Nokia World 2010
Sep 14, 2010, 10:29 AM by Philip Berne
We hit the floor at Nokia World 2010 in London, where Nokia launched a trio of Symbian^3 touchscreen phones.
The Nokia E7, like the Nokia N8, is a serious design departure for Nokia from the sharp Eseries and milquetoast Nseries phones of the past couple years, bringing the two families closer in alignment. At once, I liked the design of the new Nokia E7. It has Nokia's famous build quality, with tight fitting edges and a very solid feel. Maybe too solid, as I had trouble opening the slide with only one hand, but that's a minor complaint.
A bigger complaint is Nokia's unibody construction, which means the battery is not replaceable by the buyer. If your battery dies, you'll have to take the phone in for service. That also means no spare battery on the road. Nokia learned the wrong lesson from Apple on these phones.
The new ClearBlack display is great. It doesn't have the knock-you-off-your-feet pop of Samsung Super AMOLED screens on the Galaxy S Android phones, but it is a fantastic display, and it looked great under the bright lights of the Nokia World show floor. The new display technology basically uses a different placement for the polarizer so that it reflects light and glare better than older displays. Nokia says this helps create deeper blacks and better color contrast.
The keyboard on the Nokia E7 was good. I didn't spend much time typing, but it seemed large and comfortable in my hands-on experience. It didn't blow me away the first time, like HTC's Touch Pro 2 phones, but I don't foresee any problem spending quality time with this QWERTY.
I'm still not impressed with the Symbian^3 interface. Of course, I'll need to spend some serious time with the phone before I make my judgment, but the interface doesn't seem to live up to the promise of the excellent hardware. Even in my brief tour of the phone, it was tough to find simple features, like the dialer or even the camera. Lots of menu digging was required.
Overall, from a hardware perspective, the Nokia E7 seems like a great step forward. If the interface can hold its own for a while, it would be great to see this new flagship device upgradeable to the more contemporary Symbian^4 OS that's just around the corner.
Check out my hands-on video preview of the Nokia E7:
The Nokia C7 is not an inspiring design, like the Nokia N8, but it is attractive and sleek. It's more reminiscent of the Google Nexus One, with its curved edges and stylish tablet-like design. I was happy to see that Nokia left the Send and End keys beneath the screen. The Nokia E7 forgoes these buttons in favor of onscreen replacements, but I'd rather have the satisfaction of pressing real keys. The phone has a lot of metal around the shell, but its a far cry from the unibody aluminum design of the Nokia N8. This isn't a phone that you'll be showing off much, at least not for its attractive looks, but it's still a modern-looking device.
Compared to the Nokia N8, there isn't much that's been left out of the Nokia C7. The camera is lower-res, but few companies are packing 8 megapixel cameras on their high end smartphones, let alone their midrange kit. There's no HDMI output for high definition movie screenings, but there is at least a 3.5mm A/V port, and with a special cable you can plug the C7 directly into your TV and watch videos in standard def.
The AMOLED screen on the Nokia C7 is very nice. Overall, in my hands-on time, the phone seemed very responsive to the touch. Swiping gestures and gentle taps all registered on my first try. I still found the interface to be a bit sluggish, though. Holding down my finger on the main menu produced a long delay, with a spinning 'wait' icon, before the widget menu popped up. Quitting apps sometimes took just as long. These are still pre-production units, so hopefully the Symbian^3 interface will be steaming along by launch time.
Check out my hands-on look at the Nokia C7 below:
The Nokia C6-01 may be the baby sibling to the larger, more svelte Nokia C7, but that doesn't mean this phone can't go toe-to-toe on the spec sheet. The C6 touchscreen phone is shorter and more narrow than the C7, but it's also a bit thicker, with a rounded back. It also features many of the high end specs that you'll find on Nokia's other new smartphones. The display uses Nokia's new ClearBlack display technology. The camera is an 8 megapixel shooter with hi-def, 720p video recording. The 3.2-inch screen packs 640 x 360 pixels, which is the same resolution as Nokia's big, bad E7 business phone.
The C6-01 has an appealing design. It's more metallic all around than the thinner C7, and Nokia pointed out that, as part of their green initiative, the C6-01 is constructed using all recycled metals. I liked the chrome rim and metal buttons all around, they felt solid and had an appealing shine.
The display is the best selling point for the Nokia C6-01. Because it packs the same pixels as its larger brethren on a smaller screen, it has a high pixel density, which makes it look very clear. The ClearBlack technology is untested, but in my hands-on time I was very impressed by the rich colors, the shimmering translucents and easy text, even on Nokia's unappealing Symbian^3 interface design.
If the Nokia C7 showed some occasional lag browsing the Symbian^3 interface, the Nokia C6-01 was downright slow. Touch response on the screen was fine. In simple swiping gestures or dialing digits, there was no delay. But navigating the phone's menus and launching or quitting new applications, I noticed a minor delay of maybe a second. You'll see what I mean in my YouTube video, posted below.
The Nokia X3 Touch and Type is not a new phone, but it was the first time I had a chance to get hands on with this odd blend of numeric keypad on the bottom and touchscreen up top. The phone runs Nokia's Series 40 operating system. It may seem like Nokia's Symbian smartphones get all the glory, but in fact, Purnima Kochikar, Nokia's VP of Nokia Forum and Developer Community told the Nokia World crowd that the company shipped 364 million S40 smartphones last year. That's almost 1 million per day. The Nokia X3 Touch and Type is the first S40 phone with touch capabilities.
