Announced today and scheduled to start shipping in July, the Nokia E71 is a new, long awaited phone belonging to the business-oriented Eseries line. Even though its name suggests that it is a successor to the E70 (equipped with large, unfolding, two-part QWERTY keyboard), the E71 follows the E61 and E61i design, offering large, 320x240 pixel, 2.36" screen and monoblock QWERTY keyboard of the "Blackberry" type.
What comes to your mind when you touch this phone for the first time is its high build quality and a feeling of sturdiness. Taking the device to your hand, you get the feeling that it has a durable and solid construction, and it's not just a feeling but it's true. Plastic parts, so common in previous models, have been limited in E71 to minimum, with the only plastic elements being the keyboard and small fragments of the back side, but even those parts have been made from a hard and durable plastic that doesn't creak or bend when squeezed. The front side of the casing, containing the large screen and keyboard, is surrounded by a stainless steel frame painted with glossy, dark-silver colour. The battery cover, taking most of the back side of the casing, it also made of durable metal.
The E71 weighs 126 g and it's very skinny (114 mm x 57 mm x 10 mm). It's noticeably smaller than the E61i it replaces, which is generally a good thing as it's simply easier to carry, except for that it also affects the size of its screen (down from 2.8" to 2.36") and keyboard. But as (IMHO) both still stay within tolerable range, it's not really something I'd complain about too much. Instead I'd rather praise that the E71 is finally a true world phone with full quadband (GSM/EGSM 850/900/1800/1900) and also all WCDMA frequencies (850/2100, 900/2100, 850/1900) will be supported (in separate versions, though) which is something really important in this quickly shrinking world.
It's hard to assess the design of the keyboard as it's very much a personal thing. Blackberry type keyboards have small keys so people with fat fingers may have some problems with using them. One thing, however, is unquestionable: the keyboard of the E71 as regards its mechanical parameters works really great and provides almost perfect tactile feedback. The keys have well chosen "way", pressing them is not too long and not too short, they're resilient and provide clearly perceptible "click" feeling. The same applies to the d-pad, which is firm and stable. Compared to its "younger brother" announced at the same time, the E66, d-pad and other keys of the E71 work definitely much better. Even though, as mentioned, the alphanumerical keys of the QWERTY keyboard are quite small, they're strongly convex, which provides good separation and clear feeling of where one key ends and another one starts. I'd risk saying that from the build quality and mechanical operation point of view the keyboard of the E71 is one of the best I've used, especially the d-pad which is simply perfect.
When the phone is on standby and the screen is turned off, it notifies you that it is alive by blinking the white LED placed inside the d-pad, which looks very nice, much better than if there was a separate diode located somewhere on the casing. The LED can also notify you about selected events like missed calls or new messages. The d-pad also has a useful function: press and hold it while the screen is turned off to show a large clock along with some device status information.
The E71 is equipped with BP-4L battery of 1500 mAh capacity, the same as found in e.g. the E90 Communicator, Internet Tablets and the E61i. It's the "strongest" of all currently offered Nokia batteries, providing much more power than commonly used BP-6MT (and such) batteries. So E71 users shouldn't have much to worry about when it comes to battery life.
The phone uses ARM11-based single-core Freescale processor running at 369 MHz, the same as found in many high-end Nseries phones. The Freescale CPU doesn't offer hardware 3D graphics acceleration like the OMAP2420 processor used in N82 or E90 (so sorry, the full OpenGL ES version of Quake won't run on it :-) ) but its faster clock (369 MHz vs. 332 MHz of the OMAP) should compensate for it and even provide additional performance in some tasks like e.g. UI speed.
