Let’s talk smartphones — mobile phones that have advanced Web browsing and multimedia capabilities.
First things first: I like Apple products, but I’m holding off on the iPhone ((I’m still deciding what to make of the issue of iPhones in Thailand. The devices are available here, but they’re usually more expensive than in the US, and the 3G versions typically come tethered to contracts. More on this, perhaps, in a later post.)), at least for now. ((Another note about the iPhone in general: I’ve
played with examined a few models up close, and my feeling is that the touch screen interface is simply superior to an interface that uses buttons. For more on this, see this column from tech usability expert Jacob Nielsen. Key quote: “History is now repeating itself. Just as Apple popularized the GUI on the desktop through the Mac, it’s popularizing the GUI on mobile devices through the iPhone.”))
Back in December, I purchased a Nokia E71 (sample unit pictured above) here in Bangkok.
My one sentence review: The Nokia E71 is a great all-around smartphone, but think twice if you have fat fingers. (More on the issue of pudgy digits and small keys below…)
- Call quality: I upgraded from my candybar form factor Nokia ((I’m a loyal Nokia consumer. Their phones are typically very tough, they have good battery life, and they have a logical user interface.)) to take advantage of the E71’s bigger screen for Web browsing, as well as enhanced video and camera, among other features. So it was a pleasant surprise, then, to find out that perhaps the most notable attribute of the device is its phenomenal voice call quality.
- The video quality is decent. Here’s a 20-second video I shot at a bar here in Bangkok while watching President Obama’s inauguration. (Note that the quality of the mp4 video is slightly better than what you see in this Youtube version.)
And so you can get a sense of what videos in bright light look like, here’s a short video I shot on a ferry coming back to Bangkok from Koh Samet:
- Web access: Gmail for mobile devices works very well, and Web browsing with the Opera mini browser — which you’ll need to download separately — is fantastic. Seriously, do yourself a favor and download Opera mini. It works a lot better than the built-in Nokia browser.
- The QWERTY keyboard is simply too small for me. It pains me to say this, since Nokia typically creates highly user-friendly phones. But there’s very little space between the keys, and some of the keys in the middle of the pad are cluttered and hard to read at a glance. The keys have Thai letters, the Roman alphabet, and numbers all crammed together.
- This may well be my own fault, but I haven’t taken to the QWERTY keyboard. The built-in predictive text feature is decent, and it does a good job of guessing and then remembering the words you type. But I have to say I miss T9. ((Confession: I recently used my old, trusty, Nokia 3110 classic — truly a no-frills phone — while traveling, and I loved using T9 again.)) The E71 takes two hands to use; you only need one for T9-equipped devices.
A major downnfall: The keys that are most important — the ones with numbers, as it’s a phone, after all — can be difficult to spot quickly. The slim, sleek E71 replaced the older — and comparatively chunkier —E61, but I actually prefer the larger keys on the older model. You can see the difference between the two models in the image below:
Yes, the E61 looks somewhat like a calculator. But the keys are much easier to use.
On the fence
- GPS: I’m on the fence about the built-in GPS function. One annoyance is that the built-in functionality takes a long time to load and update, so it’s not ideal for navigating by car. However, the Google Maps mobile integration is excellent. It takes what would otherwise be a cumbersome feature and makes it speedy and useful. ((Thanks to SN for the Google Maps tip!))
- Radio: apparently the phone has a built-in radio, but I’ve yet to use it.
The bottom line: the Nokia E71 is a solid smartphone. Web browsing works well, and the call quality is exceptional. But unless you have very small fingers, you might find the QWERTY keypad hard to use.
Other Nokia E71 reviews: