Editors' note: Portions of this review were taken from our evaluation of the Nokia N8, since the two phones share some similarities in terms of features.
If you've been a cell phone fan for a while, you might remember the days when the Nokia Communicator series was the status symbol of a powerful businessperson. Nokia eventually developed the line into the E series, and its latest flagship model, the Nokia E7, is available now for an unlocked price of $650. The company has done a lot to refine the design, and it's running the revamped Symbian 3 operating system. However, a lot has changed since the days of the Communicator. Does the E7 have the chops to make it in the business world? Read on to find out.
The Nokia E7 takes a number of style cues from the Nokia N8, which isn't a bad thing in our view since we loved the N8's hardware. The E7 is made of the same high-quality materials--aluminum body and glass AMOLED display--giving it a very premium feel. It's slightly bigger and heavier than the N8 at 4.87 inches tall by 2.46 inches wide by 0.54 thick and 6.2 ounces, but considering that the E7 also manages to fit in a full QWERTY keyboard, it's actually pretty amazing that it's only 0.03 inch thicker and 0.1 inch longer than the N8.
The E7's glass touch screen measures 4 inches diagonally and has a 640x360-pixel resolution. In general, it's clear and bright and you'll have no problem reading what's on the screen. However, with a lower-resolution screen, you're not going to get the same sharpness or definition as on today's qHD, Super AMOLED, and retina displays. The pixels are more visible on the E7, so images and text don't look quite as smooth.
On the bright side, the touch screen is very responsive. Launching apps only required a single tap, and we were able to navigate through the various screens and menus with no problem. There are three home screens in total, which you can customize with various widgets and shortcuts, and the main menu of apps is presented in a simple grid format.
Of course, as we've stated before in our reviews of the N8 and the Nokia Astound, Symbian 3 brings a one-touch user interface that makes it much easier to navigate these phones than previous versions of the operating system. However, it still feels clunky in some parts compared with platforms like iOS, Android, and Windows Phone, so Symbian certainly isn't leapfrogging the competition.
For text entry, you get an onscreen keyboard, though in portrait mode you only get an alphanumeric keypad. It's not as big of a deal as it was on the Nokia N8, since the E7 offers a full, physical QWERTY keyboard. To access it, you simply push the screen aside. The sliding mechanism is smooth and the hinge feels sturdy. The screen securely locks into place and sits at a slight angle to make it easier to see when using the keyboard.
Nokia did a really nice job with the keyboard. The buttons are a decent size with good spacing and a comfortable layout. The space bar is centrally located and not off to the side as on the Nokia N97 Mini, so in general we were able to type at a good clip with minimal mistakes.
There are a handful of other controls on the smartphone. Just below the display, there's a menu button. The left side features a lock switch and on the right side you'll find the SIM card slot, a volume/zoom key, and a camera button. Like the N8, the E7 doesn't have a user-replaceable battery, so you insert the SIM card on the side. However, we initially had a rather difficult time pulling out the SIM card tray, and after about 20 minutes we finally pried it open with a sharp object. Also, the slider volume controls take a bit of getting used to; we found it easier to use a rocker control to adjust audio while on a call, but this is really a minor issue.
The top of the phone houses the 3.5mm headphone jack, power button, HDMI port, and Micro-USB port. Note that there is no expansion slot on the E7. Last but not least, the 8-megapixel camera and dual LED flash are on the back, and the front-facing VGA camera is located above the display in the upper left corner.
The Nokia E7 comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired stereo headset, an HDMI cable, a Micro-USB-to-USB adapter, and reference material. The smartphone is available in five colors: dark gray, silver white, green, blue, and orange.
As we noted at the beginning, the Nokia E7 was built with business users in mind. The smartphone supports multiple e-mail protocols, including Exchange ActiveSync, Lotus Notes, and POP3/IMAP accounts, and also offers Cisco AnyConnect SSL VPN support and security solutions for device management, remote wipe, and the like. The smartphone also comes preloaded with a handful of business apps, such as the Quickoffice suite, F-Secure Anti-Theft, and Psiloc World Traveler, a program that helps you manage upcoming trips and provides travel tools like a currency converter and flight tracker.