After the E90, the E71 is another Eseries phone model that brings Eseries closer to Nseries when it comes to non-business functionality like e.g. multimedia. It also has a built-in Assisted GPS receiver and preinstalled Nokia Maps application (the new version 2.x). Even though high-end Nseries phones now offer 5 Megapixel cameras, the 3.2 Megapixel one in the E71 is still a lot for a business phone. And now it comes with LED Flash (E61 had no camera at all and the 2 MPix one on the E61i had no Flash). Because of the phone's form factor and the aspect of the display, one takes pictures holding the phone "normally", i.e. in the portrait mode (as the screen itself has horizontal aspect), without having to tilt it as it's usually the case with phones having 240x320 pixel screens. There is also no separate camera button and the central button of the d-pad is used to take pictures and start/stop video recording. It's good and it's bad at the same time. Good, because I hate having to rotate the device to take pictures, and the central button of the d-pad is in good location making it easy to take pictures. Bad, because, unlike separate camera "shutter release" buttons which are usually two-step ones (press halfway to obtain focus, press all the way down after obtaining the focus to take the picture), the d-pad button is obviously one-step only, so it's not possible to carefully autofocus on the object in the viewfinder, see the results, re-AF if needed, etc., but instead the camera does everything instantly as you press the d-pad. This often results in pictures being out of focus or the focus being set on something different than what you wanted it to be on. OK, you can use the "T" key to autofocus in the viewfinder and only then press the d-pad button to capture the image, but it's far from being comfortable and it's hard to avoid any movement of the camera while doing so, which, especially in low lighting, affects proper focus the same way as when using the d-pad alone, without using the "T" key.
Even though the E71 has the same camera resolution (and probably the same camera sensor) as the E66 announced at the same time (to be reviewed later this week), there is a huge difference when it comes to colours of pictures and videos taken using these two phones. While pictures and videos made using the E66 are well saturated and vivid, the ones coming from the E71 have faded, washed out colours and lower contrast. But it's most probably a software thing (different image processing) and the tested phone did not have final, commercial firmware, so it may change before the E71 starts shipping.
Another slightly disappointing thing is that video recording quality is limited to QVGA / 10 fps. It's definitely not because of hardware limitations (as there are Nseries phones with the same hardware, providing VGA / 30 fps video recording) but it's most probably meant to reserve this feature for the Nseries. However, as Nokia already made an exception with the VGA/30 fps capable E90 Communicator, I expected the same from the E71. Fortunately, even though low resolution, the recorded videos are of good quality, with no apparent compression artefacts and such. 10 frames per second is, however, too little to fluently reproduce fast movements, which is quite apparent on the sample videos of quite lively moving dogs below.
There is also no TV Out connector, but it's not present in any Eseries device, not even the E90, so no suprise here. However, I think that Nokia should not consider the TV Out as purely multimedia/entertainment feature as it can be of great use for business purposes as well (presentations, etc.) and they should think about adding it in future Eseries devices. Some business oriented Windows Mobile devices, like e.g. the new HTC Advantage X7150 (to be reviewed in comparison with the E90 in the upcoming weeks), have the TV Out function by default, so why not enrich Symbian OS-based business devices with it?
While we're still at the camera, I'd like to say that I consider the lack of protective, manually controlled lens cover in the E71 a huge advantage. Why? Because it's actually a myth that it protects anything. Devices without it still have a protective glass/plastic over the lens (so no, it's not the lens that may get scratched or get dirtly if there's no cover, it's an additional plastic). Maybe it's not the case with you, but I forget to close the damn cover all the time (e.g. in the N82) so it doesn't do any good anyway, and even if I remember to close it, then I have to open it prior to taking a picture, which annoys me like hell. So until we see AUTOMATICALLY controlled lens covers in mobile phones, I rather prefer devices without ones and the E71 scores a point here.
Decent camera (with crippled video recording and slightly washed-out colours) is not all the E71 offers when it comes to multimedia. It also has FM radio and standard 2.5 mm audio jack. It generates high-quality stereo sound via headphones but there's only one speaker located on top of the device, so in the loudspeaker mode it's actually monoural (but very loud and clear). It's also worth mentioning that the built-in ringtones are very nice, of high quality and properly chosen for a device of this type, something I always miss from UIQ 3.x phones, including the new G900 to be reviewed soon.
Another thing that distinguishes the E71 from high-end Nseries phones (but also from its "younger brother", the E66), is lack of the accelerometer. It's probably because Nokia decided that with that shape of the phone and the design of its keyboard it wouldn't be of much use when it comes to automatic screen rotation, but now with so many 3rd party applications making use of the accelerometer for so many different purposes than just auto-rotating the screen it's actually a pity that it's not there.
