I've had the hot little Nokia E71 in my hands for about five days now. Popped my SIM out of the iPhone, installed it in the E71 and made it my daily handset, even. So half a week and a trip out of town for a wedding later what do I think? The E71 is a super-excellent business phone, and though it's not without its flaws it's definitely a great BlackBerry/iPhone alternative for the power user who's willing to embrace S60.
WIthout getting into full-length review territory, here's a quick rundown of what the E71 is: We're looking at an unlocked GSM/EDGE/3G/WiFi handset that looks like a BlackBerry or Motorola Q9 with its candybar form factor and front-facing display and QWERTY thumboard. But the E71 is hot where those phones are kind of plain Jane - seriously, this has got to be the sexiest device Nokia's ever made. My review sample is the "Grey Steel" color scheme and is made of mirror-finished chrome metal with grey plastic buttons. Aside from being beautiful to look at and touch, the device is solid, super thin (10mm) and generally a little bit smaller all around than a BlackBerry 8800, Curve, or the forthcoming Bold.
E71's QWERTY board is a little smaller than those on comparable QWERTY smartphones, but I'm still finding it plenty usable. Nokia's S60 Web browser is better than anything RIM's ever loaded onto a BlackBerry, making it a solid option for anyone lusting after iPhone's rich Web experience but unwilling to give up their physical QWERTY board. Is the S60 browser as good as iPhone's? No, not quite. But it's better than anything else out there except, perhaps, Opera Mobile. The E71's QVGA display is bright, rich, and big enough, and ... well, did I mention how thin and shiny it is?
Seriously, though, where a device like Apple's iPhone is all about a controlled user experience, the E71 is full of unlocked, unbridled fliexibility - so long as you're willing to wade through the S60 platform's quirks. Nokia could learn a thing or two about user-friendly dialogue boxes from the likes of Apple, as you'll see for yourself should you ever attempt to connect to a WiFi network on both an iPhone and E71. And for some reason, Nokia dropped BlackBerry Connect support from the E71, which is a big drag for corporate types who need their BlackBerry access but are tired of using RIM's dated operating system.
I'm not sure why the E71 can't support HTML email, nor why one of the three podcasts I subscribed to vanished from my podcast directory, but I love S60's active standby home screen, the rear-mounted 3.2MP camera with LED flash, and the fact that I can actually subscribe to podcasts directly from the device without any need for a computer as a go-between. In a way, my experience with the E71's podcasting app tells the story of this device: You can do a TON with it (there are literally thousands of S60 apps available for installation) but you'll have to dance through a few hoops along the way. The E71 isn't for everybody, but if you've ever tried an S60 device and found yourself like it, this handset's worth a look.
Perhaps the sexiest Nokia ever made, the E71 combines a robust feature set with a great form factor and Nokia's unyielding committment to building powerful devices and leaving them unlocked so you, the user, can do with 'em what you will. Just make sure you're on AT&T or don't care about 3G before buying an E71 to use in the US - while the device is compatible with AT&T's 3G network, it'll be relegated to EDGE-only connections on T-Mobile.