I am sorry to use a tired cliche, but to rephrase the opening line from Dickens classic A Tale of Two Cities, it really fits perfectly describing the Nokia E7 flagship phone: it was the best of phones, it was the worst of phones. (and to continue even, it really fits: it was the smartphone of wisdom, it was the smartphone of foolishness. It was the E7 of belief, it was the E7 of incredulity. It was the cameraphone of light, it was the cameraphone of darkness. It was the cellphone of hope, it was the cellphone of despair.)
I wanted to make an honest, complete review of the E7 and do it after a couple of months of using it. I do love it and I do hate it. The thing is, I hate it several times every day… And yet I carry it and can’t imagine not carrying it (for now). But if a rival made a similar handset fixing just the glaring problems, they would have a winner.
SO WHY THE BEST SMARTPHONE EVER?
The E7 is Nokia's current flagship smartphone. Its the one with the slider full QWERTY keyboard hidden inside a slim body which looks very much like the N8, but with that giant 4 inch touch screen. It is somewhat a blend of the N8 and the N97, or a successor to the magnificent E90 Communicator and shows lineage from the N900. I wanted to wait with my review, as I had a series of early rapid disappointments in the first days after I opened the box, and felt I should do an honest view of owning an E7, after some serious use over many weeks, in regular use cases.
I travel a lot and am a kind of business heavy user. I am a geeky user and power-user and have walked around with at least 2 phones in my pockets since 1999 (and two smartphones in my pockets since 2001). I tend to use most of the features on smartphones and experiment with them a lot - this is my 20th mobile phone and 16th smartphone, 12th cameraphone and 7th phone with full QWERTY input. I am not a typical Nokia user, I am a very loyal and very knowledgable power user. My needs would be somewhat different from average E7 users and probably more demanding. Please keep those things in mind when reading this review. This is primarily written to those loyal Nokia users who have owned several Communicators in the past and other premium N-Series phones etc.
IN THE STORE
The E7 is as if it was designed for the store (as opposed to the user). It makes a breathtaking first impression. It looks and feels magnificent. The 4 inch screen is big, extremely bright, and has severe blacks which makes all videos, pictures and websites seem very bright and contrasty on the screen. Compare the E7 alongside most rival smartphones in the store, and the screen - the most flashy and noticable feature of any phone - truly shines.
My preference has always been for black phones and I selected the black model, and that body color combined with the superblack of the AMOLED screen, it is an object of beauty. A tiny but satisfying feature is the idle screen clock in slim silver color elegant but giant digital display, it is alluring. Every phone maker needs to see that clock, and make sure their on-screen idle screen mobile phone clock-faces are at least as visible and sharp as that on the E7.
Then the feel of the phone in your hand is like most top-most Nokia phones you remember of your past. The ones that always seemed to be priced beyond any reason, into the phone price stratosphere, until you tried one in a store, and fell in love with it immediately. This E7 seems rock-solid, a very pleasing metal case all around with smart tapering to the edges, a slim phone seems even more slick. (And like so many of phones in this price range, I keep mine in my breast pocket, so when I bend over, it sometimes slips out and falls on the floor - and like any previous superphones by Nokia, its build quality is so solid, yes, the E7 takes many hits and continues without complaint. I have literally dropped it already several times, no problem at all).
And then you open it, and have that delightful experience of the phone snapping into its 'desktop' or palmtop confuguration, with the screen tilted facing you, and you see the full rows of QWERTY keys of the keyboard. The E7 is wooing you over, this is such a sexy piece of technology in your hand.
Then you try the QWERTY keyboard which is a masterpiece. It is the best keyboard Nokia has ever done. In fact the best keyboard anyone has ever done on a phone. It is the best keyboard there has ever been in any phone or PDA. Its keys are perfectly spaced, the keys have comfortable movement, yet the whole keyboard is an ultra-slim component neatly sliding out of view when not needed. If you have a friend with an E7, just ask to borrow it for a moment, and try out the keyboard. This is so incredibly comfortable to use, it is as good, 'as if Apple would add a full QWERTY to the iPhone'. Yes, its that good. As good as if Apple had done a QWERTY. The best keyboard of any smartphone or PDA, ever. A true masterpiece of design and user-friendliness.
In the store the sales rep will rattle off a long list of impressive tech specs starting with the 8 megapixel camera, the 10.2 Mbit/s HSDPA speed (vs 3.2 on most), WiFi b/g/n (vs most with b/g), and HSUPA and tons and tons of superpower specs, not just TV out, but HDMI video output! Etc etc etc. And you are sold. This is the most impressive phone in the store. And even though its the most expensive Nokia currently, you buy it. This is 'the' phone you wanted. And you take it home. And that is when the flood of disappointments start.
IS NONE OF THE NOKIA YOU EXPECTED
So a bit of clarification. This is Nokia's current flagship. It is priced above the N8, and in many markets it sells for more than the iPhone. It is the most expensive Nokia phone currently.