The E71 also brings some news when it comes to software. It includes QuickOffice (version 4.1.xx.xx with possibility of paid upgrade) supporting both viewing and editing/creating new documents.
Another news is the "Encryption" application letting one encrypt all the contents of phone memory and/or the memory card, preventing data stored in them from being accessed by unauthorized persons. Just select the disks to be encrypted and how/where you want to store the encryption key and that's it.
The E71 also has a new "Modes" application (integrated with Profiles) which basically allows you to quickly switch the phone between two modes: "Business" and "Personal" (names can be changed). In both these modes one can configure the theme, wallpaper, Active standby (Home screen) functionality (application shortcuts, plugins) and with just one key press switch all these settings at once. It's a very nice idea letting one have two separate configurations, e.g. for bussiness and private, after-work use, affecting not just the look of the UI but also e.g. shortcuts to applications or active Home screen mailbox you use at work or after it, and switch between them in no time. This way during business hours you can have e.g. shortcuts to QuickOffice, VPN, Calculator, Calendar, To-do etc. and your company email account set as standby screen mailbox, and all this with some 'seriously looking' theme and wallpaper suitable for your work, and then, right when you're leaving your office for home, you can switch the phone to your favourite theme, some crazy wallpaper, Active standby shortcuts to applications you use after work (e.g. Maps, some games, weather forecast, etc.) and your private email account. Great idea!
Like all new Eseries phones, the E71 has four "One-Touch" keys located under the soft keys, on both sides of the d-pad. The leftmost one is the Home key, which works like the Menu key in Nseries phones (short press toggles between the Home / Active standby screen and the main menu, long press invokes the task manager). Assignments of the three remaining keys (Contacts, Calendar, Messaging) can be changed in Settings for both short and long press, which lets you configure six favourite applications you can launch with just one key press from within any screen or application.
It's also worth noting that the number of Active standby (Home) screen has been increased to fifteen, with the inclusion of Search, Music Player, email and so on. However, as the number of visible plugins hasn't increased, you'll have to choose what you really need. But thanks to the "Modes", you'll be able to have a different set of them for your business and private uses...
Another new thing is Smart Dialling. Start typing first characters of the contact name on the Standby screen and a popup window will show up with contact entries from your phone book matching the entered string. It seems that the function is somehow unfinished at the moment as it shows digits and symbols as you type (and not corresponding letters) but it works OK and correctly matches your Contacts entries.
Contacts and Calendar applications have been tweaked a little bit to provide better functionality and make better use of E71's screen. In Contacts, when you select a contact, there is a pop-up menu providing quick access to the most frequently used communication methods (voice call, SMS, email, MMS, video call, audio message). Calendar got an E90-style redesign, with screen split into two panes and some layouts in the Outlook style. Screens also fit more data at time, so that you don't have to scroll back and forth when editing an entry.
Among preinstalled applications one can also find "Dictionary" and "Intranet". The latter provides support for Virtual Private Networks and the former is a dictionary application coming with the English database (and/or with the language matching the country of sale) and with possibility of downloading additional languages from the Internet, directly from within the application.
The E71 comes preloaded with Microsoft Exchange (Mail for Exchange mobile email client), Nokia Intellisync Wireless Email solution as well as third party email solutions like System Seven and Visto Mobile.
On the multimedia side, the E71 comes with preinstalled Podcasting, Music Store and Ovi Share clients. It also supports Flash Lite 3, including YouTube videos. It's only a pity that Gallery hasn't been updated to what's shipping with NSeries devices. Audio and video capabilities (compared to the E61i) have been improved with the support for WMA and MP4 and there is also an equalizer letting one adjust audio to own preferences and take advantage of bass boost and loudness settings.
Other features and technical specs of the E71 match those of the currently available high-end Nseries phones: it has 128 MB (about 110 MB available) of internal storage memory (disk C:), microSD memory card slot (up to 8 GB), 128 MB of operating memory (RAM), USB 2.0 Full speed and Bluetooth 2.0 EDR (with A2DP and such) connectivity and is a 3.5G (HSDPA 3.6 Mbps/UMTS) device. Nothing's missing here.
