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Nokia E7 – First impressions review

Nokia’s Communicator series has always been a good seller for the Finnish phone makers, ever since they first began to arrive back in 1996 where the Nokia 9000 Communicator was even featured in the 1997 Val Kilmer ‘Saint’ film.

There have been seven models in the Communicator series to date, the 9000, 9110, 9210, 9500, 9300, 9300i and the E90. However, it’s been 3 years since Nokia launched a Communicator handset, where they filled in the gap with the N97 which was largely seen as an interim measure between the Communicator handsets. That mobile phone was more of a consumer product than a business phone, with its friendly rounded edges and 32GB of memory for music and video.

Traditionally, the Communicator devices have been of a square, boxy design with more of a corporate look and feel than the N97 – which might not have been to everyone’s taste and therefore, not the most ideal business tool.

Nokia has now re-launched the Communicator brand after some years, with the E7 handset. One Mobile Ring spent a great deal of time with their new business mobile phone at Nokia World 2010, all in order to deliver this run-down of its feature set and to write up this 'first impressions' review of the device.

Initially, this handset was believed to be just a physical keyboard version of N8, where leaked images and video seen on-line before its launch reported that very news. Many also believed it was the successor to the consumer N97 handset, but no one had really put two and two together to get E7.

It’s easy to see why the Nokia E7 was seen to be in same family as the N8, as both handsets do look almost identical and in size too. The E7 comes in at 123.7mm in length, 62.5mm in width and is 13.6mm thin. The Nokia N8 is only slightly smaller on all fronts with 113.5mm in length, 59mm in width and is 12.9mm thin. Both cases are made from the same anodised aluminium, with the E7 being entirely recyclable where even the case is made from recycled materials.

The form factor and design have remained a constant throughout the Communicator lineage, until this latest E7 model which broke the status quo. In the past, there has always been a small screen on the front of the handset, where the chunky oblong phone is opened out to reveal a much larger screen internally and a full Qwerty keyboard. It’s a similar layout to a clamshell mobile, only in a much larger candy bar style handset.

Now, there is only one display and not two – although the screen size and the new slimmer form factor certainly make up for the loss of the twin displays. The E7 arrives with a 4-inch capacitive AMOLED multi-touch screen, where their latest flagship consumer N8 mobile only tips up with a 3.5-inch screen of the same calibre.

The E7’s display is bright and vivid, along with being very responsive and good at handling touch screen requests accurately. Nokia has deployed their ClearBlackDisplay in the E7 Communicator, which will aid in keeping the colours distinct even in sunshine. This is coupled with the AMOLED display, which reportedly has better quality than the Samsung Super AMOLED Galaxy S screen.

Nokia’s E7 keyboard isn’t of the regular Communicator ilk, as the phone doesn’t need to be ‘opened out’ for the keyboard to be accessed. Instead, the keyboard just slides out from under the display and the screen tilts up to a fixed angle. This is the same way the Nokia N97 also opens out, where the same angle is even achieved by the display. This method of exposing the keyboard is now more regularly seen in Motorola, HTC and LG handsets and has been adopted by the E7, rather than the old Communicator keyboard from the past.

The phones’ keys are raised and well-spaced out, along with being comfortable to use with elements taken from the N97 and N97 mini in its overall design. One noticeable item Nokia has dropped from the N97 and that is the space bar’s location, which was always off to one side and Nokia has now placed it dead-central – just as it is any normal keyboard.

The Nokia E7 has taken a page out of the Android play book, where the phone now has three separate home screens that can be accessed by a simple swipe of a finger across the display. These can be populated by 24 different items, from widgets, to applications and other elements found in the Symbian^3 OS. The screens can all be easily customised, moved around and reorganised, much like any touch screen platforms. Notifications of emails, messages, IM’s, social networking status and other content can appear on the home screen in a real time fashion – as expected with any web connected phone.

Nokia has noted the E7 runs from the same 680Mhz CPU as found in the N8, where there’s a separate graphics accelerator on-board – with one proc concentrating on the phone, and the accelerator handling the graphics with no lag observed in our testing.

The phone only has one physical button, which is used for accessing the home screen or to bring up applications. Nokia’s N8 mobile also has just one hardware button, where the company once again is keen on continuity throughout the whole series.

On the side of the phone is a cover which houses the SIM, where the card slots in as it does on their Nokia X6 mobile. This method for housing a SIM card can be a tad confusing, as many have reported this is where the microSD card resides on the E7. The N8 and the Nokia E7 both ship with 16GB of internal memory, only the Communicator isn’t accompanied by a microSD slot – which effectively limits the handset’s expandability and could therefore deter a potential purchaser.

Besides Symbian^3, the Nokia E7 and N8 also share a micro HDMI port which allows video content from the phone to be displayed on an HD screen. The 3.5mm audio jack doubles up as a TV-Out port too, for the older CRT screens that do not have an HDMI socket. The two phones also share the USB-on-the-go functionality, where the microUSB port used for charging can also be used to read USB flash drives. In the retail box, there's a lead that can be attached to the microUSB socket on the E7. This allows for a regular sized USB flash drives to be attached to the phone. USB on the go expands the overall usefulness of the mobile where data can be shared from phone to USB stick, or vice-versa and without the need to interact with a computer in anyway shape or form. This is the first time we have seen this in action, despite this being a feature of the N810 and Nokia 6600 slide handset.

The E7 can access 10 different email accounts, just to show its versatility with all the popular email services being accessible along with secure connection to a Microsoft Exchange server. One Mobile Ring was told the entire inbox system on Symbian^3 has been rewritten, to offer up a better email experience - where our video of the Nokia E7 does show this in action.

The visual task manager is a new feature and addition to the Symbian^3 OS, where the running applications can be run through with a swipe across the screen and accessed with very little lag. This works in much the same way as the Palm Pre Plus and other webOS phones, with the new task manager taking up the full screen and showing snap shots of the running app. This ability also displays the power of the phone’s multitasking features, where past iterations of the OS and other handsets of Nokia’s haven’t really been up to the task.

Nokia has made leaps and bounds to provide the necessary tools for this to be a good business phone, by bundling in the paid for QuickOffice software application with the Microsoft Communicator suite. The latter of which allows for instant messages to be passed along to MSN accounts holders, and even Yahoo users.

The Nokia consumer N8 mobile phone is bundled with a 12 megapixel camera and Xeon flash, where the Finnish phone makers have dropped down the quality for the E7 with an 8MP camera and dual LED flash. The E7 is still capable of HD video recording, where there’s even a physical camera button.

The Bottom Line

Nokia’s E7 is a good return to form for the Communicator series, with the touch screen and Qwerty keyboard that are both great to use and comfortable to operate – either on a flat surface, or to hold between two hands. The Symbian^3 OS is finally looking like a platform that could hold its own up against the other operating systems, which Nokia’s competition are now deploying.

One Mobile Ring can’t help feeling this phone was just tacked on to the E series as an afterthought, where at one stage it was going to be an N series handset. The E7 could equally serve as a consumer phone, but perhaps the initial price was out of the public’s grasp. We have noticed the model number associated with the mobile is ‘E7-00’, where there could very well be other versions of the phone on the way with a cheaper price tag and an economy drive on some of the features.

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Rob Kerr
Rob Kerr

Rob has worked in the affiliate industry for many years with large publishers, and previously worked as a journalist on titles such as Wired, PC Magazine, ITProPortal, The Register, The Inquirer, Pocket-Lint, Mobile Industry Review, Know Your Mobile and The Gadget Show.