The typical buyer of the E7 is the loyal 'QWERTY' Nokia owner. This is not a Nokia phone to capture new customers. It is 'the' phone for the premium loyal Nokia users, especially business users. Its natural customer is the loyal Nokia owner who has had premium Nokia smartphones for the past decade, is likely a past Communicator owner and appreciates the QWERTY, arguably, feels he or she 'needs' the QWERTY. (If the QWERTY is not needed, the N8 will trump the E7 with many features such as a better camera etc)
So the typical target customer for the E7 is the person who still walked around with an E90 Communicator, or bought the rare N900, or went for the disappointment with the N97. Hard core Nokia loyalists, who have plunked big money for top end Nokia superphones for much of the past decade. Who took pride in the technology leadership that has always been Nokia's superphone category. (I have argued before that the E90 Communicator was the best phone of its age, the best phone of the past decade and quite literally was 'twice the phone' as its contemporary iPhone model (the iPhone 3G) back in 2008. Not just two screens vs 1, two cameras vs 1, two keyboards vs 1, but also twice size, twice the weight - and twice the price as the iPhone 3G haha.. The E90 Communicator was the last Nokia phone that would regularly beat the iPhone in head-to-head consumer tests by major reviewers. Obviously the one area where the E90 could not touch the iPhone was the touch screen, it was the last of Nokia's superphones in the non-touch screen era).
Talking about touch screen and Symbian. These loyalist Nokia owners will see none of the faults and will marvel at all the advances in the latest Symbian S^3 version. It is very good multi-touch tech, while purists will say its not on par with the iPhone (but who is) but its so far ahead of the early touch screen Symbian devices, it is definitely far more than good enough. It is responsive and convenient. I personally am not a fan of touching screens of any kind (I hate the fingerprints etc, and I am a fluent touch-typist and prefer keyboard entry usually) but this E7 screen is winning me over. The point is, that if an iPhone user tries the E7, they see all the ways 'it is not as good as an iPhone' but for a loyal Nokia business phone user, it is by far the best touch screen Nokia has ever had, and Symbian is showing a very sprightly rapid and convenient upgrade to its look and feel in this model. Why would Nokia kill of Symbian if it is capable of this level of convenience is on the minds of many early users of the E7 (and probably also of the N8).
So the E7 lands in the pocket of those who are not new to Symbian and who have downloaded plenty of apps from Ovi in the past, and who know plenty of the particular features that make the Nokia premium phones so user-friendly and so powerful.
And these users tend to be business users. They need their smartphone not to play Angry Birds, but to do serious work, which is why Nokia top business phones have been compatible with the Microsoft office suite apps for more than a decade. The first smartphone with removable memory, Nokia has supported multitasking, folder views, and been compatible with most of the stuff out there including of course Adobe flash etc.
Because the typical E7 customer has had a smartphone for probably the past decade, and this is likely the 6th or 7th smartphone for that buyer, they know most of the basics. Because this buyer is a loyal Nokia user, they will know the Nokia quirks and gimmicks very well. It won't be the first time they upgraded from a previous Nokia phone to the next, bringing their contact list, calendar and various notes and files with them from the previous Nokia phone to the next. So many of the features I will talk about in this blog will be perhaps 'on the periphery' for many newer smartphone users and especially for example to iPhone users. That is not the primary target market for this phone. This is the annual expensive QWERTY model for the Nokia loyalists. They will know, they will observe, and they will be disappointed. Again. And again. And disappointed once again. And again. And still again. This E7 is the phone designed to disappoint loyal users, as if to kiss them farewell, thank you for the loyalty, now go and marry a Samsung or iPhone or Blackberry, the Nokia E7 says in a melancholy way: I don't love you anymore, my most loyal customers.
THE ULTIMATE POCKET PC
Before we go there lets show how phenomenal this E7 is, how close it came to being the ultimate phone ever made. If you are an older PC user who remembers the desktop era before laptops, you have probably had this tech fantasy as I have had. The desktop era had a set of separate units of tech, that each could be separately upgraded and changed, to improve the overall performance of your 'system'. The central 'box' was the CPU unit which housed the motherboard of the computer system itself, its onboard RAM memory, the Intel microchip processor and some necessary bits that allowed internal upgrades to the system like say a video co-processor or a multimedia board or sound board etc.
Separately, you'd connect all sorts of 'peripherals' to that central unit. For inputs you'd connect a keyboard and mouse (and joystick for game playing). For outputs you'd connect a monitor and speakers. Then you could add if you so desired, connectivity (a modem), a printer, a scanner, mass storage like a hard drive or CD ROM drive, a floppy disk drive, even early on, a tape drive, etc. And each PC system could be modular and grow as your needs grew. So if you could not afford a color monitor at first, you buy a monochrome display, and later you could upgrade the system by just replacing the monitor. Same for the mass storage as your needs grew, etc. And if you spilled coffee all over your keyboard and it became sticky and not responsive, you would not need to replace the whole PC, you’d just replace the keyboard, and you were good as new again..
Take that concept and think of the modern smartphone. We already can do a mini version of that, when Nokia introduced TV-out, so we could substitute the tiny smartphone display, via the AV video inputs of your TV set, and use the big plasma screen TV in your home (or at the hotel) as your PC screen. Similarly you could connect a bluetooth keyboard and have real size keys to type on with all 10 fingers, for serious 'work'.
But the rest of the system was still a compromise and there were many parts that didn't work well with the 'mini system'. Like the mini-USB port that most smartphones now have. You can't fit your USB thumb drive into that port, it only lets you connect your smartphone to your PC as if the smartphone was a thumb drive, but not the other way around, to connect a thumb drive to the smartphone for mass storage uses.