Thankfully, Nokia seems to have stuck to my number one rule when it comes to cheap touchscreens. Don't try to force inexpensive, resistive screens to do the same tricks as capacitive screens. Avoid swiping and gesture controls, and focus on hard taps. The Nokia X3 T&T enhances the basic Series 40 interface with large, touchable buttons on screen. It isn't a dramatic design overhaul. In fact, if you didn't know there was a touchscreen up top, you might not figure it out just by looking at the interface design.
The hardware itself makes for a very nice looking phone, in the vein of classic Nokia dumbphones. It's quite thin, and the brightly colored shell is brushed aluminum, not plastic, which gives the phone a solid feel. The keypad buttons are nicely spaced, and the phone is small enough that I could easily stretch a thumb to the screen from the keypad quickly, without adjusting my hand.
So, the design is clearly a gimmick, but its a nice gimmick, and Nokia doesn't take things too far. The touchscreen replaces the d-pad, that's about all. This way, if you can't quite make the down payment on a smartphone, you can still feel like you have a piece of modern hardware. At Nokia World, the company also launched the SDK for the touch and type feature on the Series 40 OS. That means new apps will start to roll out for this phone. It also portends more Series 40 phones with touch capabilities.
Though my PhoneScoop colleagues have had a chance to play with Symbian^3 on the Nokia N8, this was my first crack at the new smartphone OS. I went in with fairly low expectations. I didn't expect much of an improvement over Symbian S60 5th edition, which is now part of the dormant Symbian^1. Unfortunately, I was correct.
The basic design of the interface remains mostly unchanged, or not in any way you'd notice. Using a new Symbian^3 phone is like watching a high-def version of a TV show that was released before anyone had HDTVs. It looks a little bit better all around, but it's also clearly descended from something born in the early 90s. The icons, the text and fonts are strikingly similar, and they all look dated.
Even worse, the new stuff just doesn't look very new. While Android uses Widgets extensively, they are much more customizable. On Symbian, every widget looks the same, taking up the same space and shape on the homescreen. They hardly feel very widget-like, especially if you've used an Android phone. There are plenty of widget options, with more available for download, but in the end what you get is a very bland looking set of homescreen panels with straight columns and rows of widgets or empty space.
Past the widgets, I was shocked when I opened the main menu screen. The icon grid that Nokia uses would have been at home on an AT&T feature phone from 2004. It's barren and ugly, with no flash or dazzle. It straddles the line between Apple's bright and colorful icon grid and Microsoft's minimalist Metro UI for Windows Phone 7, borrowing the worst of both worlds.
But worse than the design is the interface's organization. You have to dig for everything. Nothing is intuitive on these phones. In my hands-on time, I was constantly asking Nokia reps for assistance. How do I close apps? How I find the dialpad? How do I see which apps are open? The design language does not explain the phone's function. Nokia needed to start with an entirely new and fresh design, but instead it seems like they just tried to improve the existing Symbian interface. They just put lipstick on that pig.
I did not spend much time with these phones, less than a half hour with each, and in his keynote address at Nokia World, Anssi Vanjoki took shots at journalists and bloggers who dismissed Symbian^3 after only seeing the phone's dashboard, without looking under the hood. I can say that after my testing period, I'm still unimpressed. The Nokia E7 was snappy and responsive, but I still saw a unit crash in a hands-on demo. As I moved down the line, the phones grew more and more weak. The Nokia C6-01 had noticeable wait times moving between menus and closing application. I can't remember the last time I waited for my smartphone to close an application, but C6-01 owners will be expected to hold still. So, I've taken a peak under the hood, perhaps the good stuff is under the floorboards?
The shakeup in Nokia's higher ranks might be encouraging on this front. Only yesterday, Vanjoki, who led Nokia's disparate smartphone teams, left the company. Also recently, Nokia's CEO was replaced by Stephen Elop, a Microsoft Executive with a successful record running the Microsoft Office team. Under Vanjoki, Nokia mostly excelled at hardware. Not so much with the recent Nseries phones, but the Eseries, like the E72 and E75, were very well designed, and the hardware on the new phones seems solid. With new leadership at the top with a successful record in software, perhaps Nokia can straighten out its interface problems.
X3 is feature phone
"Please stop reviewing our phones based on what you see"
What's with the hate for S^3?
Seriously... the points made against S^3 in the article are very weak:
1) Widgets aren't as customizable as Android:
I wouldn't say that... having widgets that fit on the screen at a uniform size and shape, I'd call that clean and organized. Sure, you can litter your homescreen(s) with every widget under the sun in Android (heck, I've done it with Maemo on my n900), but I actually like having some built-in constraints to make things easier. Point is, the info presented on the widgets is there, in the widget....
That Nokia X3 keypad--
Nokia used to be...
looks nice, but not too different...
I personally like and enjoy S60, and so I am glad to see that Symbian^3 doesn't seem all too different from S60, but I know there are alot of people who, unlike me, will be disappointed.
Also, the battery on the E7, like the N8, is not user-interchangeable. This is one of the worst features of the iPhone... who at Nokia decided this was the way to go?
Just a couple of thoughts to get the discussion started... anyone agree or disagree?
As for S60...I personally like it. I've had my 5800 for over a year now and have come to love S60. It may be plain and minima...