Nokia has announced a new QWERTY keyboard flagship model to its Eseries range of business handsets, but has the E71 got what it takes to make you want to get on board? We got emailing and working remotely to find out.
Thin and incredibly compact, the metal encased E71 features HSDPA, Wi-Fi, a 3-megapixel camera, a full QWERTY keyboard and a large screen making this suited to business users keen to use the Symbian S60 interface.
Underneath the large screen is a series of tightly packed shortcut keys before the QWERTY keypad proper. The QWERTY keypad is also tight in its spacing thanks to the narrow width of the phone, but responsive and easy to use.
Compared to the BlackBerry Curve and BlackBerry 8000 series the keyboard comes across as rather rubbery, but it's tactile to touch and we found typing just as easy. It's certainly something as a regular BlackBerry user you could get used to.
The side of Nokia E71 features the usual array of volume buttons, usb charging and connecting covers and a microSD card slot. Everything is kept minimalistic and the overall design is stylish, thin but business like.
Turn on the handset and it's Symbian S60 powered. Spilt in two and then forced back into the same device like twins sharing a box on the one side there is the lifestyle user interface, something I like to think of as "Weekend mode", and on the other the business side.
Using what Nokia is calling "Mode Switching" the idea is that you can switch the phone from a business to lifestyle handset at the press of a button while still having access to your contacts.
It's an interesting concept, although one I am not sure you would use after the first couple of weeks. After all even a Nokia spokesperson we talked to at the launch event said that our "personal and work lives are blending", suggesting that we should all be able to multitask rather than a device telling us what we are supposed to be doing.
Whether you like it or not, it does mean that you can have your work and personal email setup in the different interfaces so you can switch off from either lurid emails from your mates at work, or messages from your boss at night.
The two interfaces have different themes to separate them and we are sure someone not capable of turning off from work might find it useful.
What is useful though is the semi push email service that the E71 offers.
Although it's not push email in the BlackBerry sense it will automatically check your POP or IMAP email account (all major ISPs and email services like Gmail, Yahoo, and Windows Live are supported) every 5 minutes and download mail without you having to think about it.
Setting up mail has to be one of the easiest setups we've ever done. All you have to do is enter your email and password to access your email on the go with Nokia doing the rest at the back end.
We tested the service with a Gmail apps email account and a Windows Live. Although we didn't use a @gmail.com address it automatically worked out where the mail should be coming from and downloaded it. Within 5 seconds we had mail, and then automatically getting it every 5 minutes.
The lack of a 1 minute offering is frustrating if you are looking for a BlackBerry replacement as your email won't be instant however it will help if your not looking for a "I need my email this instant."
Alternatively you can of course press send and receive to solve the problem.
Beyond email and you get Nokia's Maps software with A-GPS for navigation on foot and by car and there is full support for the Ovi services including Flash support build-in.
There is also the standard Nokia media player as well as gallery support.
The Nokia E71 is one of the first QWERTY keyboard devices we've used outside of the BlackBerry family that we would actually consider using instead. It's thin, narrow, sports a bright crisp screen and comes with plenty of features. After the thickness of the Curve and narrower the keyboard hasn't been hampered either by the design.
So what's the catch?
Well the "Mode Switching" feature comes across as a bit of a gimmick. Unless you really have trouble switching off (from work not the phone) you'll probably find yourself in one or the other rather than switching on a daily basis.
The other is that, and this may be able to be changed, the font in the messages has too much leading making emails harder to read.
The feature set and user interface are Nokia doing what it does best and as Soren Petersen, the Senior VP of devices for Nokia even said at the launch himself, the company builds solid and sturdy handsets, and this is yet another one of them.
It would have been nice to see a push email service or even a 1-minute option for the above email offering so Nokia could have really taken on RIM and its BlackBerry.
Sleek an impressive in equal measures, this is one to consider.