Review: Nokia E71 - A Thin Communicator

The Nokia E71 is all-purpose communication phone with perfect junior executive looks: professional enough for the board room, sleek enough for the evening. It's thin and solid and elegant, and it feels just right in the hand. Thin phones are nothing new, but the size and shape here feels ideal: it's got enough heft to register as a serious communication tool, but it's skinny enough to slide into a jeans pocket.

While we love the external design, we never warmed up to the Symbian OS 9.2, Series 60 3.1 edition inside. Using it was never difficult, but poor organization turned simple jobs into multi-step chores, and hid too many options behind confusing menus.

The E71 is a 3G phone that works with the 850/1900MHz bands in the U.S. It works with both AT&T and T-Mobile service, although you'll only get HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) support with AT&T.

We tested the phone in the New York area and found that call quality was high, with no dropped calls, but data service was uneven. While the phone mostly showed 3G access, not 3.5G, we occasionally got GRPS or EGPRS data connections. Page downloads could be as quick as on a cable modem or surprisingly pokey.

The phone measure 4.5 x 2.2 x 0.4 inches and weighs 4.4 ounces. The battery is rated for 4.5 hours of talk time or 480 hours of standby. With moderate use, we were able to easily go days between chargings. The phone is also equipped with Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR, with profiles for stereo headsets and file transfer, among others.

No U.S. carriers currently offer the E71, so you're going to have to pay a premium if you want it. An unlocked E71 currently sells for $459 online.

The E71 makes a good comparison to another popular junior executive phone: The BlackBerry Pearl 8120. But where the Pearl feels a little slight in the hand, the E71 feels solid and substantial. Where the Pearl offers a compact keyboard with two letters on every key, the E71 offers a full QWERTY keyboard.

The screen measures 2.4 inches diagonally with a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels. Beneath the screen you'll find a standard configuration of buttons, with two soft keys near the screen, call and end call buttons below them, and a clickable direction pad in the middle. Four app-specific buttons sit on either side of the direction pad, bringing you to the home screen, calendar, contact list, and message center in one tap.

The keyboard is quite small, and typing was occasionally a challenge for our large fingers. We were forced to type slowly and focus on hitting the right keys. The number pad shares space on the center keys, which is fine but we wish the numbers were marked in a brighter way to make them easier to see.

Its left side holds covered ports for the microSD and micro USB ports. The top holds a power button, while the right side holds buttons for volume control and voice recording. This is also where you'll find the 2.5mm headphone port. That's one of the trade-offs of owning a thin phone and it means you can't use headphones or earbuds that have the more common 3.5mm plug.

The bottom holds the power port. On the back you'll find the lens for the 3.2 megapixel camera, as well as a flash and a self-portrait mirror.

The E71 runs Symbian OS 9.2, Series 60 3.1 edition, and offers the usual organization and communication applications, including messaging (text and e-mail), a Web browser, music and video playback, and a radio (when using the included headphones, which act as an antenna). Office tools include the QuickOffice suite, notes, Adobe PDF, and a unit converter. We liked that the phone can switch between two homepages with the on-screen Switch Mode icon, surfacing tools you'll need at work or at play

We found that the operating system was the phone's biggest hindrance, as it made accomplishing simple tasks a challenge (and sometimes an impossibility). To give one example: setting up and cusomizing a mailbox took too many steps, and we only had the option of downloading headers automatically, not the entire messages.

That means we had to wait 30 seconds every time we clicked on a new e-mail, which was a pain. The e-mail app also doesn't sync your mailbox, so old messages stay there even after you delete them on your computer's mail application, an annoyance that the Sidekick also suffers from. Plus, automated e-mail checking stopped working halfway through our testing. We were forced to delete the mailbox and start again.

The phone also includes GPS, which works both by receiving info from GPS location data from satellites and by checking for nearby Wi-Fi networks. We found it especially slow to get our position. While you can rely on it for area maps, you'll need to pay extra if you want genuine turn-by-turn directions. That service sets you back $13.96 per month or $125.77 per year.

Phone service was always strong in our testing, although we found the data transfer rate to be unreliable. We liked that the text-to-speech service, which can read aloud messages and more, can also read aloud the names of callers as long as they're in the phone's address book. The voice is robotic, and it's fun and creepy to hear it announce callers.

If you're taken by the camera's boast of a 3.2 megapixel lens, think again. The megapixel race isn't doing consumers any good, as manufacturers often squeeze more pixels into the same space but reduce their effectiveness to grab light. Photos from the E71 were a little grainy and dim. There are plenty of 2 megapixel phone cameras out there than take better pictures.

You'll get a couple helpful extras in the box, including a USB cord for transferring items to and from a PC, a set of stereo earbuds with a compact microphone, and a handsome slip case (handsome, but not as useful as a belt clip).

The E71 doesn't deliver any knockout features for its price, but it's loaded with communications options and it's extremely comfortable to use. If you're a fan of the Symbian OS, this could be the model for you.

TAGS:

Nokia, AT&T, Symbian, S60, Nokia E71

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