To recap, the E71 is a very efficient and highly functional device, coming really close to high-end Nseries phones when it comes to technical specs and non-business features. Especially worth mentioning is its highly elegant look and design and very high build quality, providing the feel of durability, sturdiness and simply high value of the device. It's definitely NOT one of those cheaply looking phones that you don't even have to touch to imagine how they creak and squeak when squeezed just a little bit. The keyboard also deserves a praise regarding its mechanical quality. The screen's resolution is the same as in the E61(i) although it's now a little bit smaller (2.36" compared to 2.8"), but it's still very large compared to other S60 phones and it's legible and crisp even in direct sunlight, which is also a huge advantage, but when I look at it, it actually makes me sad that it's still QVGA only as at this size it could easily be a VGA one, providing if not more detail then at least smoother font.
The camera with its 3.2 Megapixel resolution is, I'd say, quite sufficient, although limited video recording resolution and frame rate disappoints a little bit, and while it's understandable that Nokia wants to reserve VGA/30 fps video recording for its multimedia range of phones, they already made an exception with the E90, so one could expect doing the same with the E71. As mentioned in the review, using the d-pad button for taking pictures, although quite convenient, affects the autofocus function as it's one-step only so it's not possible to first autofocus and only take the picture when you find the result satisfactory; instead it works in one go and results in higher probability of out-of-focus pictures. Using the tiny "T" key to autofocus and then the d-pad to take a picture doesn't help much, either, as it's quite uncomfortable. But it's not a multimedia device, so let's treat this complaint with a pinch of salt.
It's really great that the E71 joins the camp of AGPS-enabled devices and comes with the new 2.x version of Nokia Maps preinstalled. It also retains E61i's 1500 mAh BP-4L battery which means that the E71 will still run somewhere halfway its power resources when most of Nseries devices will be running out of power. 369 MHz Freescale processor, 128 MB of RAM, 128 MB of internal storage and microSD memory card slot (up to 8 GB) place the E71 on top of list of available S60 smartphones when it comes to tech specs and so do its data transmission (HSDPA/UMTS) and connectivity options. Aimed at business users, the E71 will also do just fine after work (decent camera, GPS, high audio quality, FM radio, etc.) and the "Modes" function will let you switch the device to "Private" mode with one key press as soon as you shut the door of your office. No accelerometer and no TV Out, well pity, but you definitely can live without those.
The reviewed unit was a pre-commercial model, which seemed to have final hardware but not neccessarily final software. It was completely stable and every function worked fine but further optimizations and changes (e.g. when it comes to supported functions and/or preinstalled software) may happen before the product starts shipping commercially. Hence this review is actually meant just as an introduction and is supposed to be enhanced and/or modified when I get hold of a commercial unit. A similar note applies to sample pictures and videos contained in this preview: please consider them as coming from a pre-commercial device, i.e. not necessarily fully reflecting the quality of what final units will deliver. Product pictures in this article show the black version of the E71; a white version will also be available.
- very high build quality and elegant design
- QWERTY keyboard with great tactile feedback and almost perfect d-pad
- 3.2 Megapixel AF camera
- HSDPA, UMTS, WLAN b/g, Bluetooth 2.0 EDR, USB 2.0 Full speed
- large screen
- high capacity 1500 mAh battery (compared to batteries included with most of Nseries phones)
- 369 MHz ARM11-based Freescale processor, 128 MB RAM
- built-in Assisted GPS and Nokia Maps
- useful "Modes" and "Encryption" functions, built-in Dictionary
- FM radio
- limited video recording resolution and frame rate
- no accelerometer, no TV Out
- VGA-resolution screen of this physical size would not be an exaggeration
- d-pad as Camera button doesn't let taking full advantage of the autofocus function
- Nokia, PLEASE, make it possible to open pages in new window in your browser!
The only possible verdict I can give the E71 (taking into consideration its target user type) is WARMLY RECOMMENDED, with the most points scored for its elegant design and high build quality.
Discuss about the Nokia E71 with other users and request detailed information on our S60 3rd Edition Discussion Forum.
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