Its sleek design and snappy performance help us overlook the quirks of the Symbian platform, but the 8-megapixel camera is a real disappointment.
If Nokia is having difficulties winning back the hearts and minds of iPhone and Android defectors, you can't tell by looking at its phones. We've seen a sharp decline in the number of Nokia handsets to review in 2010, but those we have seen have been beautifully crafted, and the C7 is no exception. Its design profile fits into the E-series family of good looks, with a mixture of stainless steel and plastic strongly reminiscent of the E71, though without the QWERTY keyboard of the E-series phones we actually find the C7 more attractive.
All user input comes via the 3.5-inch AMOLED touchscreen — a similar panel to the one we saw a few weeks ago on the Nokia N8. This screen is bright and colourful, and it also seems responsive where the Symbian software will allow it to be, but more on this later. The C7 has three mechanical buttons below the screen, plus several more on the right-hand side including a key dedicated to launching the phone's voice commands service. There's also a camera shutter key powering the C7's 8-megapixel camera, located on the rear of the phone beside a dual-LED flash.
Like the N8, the C7 runs on the Symbian^3 platform, bringing with it all of the tools, features and shortcomings we experienced when we reviewed the N8. There's the rigid home-screen widget design, the same scrolling inconsistencies between different apps and system menus, but surprisingly, not the same amount of processing lag. The everyday tasks we struggled with when using the N8, things like text messaging and receiving calls, haven't been an issue with the C7. Even when multitasking a half-dozen apps the C7 chugs along without the same hiccups we saw previously.
Though the C-series moniker puts the C7 among Nokia's mid-range offering, you'll still find the best of Nokia's current connectivity options in this handset. There's HSDPA downloads rated at a maximum 10.2Mbps and HSUPA uploads of 2Mbps. It's also Wi-Fi compatible with the wireless-N protocol, as well as Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP for stereo audio streaming.
These connectivity options come in handy when using the decent pre-installed web browser and for downloading apps via the Ovi Store. Speaking of which, we have to say the Ovi Store is really starting to come into its own. We've kept an eye on it over the past couple of months, but this is the first time we've spotted a number of great apps surfacing on the front pages of the Store. One particular standout is Swype, a keyboard alternative made available for free by Nokia. If you've been using one of Nokia's recent releases and hated the on-screen keyboard then you definitely have to give Swype a try.
The web browser is decent but not great. It does a good job of rendering pages and it's fast to react to finger gestures, like pinch-to-zoom, but it's comparatively slower than most phones at accessing data. There seems to be a latency issue with Nokia phones; a problem with the way the phone communicates with servers perhaps. Once the data is coming down it's very fast, but it always takes more than a moment before that initial connection is made.
Nokia has built its reputation on several important factors, but the first that jumps to mind for us is always the quality of its camera phones. Following the success of the 12-megapixel monster in the N8, it would be safe to assume that the 8-megapixel shooter in the C7 would be a winner, right? That's certainly the assumption we made before the camera proved otherwise.
This camera uses a new and, according to Nokia, improved fixed focus lens. This means that when you take a photo the camera doesn't adjust the focus before snapping a pic, instead it keeps all subjects beyond 50cm from the lens in a sharp, flat focal range. The obvious upside here is speed; without waiting for an auto-focus mechanism this camera can fire off shots almost instantly. This camera, with the combination of speed and consistently sharp focus should be a winner, except for the fact that not a single photo we've taken has been in focus.
In a recent Nokia Conversations blog post, Nokia's Damien Dinning outlined the various upsides to using what Nokia calls Full Focus cameras, rather than auto-focus models. To achieve a camera that is fast and user-friendly, Dinning explained that Nokia uses a secret post-production algorithm to take the softness out of slightly blurry photos taken in-camera. We like this concept in theory and we love the speed of the camera in the C7, but it seems we'll have to wait for next version of this algorithm before we see decent photos.
As we mentioned earlier, the basic processing of the C7 seems to be more consistent than we saw recently with the Nokia N8, and in truth, this baffles us. It sports the same ARM 11 680MHz processor and has the same 3D graphics accelerator chip in support, and yet all of the irksome lag has been ironed out of the firmware. The design of the Symbian system and its core applications make it hard to recommend the C7 as a smartphone for someone with a busy email and social media life. We would recommend it, however, as a basic phone with a good web browsing experience.
We've found the battery life to be a little better than you might expect from today's smartphones, coming in at a day and a half or more between charges. That said, we certainly didn't push the C7 the way we might push other more business-friendly smartphones.
In some regards, the C7 is the best Nokia phone we've seen in a long time. Though we wouldn't recommend it for business users, the C7 would make a very capable everyday phone for many people with its mixture of speed, sleek style and gorgeous AMOLED display. It's a shame its 8-megapixel camera is well below par — it would have been the icing on the cake for this mobile.