Open Platforms: A few days with the Nokia E71

Noah Kravitz
 from  Oakland, CA
| Published: December 5, 2008

As you may know if you read my ramblings on the regular, a few weeks ago I got tired of my iPhone's lack of MMS, lack of widescreen QWERTY board for messaging, and newfound touchscreen wonkiness.  I also had become smitted by good ol' fashioned mechanical keypads after reviewing the BlackBerry Bold, so I decided to give the Apple thing up for awhile to see what other smartphone might feel at home in my pocket.

I rocked the Nokia Xpress Music 5310 for a week or so while trying to get my hands on a full-QWERTY monster.  I have to say I really enjoyed the 5310 for its simple efficiency and cool-on-a-budget stylings.  But then Nokia was kind enough to re-loan me their E71 smartphone (I reviewed it back when it first came out), and I've spent the past few days getting re-acquainted with it.  So far?  I'm realizing once again that the old adage is true: life is often about compromise.

What I like about the E71 is that it's very thin, feels very solid and luxurious (save for some light leaks around the navigation buttons), and has a comfortable QWERTY board.  I also like that I can download multiple podcasts and RSS feeds at once, get push email via Nokia's Beta Email app (which I have working a bit better now), and connect via WiFi or EDGE via T-Mobile, or 3G if I switch to AT&T.  I also like that there's a ton of software available for the S60 platform and that I can customize my home screen via themes to get a look, feel, and batch of shortcuts and notifications that suits me.  The E71's "modes" functionality is neat, but I don't really need to set up separate "Home" and "Work" home screens (though I can imagine some folks loving that feature).

What I don't like about the E71 is that its display isn't quite as glorious as iPhone's, its Web browser isn't as fast, and its media player app isn't as sexy - though all three are more than passable.  Also, the E71 has a 2.5mm headphone jack, which means I have to use an adapter at the end of my headphone cable.  Boo!  

So far I don't really miss the touchscreen, but ask me again after a few more weeks of mashing on the D-Pad instead of flickng my fingernail to scroll through menus.  Nokia's S60 user interface is far more utlitiarian than Apple's (or BlackBerry's) latest consumer-friendly offerings, but it works and is very tweakable.  On the one hand iPhone knows right out of the box how to switch from 3G/EDGE to a preferred WiFi network without having to ask me.  On the other hand, a free dowload and a few settings let me set the E71 up to do the same.  Nokia and S60 are like that: use the device as it comes to you and you might feel like you're back in the Stone Age of cell phones; spend some time under the hood and messing with shareware add-ons and you might feel like you're the king of your own domain in an ultra-personalized way that Apple would never want you to feel.

I've yet to really spend much time installing add-on software, though I think this could make or break the E71 as the next phone for me.  On the one hand, I mainly wanted a phone that could handle Email, MMS/SMS, Web, RSS, and Music/Podcast, and had an easy to use QWERTY board.  On the other hand, now that I've got a S60 device to play around with, I want to dive way in the deep end and see what it can do.  That's the fun of smartphones, right?  If I can do more with the E71, that will make up for missing out on the candy-Apple fun of iPhone.  If not, I may get bored with the Nokia and slink back to Apple's walled garden of touchscreen goodness.  So if you've got an S60 device yourself and know of any killer apps that I HAVE TO TRY, drop me a line in the comments or forums, wouldja?  Thanks!

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