The Nokia E6 has been two years in the in the waiting, if not the making. It’s taken Nokia since 2009 to replace its flagship portrait QWERTY phone, the Nokia E72, and it’s only now, as the company dumps Symbian for Windows Phone, that it’s finally refreshed the form factor.
Can Symbian’s touted Anna update and a sharper screen help it stand out for the crowd in 2011? We take a look in our Nokia E6 review.
We’re not going to lie. Nokia’s phoned this one in: you’re looking at an almost identical model to the Nokia E72, bar a few superficial tweaks, right down to the VGA front camera on the front. A few keys have been moved about, and the home, calendar, messages and contacts buttons have been pushed inside the call and reject buttons (but are still easy to trigger). It’s reasonably thin at 10.6mm deep, but doesn’t feel remotely brittle thanks to a solid metal backplate.
On the plus side, the screen has been given a much needed refresh, and we have no complains here. The 2.46-inch display is super sharp at 640×480 resolution – to put it in persepctive, that’s almost twice as many dots as RIM has squeezed inside the much bigger BlackBerry Torch. It’s also bright and visible in daylight, and the Gorilla Glass overlay will shrug off scratches.
Did we mention it’s touchscreen too? Hello smooth pinch to zoom web browsing. Make no mistake, this is a class-leading display. The upcoming BlackBerry Bold 9900 might be able to match it, but otherwise there’s no other portrait QWERTY phone that can touch it.
The keyboard layout is a standard Nokia has used for some time now, with the same rows of buttons and individual key shapes as the QWERTY pads found on the cut-price Nokia C3 dumbphone. That in itself is no bad thing: we’re quite happy that most punctuation marks have their own dedicated button, and the space bar has been “embiggened” from the tiny key on the E72.
Unfortunately, Nokia’s usual robust quality control has slipped here: this keyboard is inferior to ones we’ve previously used from Nokia. While the keys are all neatly outlined and defined, the material and support underneath have a nasty habit of dumping your thumbs onto adjacent keys unless you hit them in the exact centre – a particular problem with the large space bar.
Don’t get us wrong: you can still hit a typing speed unachievable on any touchscreen-only phone (especially Symbian ones). But when a QWERTY keyboard is a phone’s USP, then there’s a problem. If you need to send properly formatted emails at speed, and it’s this or a BlackBerry, we choose RIM.
It’s the mediocre keyboard combined with the software that lops two whole stars off the Nokia E6′s review score. Symbian Anna is a reasonable improvement on the original Symbian (Formerly Symbian 3) software on other recent Nokia phones, such as the Nokia N8 and E7 (And indeed, we look forward to the update arriving on these handsets in the UK).
But that’s working from a bad starting point. Symbian is a mess, with a baffling user interface that still feels 2007-clunky. Could we stop calling Wi-Fi WLAN guys so that regular joes know what the hell you’re talking about? Could we make it more obvious to turn it on? Could we make the Ovi Store less awful?
The answer, of course, is no. Nokia’s washing its hands of Symbian updates pronto, so you’ll have to make do with what you have here.
That’s hardly all bad news of course. Holding down the home button allows you to easily multitask, while Nokia’s phonebook does a good job of joining up usernames on social networks with your contacts. Nokia Maps keeps it classy as ever (free satnav, hello), while the pre-loaded JoikuSpot lets you turn your phone into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot for nada.
And the good news is that beyond the pretty icons, Symbian Anna does add one really useful feature: an overhauled browser. This is a massive improvement on the browser on the Nokia E71/E72, lightning fast and responsive to pinch-to-zoom gestures.
But looking further afield than rival business phones, when there are Android phones around the corner with QWERTY keyboards, 1GHz processors, similar sized screens and even Flash support (Hello Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro), there’s a problem. Nokia still lags far behind the front runners when it comes to smooth, sensible and savvy smartphone software. The trouble is of course, its main competitor in this area, RIM, does too.
There’s not much of an incentive to pull your finger out if nobody is trying, so it’s perhaps not a surprise. We do wonder though just what Nokia could do with this if Microsoft ever allowed a Windows Phone 7 chassis of this design. Use your “special relationship”, guys, and make it happen.
Nokia’s always come through with solid cameras, and the Nokia E6′s eight megapixel on the back doesn’t disappoint. In fact, compared to the shooters on rival BlackBerry models, it’s in another league, grabbing sharp, detail packed stills. The only issue is the fixed focus – as with the Nokia C7 (It’s possible it is in fact the exact same sensor), get too close and things goes awry. Macro is a no go. On the plus side, there are plenty of editing options for you to fiddle with in ‘post.
HD video meanwhile is a delight: 720p video is just not something we’re used to on a phone of this size. Sadly the effect of this is largely lost unless you dump it on a computer: there’s no HDMI connection, only TV-out by Nokia’s old-school AV connector.
Battery life and call quality
Nokia’s always been proud to make phones that, you know, let you talk to other people. With that in mind, the Nokia E6 runs like the clappers. You can easily get three days use out of the phone with brightness cranked up to max and all systems go. Call quality too is impeccable – a little raspy on speakerphone calls perhaps, but we’d expect that from a tinny little contraption like this.
The Nokia E6 might be a great phone when judged by the criteria of talking to people through the medium of sound, but it’s hard to consider it when business folk are as much in need of a portable computer in their pocket as a telephone – especially when there are just so many stunning phones on sale these days. If you’re an avid emailer you’d be far better off with a BlackBerry or a HTC 7 Pro, and even if you must have a Nokia E7, it should be the E7. This phone should have happened a year ago, not now.