Lost In Mobile

Shaun McGill

07412 655899

Lost In Mobile is the continuation of PDA-247 which, under various names, provided news, reviews and commentary on the mobile world for 10 years.

I have been writing about the mobile industry, mobile products, apps and everything else in between and beyond for more than 10 years, and currently write freelance for Imagine Publishing and also undertake one-off projects upon request.

I welcome your comments and thoughts and if you want to get in touch, please do so via the email address or phone number above.

Thanks for stopping by.

Shaun McGill

Nokia E71 Review

It has arrived. The Nokia E71 duly arrived from Clove this morning as expected and I have had a few hours to play with it so far. Rather than do a standard review so far, I am going to approach this one differently. I will be looking at it from the viewpoint of a Palm OS or Windows Mobile owner and also detailing every possible feature in great detail. I expect this to last four to five days.

“do you make an appointment or an opportunity?”
“do you open emails or open minds?”
“do you surf the web or look for inspiration?”


Oh dear. Those are the words on the front of the box. Once I had stopped laughing I had a look inside and was immediately surprised by what I found. The E71 looks as ugly as sin in the pictures I have seen on the web, but in real life it is actually rather beautiful. The reflective metal  covering  is slightly distracting, but parts of this smartphone are made of real metal and that is a good thing. First impressions of build quality are also extremely positive and I have little doubt that it will survive the daily trauma I tend to put phones through. I am going to list some quick first impressions-

Screen

Not the largest in the world, but super bright and very useable in even the brightest of conditions. When mounted in a car the metal parts actually reflect more light than the screen which is unusual and an unnecessary design error. Text and icons look pin sharp and there is a ‘Blackberry’ feel to the fonts and icons which lends itself to creating a personal experience for the user.

Battery

It is hard to tell after only a few hours, but initial tests show that it is a good one. With Wi-Fi on for two hours, thirty minutes of Mobile TV and constant MS Exchange syncing the battery dropped only 10%. I will update more on this in the coming days.

Set Up

Some smartphone are notorious for requiring lots of user intervention when setting them up, but the E71 is a completely different story. I inserted my Vodafone SIM card and within a minute my homepage was Vodafone Live!, Mobile TV was working perfectly and all of my call and voicemail settings were set up for me. I am guessing that it may do this with other providers and that will be a bonus, but as a Vodafone customer this is a great start. Getting most smartphones to even contemplate Vodafone Live! and Mobile TV is often a nightmare, but not here. The Mobile TV experience is good and the entire screen is used to good effect with good sound quality, especially through the headphone, for added effect.

Call Quality

No complaints here- it sounds like a typical Nokia feature phone and signal reception is especially good. The speakerphone could be louder though which is slightly disappointing, but all in all it runs rings around the majority of smartphones in this area.

Software

Software availability has been a bit of a let down for most smartphone users who try the Symbian S60 platform, but things are starting to change. eReader is now available in beta form and first impressions are good. It does not look quite as good as the Palm and Windows Mobile versions, but can utilise full screen mode which is sadly missing in the WM version. There is also a fully featured finance manager available now which is comparable to the likes of Spb Finance, if a little less professional looking, and is the only real option for serious financial tracking under Symbian S60. I will detail all of the bundled applications in the next few days and that will take some time because there is a lot!

I will write a much longer second part tomorrow because today has been a bit haphazard and my thoughts are more than a little random. What I can say is that after reviewing many, many smartphones this one has easily given the best first day impression of any of them.

Day one with the Nokia E71 was an interesting experience and for the most part I have managed to set up the staple software programs that I like to use on a daily basis. There seems to be a wide breadth of third party applications now available for Symbian S60 3rd Edition and these supplement the included software very well indeed.

Today, I am going to look at the bundled E71 software to give you an idea of what you can do straight from the box, and you can do a lot.

Calendar

The calendar application is ‘surprise, surprise’ actually quite good. You can have reminder times set automatically and the variety of views works well. There is more than a touch of ‘Psion’ about the way the calendar works, and many of you will view that as a HUGE bonus. Highlighting appointments in the week view brings up some animated actions and the simplicity of movement of smoothness of animation is almost ‘iPhone’ like. In short, this is a quick to use and visually appealing application which is in another league to the terrible S60 3rd Edition calendars we have seen previously.

Contacts

Contacts still looks similar to previous versions, but is now a fairly complete tool for the most serious of contact hoarders. You can add thumbnails and a ‘huge’ amount of fields are available with every conceivable piece of information that you could possibly need. It is interesting that you can even add names of a contacts children, which I can see being used by sales people “Hi, how is your son Lewis.” It is a clever tool for pretending to remember people.

