A new phone.. and what a Christmas cracker! The Nokia E71

The Nokia E71 ReviewI've always been after the ideal phone, and it has always been a compromise... I love one aspect about one phone, and it doesn't have something else I love about another.

This simply drives me crazy! There has been 2 phones that have stood out to me that I have liked so much for their own unique reasons. Firstly is the HTC Tytn II, which I have had as my main phone since the day it was launched in the UK. It was at the time the most powerful phone money could buy, support the Windows 6.0 mobile operation system, which later could be upgraded to Windows 6.1 from HTCs website. The huge processor, however, was necessary for such an operating system. Windows Mobile is still the slowest base platform across the spectrum. However, this downside is raised by the sheer quantity of software available for the phone. Microsoft have the (rightly so, but not without consequence) attitude of not stepping on partners' toes, unlike software giant Google for example. This means that the curse of lack of support for the base installation of the phone, is met with the quantity of alternatives instead. The Tytn II is so good that I kept trying new phones, and simply went back to it after just not finding the mobile tools I need.

That being said, Windows still has a messaging shortcoming where their adamant support for their own Exchange server sees the total disregard for push mail support in any other manor, and managing emails etc just doesn't feel "right". I'm hoping Windows Mobile 7 will resolve this, but get the impression that because of phones like the Apple iPhone, they will focus blindly on the consumer market with rich media support, than better practical "communicationware". This is why iPhone isn't one of my top two. I'm a business user, and as much as I completely admire the iPhone's slick interface and attempt to push more software support for their device, to me it's still an iPod with a mobile phone, and it doesn't matter if you add 3G and Exchange support. If you need to email a lot, on-screen keyboards just aren't effective and up to the job, and size does matter. Although saying that, the Tytn II isn't exactly small, but this is because of the essential slide out keyboard. I suppose the last straw to Windows is the mobile web browsing. Again, Microsoft rely on 3rd parties to provide, and the leader is Opera Mobile. It is a feature rich application, supporting all the flashy javascripty sites on your device, however, I continually find it a pain in the arse to use. I just want to browse a website, but the touch screen ends up being a chore than a tool, and some sites simply don't work. For example, I want to check out my local cinema listings, which is pretty common placed on a mobile, and the Vue website just doesn't show up properly, most of the time, which makes visiting a site like that somewhat daring and random. Can I see what is actually on today or not. Some might blame Vue for having floating bars etc and say it's not a mobile compatible site, but mobiles are meant to view sites just like a desktop browser, and this is what Opera claim, so why not! Online software is becoming a big thing now, and not being able to rely on a device for this, puts it in a category of useless. So I don't really use my Tytn for web browsing unless I HAVE to, and I then visit the site with bated breath.

The second phone is perhaps no surprise then to be the Blackberry (or Blueberry as many like to forgetfully say). This, however, might be a surprise to those that know me, as I constantly talk about how much I hate the phone. So let me clear up why I love it and why I hate it so much. Blackberry is a good business phone, and its messaging support is almost better than it is actually a phone, however (and this is a BIG however) what makes it really good is the hardware. Every computer is based on the two essential parts of hardware and software, and for a perfect system, both have to meet in unison. Where Windows leaves this to the winds of partnerships, Blackberry take this on themselves. And I have to say that Blackberry do win completely on this. Windows mobiles are much too expensive, and the continual move to be more and more powerful to try and get the software's shortcomings to come up to scratch with today's demands of cosmetically clown like interfaces whilst being super smooth and somewhat effortless, just means people are having to pay the premium to get Microsoft's operating system as they want it. And people do! Myself being one of them with the Tytn II. What is so remarkable about the Blackberry is that the phone itself is exceptionally well designed with a very useable, quick thumbnail qwerty keypad, and low spec software requiring only a low end processor. This therefore brings the benefits of the interface being quick, the phone being cheap, and as a messaging device, very pleasurable indeed, plus a fantastic comparable battery life. In fact I strongly believe that it is because of the hardware that the phone has become the "Crackberry" which I'll explain in a moment. However, I still hate the phone, and I think that the Blackberry has that Marmite (love it or hate it) persona because of its hardware and software. Simply put, I love the hardware and hate the software. The fact that emails are only plain text and formatted in a "mish mash" manor and it relies on a stupidly expensive server solution which I just can't see the point in. Yes, the Blackberry has push email meaning you will get your email immediately, but so has the low end mail servers of today, through common protocols such as IMAP IDLE. To me, that's just reinventing the wheel! And the only reason they need to do that is to squeeze the enterprises out of more money. Now, there are arguments to say that they do it so they can reduce the data transfers etc etc, but honestly, all the protocols do the same thing for the same reasons. But it isn't just that reason I just couldn't stand using the Blackberry, the way the software was designed was so bad, I actually was forcing myself to use it for 3 months to try and see what people must actually like about it, and those 3 months were really like torture.. I honestly thought I was missing something really important, because I just couldn't see why it was such a popular business device! This seems to contradict what I just said earlier about the messaging being better than it being a phone. I still think that is the case, which doesn't bode well for the rest of the device! 

