Nokia's Symbian platform is within a transition this year, shifting from the critically panned Symbian^3 version 1.1 installed on last year'sto the apparently improved Symbian Belle platform (Symbian^3 version 3) due for release at the end of 2011. In many ways, the E6 is the piggy in the middle, running an in-between version of Symbian on last year's hardware.
Do you fondly remember the? You're not alone. The E71 was a huge hit for Nokia Australia back in 2008, and, in a lot of ways, not a lot has changed between now and then. The E6 shares its predecessor's dress sense, with a slick business aesthetic. Our review unit is a combination of glossy black surfaces and a subtle stainless-steel border running around the edge.
Unlike the E71, though, the E6 has dual input methods. There is a full QWERTY keyboard, as before, but now you also get a 2.46-inch colour capacitive touchscreen to tap away at, too. This is a smart addition, although it's limited greatly by the space that Nokia allocates to it. Perhaps we've been spoiled by the growing number of 4-plus-inch displays that we've seen across the Android range this year, but this screen seems tiny to our ageing eyes. Of course, its fine for the basics like entering phone numbers before a call, or sending and receiving SMS, but it really is too small for more complex smartphone functions, like web browsing and email.
The keyboard is still very much the centrepiece of this experience, and it's an experience on par with previous releases. The keys are tiny and packed in tightly to the space provided, and we found that it took us a few days before we were confidently typing on the E6. Each key is raised to a soft hump in the centre, which helps to differentiate the keys, but only just.
As we said earlier, Nokia's user experience is in a time of great change, and what you get with the E6 is the halfway point. Nokia calls this version of Symbian Anna, and it includes some of the useability improvements that Nokia intends to implement in its platforms by the end of the year, but not all of them. The UI looks nicer than before, with rounded edges and a new colour palette, and there are some standout improvements, like the way that Symbian handles text entry in forms (read: the way everyone else does it), but if you've been struggling with Symbian, then you'll agree that the improvements don't go far enough in this release.
The home screen feels better to use now than it did last year, with smoother scrolling animations between screens giving it a faster feel. It's a shame, then, that the space for widgets on each of these screens is broken into rigid segments, which are really only useful for application shortcuts. Stranger still: these app shortcuts can only be displayed in rows of four — you can't just grab an app from your main menu and dump it down on the home screen. Hopefully, Symbian Belle gives more control to users to make their phones look and work the way they want them to.
In the last 12 months or so, Nokia camera phones have been split into two distinct categories. There's the traditional camera with an auto-focus lens, usually with Nokia's excellent Carl Zeiss optics, and then there is Nokia's fixed-focus solution, with no auto focus, but a near-instantaneous shutter speed. The camera on the E6 is the latter. There's no auto focus, but the camera does take pics in a half-second, by our count.
We saw the same fixed-focus camera hardware in the Nokia C7 a while back, and, unfortunately, our opinion on this approach hasn't changed much between then and now. The photos we've taken with the E6 are more often out of focus than in focus, suggesting that the super-fast shutter is still not fast enough to eliminate slight movements in our hands. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of post-image processing, with the camera capturing what you see through the viewfinder before you take a shot, and this tends to be a pretty cold representation of colour with a soft blue hue.
It's near-impossible to take sharp photos with the fixed-focus lens.