Ovi Maps from Nokia is also a great resource for road warriors. Nokia's mapping application has an advantage over Google Maps in that you get turn-by-turn navigation for 80 countries even if you're offline, and it won't cost you a thing. Plus, you can get tips on where to stay and eat with the built-in Lonely Planet and ViaMichelin guides. You can download more apps from the Ovi Store catalog of more than 40,000 titles, which pales in comparison with Apple's App Store (more than 350,000 apps) and the Android Market (more than 150,000 apps), but still sees 5 million in daily downloads.
Voice features of the E7 include quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, speed dial, conference calling, voice dialing, a vibrate mode, and text and multimedia messaging with threaded chat view. The phone's address book is only limited by the available memory, and the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts. There's room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, work and home addresses, e-mail addresses, birthday, and more vitals. For caller ID purposes, you can assign each contact a photo, a group ID, or a custom ringtone. Unlike other operating systems, however, Symbian 3 does not automatically pull and sync contact information from your various e-mail accounts and social networking sites.
Wireless options are well represented on the Nokia E7, with Bluetooth 3.0, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n), GPS, and five-band 3G support (WCDMA 850/900/1700/1900/2100). This means you'll get 3G whether you use AT&T or T-Mobile, which is great. The E7 has a WebKit-based browser with support for Flash Lite 4.0 and multiple windows, and it renders pages quite well. Unfortunately, the E7 isn't running the latest version of Symbian 3 (v3.1) like the Astound, so you don't get a dedicated address bar in the browser. Instead, you have to launch a separate menu, enter the URL, and then press Go To.
For downtimes, the E7 has a capable media player that supports a standard range of music and video formats, including MP3, AAC, WMA, MPEG-4, and H.264. There is 16GB of mass memory, which is certainly a good amount, but again, be aware that there is no expansion slot on the smartphone, so keep tabs on storage as you load up the device with content, such as photos taken with the E7's 8-megapixel camera.
There are numerous editing tools in the camera software--white-balance controls, exposure settings, face detection, ISO, self-timer, and more--and there's even a built-in photo and video editor if you want to touch up your images afterward. Right off the camera, picture quality is already great. Objects are clearly defined and, even in low-lit rooms, colors came out pretty bright. The camera can also record 720p HD video, and the quality was impressively clear for a camera phone.
We tested the quad-band Nokia E7 in New York using T-Mobile and AT&T service, and call quality was decent. On our end, the audio was clear with minimal background noise, but voices sounded somewhat muffled at times. It wasn't bad enough that we couldn't understand our callers, but it's something we definitely noticed. Meanwhile, friends said they had no problems hearing us but there were a few mentions of tinny call quality.
Nokia E7 call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone quality was good. Audio sounded rich, and there wasn't any of the hollowness or echoing that often plagues speakerphones. There was also enough volume that we could hear calls in a noisier environment. We were able to pair the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones for making calls and listening to music.
Using T-Mobile's 3G network, CNET's full site loaded in 28 seconds, while the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN came up in 7 seconds and 6 seconds respectively. YouTube videos loaded in several seconds and played back without interruption.
The E7 is powered by a 680MHz ARM11 processor and has 256MB RAM/350MB internal memory. Unfortunately, this leads to some sluggish behavior, as the smartphone was a little slow to open some apps and transition to different screens. The phone also froze on us while playing a video and required a soft reset--not exactly the type of performance you want to see from a business device.
The Nokia E7 ships with a 1,200mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 5 hours (3G) and up to 20 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, we were able to get 5 hours of continuous talk time on a single charge. With moderate use (e-mail, some Web browsing, and music playback), the battery lasted about one and a half to two days before needing a recharge.
The Nokia E7 is just another example in a long line of Nokia smartphones in which an amazing piece of hardware is held back by inferior software. Coupled with a high price tag, the E7's appeal will most likely be limited to Symbian fans. For everyone else looking for a business-class device with a QWERTY keyboard, we recommend checking out one of these smartphones instead.