Reviewed August 10, 2008 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Editor's note, Feb. 2010: Check out our review of the Nokia E72 that replaces the E71.
Editor's note, May 2009: Check out our review of the AT&T version of this phone, the Nokia E71x.
Impossibly slim, sleek, classy metal back, smoky colors. . . one could imagine James Bond carrying the Nokia E71 if he were a man of words rather than action. The E71's predecessor, the Nokia E61 (E62 in the US) once a good looking phone, now looks drab and huge in comparison. No easy feat when you consider that Nokia added features while shrinking and glamorizing the phone.
The Nokia E71 is a quad band GSM phone with EDGE and 3G HSDPA for fast data. It has a full laundry list of high end features including GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth 2.0, a 3 megapixel camera and S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 1 running on Symbian OS 9.2. It has a QWERTY keyboard that puts it up against the likes of the BlackBerry Curve and HP iPAQ 910. There are two E71 variants: the E71-1 is the Eurasian version with Euro 3G, and the E72-2 (our review unit) is for the US with US 3G HSDPA. The E71 isn't offered by US carriers, but it's sold direct by Nokia and from online retailers for $499 list.
As an upgrade to the E61 and E62, the E71 is superb. 3G alone is enough to make AT&T users in major metro areas, where 3G is generally available, giddy. The incredible redesign that makes the E71 easily pocketable is compelling. And there's that GPS. . . The E71, like other recent Nokia E series devices like the E66 and E90 are stunning looking. And at half the price and size, the E71 is the everyman's QWERTY device while the $750 mondo-brick E90 remains niche. Speaking of the E90, the E71 got a few of its enhancements including the split pane contacts and calendar views. Support for Flash, both in web pages and full desktop-style YouTube put the Nokia E71 ahead of the iPhone 3G and most Windows Mobile phones out of the box.
Design and Keyboard
A smartphone this small shouldn't have such a usable keyboard. When it arrived, we looked at it and said "no way can anyone type on that tiny thing". Boy, were we wrong. The keyboard is simply amazing, and only the larger Moto Q9 beats it (our #1 pick for keyboards). Granted, I have experience typing on thumb keyboards, but still-- it's just not normal to pick up a new device and type 35WPM! Nokia somehow found the magic ergonomic recipe-- a keyboard surface with traction, perfect doming and just the right amount of key travel. There's no space between the keys, but the doming makes that seem unnecessary. Granted if you have very broad fingers, the keyboard might present challenges. But none of the folks in our office took issue.
Those of you who've immersed yourselves in S80 phones (the predecessor to the E series phones that includes the older Nokia 9300) might lament the single combined Chr/Ctrl key. The Ctrl key was a Nokia business phone's heart and soul when it comes to typing, making for keyboard shortcuts for page up/down, copy and paste and more. Now you've got to hit the Fn key first (diametrically opposed on the bottom left) before hitting Ctrl + C to copy for example. The good news is that Nokia has added other ways to do these tasks-- for example, hold the shift key while using the d-pad to move along a line of text and highlight it: "copy" will appear as a softkey.
While the Nokia E61/E62 joystick was less than expedient, the d-pad on the E71 is absolute perfection. In fact, we like it even better than the N95's, and that's one of the best in the business. This makes one-handed navigation that much easier, and games more fun. Dedicated application keys surround the d-pad: home, calendar, contacts and email. You can re-assign the 3 application keys to launch other applications and assign an action to a long key press (i.e.: press and hold the calendar key to start a new calendar entry). There's no S60 applications key; the Home key takes its place and does the same job. By default, the left soft key (labeled "Menu") also functions as the applications key (you can change soft key assignments on S60).
Strange, that red power button...
Nokia's Active Desktop is here, and you can assign 6 applications to the home screen for quick access, see upcoming appointments, search the phone and Internet and scan for WiFi hotspots from the home screen. The E71, like some other recent Nokia S60 smartphones, has a new feature called Modes that allows you to assign a theme, wallpaper and home screen icons to a location you create, i.e.: "home". Think of it as profiles on steroids. . . it's handy if you want a business wallpaper and business apps on your home screen during the day and a photo of the new baby and a more leisure-oriented selection of applications for home or weekend use.
Stainless steel back.
