Ludicrous Software

Five Days With a Nokia E7

Nokia was kind enough to send me a Nokia E7 a couple of weeks ago, and so I decided to use it as my primary phone for a couple of weeks to see what it’s like. Sadly, I only lasted about five days before the software quirks pushed me back to my Nexus One.

The short version of this story is that the E7 is a fantastic piece of hardware desperately in need of a decent OS and software (by the latter, I generally mean the pre-installed applications like the web browser, email app, etc.).

If you’d like the slightly longer version, read on…

Hardware

I’ve always loved the Nokia hardware, and the E7 is no exception. It is a beautiful piece of manufacturing. The phone itself is heavier and taller than an iPhone or my Android phone. But, since I don’t personally fetishize device size (ZOMG it’s 0.1 mm thinner!) I don’t really care about this. But if the seams in your pants pockets aren’t particularly strong, perhaps you might.

Otherwise, the hardware is delightful. I appreciate the actual physical keyboard once I got used to the odd-feeling manner in which the slider operates. There’s also HDMI out.┬áThe camera is an 8-megapixel monster, and the photo quality is very impressive; video quality is equally good. In fact, the only time that I’ve missed the phone since I switched back was yesterday when I was shooting some video of my son and his grandmother - it would have been nice to capture that with the E7.

Software

The good news is that the touch UI on the E7 has come a long way from that on the 5800, my most recent Nokia phone. With the 5800, the touch UI felt bolted onto the Symbian O/S. For the E7, it still feels bolted on. Perhaps the most that can be said is that overall it feels like the bolts are fewer. There are still some curious (read: frustrating) elements of the UI, but it’s hard to pin them on something specific; they may ultimately be just my own preferences that aren’t being met. But in no particular order:

  • Setting up the phone was mostly painless. One bother was having to log into my Ovi account multiple times, once when first setting up the phone then again when I was configuring the built-in social networking (Facebook/Twitter) client. And I’m not even sure why I needed to log in to Ovi for the latter.
  • Once set up with the Twitter client, I found it to be woefully unusable. Looks like Gravity is the Twitter client of choice, but I didn’t try that out.
  • The integration between apps could use some work. For example, I opened a link in the Twitter client, which nicely opened it in the web browser. Okay, good so far. Once I was done I hit the ‘close’ button, but that brought up the ‘select browser window’ UI (I had multiple browser windows open before selecting the link in Twitter). There seems to be no way back short of exiting the browser entirely and then reopening the Twitter client. This doesn’t happen when there are no already-open browser windows.
  • There is at times a definite lack of responsiveness. For example, there’s a pause between when I tap the email widget on my home screen and the email application opens. The same lag occurs elsewhere, often enough to be noticeable.
  • Text display in the browser is pretty sharp - in the sense that the text looks like it’s being rendered in a pixel font. I haven’t looked up the screen specs for this phone, but I’m sure that text rendering could be improved. There may even be a setting for that somewhere, but it shouldn’t be something that I have to hunt down and configure.
  • Apparently you can integrate Google Calendar, um, calendars, but exactly how that’s done is something of a mystery. It’s not at all obvious through the UI, at least.
  • I would get popups warning me that the phone was running out of memory when I had only about 4 or 5 applications open. Weirdly, the application switcher identifies the application menu as itself an application.
  • The email client would consistently stop showing me configuration options for my accounts that were there when I set up the account. For example, I route all my email through GMail for spam filtering. GMail sends them back to my domains to a private address. I get the email from the private address, and respond to it using my public address for the reply-to. This is easily configurable on my iOS and Android phones, but it consistently eludes me on the E7. This, ultimately, was what pushed me back to Android sooner than planned.
  • Perhaps you’re wondering: what about Flash (Lite)? I didn’t do much web browsing on the phone - the browser experience doesn’t, let’s say, encourage casual browsing - but a visit to YouTube resulted in videos that played without a hitch. I haven’t tested any of my old Flash Lite content on the phone, but I do plan to do that at some point in the near future. I’ll report on that when it happens.

So, overall, I can really understand why Nokia would decide to shift to another operating system for its phones. Given enough time and enough accommodation to how the thing works, I could probably get it to a reasonably usable state; however, it’s hard to justify doing that when I can do the same thing in much less time with another phone and then spend all the time I saved actually being productive. I’ve never tried Windows Phone 7, so I can’t say what the Nokia/WP7 phones will be like whenever they start shipping. But I can say that if this phone had Android installed on it, it would hands-down be my day-to-day device of choice.