong. Camera also records 720p videos at 25fps framerate which are OK, but again probably not the best I've ever seen. As I've already mentioned, probably the most prominent issue with camera is actually a shutter button which is really awkward to operate.

Sample photo Sample photo

Getting away from strictly multimedia features of X7, I should mention a web browser, which is basically the same as in Nokia E6 I've reviewed earlier, however 4-inch screen compared to 2.4-inch makes noticeable difference and websites are way more readable and usable. So it seems Nokia X7 could become a fairly decent mobile web browsing machine but... wait a second... yes, wait - this is what you'll need to do often while using X7's browser. While it seems to load pages a bit faster than in E6, interacting with them is another story. Panning, zooming, scrolling, trying to type an URL or basically typing anything into input boxes on websites - all these things are unreasonably laggy and are significantly undermining overall user experience. X7 as decent mobile web browsing machine? Not really.

Speaking of typing, I should mention on-screen qwerty keyboard introduced in Symbian Anna. Perhaps I'm a bit biased to judge this, as I've been using mobiles equipped with physical qwerty keyboard for past few years, however I think these virtual keys are a tad too small and keypress feedback showing currently pressed letter in a popup over a key is split-second too short.

I will not go into details of Symbian Anna itself, as I have already covered this in my Nokia E6 review earlier.

Right, let's wrap up. To be perfectly honest, I was very little impressed by Nokia X7 overall. I have been trying hard to explore it further and find something really surprising, but... the only genuine "wow" moment was playing xvid video in built-in media player, which frankly I didn't expect to work. And that's it. In fact instead of wow moments and nice surprises, I've been finding flaws and disappointments along the line.

By just looking at Nokia X7, it actually seems to have huge potential, so one could say "wow, this is really cool handset!" and instinctively set high expectations against it. However, that cool and somewhat aggressive skin hides pretty average, uninspiring and just dull smartphone, which falls short in many aspects. Needless to say, there are plenty competing handsets significantly better than Nokia X7 out there on the market right now.

Having said that, there's no surprise Nokia is struggling so much in recent months and it will remain struggling further, as it would be foolish to expect X7 being huge sales hit to keep Nokia on track. So Nokia, I need to say this straight to you for your own good: stop pretending Symbian-based mobiles like X7 are any good, so please rather deliver that god-damn Windows Phone asap and make sure it is actually god-damn good. Kthxbye.

Galleries and samples

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