Simply put, Nokia's E70 is one of the most advanced, innovative mobile phones on the market today. The E70's fold-out QWERTY keyboard harkens back to the design of Nokia's 6800 messaging phone released in 2003, but its feature set is pure cutting-edge 2006. From the Symbian 9.1 (Series 60) Operating System to built-in WiFi, Blackberry/VoIP support, MS Office document compatibility, and perhaps the best mobile Web browser currently available, the E70 is a businessperson's delight. But it's not all work and no play: a two megapixel camera and digital audio player add some entertainment options to the mix. Could the E70 be the ultimate pocket communicator? That all depends on how you take to its form factor.
Note: This review is of the E70-2 handset, which is the US version of the E70 that was originally introduced in Europe. The only difference between the versions is the GSM Bands they support - the E70-2 includes the 850 band widely used in the US, while the E70 supports GSM 900/1800/1900.
At first glance the E70 looks like an overgrown flip phone with its 2" screen and noticeably thick body. The design is business chic, with a black front panel and buttons accented by silver on the body and trim. But the inclusion of a dialing keypad on the front of the flip panel is a tip off that there's more to this handset than first meets the eye. True enough, raising the front panel reveals a full QWERTY thumbboard underneath, oriented horizontally and split into two sections on either side of the screen.
The E70 is actually a candybar style phone meant to be used for voice calls with the "flip" closed. Open the flip and the screen rotates to landscape mode so the handset can be held with one hand on either "wing," putting the user's thumbs in ideal position to type on the QWERTY keys. Again, those familiar with the old Nokia 6800 will remember the design principle. However, the E70 is much more comfortable to type on than the 6800, as both the QWERTY keys and the LCD display are larger and easier to work with.
Large buttons and a large screen adds up to a hefty phone, however. The E70 measures 117 x 53 x 22mm and weighs in at 127g, which is nearly twice as thick and 50% heavier than a featherweight at the other end of the size spectrum, the Samsung D900. To be fair, though, the E70s feature set demands comparisons with the Treos and Motorola Qs of the world, not ultra-slim slider phones. The E70 feels lighter in hand than it really is, due to its all-plastic construction, and while it's no fashion phone, it does convey a sense of modern power that gives it a business chic style.
From a design perspective, the phone can be looked at in two ways. With the flip shut, the screen is oriented vertically with a small power button along its top edge and a joystick flanked by two softkeys below the display. Beneath these controls is a dialing keypad with five extra keys: call, hang up, text input mode, menu, and clear.
Opening the flip and turning the phone horizontally leaves the power button and joystick/softkeys accessible along side the right side of the screen, but relegates the dialing keypad to what's now the back of the phone, putting the QWERTY board forward instead. Nokia did an excellent job of making the two halves of the QWERTY board thick enough to be easily held and large enough to accommodate a comfortable key layout without making the device too unwieldy overall. The split keyboard's large, clearly marked buttons are easy to thumb-type on, and the dual-spacebar layout makes the device feel less odd and more ingenious with every use. Additionally, the "flip" mechanism is much heavier than those found on traditional flip phones, so it never felt as though the phone was going to accidentally close or some how give out on me while I typed. The keys are also backlit, with a dedicated on/off key for the light located in the upper left corner of the keyboard.
The sides and back of the E70 are finished in silver and button-free save for the voice record button on the left panel. The bottom panel houses an AC jack and Pop-Port connector, and the back of the phone features the 2 MP camera sensor housing alongside a simple Nokia logo. The back panel slides off to reveal the battery, miniSD memory card and SIM card slots.
My one major complaint about the E70's design is with the joystick. The stick is a little nub that's easy enough to "grip" with the tip of a thumb or finger, but rather difficult to move with any precision, and particularly hard to depress without accidentally moving in one direction or another. Seeing as the joystick is used to navigate the many menus and features of the icon-based user interface, this created some problems for me - I often found myself attempting to select one icon by pushing down on the stick only to accidentally select an adjacent one by accidentally pushing first to the side and then down in the same motion. A little practice and extra care went a long way towards correcting this, but joysticks I've used on other phones have been much easier to manage on the first try.
This phone isn't going to win followers based solely on its looks, but I did find it attractive in the way that a Mercedes S-Class or BMW 7-Series car is attractive; the E70's size speaks not to clunky design but rather to the power beneath its hood. The display is absolutely spectacular and the layout of the many buttons is clean and ergonomic, which is some feat considering just how many buttons there are. This is Nokia's flagship business phone, and it shows in the design; the E70 is Executive Class all the way.
If you've never used a Series 60 phone, you may well be blown away by how much the operating system resembles that of a personal computer. The E70 runs on Version 3 of Symbian's 9.1 OS - built on the Series 60 platform - and as such is a true smartphone. 70 MB of onboard memory powers the phone and allows for everything from Web browsing and email to viewing and editing of MS Office documents. The E70 is also capable of multitasking, with one or more programs running "beneath the surface" of the visible application.