And the TV display via the TV-out is of very poor analog quality display in very low resolution, so its a poor substitute for any current laptop screen. I have tried that mini-system several times in the past but didn't find it quite feasible. Still, the concept is very cool. That you could have the keyboard and screen set-up at your office and home, only move the pocketable smartphone with you and plug in where you need. And differing from carrying just a hard drive, you can always use the smartphone to do the full work of the PC whenever you have that need during the day, if you are stuck at the dentist for example and your boss needs an urgent commentary on the proposal you are working on, etc. The pocketable ‘ultra-tiny’ variation of the PC, with the expansion potential to a full powerful desktop solution. A compelling vision but was not quite feasible (yet).
THE FULL POCKETABLE PC SYSTEM
The E7 finally brings the full vision to life. And how! First it upgrades the TV-out from just AV standard video out (which it still has) to HDMI out! Now you have digital video output. Very cool, very sharp (not to mention watching any videos or pictures you've sot with the E7 which shoots HD video).
Then you add in the bluetooth keyboard and bluetooth mouse. Now you have the basic PC system already in place. But then the mass storage. In a show of forte, Nokia has now integrated full USB support to the E7, so yes, you can connect your thumb drive to the USB port! If you add a portable media player screen (preferrably one of the new ones with HDMI port), you have both a full desktop replacement - and note - you also have a laptop replacement!
Into your briefcase for the air journey you pack your media player screen pre-loaded with some of your fave movies, and the bluetooth keyboard and mouse. So for the airplane and airport lounge, you have the laptop-equivalent. At the hotel you connect the E7 to the hotel's 32 inch plasma screen and use the bluetooth keyboard and mouse and the thumb drive, and you have a desktop equivalent. In your pocket you carry the minimal files on the E7 itself, and your full PC files on the thumb drive or portable USB hard drive. I have tested this system and in some uses it works very well but the low performance processor inside the E7 does limit what kinds of things you can do with this system. But for portable computing, it is the nearest thing to 'everything' as a portable multi-component dispersed system.
You recognize you could also construct something like this with your iPad or tablet PC, but in that case, the minimalist version is not pocketable. The E7 is a full-function pocket PC all by itself, and you then only 'expand' the capability when and where you want, if you want a big display, big keyboard, full mouse, big external storage ability, etc. But all of it also works in the pocket-sized E7. For the geeky nerd, this is a fun platform (building on the N900 obviously). And I predict, that much like many previous radical innovations in the Communicator line from Nokia, this type of modular thinking will be the norm in the future for all work-related smartphones.
THE 8MP CAMERA TO HATE
So lets start with the disappointments. You had what, a 3 megapixel camera on the E90 Communicator from 2008. And now you get 8 megapixels in this E7. As the camera is not autofocus, with a fixed focal length, it is faster to take normal 'pictures'. It takes very good quality picture and the video capture is HD quality at 1280 x 720 reslution. A great cameraphone, except for one detail. And for a business phone, this is far more important than snapshot pictures or capturing HD video...
Here we start with the first in a the disappointments, and for loyal Nokia long-term users, its a biggie right from the start. The biggest use of the camera feature for most business users who have used premium cameraphones for 5 years or more, is not to take snapshot 'pictures' of people and places, it is a memory device. It is a pocketable scanner! We use occasionally to snap ‘photographs’ ie couple of times per week, maybe; but we use our cameraphone several times per day to scan close-range images related to work! We use it to scan receipts, airline ticket stubs, reservation codes, maps, slides of presentations by our colleagues at conferences, the fine print in the car rental agreement, that kind of stuff. Especially any kind of written - or online - documentation for which we would prefer to have a photocopy or screen shot printout made but don't have that facility right there. So we take out our 5mp cameraphone and snap a quick picture of the document or the PC screen. And we take 'memory images' rather than traditional 'pictures' - so we take a picture of where we parked the car, or the scratches on the rental car, or the picture of 'the situation' we saw, that reminds us to write the blog later, where the picture itself is perhaps blurry even and of poor quality, but is there only to remind us later.
I may take 5-10 'real' pictures per month that I intend to save or show someone or use in some way as 'photographs'. But I take 3-5 memory images per day, which are only intended 'just in case' kind of memories that I may need later, like the hotel reservation codes and airline ticket confirmation codes. I am not going to bother to write it down, not even onto my calendar entry on my phone as I used to. Now I just snap a picture of it from the PC screen from that email confirmation or the Expedia booking confirmation page, and its all I need. I dont' keep that photo, the moment the flight is over or I have checked out of the hotel, I delete the confirmation image. The camera on the smartphone is primarily a memory aide. Having a good resolution scanner in our pocket is a very powerful productivity tool - in business!. And we've had that capacity from the first phones that did about 3 megapixels.
What you need is the close-up or 'macro' mode for such memories. That means autofocus at short range. And you open up that wonderful Nokia E7 cameraphone, take it out for a spin, and then get to the first case of taking a picture of the airline ticket stub you wanted to scan for your expense records. And you try and it doesn't work. And you try again. And then you start to fiddle with the settings. It has to work. You've used Nokia phones for a decade. Nokia cameraphones have always supported this (not always, but you've had the premium Nokia phones for so long, you've thought they always did). And certainly your past N93, E90 Communicator, N95, N900, N82, N97 and N8 have taken ever sharper close-up pictures. You were looking forward to the 8mp capability, to get sharp print of the 'small print' of legal contracts for example. But what? This phone doesn't do close-up?
