Nokia E71 smart phone – feature-rich and great for business use

With all the hype around the BlackBerry Storm and the Apple iPhone these days, it is easy to forget that non-touch screen phones are still being released to the market – and really good ones at that.

Those larger touch screen interfaces may woo those who crave consumer features and a rich media experience, but often leave those who prefer using their phone for business wanting more.

E-mail enthusiasts aren’t eager to part from their beloved hardware QWERTY keyboards, and most business users are more concerned about keeping in touch with the office and doing work while travelling than they are about watching YouTube.

Then there are some who want the best of both worlds – business functionality to keep them productive during the work week, and a healthy set of consumer features to use during their free time. Dubbed the “prosumer” segment, these users are being marketed to heavily by smartphone manufacturers and carriers.

Now Nokia is joining the fray with its E71 smartphone, available on Rogers Wireless for $99 on a three year contract (provided you’re on a plan that costs at least $45 a month). The Finnish manufacturer is showing that its Symbian OS can contend with the likes of the iPhone and the BlackBerry.

This is the phone that does it all — every smartphone function you could think of is covered by this device — as well even some you haven’t thought. All that functionality adds up to a phone that tries to split the difference between business and personal needs.

Form Factor

The Nokia E71 gives the impression of being all-business. It’s very thin, and a somewhat long smartphone that easily fits in the palm of your hand or slides in and out of your trouser pocket. It has an all-silver, metallic exterior that is quite reflective.

The phone has a bit of heft to it – for a phone – and that gives it a sturdy, reliable feeling. Coupled with the hard outer shell, I’m confident that this device could take a beating and be none the worse for wear.

The screen is 2.4” and sports a 320×320 resolution – big and crisp enough for business purposes.

E-mail

Yes, the E71 supports Microsoft Exchange server. That means that business users will be able to keep in touch with their office Inboxes and also keep in sync with their Outlook calendars and task lists.

With that key feature of e-mail functionality covered, the E71 also does a fine job of delivering on personal e-mail too. Adding a personal Web mail account is as simple as typing in your address and password and waiting for the device to connect to the service. Then you can start downloading your new messages immediately.

While this device doesn’t support push e-mail outside of Exchange, you can configure your Inbox settings to automatically retrieve your e-mail.

Reading your e-mail is also convenient with the scroll buttons skipping through each page of your message. Attachments are easy to download upon request and thanks to the Quickoffice tools in the Symbian OS, you can easily open up and edit most documents sent your way.

There were a couple of irritants related to the e-mail system, though.

I was unable to connect with my business account without going into the settings to further define server details. On other mobile devices I’ve used, punching in my address and password was usually enough to make the connection.

Also, when connecting to my Gmail server to retrieve or send messages, the device repeatedly asks me which network connection I should use. I can set this to a default if I dig through the settings, but I feel the device should remember my decision (if it works) the first time and use that unless it is interrupted for some reason.

Another nice feature would be a unified inbox. Users with more than one e-mail account must navigate between different boxes to find all of their new messages.

Keyboard and navigation

They keyboard is a definite winner. Much like a BlackBerry design, Nokia’s E71 has a full QWERTY hardware keyboard on the bottom half of this device. It also has the distinction of being the slimmest device available with such a keyboard.

Heavy typists will appreciate the well-designed keyboard, with easy- to-find buttons that are likely to minimize typing errors. The buttons are just convex enough to help the user find the keys and when pressed, they sink down.

A number pad sits in the middle of the keyboard, allowing users to thumb in digits with either the left or right thumb.

To navigate throughout the device, Nokia has tried to make most of its main features available with one touch. Jump to your applications, calendar, your e-mail Inbox or contact list with the four “shortcut” buttons at the centre of the device, on either side of the directional pad (D-pad).

The D-pad allows the user to surf around Web sites or the Symbian OS and make selections. This works intuitively and I found it very effective for Web browsing – I was gliding around full-sized Web sites quickly and smoothly and easily able to control my scrolling.

There is also a phone pick-up and end call button. Pressing the green phone button brings up a list of recent phone calls, while pressing the red hang-up button will return you to the home screen – unless of course, you have a call coming in.

Above these phone buttons are two selection buttons – the options key on the left, and a back or exit key on the right. The functions of these buttons change at times, but their purpose is always made clear by one-word descriptions that appear just above the buttons on screen.

The Symbian OS offers a simple and straight-forward user interface that smartphone users will find familiar. This version also offers a one-button switch between two different profiles – one for business and one for personal, says Nokia – that allow you to have two different icon arrangements on the home screen.

Also worth noting is the ability to type in text or phone numbers right from the home screen. You can turn on the ability to do a contact search based on what you’re typing at the start screen, but this can be a bit confusing because what’s displayed are the alternative characters assigned to the keys, not the letters. But typing in “Joe” will bring up all your contacts named Joe on the screen.

You can also just type in a phone number and dial it immediately from this screen.

Web browsing

The Flash-enabled browser does a great job of presenting both mobile-optimized and full-sized Web sites. Pages are miniaturized to display better on the 320×320 resolution screen, the text is easy to read, and the graphics look nice and crip.

Navigating the Web is made easy with the D-pad. It acts as a great way to scroll around a Web page. When you press the Back button, you’re given a selection of tabs to click on of Web pages you’re recently visited. You can scroll through these quickly with the left and right pad buttons and find the page you want.

The Internet connection speed is very good on Rogers’ 3.5G network. I downloaded a couple of files in short order and Web sites were quick to load. But one thing that irks me about Rogers is its attempt to lock mobile Web users into a limited guide to the Web.

The default home page presented is one designed to peddle more Rogers services and fee-added downloads such as ringtones. Even though the Nokia E71 is compatible with YouTube’s mobile site, that is not an option here. Attempting to go to the URL instead routes you back to Rogers’ browser where users are given “Look at Me”, a video Web site where clips can be downloaded for free and some come with a $0.50 charge. Videos on the site must be downloaded and played with RealPlayer.

Applications

Maps

The E71 is a GPS-enabled phone with a maps function that puts most other mobile phone mapping applications to shame. It comes built into the device and is pre-loaded with maps of most areas. If your area isn’t covered for some reason, the map can be downloaded to your phone for free.

The phone will locate you on a map that can be viewed in either map mode, satellite mode, or hybrid mode (similar to Google Maps). You can have the device plan a trip between two locations and actually give you turn-by-turn directions. It’s the sort of service that many phone carriers often charge a monthly fee for, but this application does it for free.

That being said, I had some trouble actually using this application. The phone was able to find my location just fine, but when I attempted to do a route navigation, I got a “waiting for GPS” signal. This despite the fact that other mobile GPS devices have no problem receiving a signal.

There also seems to be no way to zoom in and out on the map you’re viewing. That can be frustrating if you need to quickly get a bigger snapshot of the area you’re trying to navigate – or a better look at that street you need to turn onto.

I’d recommend downloading the Google Maps mobile edition on your Nokia E71 as a trusty backup to this built-in mapping application. It doesn’t have all the features offered by Nokia’s software, but it is easy to use and always proves responsive in my experience.

Media

Nokia’s music player works with AAC files and the E71 is compatible with a more compressed AAC format that will allow you to fit more songs onto the same amount of storage space. The media player on the phone is quite adequate, with files being organized by artist, album, and song.

You’ll be able to organize you music collection with the Nokia PC Suite that is the desktop manager software that comes with the phone. The music function on the software acts like a mini-iTunes, allowing you to rip your CDs to a format compatible with Nokia phones and other devices, and keeping your collection organized and synched up with your phone.

Videos are also compatible on this device in many different formats, including Flash and RealPlayer, and the 3G video format from QuickTime. Video on the 320×320 screen looks crisp enough to enjoy, but not as stunning as other devices with more pixels packed into that small screen real estate.

One nice bonus of the phone is an FM radio tuner. This is easy to use and the reception delivers clear audio.

One drawback of this device is the lack of a regular sized headphone jack that allows you to plug in your favourite pair of ear buds. Only the mini-jack is available on the E71 that allows only a limited headphone selection for use with the device. A pair of ear buds are included is included in the package.

Quickoffice

The Quickoffice applications that come on the E71 really make this a great business productivity tool. It allows users to create word processing documents, spreadsheets, and slideshow presentations on the go. You’ll also be able to open up attachments you receive through e-mail with these tools.

Creating files in these applications is surprisingly easy and after using it for only several minutes, it is apparent you could get some real work done with it. I can imagine putting together a slideshow while sitting in an airplane, for example. I could type in the text and create basic graphical titles for my presentation and insert photos taken with my phone into the presentation. Then I could e-mail it off to one of my contacts.

Bells and whistles

It is often said that many smartphone users only use about 10 per cent of available functionality on their devices and the rest of it goes to waste. The E71 is so feature rich that it’s hard to imagine anyone that could use 100 per cent of the features – especially the video calling option.

Roger’s is advertising that it is the first carrier in North America to offer a video calling feature with this phone. By using a small, low resolution camera that is on the front of your device, you could place a video call to a contact and then see their video-projected image on your screen.

It seems cool, but suffers the same problem that video phones have always suffered – nobody else has one. Since this feature is currently only available on the Rogers’ network with this particular phone, I couldn’t think of anyone to call to test out this feature.

Despite the 3.2 megapixel camera that comes on the device, I found the performance was not very good – especially indoors. The colours were often off and the images appear grainy. The images produced were often out of focus. I’ve used 2.0 megapixel cameras on other phones that perform better than this one.

Perhaps Nokia wanted to draw attention away from its camera function, because the hardware shortcut button to the camera is missing from the design.

Conclusion

As I prepared to return my review unit, I went about wiping all my personal data from the E71. To my surprise, this proved fairly difficult. Even selecting the option to return to the factory default settings did not eliminate my contacts, messages, or calendar.

For anyone else that comes across this problem, here’s the key to wiping your data from the Nokia E71: perform a hard reset of the device by holding done the call button, 3, *, and the power button simultaneously. Do not release the buttons until your device reboots and you see the Nokia boot-up screen. Pressing all these buttons at once can be awkward, but it does the trick to wipe your data.

The E71 is a great device that will meet the needs of even the most demanding smartphone connoisseur. Not only does the device come packed to the brim with all sorts of features and applications, but the Symbian OS has literally thousands of third party applications available for download on the Web – some for free, some for purchase. 

The phone has all the connectivity you’d want – including WiFi – and more. It syncs with your desktop and Microsoft Outlook as well as Exchange. It’s a tough phone to beat for business productivity.

The media features are there too, and will satisfy many users with the ability to play music, download podcasts, listen to radio and watch video. But it’s not the strongest media phone on the market and those who must have top quality media playback and performance will likely not opt for this device.

At a subsidized price of $99, this phone is definitely worth consideration for anyone choosing a new smartphone.

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