While getting truly familiar with Series 60 on the E70 will require some time, a highlight that's easily appreciated is the Active Standby mode. Somewhat similar to the "Today" view on PocketPC devices, S60's Active Standby displays a shortcut menu on the main screen along with a day-at-a-glance view of today's meetings, appointments, and to-dos while the phone is in standby mode. Selecting any shortcut or event with the joystick drills down through the OS to the appropriate application (i.e. Clicking a To-Do activates the Calendar App and opens the details of that reminder).
The Contacts and Calendar applications on the E70 are excellent, and benefit greatly from the QWERTY keyboard and landscape-mode display. Contacts may be assigned photo and/or ringtone IDs and an amazing amount of personal data including multiple phone numbers and email addresses, company info, and personal notes. Organizer information can be synched via Bluetooth, USB, or WLAN. The E70 is also capable of voice dialing and voice commands for launching applications and carrying out other system tasks.
Beyond the myriad business and Email/Web/Messaging applications that come pre-installed, Nokia has also included a music player that supports mp3 and AAC files, a media player that can handle various video formats, Real Player, Flash Player and Adobe Acrobat Reader clients, and a single game - Pro Tour Golf . The music player works quite well, features an useful equalizer, and can play files stored either in the ample internal memory or on a removable miniSD memory card.
Suffice it to say that the E70 is one of the most feature rich mobile phones available today. The S60 OS opens the device up to a host of configuration options best left to corporate IT experts, including over the air installation of OS updates and JAVA applications. The executive can use the phone as a Blackberry alternative and the tech-savvy phone enthusiast may customize the device to his heart's content.
The E70 features a 2 megapixel digital camera with video recording capabilities. It's interesting that Nokia chose to build a relatively high-end camera sensor into the E70 but skimped when it came to including a flash or even the normal range of adjustment settings usually found on a cameraphone of this resolution. Settings include resolution (VGA or 2 MP), quality, color tone, white balance, and night mode, but no exposure settings. As a result, picture quality varied from very good under near-perfect lighting conditions to rather lacking in detail and clarity for a 1600 x 1200 pixel image.
Video recording results were actually a bit better than those of still photos, with clips shot at CIF resolution (352 x 288) playing back quite nicely on the display or when transferred to a computer. Interestingly, while digital zoom is almost always near-useless on a cameraphone, the E70's zoom function worked quite nicely when shooting videos, yielding a relatively smooth, watchable moving image.
The 2" high resolution screen on the E70 is amazing. I've written similar things about other phones displays before, but the technology just keeps improving. Nokia has gone above and beyond to make the E70 function as much like a computer as a phone, and the 352 x 416, 16 million color display is at the heart of it all.
The display automatically rotates between portrait and landscape orientations when the keyboard is flipped open. While users of early edition E70s reported serious lags between opening/closing the flip and screen rotation, I experienced no such problems. The display rotated back and forth within a second or less of opening and closing the keyboard.
The innovative Web browser featured on the E70 simply wouldn't be possible without such a brilliant screen. Somehow the display's crispness and clarity makes viewing large chunks of Web pages in a 2" window a pleasant experience. I'm used to working on a laptop tethered to an external 19" LCD panel, and still I found myself browsing - and reading! - standard Web pages on the E70 while in line at the store or waiting for a friend to arrive at a restaurant. The display is simply amazing, and Nokia's made good use of it in the software that makes the E70 tick.
Call quality on the E70 was excellent. The tri-band 850/1800/1900 MHz GSM radio performed well on T-Mobile's network, pulling in reception on par with other quad-band phones I've tried on the same network here in the San Francisco bay area. Voices were generally clear and loud and callers reported no trouble hearing me on the other end. Be aware that only the E70-2 (reviewed here) supports the US-specific 850 band. The European release E70 (version 1) is 900/1800/1900 MHz GSM only.
Quality was also good using the built-in speakerphone and included (wired) mono headset. The headset connects via Nokia's Pop-Port system, and adapters are available if you wish to connect 3.5mm stereo headphones to the phone.
One odd thing is that there's no dedicated volume control to be found on the E70. Instead of a rocker switch on the side panel like many phones have, in-call volume on the E70 is adjusted using the joystick on the center of the phone's front panel.
I also tried the phone with a Bluetooth headset. The E70 easily paired with the headset, and audio quality over Bluetooth was good. Bluetooth on the E70 is version 1.2, and A2DP stereo is not supported
As you might guess about a smartphone with a QWERTY board, the E70 is a messaging powerhouse. Not only are standard SMS and MMS messages supported, but the E70 can also create and send PowerPoint-style presentations made up of slides with text, images, sound, and/or video (provided that the recipient's phone supports them and your carrier allows it).