You can set the notification LED to blink for any or all: missed call, new text message, new MMS and/or new e-mail and set the duration (off, 5 minutes, 15, 30, 1 hour, 2 hours or no limit). The phone doesn't blink to indicate GSM or Bluetooth status, so it won't act as an annoying beacon on the bedside table. that said, a very faint LED ring in the d-pad does pulse faintly and slowly (Nokia calls this "breath"), but it's neither distracting nor liable to light a dark room.
Phone, Data and Reception
As we've mentioned, there are currently two E71 variants, the E71 with Euro-only 3G and the E71-2 with US-only 3G HSDPA 3.6Mbps. Our unit is the US version and while it works on both T-Mobile and AT&T, we'll focus on AT&T since they have 3G HSDPA in the US (T-Mobile has just started to roll out 3G in two US cities, and that works on different bands). First off, we love that the phone detects the carrier from the SIM and configures the phone silently-- you don't have to do a thing nor does the phone have to reboot after self-configuration like Windows Mobile unlocked phones with configuration wizards. Put in your SIM, boot up the phone and it's all just working. Nice. Change to a different carrier and the phone automatically configures data and MMS connections for the new carrier.
Voice quality and reception are top notch, as usual for Nokia S60. Some folks on forums have mentioned 3G reception niggles, but our 2 units have stable and strong 3G (as well as EDGE) connections. Should the phone drop to EDGE in a spotty 3G coverage area, it will bounce back to 3G quickly (at least on our two phones). Voice is clear with good volume on both ends of the conversation, eliciting the usual "Is that a Nokia?" from my mother whose older ears appreciate clean voice. Bluetooth headsets work well with the phone, getting a bit better than average range. The Plantronics Discovery 925 sounded superb and reached 18 feet, while the Jawbone reached 24 feet. The Nokia has voice dialing that works with Bluetooth headsets, but as we've found with other Nokia S60 phones, it isn't reliable or accurate with headsets o when speaking to the phone itself. The E71 has a good speakerphone that's fairly loud, and support for standard call features like call waiting, call forwarding and caller ID control. When on 3G, you can use the phone for data while holding a conversation (3G supports simultaneous voice and data, and Symbian/S60 multitasks).
Anorexic smartphone: The Nokia E71, far left is much thinner than the BlackJack II and iPAQ 910c, and that's the E71's thicker end!
Video review of the web browser in action and the camera:
Speaking of Flash, the E71 supports the full desktop version of YouTube, with reasonable frame rates and little to no stuttering for buffering on WiFi or strong 3G (see video below for a demo). While playback quality wasn't an issue, some videos crash the browser, putting an occasional damper on the experience.
Nokia's usual email client is on board, with support for corporate push email. The email app handles multiple accounts, HTML email, checking on a schedule and POP3/IMAP/MS Exchange mail. Business email support is extensive: Nokia Intellisync Wireless Email, Mail for Exchange (Microsoft ActiveSync), SEVEN and Visto Mobile. Nokia recently announced that it won't be offering BlackBerry connect for the E71, E66 or future phones-- sorry CrackBerry addicts. But you can get push email along with calendar, contacts and tasks syncing via MS Exchange. Nokia has just rolled out a beta push email client for the E71 along with a few other phones, and the application has a nice desktop metaphor that makes email management more pleasant. It targets folks who don't have an enterprise push solution or access to corporate push email, and it's free during the beta period (Nokia hasn't announced the cost when it's out of beta, but it will be subscription-based pricing).
Horsepower and Performance
No lag here. Last generation S60 phones had a tiny bit of lag to a pronounced delay, depending on the phone model. The E71 is extremely responsive and fast overall. Folders open without delay, windows scroll and switch immediately. Good going, Nokia. The E71 runs on a 369MHz single core ARM family processor, and though that lacks the dual-core multimedia punch of the N95 family, there's no visual tardiness here. Video playback of YouTube and locally stored QVGA (320 x 240) MP4 files is very good, and we tested the phone with files encoded up to 550kbps. Nokia offers a 3D driving game called Global Race: Raging Thunder for free download direct to the phone (look in the downloads folder), and that game runs quickly and smoothly. The d-pad is perfect for action and racing games-- making the E71 good for fun as well as business.
Video review of the phone, including design, GPS, gaming and YouTube:
The E71 has 128 megs of RAM with 71 megs free to run programs and it supports demand paging for better memory management. There are 110 megs of available flash memory for file storage, and you can expand that with microSD cards, including SDHC high capacity cards. We tested an 8 gig Kingston and 4 gig SanDisk card, both of which worked perfectly.