Notes

There are two notes applications built in to the E71 of which the first one is very similar to the basic notes application in Windows Mobile or MemoPad in Palm OS. Active Notes is an enhanced note taker which accepts multiple folder levels, object insertion (images, sound clip, video clip, business card, bookmark, file) and the ability to link a note to a particular call. It looks basic, but is in actual fact a very powerful application that is reminiscent again of the Psion system and the object support on the Clie TH55.

Office
 
The Office folder includes QuickOffice which works quite well and is a lot faster than I remember it. You can create new word documents, spreadsheets and presentations as well as view all files that are in these standard formats. All in all, I have been impressed with the way QuickOffice handles even the most complex of files and it is certainly a useful addition to the E71.

The Calculator is quite basic and has no scientific functions included, but it does the job it needs to. The lack of a touch screen obviously hampers quick use. The File Manager is again basic, but useable. Having said that, I am likely to replace it with a more powerful third party alternative as the E71 starts to fill up. The inclusion of MOT GlobalDix 3.0 is a bonus and as mobile dictionaries go, it is fast and seems to be fairly comprehensive. The Converter application is not going to cover all conversion needs, but it takes care of the most popular types such as temperature, volume, length, weight etc. There is an inbuilt Search facility which I like a lot. You type in the name of what you want to find and it will pop up below the listed application in the main screen. If it is a contact, even the thumbnail image will appear and it is also super quick.

There is a PDF Reader which is capable, but PDFs are historically a pain to read on a small screen. It will have some use if attachments are received in this format though. The Intranet icon is a big nod to the corporate market- I have not tested it yet, but it could be very important to the E71’s future success.

Media

The Media folder is also rather packed with goodies. Obviously Camera is present, but I have not had time to really test it out yet. I will post some example photos and videos on Monday so you can see for yourself how it performs. RealPlayer is as you would expect. It does not support a wide range of video formats, but the playback was quite good. I had read reports of stuttering video, but so far have had no problems even with full length films encoded at high quality. The Music Player is quite nice to look at, but could have a bit more ‘pizazz’ to it, if you know what I mean. I am happy to report, however, that the music quality is excellent, even through the supplied headset and stereo widening works well. The Visual Radio application is OK provided you are outside. Indoors I struggled to get a good signal and this does not compare well to some Sony Ericsson phones which work much better in this area. There is a Flash Player which is standard by now, a Podcasting application with some pre-defined channels, a Voice Recorder which is basic but functional, a Music Store application which I really enjoyed and it is not a million miles away from being a mini iTunes and finally a Share Online facility with Ovi and Vox included. As you can tell, this could be a long article.

Communication

On to the Communication folder. Push To Talk is here (hooray!), there is an Internet Telephone icon which should be able to take Skype etc., an Instant Messenger, Speed Dial, Call Log, and a couple of other smaller applications. Nothing remarkable, but some are essential.

GPS

Only three applications here- Maps which is Nokia Maps and this is an impressive piece of GPS software for a pre-loaded one. Personally, I would not use it above TomTom or a ‘proper’ GPS solution but it is handy to have. I will write more about my TomTom experiences over the next day or so. GPS Data is a simple indicator of your current status and can be used to gather more information for specific tasks. Finally, Landmarks is more of a favourites feature in a separate icon. My first attempts with the built in GPS receiver proved that it is not bad at all at receiving and keeping a good quality signal.

Connectivity

Infrared, USB, WLAN, Bluetooth, Modem, Connection Manager… What can I say? Everything is here and so far it all works well.

Others

There are some other weird and wonderful things hidden in the menus as well such as a Barcode scanner, the ability to encrypt the phone memory and memory card, Voice aid (you need to see this to believe it!), Modes which is a very quick way of choosing between various settings and too many other icons to go through.

The point of this article is to demonstrate just how much is bundled with the E71 and to evaluate the quality of each individual application. All in all, it is a highly impressive and professional software feature set which I have not seen surpassed in any other phone to date.

On Monday I will be looking at specific hardware features such as the camera, battery and the overall usability of the E71.

I am going to write about some of my experiences using the Nokia E71 for specific functions today, and it has been a story of hit and miss in some areas. It is not all the fault of the E71 though, as you will find out.

Camera

The E71 has a 3.2MP camera which looks good on paper, and as such I was expecting a much better photography experience with this phone that with the Windows Mobile and Palm devices I have used in the past. Also, for a company that has added such good cameras to the N82 and N95 the expectation level should be relatively high.

For still photography I have been fairly disappointed with poor colour reproduction and grainy images dominating the output, even in advantageous lighting conditions. On one day I took over 70 photos at various settings and did manage to achieve some worthwhile output, but on the whole I would still rate this camera as good for quick snaps but it will never replace a standalone camera.