What? You have just bought an 800 dollar superphone, with an 8 megapixel camera. Nokia's most expensive phone in the store, their legitimate flagship phone, and it doesn't do close up? What is wrong with them?
It is supremely annoying - and this annoying happens several times every single day. The regular Nokia owner discovers very soon this disappointment and it is true regression. Nokia is going backwards with the camera, back far more than 5 years. For the typical premium Nokia owner, they go back 4 Nokia superphone models, to where they last didn't have this ability. This is not what is called progress. This is very seriously regressing.
If it was only one thing, you'd forgive Nokia. But it isn't.
NO REPLACABLE BATTERY
And as its new, you start to use the smartphone and you try it out. So you listen to music, you surf the web, you record some video, you watch some videos, you look at photographs, you do some work on Excel spreadsheets and check out some of your powerpoint files etc. You use WiFi and bluetooth, etc. And well before the day is done, your battery runs out. So yes, it was 'heavy use' but you observe in the first weeks that you are very often out of juice before the day is done. And you go to the store like you always did with Nokia premium phones, you come in to buy your spare battery. Its a business tool. While we often also use it for entertainment along the way, it is a business phone, an E-series, for serious business professionals. Even if the day runs long into the night, we have to have the phone with enough juice to take that important international call at night. And we know that there cannot be 'enough' battery life for the heavy use days. That is why so many of us Nokia loyalist heavy users will inevitably carry along a spare battery for the phone. Not for everyday use, but when that sudden emergency call comes in that killed our battery. No problem pop in the fully-charged replacement battery, and you are good to go.
Except that you can't. What? Yes, Nokia who have always (up to last year) had replacable batteries as a standard feature - and sell tons of those accessories to loyal Nokia users - in some fit of madness decided last year (I believe the N8 was the first model) where you the user cannot replace the battery anymore? This is copying Apple yes, but in the wrong way. Its like Porsche looking at the Hummer, finding that many people like the Hummer, and replacing the handling of the Porsche with that of the Hummer! A moronic move. And yes, that is what Nokia did with this, a business phone! I have had (at least one) replacement battery for every one of my premium Nokia phones back to the 9110 Communicator a dozen years ago. But for this E7, I cannot even buy one!
This is very unfriendly for Nokia consumers and its also a bad move for Nokia! They have to manufacture the battery anyway for every single E7 they sell (one battery into the phone). They also have to manufacture some supply of extra batteries to furnish the replacements when those come (you have to take the E7 to an authorized Nokia dealer to get it replaced). But how many more spare batteries would they have sold - at the far bigger profit margin of accessories! - to all those who 'just in case' wanted to buy the replacement battery. This is profit abandoned by Nokia! No wonder their profit margins are coming down, with this type of idiotic management decisions. The premium Nokia smartphone owners had already been 'conditioned' to buy the spare batteries.
But Tomi, you can use a spare micro USB based standard replacement power pack. Haha, yeah. That is the ‘Apple’ solution isn’t it. A typical ‘American’ solution, forcing us to carry .. MORE CABLES .. in our pockets! So yeah, I’ve tried that and its an ugly inelegant work-around. And how silly do you look when your phone is out of juice, you hook up the spare USB battery pack and its cable - and then you receive a phone call. Now you have to hold that whole tangled mess to your ear! This was ‘wireless’ telecoms eh? We have regressed not just years or a decade – we’ve regressed back to 1978, three full decades back, to the time before cellular mobile wireless telecoms, back to the wired time. Now the voice call doesn’t come by wire, but the mobile phone is so dumb, it needs extra electricity to come by wire! How utterly ridiculous - when Nokia had already a full distributor system of selling spare batteries to its customers. Now they hand this profitable accessory market to some independent battery makers! No wonder Nokia’s profitability is in a crash-dive, with this kind of moronic decisions. The profit margins on accessories are always higher than the profit margins on the primary items..
And yeah. That means another charger needed now (or at least a charging cable if you carry around a laptop or something with a standard USB port for charging your battery pack). Again, extra equipment to carry is what every business traveler hates. We live by the rule of pack light, everything in the carry-on bag. And suddenly the Nokia E7 causes me to need another charger! So Nokia’s E7 is quietly whispering into my ear, Dear Loyal Nokia Smartphone Customer, I don’t love you anymore. I am deliberately making your life miserable. Yes, I don’t love you anymore. Go find someone else to love.
So the painful papercuts continue. Next, the phone book.
CAN'T SEARCH PHONE BOOK?
And this is not a casual entertainment device, it is a proper business tool. And loyal Nokia owners have amassed hundreds and hundreds of addresses and names and job titles, employers, wives names, fax numbers, car license plate numbers, whatever we collect into the phone book. And Nokia in the E-Series (coming from the Communicator) had a very vast powerful phone book. So we could enter the name of the company for example. And then search by company, to see all the colleagues we had in our phone book by the company for example, if we couldn't remember that given person's name, etc.
So now we do the normal phone book transfer from our previous Nokia superphone to the E7, and would you know it? It won't search most of the fields.