Display and Multimedia
We've already covered streaming YouTube, playback of locally stored video content and gaming. Let's look at that gorgeous display: it's a 16 million color display (rare in phones) and it's superbly sharp, saturated and bright. At 2.36" it's small, though given the smartphone's small size overall, the display looks relatively large. It's easy enough to read text and images, though we wished for the Nokia N95 8 gig's larger display when watching videos (the larger the better for video playback!). Images taken with the camera look really crisp and colorful-- we wish they looked nearly as good when viewed on a desktop computer. As with most recent E and N series phones, the E71 has a brightness sensor that sets screen brightness relative to ambient light and this controls keyboard backlighting as well. Brightness control isn't too exuberant, and we were rarely bothered by backlight fluctuations (you can disable the light sensor if you wish).
The phone has a music player than handles MP3, AAC (unprotected iTunes format) and WMV formats. Nokia includes a stereo earbud headset that plugs into the 2.5mm jack on the phone's right side (no integrated USB headset jack here, so you can charge and play tunes at the same time). Sound quality is plenty good, though it doesn't best the Nokia N78 or N95, members of Nokia's "multimedia computer" line. There's also an FM radio that uses the included wired headset as its antenna. The FM radio can download a list of presets for your town or city and it supports RDS. As usual for Nokia S60 these days, there's Bluetooth A2DP support for wireless stereo music playback. The E71 sounded very good with the Plantronics Pulsar 590 in our tests, and had excellent range.
The GPS has come a long way since the Nokia N95 and E90, neither of which are fast at locking onto satellites even with the latest firmware updates. The E71 gets a cold fix indoors within 8 feet of a window in under a minute and latches onto 5 to 6 satellites. Very good. This is one of the first Nokia S60 phones to ship with Maps 2.0, which not only offers improved routing (Nokia Maps 1.0 had a strange idea of how to get around our metro region at times), but also walking in addition to driving directions. Nokia charges a monthly fee for spoken turn-by-turn directions while basic Google Maps-like features are free. You can map any location in 2D, 3D and satellite view, map any contact in your address book, and POIs. Like Google Maps, Nokia's Map application downloads map data using the cellular or WiFi connection. Unlike Google Maps, you can download the free Nokia Map Loader program for Windows and download maps from anywhere in the world to the phone or a microSD card. POI searches use the data connection even if you've downloaded maps to the phone-- keep that in mind when traveling internationally. Maps has day/night view settings, route options that include fastest, shortest and toll road avoidance, re-route requests and waypoints. There's traffic information for Europe but not the US.
Google Maps runs fine on the E71 and you can use 3rd party navigation applications like Garmin XT Mobile in the US and abroad and TomTom and CoPilot (Europe but no US maps available).
The E71 runs Symbian OS 9.2 with S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 1. This is a multi-tasking and open operating system, and there are a variety of 3rd party applications, both free and commercial, available for download. The selection isn't as deep as Windows Mobile and Palm OS, but the consolation is that the phone ships with most bases covered. There are PIM applications (calendar, contacts, notes, tasks), Adobe PDF viewer,a text/MMS/email app, a file manager, search (local and online), calculator, unit converter, Zip manager, wireless printing support, Bluetooth keyboard support, Gallery (image viewer), RealPlayer Podcasting, voice recorder, online sharing (Ovi, Flickr, Vox), voice command and dialing, profiles, modes and a bar code reader. QuickOffice can read, edit and write MS Office documents with excellent fidelity, but you'll have to pay an upgrade fee if you want MS Office 2007 format support. You can download the basic version of WorldMate using the phone's download application, along with advanced call manager (handy for rejecting calls from your least favorite persons), Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo!Go and more.
The phone ships with Nokia PC Suite syncing software for Windows and it handles syncing to and from Outlook. Mac users can download Nokia's free iSync plugin, which worked fine with our Mac running Leopard.
Now for the grim section: the E71 has a 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus lens and LED flash-- given those specs and Nokia's reputation for imaging on phones, you'd think the E71's camera would rock. Not. Maybe after a firmware update (Nokia often tweaks the camera in their free firmware updates), but as it stands, photos are noisy with shifty color balance. We weren't thrilled with the Nokia E66's camera either, though it too should have been good. Now we have seen worse photos, but we don't think we're being picky when we complain about noise in outdoor shots. Large same-color masses like a car's hood, show noise outdoors in good light (particularly noticeable if the car is black), color balance is sometimes spot-on, and other times too warm (red-brown bias) while at other times too cool (magenta bias). Detail is good, though it can be lost when using desktop image noise reducers.
