We first got our hands on the Nokia C7 back in September where we observed that the handset is quite difficult to place. Although it's a smartphone, it's not as highly specced as the likes of the Nokia N8, but it sits somewhere above the maker's C6 so at least Nokia can be said to be sticking to its promise of providing phones for all budgets and tastes.
Although the design generally looks a tiny bit dated, the phone has a premium feel to it, courtesy of the nicely designed metal backplate which feels very cool to the touch. However, it does have the tendency to pick up dust and fingerprints, much like the front of the phone. Measuring just 10.5mm deep, the handset boasts a slender profile, while the 117.3 x 56.8mm dimensions mean that it is relatively compact, if a little on the long side. Weighing in at 130g, the phone isn't exactly a featherweight but this does make it feel reassuringly robust and you'll certainly notice if it falls out of your pocket - it'll probably survive the fall too.
The C7 is available in a choice of colours including Frosty metal (silver) and Mocha, while our review sample was of the Charcoal black variety. As we've already mentioned, the design looks a little dated when compared to the top-tier smartphones on the market, although the large screen surrounded by a reflective bezel looks fairly slick. Apart from the touchscreen, the front of the phone includes a small menu button under the screen along with Call and End Call keys. There's also a front-facing camera in the top-right hand corner.
The top edge of the handset is home to the power button, along with a 3.5mm port and a Micro-USB connector. On the left-hand edge you'll find the charger connector, while the right-hand edge reveals volume up/zoom in and volume down/zoom out keys, along with a voice key and the familiar Nokia lock switch. There's also a dedicated button for the camera mode.
The 3.5-inch AMOLED screen is well-sized and performs particularly well in brightly lit conditions, partly thanks to the AMOLED technology and partly because of the ambient light detector that automatically adjusts the backlight.
Thankfully, the handset has a capacitive touchscreen rather than the resistive technology found on older Nokia models. The C7 does enable you to pinch-zoom your way around the web, but we found this to be a little sluggish and not as responsive as we would have liked.
Although not the highest resolution in the market, the 640 x 360 pixels offered by the C7 do a perfectly reasonable job of rendering web graphics with vibrant colours. Edges can get a little blurry as you zoom in but generally text is clear and easy to read. Video quality isn't great - pictures tend to look quite pixelated and definition is almost completely lost on darker scenes.
The web browser is functional, if a little clunky and awkward to use. The infuriating alphanumeric keyboard doesn't help things along much either, although you do have the option of turning the phone round into a landscape position which offers up a QWERTY keyboard. However, the keyboard isn't especially easy to use as the buttons are quite small and they're also lined up squarely, rather than the slightly staggered layout that is usually used on QWERTY keyboards. Nokia also has one of the most annoying predictive text systems known to man - we'd advise turning it off.
The C7 has 8GB of built-in memory which, although not a huge amount, should be enough for most users. If you want to extend the memory capabilities of the phone then you can use a microSD card (up to 32GB), although this isn't supplied so you'll need to splash some more cash to get yourself fully kitted out.
The C7 features Nokia's Symbian 3 OS, which didn't impress us too much when we reviewed the N8. It's such hard work it's enough to make you cry - set-up takes an age and the handy tips and messages are more of a hinderance than a help. The inconsistencies in the operation mean that the interface just doesn't feel at all intuitive and even after several days with the phone, you'll still find yourself puzzling through the menus. Having said that, it's not totally unusable. If you're an ardent Nokia user then this familiar approach may suit you just fine, but if you've had the chance to play around with any other smartphones then it will be immediately apparent that Nokia's OS just isn't as easy to use as its main competitors.
However, it does offer you a customisable home screen, which will be good news to many. The system enables you to add shortcuts to your favourite features and you can also set up your email so that you can see your latest messages in real time. The downside is that the layout isn't very flexible so your widgets have to be placed in predetermined blocks. This can be a bit annoying, especially when the size of the boxes doesn't match the size of the links or shortcuts that you're trying to put into them. There's also a social networking app that enables you to update your Facebook status, as well as Tweet and keep abreast of your friends' and followers' updates. It's a nice idea, but trying to cram so much into a such a small space doesn't really work that well.
The homescreen also offers direct access to Nokia's Ovi Store where you can browse and buy apps to download for your phone. The choice is slightly limited - don't expect to find the same number of apps that you would on the Apple App Store - but there are some good ones (free ones, too) if you manage to get some quality browsing time in. The C7 also offers free Ovi maps and access to the Ovi music store, where you can download tracks.
The handset enables you to add several email accounts, although if you've got more than one Microsoft Exchange account then you're out of luck as the C7 can only cope with one. It also seems that although you can sync your Ovi calendar to the web, it won't hook up with other email services such as Gmail or Hotmail.
When used for its primary function as a telephone, the handset works well. It is perfectly comfortable to use, and as it is fairly slim and not too wide, so easy to operate one-handed. Voice calls were very clear, and there was no sign of any muffled voices either at our end or from the people we were calling.
The phone's external speaker is reasonable enough, although it does sound rather tinny when the volume is turned up and the bass is almost non-existent when playing music or movie clips. Having said, that it works perfectly well for using the speakerphone on voice calls and is certainly loud enough to annoy people on the bus.
The C7 boasts an 8-megapixel camera which is a fair bit better than many other smartphones around, and it also boasts heavy-duty dual LED flash. The camera interface is easy to use and enables you to adjust the sharpness and contrast while also picking from a selection of scene modes such as Landscape and Night. You can also give your pictures a sepia tint or choose from the black and white or contrast-heavy Vivid setting. We found the pictures to be fairly decent, although the camera didn't perform too well on a gloomy day. Obviously the snapper isn't as good as a dedicated camera, but certainly decent enough for taking snaps to post to Facebook and Twitter. However, it is rather annoying that you can only send images directly from your gallery via MMS or Bluetooth, as there's no option for email. To send an image this way, you'll need to go into the email client and attach the image to your message in the normal way.
The C7 also features a secondary, front-facing 640 x 480 camera. The handset can shoot 16:9 video footage in 720p resolution at 25fps and you can alter the settings for video light, white balance, and colour tone and also choose from a variety of scene modes, as with the camera funciton.
One of the most impressive things about the C7, along with it's tank-like chassis, is its outstanding battery life. Smartphone users who are used to having to charge their mobiles daily will be stunned by the C7's capacity to cling on to battery charge as if it's life depended on it (which, in a sense, it does).
You can pick up the C7 for free on a contract from £25 a month while the PAYG option will mean shelling out £299. If you want your handset untethered then you can get one SIM free for £329.
We find the general usability of the latest Nokia phones to be fairly cumbersome and not very intuitive at all. If you're a seasoned Nokia user then this might not be a problem, but if you expect better functionality from your mobile then the C7 may not be the phone for you. Although the overall design of the handset look a little dated when compared to those from rival brands, we were inpressed by the solid build quality and the metal casing on the back. We also liked the camera (and powerful dual-flash), while the exceptional battery life is also an important advantage. However, the general awkwardness of the user interface means that it's hard to recommend this phone over others. But, if you like Nokia hardware and this is the kind of budget that you're looking at, then you should be fine.