I had this bizarre incident which happened a month after I had received my E7. A friend of mine sent me an SMS (as he knows, I prefer to communicate via SMS). The message arrived just fine. He is in another country. My phone of course recognized his phone number and instead of showing the phone number who is calling me, because that exists in the phone book, the E7 kindly displayed his name on my screen and as the sender of the SMS. Now, normally, you can respond to the message directly from the message. And on all previous SMS's that I received on this E7, that worked fine. But for this person, I could not respond. I was bewildered. So I tried to call him (which usually works, just go to the message and use the calling button) but couldn't do that either. And then I decided, no problem, I'll just go through the phone book. And I went to search for him by name.
Note, my phone has already displayed his name as the person who sent the SMS, as the originator of the SMS. So my phone knows who he is, and obviously has somewhere saved his name with that international phone number. And now the annoying part. The phone book cannot find him! Not on the phone memory, not on the SIM card memory. Not by re-arranging phone book by first name or by last name etc. It cannot be found. The reason is also clear, I remember that when I originally entered his name I did not remember the exact spelling of his name so I entered him only into another field, like the address field or business field, using the nickname I had for him - deliberately leaving the first name and last name blank, thinking I will later fix that when I have the business card or get the name from an email or Linked In or whatever.
The previous Nokia phones worked just fine sending and receiving calls and messages to that name even where the 'first name' and 'last name' happened to be blanks, because the phone ‘knows’ that this field belongs to some specific phone number and we could respond to it.
But now as they are transferred to this new E7, the info has kind of become invisible. It is there, definitely, but there is no way to display it, and I cannot now respond to it! And I went to Nokia help boards to try to find a solution. There isn't any. They acknowledge the problem. This version of the newest Nokia phone book does not support any kind of search in any of the ancilliary fields, except first name or last name! This is severe caveman regression. This is a BUSINESS phone. We have been entering business info into those fields for years. Nokia has supplied us with the virtual business card facility to send personal data from one phone to another via SMS and bluetooth (and earlier via infra-red even) so we don't need to enter the data, and we can have MORE data entered. Now all of that is useless. This phone does not recognize any of that data!
Understand how impossible my situation is. I can read the incoming SMS from my friend. He knows I prefer to communicate via SMS because I travel extensively and don’t want the calls in strange time zones or when am sleeping etc. Now I can read his urgent SMS but I cannot send a reply. I cannot call him either. While his name is in it, I cannot find the name in the phone book. It is literally impossible to get to his number while it resides in my phone. I cannot see the phone number (even the 'information' field of the message only displays his nickname, not the real phone number) so I cannot even manually call him or send a message. I have to resort to going to email, and sending him an email, apologizing for not replying, and asking what is his phone number again...
How unprofessional is that? And worse, I have no way of knowing how many of my long-standing phone book entries fall in this category. His is not the only one that didn't have a proper first or last name. And Nokia cannot even tell us when this will be fixed (if ever). They only acknowledge, the new phone book does not offer search through all fields. Arghhh! Madness. This is severe regression. A business tool is crippled, to becoming akin to a toy.
SCREEN IS NOT HIGH RES
And then we get to play with the screen a bit more. In the store it looked glorious. But when we do some web surfing, we notice the screen is annoyingly formated. We compare to say the E90 Communicator (which also had a 4 inch screen, but back in 2008 had a resolution of 800 pixels across) and find the E7 is only 640 pixels across. That is 'VGA' resolution (VGA resolution was 640x480 which is akin to personal computers of about 1988). As the E7 is 16:9 screen resolution its not as tall, but the width is what counts on websites. Any screen doing modern websites and re-sizing them to 640 VGA width screen will squeeze them very badly to often ridiculously thin columns. Even in the E90 Communicator, which was the first smartphone in the world to offer a 4 inch screen, we had the the equivalent resolution of SVGA at 800 pixels across. So the screen of the E7 is regressing!
And its not just on websites. If we take the video we viewed on the E90, and display it on the E7, it is clearly less sharp. Visibly less sharp. So while Apple is going from regular resolution to 'retina display' with finer pixels and more sharp images, Nokia is going in the opposite direction, it is regressing and giving us lesser resolution today than they gave us in 2008! To effectively torpedo any benefits of the otherwise magnificent 4 inch super-bright, super-contrast, super-black display. This is yet another 'design feature' that Nokia has done, which for most random non-Nokia buyers is not noticable, but for loyal Nokia owners is aggravating. It is as if Nokia decided to deliberately annoy every exising loyal premium Nokia owner. Little but very distinct Nokia features that are lost. Its not that Nokia never had them its that we had it in the previous phone(s) and now don't get them anymore. Killing my loyalty with a hundred little paper cuts, every day, more disappointment. This is a superphone you cannot recommend. It will find a new way to displease you every single day.
NO QR CODE READER
And then one of those embarrassing moments. You are a loyal Nokia user. You remember the first QR code readers from the magnificent N93 back in 2006. You love QR codes and truly appreciate the convenience of no-typing URL access that they provide. You have started to use QR codes in your own marketing literature. And so the day comes when you meet up with a new colleague who hands over a business card - which more frequently today has a QR code - and you take out your new E7 to scan the info from the QR code. And you start to search the phone for the QR code reader. And you spend minutes digging for it. You've used Nokia phones for a decade. You know Symbian. You know 'Nokia logic' in the directory structures and how the apps are organized. You dig everywhere in settings in the camera, in the apps and business apps and accessories and connectivity and you just can't find it. Finally you reach into your other pocket to use your other phone to scan the QR code with that older smartphone by another maker and you decide to dig to find the QR code reader in this E7 at your next idle moment.