Colors are too warm.
Max photo resolution is 2048 x 1536, and there are a variety of lesser resolutions. Given the large number of pixels you have to work with, the consolation is that once you color correct and size down the image to 1600 x 1200 or less, they do look nice. Max video resolution is QVGA 320 x 240 at 15fps, which leave the Nokia N82 and N95 as the current kings (VGA at 30fps). Videos look nice with good color and not too much blockiness.
A detail of the trucks hood from the photo above reveals noise.
The Nokia E71 is an Energizer Bunny, even on 3G. The 1500 mAh Lithium Ion battery (BP-4L) is high capacity by phone standards and when using the phone to surf the web for an hour per day, watch 10 minutes of YouTube video, watch 30 minutes of MP4 video stored on a microSD card, checking email on a 30 minute schedule and talking for 30 minutes per day, it took us 3 days to kill the battery. If you use push email, talk on the phone a great deal each day or have a YouTube addiction, your runtimes will be shorter, but I can't imagine this phone not making it through a full day with even the heaviest of use.
When we first saw the E71 in person, we were shocked at its extreme good looks and thinness-- not something that happens often with a business smartphone phone. It's hard to find fault with this smartphone-- Nokia did an excellent job. Though we've harped on the camera, it's only because we have high expectations for Nokia phones-- we'll cut it (just a little) slack since the E71 is a business phone. Performance and stability are excellent, call quality and reception are likewise solid and the keyboard is wonderful. Despite the business moniker, the E71 is a fun phone that handles video playback, music and gaming well. Double-bonus for Flash support!
Pro: Fantastic looks-- sexy, high tech and classy. Impossibly thin and compact. Nokia's usual excellent call quality and reception are here. Stable and fast OS, good business email support (everything but BlackBerry Connect is there), superb display, great QWERTY keyboard (unless you have really big mitts), GPS gets a lock quickly and tracks accurately, great battery life, good multimedia features (great in fact for a "business" phone), fast 3G, WiFi, Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR with DUN and Bluetooth stereo support, excellent web browser, very complete set of applications pre-installed.
Con: C'mon Nokia, the camera should take better photos-- get a firmware update out quickly. Full Flash playback (i.e.: YouTube) sometimes crashes the browser.
Display:2.36" diagonal, 16 million color
TFT color active matrix LCD. Resolution:
QVGA 320 x 240.
Ion Polymer rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
Model BP-4L 1500 mAh.
Performance:Single core ARM11 family CPU running at 369MHz. 256 megs NAND flash memory with 110 megs free. 128 megs RAM with ~71 megs free to run programs.
Size:4.49 x 2.24 x 0.39 inches. 4.47 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band unlocked 850/900/1800/1900MHz with EDGE support. 3G HSDPA 3.6Mbps on the US 850/1900MHz bands for the Nokia E71-2 (RM-357) 2100MHz on the E71-1. Has speakerphone and voice dialing.
Camera: 3.2 MP with LED flash. F2.8 lens, 3.8mm focal length. Max photo resolution: 2048 x 1536. Max video resolution: 320 x 240 QVGA at 15fps. Secondary (front-facing) camera resolution: VGA for photos, 128 x 96 for video.
GPS:Integrated aGPS with Nokia Maps software.
in speaker, mic and 2.5mm stereo headphone
jack. Nokia music player, RealPlayer, voice recorder and photo viewer included. Has FM radio with RDS.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR. Supported Bluetooth profiles: DUN, OPP, FTP, SPP, HFP, GOEP, HSP, BIP, RSAP, GAVDP, AVRCP and A2DP.
Software:Symbian OS 9.2, S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 1. Full PIM suite (calendar, contacts, notes), email (POP3, IMAP, Exchange), SMS/MMS, QuickOffice (MS Office compatible suite that reads and writes Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents), text to speech, encryption utility, settings wizard (sets up wireless data and MMS connections), calculator, world clock, search, wireless printing, Adobe PDF viewer, file manager, unit converter, Java VM, Flash Lite 3.0, Podcasting, FM radio, camera, voice recorder, Gallery, Ovi/Flickr,Vox support, Nokia Maps, GPS utility, Zip manager, music player and application downloader. Nokia includes syncing software for Windows on CD, and a free iSync plugin for Mac OS X via download.