Having said all of that, some of the distortion produced some strangely beautiful effects and some of the photos did come out very well. Strangely, the video camera function is very good indeed and I was more than impressed with the smoothness and focussing when shooting quick clips. The specification is not great on the video side, but the output is. Maybe a software update will help the still photography side in time?

The camera interface is excellent however, and within minutes I fully understood the various settings and found the menus and features super quick to use. The shutter speed is also good, with photos being captured at Treo speed. For all of my negativity I still rate the camera as much better than almost all of the Windows Mobile offerings, but sadly it still lags behind the P1i and the aforementioned Nokia models. Remember though that this is a business phone and only 3.2MP, so maybe I should have dampened my expectations and be happy for what it is.

GPS

Having a built in GPS receiver is an advantage, but I have struggled with it on the E71. Having doubled check ALL of my settings many times it still takes over 10 minutes to get a lock every time! Steve Litchfield told me that he gets a lock immediately, so maybe it is me (or this phone?)

Using a Bluetooth GPS receiver was a different matter though and so I have done my GPS testing with a KeyChain model. The next issue came with Nokia Maps which looks good aesthetically, but which has failed to perform at all over the past week. The problem is that I cannot connect to the Nokia server to activate the trial and test it properly. Once again I thought it was my settings, but it turns out that many others have this issue.

TomTom Navigator 6 works perfectly, albeit with having to use the T9 method for numbers in post codes. So far it has produced a near faultless experience on the E71 and displays well on the relatively small screen. There are no lags or freezes, which my i780 suffered from when using this, and it has performed well.

Garmin Mobile XT also works without a hitch, as did Google Maps and Co-Pilot Live 7 should also work now with the recent update. In short, despite my set up issues with the GPS receiver and Nokia Maps the E71 is compatible with almost the entire range of GPS solutions available.

UPDATE: I have solved the Nokia Maps issue by using a different GPRS access point for Maps, one which does not work except in the application? For TomTom, the Traffic service does not work and TomTom has advised that this is an issue with the phone.

Data Input

The keyboard is one of the better ones I have used and requires a feather light touch to use the keys. This is problematic at first, but soon reveals itself to be an advantage. There is a distinct lack of punctuation and symbol keys on the keyboard and I found myself often entering the character menu to input brackets and currency signs etc. This is not good, especially when so many keys have no extra functions on them at all.

Word completion is available and this works well, yet strangely I prefer not to use it for data entry. It can speed things up after practice, and maybe I will return to it one day.

All in all, the data input side of the E71 is very well implemented with a few omissions that could have made it the ultimate smartphone for the serious mobile user.

Extras

Besides all of the obvious features in the E71, there is room for expansion on the entertainment side that you may not be aware of. I have loaded up a few Flash Lite games and simple applications and was even more surprised to find that a lot of my feature phone Java games worked perfectly on the E71. The Java version of Call of Duty is just one example which used the full screen of the E71 and which plays perfectly with the navigation and selection keys on board.

I have enjoyed my time with the E71 very much so far and will conclude my thoughts tomorrow. It is proving to be a much bigger update to the Nokia E61i than I expected, whilst retaining the stability and speed of the original which is just what I wanted to happen.

I have a slight confession to make. This is the fourth article I have written about the Nokia E71 and I have been somewhat vague as to how good this smartphone really is. The reason I have tempered my views is because I am wary of the ‘new toy’ phenomenon that sometimes takes me over and which can cloud my view of what a phone is really like.

Within one hour of using the E71 I knew that it would be my main smartphone for the foreseeable future. There are some features that I must see to make a smartphone truly great in my mind, and they are-

Good battery life (2-3 days minimum)
A screen that can be read easily in all weather conditions
Fast data input
Small and thin design
Reliability 99% of the time
Lots of internal memory or good expansion options (8GB minimum)
A GPS solution
Decent media playback (music and video)
Excellent MS Exchange email and PIM handling
Useable PIM apps on board
A decent range of third party applications and games

So, the E71 is the first device I have used that manages to tick all of the above boxes. It made an immediate impression on me and one week later, that same impression has stuck. In fact, the more I use it the more I like it. I am sat writing this on my laptop with the E71 playing music- I like the way it stops the music for a new email or call and then starts again when the activity has finished. This is the same way the iPhone works, and it is a smart move to copy it.

There is so much that I could write about the E71, but it would take far too long. All I can say is that the i780 has made a swift and sudden exit and that the E71 has been with me all of the time since I received it. This is an easy statement to randomly say, but I do mean it- “This is the best smartphone I have ever used.”