You need not bother. It isn't there! Yes, Nokia the major handset maker who championed QR codes for 5 years - as a business tool - has for some unfathonable reason left the QR reader off its most expensive phone for 2011. Its most expensive business phone. Not because QR codes are somehow passee or obsolete, no QR codes are now in great growth in all markets. But Nokia in its infinite wisdom has somehow decided this is not something a top-line business phone should come equipped with! Note, Nokia itself has started to use QR codes on business cards! But its topmost flagship phone can't read them. Again, all previous Nokia cameraphones at least back to 2007 came with QR code readers. And you can get one from the Ovi store and download and install it, so they exist. But Nokia left it out from this model! Lunacy. It is a feature increasingly added to business cards, and Nokia's own business cards now increasingly include QR codes, and all recent Nokia business phones read them, but the E7 doesn't. This is regression. This will annoy loyal Nokia owners. It is not a reason alone not to buy the E7, it is yet another way it finds to disappoint specifically loyal Nokia users.
CALENDAR CANT DISPLAY DETAIL
So we update our calendar from the previous Nokia phone to this. And we expected the 4 inch display to give us more, not less. But you know what? The previous Nokia calendars, as far as I can remember, always showed the day-specific detail, by day, when you watched the month view. So if I scrolled to May 4, I see what was the entry on May 4, then scrolling to May 5, I see that detail, etc.
How is the newest greatest most expensive Nokia BUSINESS phone calendar? It cannot display the detail! You have to actually click onto the day, to see whats on it. I see something is entered for May 6 but don't know what it is. How incredibly inconvenient is this for calendar use? And I don't know how your calendar is on your phone (I have used my Nokia calendars for more than a decade now haha) but for us Nokia users, this is a step back into the ice age. What kind of moron approved this 'upgrade' to the calendar? One of the most basic most useful features - a convenience feature, a SPEED feature, to at one glance on any day, see whats coming. Now I have to waste time to click INTO the day to see, and then click out of the day again (risking changes to the entry, or even accidentially deleting it, this being a touch screen and we use it often single-handed, while multi-tasking such as speaking on the phone...)
An UNACCEPTABLE deterioration of a Nokia business phone staple feature. The E7 is regressing very very severely, taking features and abilities we have grown accustomed to, that we depend on, and denying those from us. Again, Nokia help boards acknowledge this problem in the new calendar, but give us no guidance if and when it will be fixed.
NO MICRO SD SUPPORT
And then we have our microSD card slot! The one that is missing. From the E90 Communicator, Nokia had been so kind to offer us hot-swappable microSD slots on the outside, like it should be. Not beneath the battery as many smartphones still today require, for us to replace the microSD card, but Nokia made it so user-friendly for us, they allowed hot-swappable microSD swapping, as we needed, with the slot on the outside, behind a cover. Very very nice. And so, as we tend to do, many of us started to have lots of memories, pictures, music, videos, even whole movies, stored on microSD cards, not to mention for business users the powerpoints and word docs and excel sheets and pdf files. Tons of them on microSD cards. Today we have capacity of 32 gigabytes on the microSD cards (if you don't know, these are the smallest memory cards, about the size of the fingernail of your pinky finger).
And this is the newest most powerful Nokia business phone. And Nokia 'standardized' on microSD in about 2006. So you want to read some files. You see the slots, there is the one for the SIM Card (because no replacable battery, the SIM card slot is a tray on the outside, which some say can come out and you risk dropping and losing your primary work-related SIM card, ouch!), there is the cover for the HDMI slot, and many other receptacles.. but no microSD slot.
What? No microSD slot? Nokia, who 'standardized' on this and taught us loyal Nokia users to get the microSD cards as replacable media. Some of us even got the USB-microSD converter that allows us to use the same microSD cards as thumb drives on PCs with USB slots for exchanging powerpoint presentations etc. But now, the most expensive and most advanced Nokia business phone doesn't come with any kind of memory card slot!
And its not like it had tons of memory, the E7 only comes with 16 GB of internal memory (like I said, today's microSD cards offer 32 GB and soon we'll have 64GB and more). The E7 is essentially instantly obsolete. And definitely is not backwardly compatible with previous Nokia phones. At least before, when Nokia went from a larger memory slot to a smaller size physically, they were kind enough to provide us with a memory card adapter so we could use the smaller card in the bigger slot of the previous phone, to let us conveniently move files and use the card on both phones.
Now, some will argue, that because Nokia offers the 'real' USB connectivity, that just by getting a USB-to-microSD converter, you can use the USB connection to read microSD cards.
(One), this is a horribly inconvenient solution, but even if so, then Nokia should have at least shipped the microSD to USB converter in the box. But (two), it requires the use of the inflexible heavy and long adapter cable from the tiny USB slot to the normal USB connection which Nokia ships. That cable won't bend to fit your pocket. It means you can only carry it in your laptop bag (or purse, if you are a lady or a man prone to carrying a purse). It means (three) you won't have the cable with you always, while the microSD slot was on your previous Nokia superphones always. And even so, it means (four), this adapter cable work-around is VERY inconvenient use when connected. The long cable protrudes half-way across a fold-away table on an airplane for example, if you want to watch your video or powerpoint, or listen to your music etc. Imagine taking a phone call as you were working on a business file. Now you have a long ‘antenna’ protruding from the phone.. We are regressing to the 1980s, two decades ago with the protruding long antennae.. And then what happens when we run out of power? The power cord comes from the same connector as the USB adapter. We now have to make a choice (six) to either use the microSD card or get extra power (by standard Nokia charger or by USB power from a laptop or by the portable spare battery pack USB recharger) but we cannot have both! But almost any other smartphone does not force us into this silly choice, they have the microSD slot and allow us to both use the microSD card AND recharge the phone simultaneously, using both.