A built-in Email client is bundled under the "Messaging" header on the E70, and it supports POP3 and IMAP4 protocols along with Blackberry Connect and other corporate Email systems. The client is easily configured to download entire messages or headers only, and can handle a variety of attachment types well suited to the business user. Though heavy Emailing isn't quite as comfortable on this screen as it is on the larger displays found on Treos, Blackberries, and the newer Nokia E61 and Motorola Q phones, it's really not bad. The incredibly high resolution of the E70's display renders text crisply and clearly, making it easy to both scan through the Inbox and read messages of moderate length.
The E70 also has a built-in IM client than can function over GSM or WLAN networks. The client supports many popular IM protocols, though none are pre-configured out of the box.
Writing messages with the QWERTY board was easy. Predictive text input is available, though I didn't turn it on when using the thumbboard. The only issues I found in tapping out messages related to typing numeric characters - the positioning of the number keys along the top row of the QWERTY board made for the occasional awkward key press.
The E70 can connect to the Internet via GSM EDGE cellular data networks or WLAN 802.11b/g/i networks - better known to you and me as Wi-Fi. I used the phone to connect to the Net using both methods with great results. Configuring access points took a little getting used to (the software treats cellular connections and WiFi networks alike as "access points"), but once I set up T-Mobile cellular data access, my home WLAN, and the WiFi hot spot at a cafe I frequent, I was able to switch between the three with no problems at all. The E70 can also be set to automatically sniff out and connect to any available WLANs.
Browsing the Web on the E70 is as good as it gets on a mobile phone. The E70-specific Nokia Web browser is terrific. Save for a few "Low Memory" warnings that prevented images from loading on a few pages, the majority of sites I visited rendered basically the same as they do on my computer.
Nokia built a very handy Overview feature into the browser: while scrolling through a page too large to fit on screen at once, a thumbnail of the page featuring a box highlighting the portion currently being viewed is superimposed in the top right of the screen. This made it very easy to quickly scroll to the areas of pages I most wanted to see. It's a clever bit of design and engineering that I'd expect to see in more Nokia devices going forward.
Note that because this phone is only available in the US as an unlocked version compatible with any GSM carrier, use of Internet services may require carrier-specific configuration. Both Nokia and T-Mobile offer Web-based "Configurators" that will send model-specific WAP settings as an SMS message to your phone. I tried both services and both worked successfully with the E70.
The E70 is certainly not lacking when it comes to connectivity options. This US version of the handset, the E70-2, features a tri-band GSM radio with support for the 850, 1800, and 1900 MHz bands as well as GPRS and EDGE cellular data. Also included is a WLAN 802.11g/e/i antenna for connecting to standard WiFi networks. The E70 supports VoIP Internet calling and can even switch between GSM and WLAN voice networks on its own.
The phone also features a miniSD card slot that supports removable cards up to 2GB in size. This is on top of 75MB of available internal memory for file storage. Memory is important in a smartphone like the E70 that features computer-esque applications, multitasking, and memory-hungry features. As mentioned, I had occasional "Memory Almost Full" errors while attempting to browse certain Websites, but the phone was smart enough to load the pages without images and so avoid crashing.
USB 2.0 and Bluetooth 1.2 support are built-in to the E70, as is an Infrared port. The phone is capable of connecting to several types of Email networks, including
BlackBerry Connect, Seven Always-On Mail, Visto, and Intellisync Wireless Email.
The E70 is also capable of juggling multiple data connections at once. WLAN, USB, Bluetooth, and Infrared may all be used at the same time (perhaps involving the included Presentation software for connecting the E70 to a projector). Use of the phone as a data modem with a PC is supported, as well.
Simply put, the E70 is as much an executive mobile computer as it is a phone. Executives who rely on corporate Blackberry Email should flock to the device as it packs astounding connectivity options and features into a form factor smaller than any Blackberry currently on the market.
Nokia may have built the most versatile WiFi-enabled smartphone on the market today in the E70. While Blackberry users could rightly argue that their handsets are better when it comes to Email and Treo loyalists might tout the touch screen interface on their devices, none of them do so many things as well as the E70. It should be mentioned that I say that not yet having tried the Blackberry "Pearl" 8100.
A combination of hardware, software, and design makes the E70 shine. The hi-res screen and WLAN support are exploited by the brilliance of the Web browser and the flexible power of the Symbian 9.1 OS. And the design of the device, with its unique fold-out QWERTY board, makes it all imminently usable.
The E70 is not for everyone. It's a lot of phone, both literally and figuratively, and if you don't need most of what the E70 does you might not appreciate its extra bulk and steep learning curve. But if you want your office in your pocket with WiFI, Blackberry, and VoIP support, the E70 is well worth a test drive