Nokia's E71 Is a Well-Equipped Smart Phone

The device offers better manageability, independence than the iPhone 3G.

Nokia's E71 is a slim, feature-packed smart phone with an excellent thumb keyboard and enough battery life to last a full work day.

In my tests of the E71, I found its many hardware and software features a bit awkwardly implemented in places, particularly compared with the more modestly equipped-and more elegantly implemented-Apple iPhone 3G. However, once I'd gotten the hang of using the E71, I came to appreciate its superior manageability, as well as its relative independence from a desktop mother ship.

The E71 sells for around $500, unlocked. I tested the E71 on AT&T's wireless network in and around eWEEK's San Francisco offices.

Nokia's E71 ships with Version 3.1 of the company's S60 interface, which runs atop Symbian OS Version 9.2. It is powered by a 369 MHz ARM11 Freescale processor, and packs 128 MB of RAM and 110 MB of user-accessible storage. The unit's rather modest storage capacity may be expanded through the E71's MicroSDHC expansion slot. In my tests, the E71 performed snappily, and handled multiple running applications without a hitch.

For input, the E71 comes with a nicely implemented thumb keyboard, along with a five-way control pad. I found the device's keyboard very comfortable to type on-as far as thumb keyboards go-and I found it fairly easy to navigate and click my way through Web pages using the five-way control pad.

I found support for copying and pasting text in a couple of spots, but not where I would have found the support most useful. For instance, I could copy text from an e-mail message I was composing, but not from one I was reading. Also, I couldn't figure out how to use copy- and- paste from within the E71's Web browser.

Since the E71's thumb keyboard occupies around half of the unit's front-side real estate, the device is limited to a fairly small, 320-by-240 pixel, 2.4-inch display. I was able to read Web pages and e-mail messages well enough with the E71, but the pages, messages and settings screens served up through the display are certainly cramped when compared with those on Apple's large-display iPhone.

The E71 comes with the obligatory built-in camera, a 3.2 megapixel unit fixed on the back of the device. Less typical, however, are the camera's auto-focus and flash features. Also of note is the E71's second camera, a front-facing unit for placing video calls.

The E71 measures 4.48 by 2.24 by .39 inches, and weighs in at 4.48 ounces. As smart phones go, the E71 is strikingly slim, and most of its weight goes to the device's healthy-sized, removable battery.

The E71 ships with a 1,500 mAh lithium-polymer battery, from which Nokia advertises talk times of up to 10.5 hours in GSM/EDGE (Enhanced Data for Global Evolution) mode, and up to 4.5 hours in HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) mode. In our tests, we managed to get an eye-catching 12.5 hours of talk time in GSM mode, and the promised 4.5 hours in HSDPA mode.

Nokia's E71 comes with a full complement of messaging options-I tested the device with both Exchange and Gmail IMAP accounts, and found both easy to set up and to use. In the middle of my tests, Nokia announced support for Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync, and I was impressed by how smoothly Nokia managed the deployment of the new EAS bits. When I set out to configure an Exchange account, the E71 fetched the needed software from the Internet and prompted me to install it.

I managed to fetch and install a SIP client for VOIP (voice over IP) calling, from Gizmo, in the same way-I visited a SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) setup dialog on the E71, and the device pulled down the application from the Internet.

I did find the E71's application installation scheme more complicated overall than the one included with the iPhone, where all software is located and installed from a common source. On the E71, I installed applications from numerous starting points, including directly from Web pages online, such as the one for Opera's mobile browser.

The E71 sports a quad-band GSM radio that can deliver EDGE data transfer speeds, as well as a dual-band HSDPA radio capable of much faster data transfer rates. When the E71 is within range of an EDGE network, the device displays "3G" in its status bar, and displays "3.5G" when running in the faster network mode. This is a bit different from the iPhone, which applies the labels EDGE and 3G, respectively, for those same networks.

During my tests of the E71 from various locations in San Francisco, I clocked transfer rates of around 159K bps, with pokey latencies of around 927 milliseconds, in EDGE mode, and around 454K bps and 649 ms of latency in its high-speed mode. I conducted my tests with DSL Reports' mobile speed test tool using the E71's built-in Web browser. The E71 also ships with 802.11 b/g WLAN and Bluetooth 2.0 radios, as well as an infrared and microUSB ports.

During my tests, it took me some time to get comfortable with the E71's behavior around connecting to the Internet with its WLAN and WWAN (wireless WAN) radios, which I found more complicated than with the iPhone 3G that I recently tested. On the iPhone 3G, Internet connectivity follows a consistent, best-to-worst scheme. If Wi-Fi is available, that's what the iPhone uses in all its applications, and the device steps down from there.

On the E71, each application either asks which network to use upon startup, or abides by an "always use this access point" configuration setting. As a result, there's more clicking around required with the E71 than with the iPhone, and certain scenarios prove more complicated on the E71. For instance, stepping up from a WAN link to a faster Wi-Fi connection requires closing the E71's Web browser and restarting it under the Wi-Fi link.

On the positive side, this connectivity granularity, when teamed with policy-based management, could allow administrators to restrict particular applications to approved networks.

As a phone, the E71 performed well, with good voice quality, a loud speakerphone option, and fairly straightforward controls.