The solution is (six), to try to save files from the microSD card(s) onto the E7's modest internal memory, which means soon you are in the perpetual process of deleting files to make room for more. And it effectively defeats all purposes of a high-end smartphone. Can't save music on it, can't save games on it, can't save maps on it, can't save video clips on it, can't save powerpoints on it, can't save ebooks on it, can't save word docs on it, can't save pictures on it, can't save excel sheets on it, can't save pdf files on it, etc. Always something needs to be deleted to make some space.
And inevitably comes the time of choice or accident when (seven) you delete important files for which you had no digital backup. Why? Because Nokia was so cheap, they didn't include a microSD slot on this superphone. Why on earth not? What dumbass designer approved this 'feature'? This is cost-cutting you do on the bargain-basement version phone. For that cheap E-series (the E1) you offer 'only' the USB-adapter cord option, but for the top E-Series, of course you offer BOTH.
Note that there are more uses to the microSD slot than just memory cards. Visa has for example brought a microSD slot compatible micropayment ‘credit card’ solution that converts the standard phone to a near-field capable contactless credit card. But Nokia E7, the most expensive Nokia phone - won’t allow that. There is no microSD slot. This is the least compatible Nokia phone for ages.
Idiots! I cannot cannot recommend this phone. It is frustrating and annoying every single day.
TONS MORE TO DISAPPOINT
And there is more and more and more. The E7 seems to be as if designed by an amateur. Nokia has discontinued FM broadcasting. Why? It was a competitive feature that allowed us to use for example the car FM Radio without an 'iPod connector' or any car kit. The camera has no lens cover yes, but it is totally flush with the body of the phone bottom. The phone has no rubber 'leg' stubs to lift it from the surface of the table top. So now the phone slides on table surfaces - and that sliding will scratch the lens of the E7. The Microsoft office suite app is the simpler cheaper version now (what?) yes, so we can't do the normal type of edits we used to do. That is now a paid extra. Again, I could see doing a cheap version of the Office Suite compatible software for a business phone - if it was the cheapest phone in the lineup, but not for the top model! Not when it was the practise that the top E-Series had full Office compatibility. Come on, Nokia you are nickle-and-diming us to death. This is what killed loyalty of airlines, charging us for pillows and pepsis.
And the pain continues. The E7 is designed as if the design team had collective amnesia and forgot all of Nokia’s rich heritage in smartphones. The camera is not Carl Zeiss branded? Why? The most expensive Nokia phone and no Carl Zeiss branding? Really, Nokia, who is in charge? The accountants clearly. The keyboard has its quirkyness, why only 4 rows of keys? The slider mechanism should have been a bit longer to allow 5 keys so we'd get the dedicated number keys, now we have the often awkward numeric/alpha waiting when typing something with numbers etc. (incidentially some apps of course do not know that this is an E7 and do not automatically reconfigure the presumption of whether the top row of keys is numbers or alphabets and we have annoying instances where the numbers don’t work correctly etc..) And on the keyboard the shift key and function arrow key should have been reversed (did anyone who typed with QWERTY phones especially Nokia previous phones TEST this thing? Those keys cause regular mistyping!)
But these get to the nitty gritty.
This is the flagship Nokia superphone, the most expensive smartphone from the world's biggest phone maker, and the company that invented the smartphone. If Apple re-invented the smartphone with the iPhone, then arguably the N8 is the first full Nokia 'iPhone killer' to show it can do an iPhone clone and stuff much more into it for a lower price, starting with its glorious 12 megapixel camera.
This, the E7 was then to be the trump card for Nokia, to go where Apple refuses to go, beyond the iPhone. The smartphone if a touch screen device had a full QWERTY keyboard 'like it should be'. The smartphone for the mature users, who have used smartphones for more than only a few years.
The technology advances in the E7 are brilliant. HD video recording, HDMI out, full USB connectivity, a bright 4 inch screen, a great fast 8 megapixel camera, and that magnificent keyboard. This could have been the phone of the year, and an early contender for the phone of the decade even. It is that much of a leap forward in its advanced features.
