The debut of Nokia's next would-be saviour handset has been a long time coming. A long time. First announced last summer, the Nokia E7 has finally arrived bearing an impressive spec – battleship build quality, slide-out QWERTY keyboard, 8-megapixel camera, HD video camera and an HDMI output, but alas, still running on the knackered old warhorse that is Symbian.
Design and build
The E7 looks and feels like a very serious contender indeed. If phones were cars, this would be a Hummer – sleek, solid, not one to mess with.
Hewn from a single chunk of aluminium, it measures 124 x 62 x 14mm, and weighs in at 176g – if a mugger tried to wrest it from your grip you could do worse than clout them round the head with it.
It's a hefty handful, but none of the space is superfluous. The 4in screen dominates the front, with just one button (for home and menu) beneath it. On the sides are switches for lock and volume, plus a camera button and a SIM card slot with a metal slider.
There's no access to the battery and no option to augment the 16GB of onboard memory. On top are a microUSB power/sync slot and 3.5mm headphone jack, plus a power button and a mini HDMI slot covered by a plastic grommet.
That big screen is an AMOLED design, which along with its 640 x 360-pixel resolution accounts for its clarity and sharpness. Viewing angles are pretty good too, and the glass cover doesn't throw up too much glare in sunlight. It's sensitive too, making its multi-touch functionality a pleasure to use.
Nokia long ago proved that it knows how to do a decent QWERTY keyboard and the E7 is no exception. You'll need a strong push to the side but then it flips out on a single, outsize hinge, coming to rest at a 35-degree angle to the screen.
The 42 keys are made of rubberised plastic, feel nice under the thumbs and are well spaced for fast access. There's a good level of feedback and the @, comma and full stop all get their own keys – it's safe to say it's one of the best keyboards we've tried.
Interface and OS
But despite its good first impressions, actually using the E7 can be a bit of a labour of love. The reason is Symbian, which has dropped steadily down the love list of reviewers and users alike as it's been overtaken for ease of use and intuitive layout by iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7 and even Blackberry OS.
The widgets and icons which you can lay out across the three home screens are okay, but look ugly compared to their rivals, and the menu system still seems much more convoluted and fiddly than it needs to be.
The lack of a back button doesn't help either, since you’re reliant on the onscreen version, which doesn't always appear. The processor seems to struggle a bit too, especially when you have a few apps running, leading to general tardiness.
The functionality is basically there, but it's a hassle to get to grips with it, something that other smartphone operating systems simply don't require, though Symbian veterans probably won't find it too much of a problem.
The fact that Nokia has already announced that it plans to abandon Symbian in favour of WinPho7 doesn't bode well for future support either, though we have just seen Nokia dish up the long-awaited Anna update (a.k.a. PR 2.0), which does help a fair bit.
This 8-megapixel camera does without the Carl Zeiss lens found on Nokia's fanciest camphones such as the N8, but it still manages to deliver pretty decent pictures.
Features include dual LED flash, face recognition, 2x digital zoom and geotagging, as well as Nokia's very capable editing suite. The 720p HD video recording looks good too, and is generally very smooth, though it can suffer a bit in low light. There's also the option to upload them straight to YouTube.
Apps and browser
The Symbian browser is functional at least, but those big onscreen controls are ugly and intrusive. It supports Flash but doesn't always render pages as well the iPhone, or the latest Android browser for that matter, both of which seem to do a better job of flowing text.
The Ovi Store is way behind Apple and Android's app stores for choice but there are over 40,000 available now and it has a good selection of the basics plus quite a few more besides. Already on board is a full version of QuickOffice, which allows you to create and view Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.
Social networking has been incorporated with the not-very-originally-named Social Network app, which pulls together your Facebook and Twitter updates and allows you to update them both at the same time.
Nokia's free sat nav Ovi Maps is fine, and if it lacks some of the polish of a dedicated device, you certainly can't argue with the price.
Media and connectivity
Films look great on that large, sharp screen, and there's the option to watch them in full 16:9 widescreen ratio or stretch them to fit the screen's dimensions.
The music player allows you to flip through your cover art and the supplied headphones are fairly decent quality too. There's also an FM radio on board.
HDMI connectivity couldn't really be any easier. You plug the supplied cable into a compatible TV, and it just plays. As well as your own content you can also play back YouTube and BBC iPlayer material directly to the big screen – the quality won't hold up terribly well on larger HD screens, but playback via broadband over a Wi-Fi connection seemed glitch-free.
Performance and battery life
Battery life proved to be surprisingly good for such a high-spec phone and it delivered a good two days of heavy use.
- High-quality 4in display
- Excellent slide-out QWERTY keyboard
- Brick-solid aluminium chassis
- 8-megapixel camera with HD recording and HDMI port
- Symbian^3 still awkward to use
- Sluggish in general use
Verdict: A tough cookie with some great features, including its battleship build, 8 megapixel camera and HDMI connection, but let down by the sluggardly slow and needlessly complex Symbian OS.
More info: Nokia E7 spec
Price: From free on contract; £480 SIM-free