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Nokia E7 ‚ not quite the business

Competition in business phones is so intense, it’s no longer enough to tweak new models. Nokia’s E7 is a leap forward but, asks SEAN BACHER, can it deliver on users’ needs?

A while ago we took a look at Nokia’s N8 and, although the phone was perfect for everyday use, it did not fit into the business or office environment. It lacked a physical keyboard and its e-mail functionality was a little watered down.

Nokia appeared to take a few learnings from the market response, and released its E7 with a fold-out keyboard. This, says Nokia, makes it suitable for the office.

We put the claim through the Gadget 5 Question User Test.

1. Is it ready to use?

Once your SIM is in and the phone is on, you get a message from your service provider saying that you have put your SIM in a new phone and would you like to receive the access settings OTA (Over The Air). Confirm, and in seconds you are ready to connect to the Internet and send and receive text messages.

However, as with many smartphones, the rest of the set-up process is manual ‚ and tedious. First, you need to set up your e-mail account. I found the e-mail application included with the E7 to be adequate enough. I simply entered my user name and password ‚ now much easier to do thanks to the full QWERTY keyboard, and was getting my e-mails on my phone in minutes.

This was a great improvement on the N8, on which I often found myself shying away from replying to e-mails to avoid the clunky virtual keyboard that forced itself on top of the screen. Thanks to the E7’s slide-out keyboard, you can still view the e-mail to which you are replying.

The E7 includes an overall social networking application from where you can set up your Facebook, Twitter other social networking accounts. The feeds can then be set to display on your home screen for easy access.

2. Is it easy to use?

Although the E7’s keyboard makes everyday tasks much easier and quicker, I found the keyboard did have a few problems. I battled every time I wanted to get the keyboard out from under the face of the phone ‚ not knowing from which side it slides out. I also had to apply a reasonable amount of force to get it out, often sending the phone flying out of my hands when the keyboard did pop out.

It is by no means a one-handed operation, as it needs to be. Consider the likes of the BlackBerry Torch, on which the slide-out keyboard can be operated with one hand.

I also found that I needed to use two hands to type on the Nokia, due to its landscape design, which makes you stretch and contort to reach the far corners of the keyboard.

The E7 uses the Symbian operating system which, for all its faults (a story for another day), is fairly easy to find your way around and quite reliable. However, the phone frequently disconnects itself from the Wi-Fi network without being asked to do so.

The Ovi Store brought me endless grief. I had to put my credentials in every time I wanted to access it, or if I clicked on an application that needed access to the store. This echoes a major frustration on the iPhone and the App Store. Most stores only make you put your credentials in when you download or buy an application ‚ and this usually requires only your password. Furthermore, sometimes I could connect to the store and other times I would have to wait some time before it would log me on. That said, the range of applications available is quite phenomenal. Nokia has really upped its game here.

3. Does it operate as advertised?

The E7 is a big step in the right direction to becoming a true business tool. However, it still has some way to go until it is on a par with the BlackBerry range in the business context. The keyboard is definitely a plus on the hardware side. The software needs to be refined too, and perhaps that will be addressed once it is upgradeable to the new version of Symbian, called Anna.

I felt the phone was a little sluggish when I had a few applications open. The e-mail functionality was no match for the BlackBerry, although it is far better than many ‚business‚ phones on the market.

The E7 offers three customisable home screens. You can choose which widgets you want and where you want them. I found this helpful as, once I had memorised the locations of the widgets, I was able to access my most frequent applications without having to scroll through all the menus.

When it comes to multimedia, the E7 doesn’t do too badly either. It includes an 8 Megapixel camera with numerous features to help make your photos look professional. Furthermore, the E7 includes 350MB of internal memory, compared to 135MB found on the N8. The only downside is that the E7 has no Micro SD card slot. The E7 also has an HDMI output to plug your phone into a projector or television from where you can show high-definition content.

Once again, this Nokia’s battery life is great. I would unplug it at 6 in the morning, use it constantly throughout the day and still have enough battery power to keep me going until 9 at night. The BlackBerry Torch can’t match that.

4. Is it innovative?

Although Nokia has made a move in the right direction with the E7, nothing on it is truly innovative. The operating system is the same as the one used in the N8, the processor is the same (an ARM 11 running at 680Mhz), and they both sport 256MB of RAM.

5. Is it value for money?

Prices start from around R4 500 ‚ a little less than a BlackBerry Torch. Side by side, the BlackBerry Torch blows the E7 out of the water in terms of functionality.

In conclusion

The Nokia E7 is a well-built, solid and elegant looking smartphone that is dripping with features. However, as an office device, it doesn’t quite make the grade we expect from Nokia. Don’t write Nokia off yet though. It continues to improve Symbian and its Windows Phone 7 partnership with Microsoft is likely to provide formidable competition.

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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