What's Good: Build quality is fantastic for a mid-range smartphone; front-facing camera (though video calling isn't supported); excellent reception and battery life.
What's Bad: Symbian is long in the tooth and isn't as media-centric as its competitors.
The Verdict: While the software is a bit long in the tooth, the Nokia E73 is a great messaging device, and is worth considering.
Despite the summer flood of high-end smartphones, there's a market out there for those that want mid-range devices. With a nice QWERTY keyboard, it's great for those that e-mail and text message on a regular basis, and the 5.0-megapixel camera isn't too shabby either. What's more (spoiler alert), the reception and battery life are incredibly good. At $69.99, the Mode goes up against quite a few featurephones in T-Mobile's lineup, making it a decent bang for the buck for someone who doesn't need every feature available to man.
Offering a 2.4-inch QVGA display, 5.0-megapixel camera, VGA front-facing video camera, 3.5mm headphone jack, and HSDPA connectivity, the Mode comes in at 4.48 inches long by 2.30 inches wide by 0.4 inch thick, and weighs 4.5 ounces. It's thin and sleek, but the metal form factor makes it slightly heavier than other devices in mid-range category. I spent several weeks carrying the device in my pocket, and never felt as if the Mode was too heavy or bulky.
The left side of the phone contains the microUSB and microSD card slots, while the volume rocker and voice command button are on the right side. The power/lock button and 3.5mm headphone jack are on the top, and the camera and speaker are both located on the back of the device. In a world of plastic smartphones, I've been exceptionally pleased with the metal build of the Nokia E73. With plastic comes issues with creaking, bending, and build quality issues in general. The exterior build quality of the E73 is fantastic, and the overall weight of the phone is just enough to where I feel comfortable carrying it without fear of breaking it.
Those that text message or e-mail frequently will be pleased with the full QWERTY keyboard on the device. When comparing to a BlackBerry (Bold 9700, to be exact), I found the keys to be a bit squishy and less tactile. Like Nokia devices of the past, the "Z-M" row is also centered to the left, throwing off those that are used to the typical QWERTY layout. After weeks of using it, I was still hitting the comma and period keys when I was trying to hit the "N" and "M" keys. I also noticed a slight lag, present only when I was typing at my fastest speeds. It wasn't a huge issue - I just slowed my typing slightly - but those that message regularly may find it frustrating. I didn't care for the way the navigation keys were positioned either. Instead of the separate keys found on the E71, the E73 uses one piece of plastic to define two buttons. I found myself avoiding the shortcut keys, opting to use the menu instead.
The Mode offers S60 3.2, but unlike the carrier-bloated software found on AT&T's Nokia E71x, the E73 Mode is relatively untouched, save for a few T-Mobile specifics like Visual Voicemail and TeleNav. The overall user interface (and software itself, for that matter) is antiquated, but it performs most of the tasks that its competitor does. The web browser works reasonably well and is based on WebKit architecture. As someone that's used to pinch-and-zoom and other user-friendly gestures, it's not a browser I could use for an extended period of time. Still, it should work well for casual web surfers.
The Mode offers a 5.0-megapixel camera, and in my testing, pictures came out well. I took the device out one evening, and was pleased with the low-light picture quality. In a neat little addition, the flash doubles up as a light that can be turned on and off via the space bar. Editing options include video mode, scene modes (automatic, user defined, close-up, portrait, landscape, sport, night, and night portrait), flash mode, self-timer (2-20 seconds), and sequence mode.
The Mode shines in the call quality department. In testing the unit in the Charlotte area, callers told me that they could hear me well. Signal strength is exceptionally strong on the E73 - in an area where I usually have no T-Mobile service, the E73 held onto one bar of service and maintained a clear connection. The earpiece on the Mode is loud, and reminds me of the clarity from the original DROID. In call quality tests, my callers said I sounded fantastic, with some unable to tell that I was talking on a cell phone. When placing the phone on speakerphone during a visit to my local coffee shop, I was able to hear my callers well, despite a loud crowd waiting in line. They immediately noticed the noise of the shop, but were able to hear me. I paired one of my Bluetooth headsets to the device, and it connected without any major issues.
The E73 packs a 1,500 mAh battery with estimated talk time at Battery life is spectacular. In an age where smartphones have trouble making it through a typical day, the Mode made it a day and a half with moderate use including calling, e-mailing, web browsing, use of data-heavy applications. In my unofficial side-by-side testing, overall battery life is better than most Android devices I've worked with, and slightly better than the iPhone 4. That being said, it's free of widgets and other things that drive battery life down on Android devices, so it's a tradeoff between features at the expense of battery life.
When compared to the recently launched Samsung Vibrant or other competitors like the HTC EVO 4G, iPhone 4, or Motorola DROID X, the E73 can't compete. But it doesn't have to. In reality, the device (and its $69.99 price tag) is targeted at the low-end, first-time smartphone crowd. It's a fantastic follow-up to the Nokia E71, and perhaps more importantly, it's the first non-bloated E Series device that's available from a US carrier (E71x need not apply). Sure, S60 is a bit long in the tooth and can be frustrating for someone coming from a media-rich OS like Android, webOS, or iPhone, but it gets the job done. Bottom line - if you're looking for an inexpensive, well-built smartphone, you should check out the E73 mode.