So, there are my two top devices.. until a little stop off at an Orange store changed everything (not that I use Orange, but they do have the widest range of phones), for no reason but to nose whilst the other half does her part for the clothing market.

Through my experience I've known that I really wanted a phone better suited to mobile communications such as email, web browsing and instant messaging on the move, plus the internet industry is moving swiftly to online software (like my new Neetrix business), so a phone has to be compatible with the way things are moving and yet not to forget it's root needs of being a phone at the end of day. I loved the Blackberry hardware, so finding one just like this, but without the software shortcomings, perhaps more business orientated like Windows is rather than iPhone. It's a lot to ask it seems.

Out of the corner of my eye whilst looking at a long stand of Blackberry looking phones a shiney Nokia E71 caught my attention, and it really has that glam look about it. Now, a long long time ago, I was a Nokia user, and moved away when Nokia firmware was just not moving as quickly as my needs, or not at all at the time if I remember rightly. Now they use the very mature Symbian operating system, which I thought would be a good time to check out. I beat the manual out of the Orange staff to try and see what support the phone actually had and see if it was even a contender. I mean, there are Windows phones with front-side qwerty keyboards like the newish HP 910c and some of the recent Palm devices like the Palm Treo Pro which has been on my "interesting" list. But I know that these won't solve the sluggish problems if the Tytn can't. Afterall, they are generally less powerful even though the form factor is better. So, a new contender would be welcome, and the manual didn't mention any IMAP IDLE support much like one with Windows wouldn't which was a huge blow as push email is something that I did like from Blackberry and Windows. Asking the staff about IMAP IDLE was like asking a fish a simple maths question.. Just wonders if you spoke the same language, and blows bubbles of hot air trying to bluff an answer out. (off subject here, but if you work in a phone shop and you don't know the answer, just say so! Else you look like a twat. Nothing wrong with not knowing everything!). So finally leaving the shop after the staff fall over themselves looking on websites and phoning numerous phone numbers to final out an answer, I left the shop and checked online and low, and behold the Nokia site said it does.. why they just couldn't check that one first still baffles me. Now, some people will be wondering why I would only check IMAP IDLE support, since, in all honesty it isn't as high on the list as a good email client and being able to actually look at websites as they should look. The answer is simply this. If a phone is to support IMAP IDLE, chances are, they had some people with a bit of brains and a proper plan for the phone. They want standards compliant for the business market, and if they thought of IMAP IDLE, they probably had the rest of my list at the top of theirs too, and actually made sure it was done!

So now this phone has my full attention, and the first things I want to know is, what do reviews say, how much is it, and does it really tick all the other boxes. Keeping it short, Symbian 60 series is old enough to not require the heavy hardware, but kept modern enough to support the latest needs. This means the phone is mid to low market price range, and the battery should last more than a day or two. In fact I was finding it impossible to find a bad review or a serious complaint, which for the internet is outstanding. So next step was some ebaying.

After a couple of weeks of nail biting ebaying, I managed to get a completely brand new Nokia E71 for just over £200. The guy selling it was ironically selling it as he wanted to move to HTC, perhaps glazed by the new click 3D interfaces of the HTC HD and Diamond ranges.. I'm sorry my ebay friend, but you just made a really bad mistake.

I've had the Nokia E71 for about 3 weeks now, and it was by this time with the Blackberry that I wanted to jump out of the nearest tall building phone first, however I did suffer from the "Crackberry" syndrome at the same time. What was really amazing to see, was that I had the exact same "Crackberry" behaviour with the Nokia E71, which is why I now strongly believe it is because of the form factor. I just CAN NOT put the phone down, and at the same time I really don't want to throw the E71 out of the window, in fact I want to bathe it in gold and frankincense.  FINALLY I think I have actually found the phone where hardware and software meet at their highest levels. The front-side qwerty keyboard, gorgeous proper chrome metal finish and it's true eye candy! No flashy graphics on screen with hours waiting for stupid elements to scroll back and forth, just instant gratification. I could list so many things I love about this phone, like the phone features actually work so much better than its Windows and Blackberry counterparts, and that it has the push email support that the others offer, but without the stab in the back costs and infrastructure requirements, but I suppose two of them really stand out to me. Firstly, is that they REALLY have thought through this phone and what it is being used for, or they have actually taken note in the long life of Symbian users, and added simple features like setting when it should and should not be collecting mails, so getting over the "Crackberry" habit whilst you aren't at work or sleeping, and secondly, the most surprising one to me, was one I couldn't find much information on before, was the web browsing support. I would never thought something would be better than Opera, bearing in mind the amount of time and effort they put in to this single piece of software, yet the web browsing on the Symbian platform is absolutely faultless and outstanding. The device might not be touch screen, but it still is easier, quicker, smoother, and more compatible than any other mobile browser I've ever seen.

In summary, I think I've finally found THE business mobile of this time.  No doubt times will change with need, but if Nokia and Symbian continue to press on with listening and fulfilling these needs then Blackberry and Windows shouldn't be worrying about the press hogging Google phones, and iPhones and they should all watch their backs with a contender like this one, if indeed their markets are the true business users..

Wed, 29 Jul 2009 14:50