As our eyes pass across the dozen smartphones living in the CNET test labs, the E7 winks at us with its pleasantly different design. Even though our review unit is a charcoal grey colour, similar to the many black handsets around it, it still stands apart as having a unique look and feel — something that will appeal to anyone who likes to accessorise with a unique piece or two.
When we consider the E7 hardware, there are two features that really stand out. The obvious element is the slide-out QWERTY keyboard. Like the N97, this hinge design slides the screen forward and then up on what appears to be a 45-degree angle. The keyboard is well-spaced and reasonably easy to use, with Nokia opting for a similar chiclet-style layout that we saw recently on the HTC Desire Z.
More eye-catching is the gorgeous 4-inch AMOLED display using Nokia's ClearDisplay technology. This screen is top-notch, with rich, deep blacks and vibrant colours. Nokia continues with its nHD resolution displays, and athough this is a mathematically lower resolution than most other smartphones in this price range, you'd be hard-pressed to spot the difference with higher-res screens.
E7 profile: the keyboard open at a 45-degree angle.
There are a couple of interesting design decisions made in the construction of the E7. For starters, the ubiquitous volume rocker has been replaced by a spring-loaded switch, though the functionality remains the same. Also, the aluminium unibody chassis is non-user accessible. This means that you can hot-swap SIM cards using a card drawer on the side of the phone, but it also means that the battery is non-replaceable. There's no microSD slot, either, which could pose a problem for anyone who doesn't find the 16GB of internal storage sufficient.
The E7 runs on Nokia's Symbian^3 operating system, and if you've read our review of the Nokia N8 then you probably know what we're about to say: it needs work. Symbian has three user-customisable home screens with six pre-defined segments for widgets. Some of these widgets look good and offer good information, like the date and time widget, but mostly these widgets struggle to offer usable functionality in the small slice of screen real estate they have to work with, and you'll wonder if they are worth the data they use to update themselves.
It's obvious that, since we reviewed the N8, Nokia has put some work into Symbian, but not enough to make it a fun, user-friendly environment. The system still feels sluggish in places, is prone to extended lag spikes and requires way too much user input to perform simple tasks. Still frustrating is that text input takes you to a separate screen requiring to confirm your input before returning to the original menu or web page.
We could have forgiven these annoying UI quirks if the experience of the UI had been slick and fast; however, it isn't. Swiping your finger across the home screen doesn't give you an immediate result; instead the phone vibrates, thinks then changes screen. It is these pauses, then seconds you lose with every interaction with Symbian that add up to an overall feeling of frustration when using the E7. All phones systems lag, even the most powerful Androids and even Apple's revered iPhone, but most smartphones do so infrequently. It is this element of the user experience, above all others, that Nokia needs to improve before it releases another Symbian device.
As an E-series device, the E7 joins a long line of communicator-branded handsets in what Nokia describes as its business range. So how does it fare for the busy professional?
At the core of this functionality, the E7's email and calendar offerings are good, but not exceptional. Nokia's email client has great support for a range of corporate and personal email servers and the ability to add up to ten email accounts, but the usability needs refining. The calendar could use a user experience tweak, but it also lacks important features like creating, accepting and rejecting meeting invitations.
The E7 does have a few surprising tricks up its sleeve, though. Matching the pre-installed Quickoffice app with the HDMI output gives users a handy portable presentation unit, and with the USB adapter in the box you can run the same presentation of a USB flash drive.
But imagine our surprise when we discovered you could connect either a wired mouse or keyboard to the E7 without any additional drivers to install. Now you connect the HDMI cable to a desktop monitor and the E7 becomes a tiny PC. In fact, this portion of the review was written entirely on the E7 using a full-size Logitech keyboard. Sadly it won't recognise USB hubs so you can't use a mouse and a keyboard at the same time, but this is still something very few smartphones can claim to be able to do.
Media and the web
Our complaints above are in line with the remarks we made when we reviewed the N8; however the N8 had one very impressive Ace up its sleeve — its outstanding 12-megapixel camera. Nokia packs an 8-megapixel shooter into the E7, and while this sounds impressive the resulting photos don't tend to be. Unlike most other Nokia smartphone cameras, the E7 features a fixed-focus lens and, as such, no auto-focus. This could be a good thing; no auto-focus means the time between aiming the camera and firing the shutter is dramatically lower and, with the right image sensor algorithm to correct any camera blur, you could end up with excellent photos. In our experience, a majority of pics taken with the E7 turn out blurry, and the test photos we took look washed out. The imperfect colour reproduction can be corrected using a great photo editing tool included in the software suite, but there's little that can be done about the blurry photos.
Movie buffs are luckier than photo fanatics here; the outstanding AMOLED display is matched with some excellent multimedia tools. The E7 supports MP4, H.264, MKV and WMV video files and can output up to 720p HD video to a TV via HDMI connection at the top of the handset. Nokia include an HDMI adapter in the box with the E7, but you'll need to purchase a standard HDMI cable for this feature to work.
- HTC Desire HD
- HTC Apple iPhone 4
- BlackBerry Torch
- Nokia E7
- Longer bars equal better performance 41121 38010 17368 4322
Many of the issues we've identified above boil down to how underpowered the E7 is. Nokia opts for a 680MHz ARM 11 processor paired with a dedicated graphic processor and 256MB RAM. Given the high quality of the materials used in the chassis, this internal hardware feels like a lawnmower engine in the body of a Ferrari. While it's true that you only need enough processing power to run the system which relies on it, we'd argue that Symbian^3 could use more grunt to power it and it could definitely use a whole lot more RAM.
The non-user replaceable Lithium-Ion battery could also be larger; the 1200mAh pack that was included managed about 5 hours of 3G talk time in our tests, or an hour-and-a-half less than the Samsung Nexus S. In typical use cases, we managed to get through a busy business day before charging.
Business users and messaging junkies could get good use out of the E7, though we can't say it'd be our first choice for either purpose. Nokia's Symbian platform feels sluggish compared with the leanness of iOS, Android and BlackBerry OS, and the phone needs a fair bit of customisation before accessing important everyday tasks is as convenient as with the aforementioned systems. Plus, the E7 isn't cheap — you'll pay the same for this phone as you will for an iPhone, and more than you'll pay for a Desire HD, but you'll get an inferior experience.
What elevates this package (somewhat) is the breadth of connectivity. Other smartphones will offer an HDMI option but Nokia will be one of the few companies to include all the accessories you need to use this straight away. The USB adapter is great for file transfers, but once you plug in a mouse you get a glimpse of the future. These aren't features to choose a phone on primarily, but they will make a huge difference in certain business cases.