If this E7 was made by a ‘non phone brand’ like say a Lenovo or Dell or Acer, we’d love all the excellence and easily forgive the little quirkiness. But this is ‘Nokia’ - and the buyer of this phone has a long history with Nokia. This is the least compatible Nokia phone ever. The kind of disappointments to loyal users might have been expected say when Nokia switches from Symbian to Microsoft in its smartphones in less than a year from now. But not when it continues with Symbian on the E7. There was no reason whatsoever for any of the severe steps back in the above decisions. No reason whatsoever. It was sheer madness to approve all those faults into the design of the E7. It turned the E7 from the best of phones, to the worst of phones. Where always before, Nokia’s top phones had kept function over form, the phone had to be the best phone Nokia could do, and form came second, this E7 reverses the equation, and in a desperate attempt to mimick Apple iPhone, they put form over function (the Apple insistence of no QWERTY for example). The E7 made form over function decisions in nearly every one of the above mistakes which totally torpedoed an otherwise fantastic piece of pocket electronics. The E7 is the ultimate Nokia phone designed to do the ultimate disappointments to push away the ultimately loyal Nokia premium phone users. This is exactly what is killing Nokia loyalty and profitability, that Nokia nickle’s and dime’s its customers, substituting mediocrity for excellence at the top phone model. This is Nokia shooting itself in the foot. And as this is the first phone released well after Stephen Elop came into power, this is ultimately Elop’s failure. If he knew what he was doing, he would not have let this phone be released in this form. But he clearly doesn’t know what he is doing, and he is now reaping what he has sowed, and he is learning the hard way. The sooner they pull this phone and apologize, and re-design, the more rapidly Nokia’s premium top-end phones can recover some credibility. This E7 is not worthy of the Nokia brand name.
COST, SIZE & WEIGHT WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN DRASTIC
They utterly messed it up. What would it have taken to add a replacable battery? One millimeter of thickness perhaps? But millions of moments of convenience for loyal Nokia users. What would it have cost to add a microSD slot? Nothing if we add the replacable battery because the SIM card would have gone under the battery (where it belongs) and the SIM card would have replaced that SIM card tray where now the SIM card is dangerously exposed.
What would it have cost to add the QR reader which Nokia already has in the Ovi store? Nothing. Its software only. Come on. Just keeping the previous calendar and phone book rather than regress us to having no more use of very important business functions and abilities. To include full Office compatibility is also just software. And while the autofocus would require some hardware as well as software, come on, at this price point, Nokia you have to do it. You can't do a business phone camera that doesn't do short-range scanning and close-up images. It is not a business cameraphone if it doesn't do that.
I could see a revised E7, an E7B, with 1024 resolution ('retina display') resolution on the 4 inch screen, a slightly raised camera casing, with autofocus (and QR code reader); return of the replacable battery, with SIM slot below battery and microSD card slot on outside, and fixing the other bugs like calendar, phone book etc - and that E7B could be out before the end of the year, and still recover a lot of greatness for Nokia. That would be a 'killer' smartphone.
This E7 is a harbinger of things to come from the first Nokia-Microsoft phones too. That change is forced upon Nokia phone design teams and the Microsoft Phone 7 operating system environment will force designers into making painful changes to the classic Nokia designs, which the new buyer won’t even notice and appreciate, but what are left of Nokia loyal customers will immediately notice - and hate. If this E7 is what Nokia ‘designers’ are capable of messing up when they still controlled all aspects of the phone including its operating system and its apps environment, imagine how much worse the ‘next Communicator’ will be when it adds all the Microsoft quirkiness to the Nokia legacy. Ouch.
If I was Samsung or HTC or RIM (or even Motorola, LG or SonyEricsson), I'd study the E7 in particular for its failures, and consider doing a rival. It would not be a big stretch for say Samsung to take the Galaxy version with the QWERTY, and turn it into a superphone powerhouse, adapting most of these super Nokia E7 features, avoiding the errors, and adding a bit of Samsung magic like say the pico projector of the Galaxy Beam - and create a 'hyperphone' the ultimate superduper monsterphone. (The Galaxy Beam by the way has also an 8 megapixel camera and obviously now that the E7 camera is useless, I have shifted to using the Galaxy Beam camera as my daily camera for all camera uses, obviously further enhanced by the microSD card capability so I am not feeling restricted by the storage ability.)
Nokia's flagship phones used to be the showcases of wonderful almost magical things we'd eventually see in other smartphones. And the E7 has tons of that. But I cannot recommend anyone to pay for this phone, as it is so frustrating and disappointing in daily use. Nokia has gutted the phone, removed so many of the standard features loyal Nokia owners have grown to love and expect, for years already. Any loyal Nokia owner who buys the E7 and uses it for a couple of months will break the loyalty to Nokia and is now fully willing to go try other phones, especially as this is the time when we learned that Symbian will be dead, so any E7 owner will also know their next superphone has to be on some other operating system anyway. Then why go with the tiniest OS (Phone 7)? Why not go with one of the big operating systems out there like Android, Apple’s iOS or RIM’s Blackberry?
This is a failure, Nokia, take it off the shelves and fix it. Why don’t you in Sarah Palin’s words ‘Man up’ and apologize, this was a failure. But the Symbian and Communicator line do not deserve this kind of kiss of death. Give us a worthy flagship phone, and you can do it with the simplest re-design of this otherwise very worthy platform. Nokia, you could do that for the last big hurrah for Christmas 2011? Are you honorable enough to do that for us, your loyal Communciator user base? Or did the accountants say there is no profit in loyalty?
Signed: I really really wanted to fall in love with this E7. Instead, I fell out of love with Nokia because of it.
UPDATE May 31 2011 - A rebuttal to this blog! Steve Litchfield over at All About Symbian agrees with some points, but disagrees quite strongly with other points I made. As always, Steve's writing is very well considered and his points have lots of merit. Please read his view to get the counter-balance by someone who is not blinded that the E7 is somehow perfect but who also thinks I may be nitpicking a bit... Steve's response to my E7 review here.