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Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Nokia E6 review, part 1

About two-three years ago I was a happy user of Nokia's one of the most successful business smartphones in recent years and that was Nokia E71. In fact, I regarded E71 as my truly perfect device at the time - compact, lightweight, feature-packed yet still sporting full qwerty keyboard in my favourite form-factor. However, time was passing by, various different mobile phones have been landing in my hands since then and I've recently settled down with Android-based HTC Desire Z as my default phone. Yet still Nokia E71 will always be the kind of device I will keep the greatest sentiments about.

So despite making different mobile phone choices recently, once I've learned about the latest Nokia E6 smartphone back in April this year, I've got quite excited again. And now, just before Nokia E6 hits the shelves in the UK, thanks to WOMWorld/Nokia I've got a chance to try it out for couple of weeks. Having said that, the main question today is whether Nokia E6 will live up to expectations of Nokia E71/72 owners/fans and keep up with successful business smartphone series from Nokia? Let's see.

Nokia E6

First impression and hardware

With E71 and E72 models Nokia has managed to deliver compact and good looking devices and things are no different with Nokia E6, as I must say this handset is really handsome. Edges are slightly curved at the bottom and also back of the phone is a bit rounded at both sides. Shiny display, keyboard and dark silver framing around the edges dominate front, while matte stainless steel covers back of the device. It has excellent build quality, which isn't a surprise with Nokia E-series handsets; it also isn't too heavy and nicely fits a palm. An addition to the otherwise-standard outside setup is the lock slider on the right side which I personally find quite useful to switch keyboard and display on/off quickly. Generally speaking, the first impression of Nokia E6 is really really good.

Nokia E6 E6 side E6 top E6 bottom

E6 vs. E72

The very first thing that nails the eye once E6 is powered on is the display. This is probably the first time for a very long time as far as I remember that Nokia has managed to deliver a truly impressive display in their device. VGA (640x480) resolution packed into just 2.46-inch size results in 326ppi pixel density - which by the way is on par with iPhone4's famous "retina display" - that makes individual pixel virtually invisible and effectively insanely crisp and super-smooth. E6's display, being capacitive touchscreen too, has no issues with touch sensitivity and also does pretty well in direct sunlight. Well, at least definitely much better than S-LCD display welded into HTC Desire Z. Shortly speaking, Nokia E6's display is pretty eye-blowing and makes just looking at it a great pleasure.

Here's how VGA display in E6 compares to QVGA display in E72:

Nokia E6 display Nokia E72 display

Down below the display we get to the crucial part of the phone hardware-wise - the keyboard. Full qwerty keypad feels a bit different at first - layout is slightly curved and buttons feel somewhat softer than in E72 keyboard. However, that difference is almost unnoticeable really. If I didn't have E72 at hand along with E6, I would probably say that keyboard is just the same as in previous model and works equally well. Anyway, users of previous models in E7x series should fear not and surely won't be disappointed with E6's keyboard.

And again, head-to-head comparison of E6 vs. E72 keyboard:

Nokia E6 keyboard Nokia E72 keyboard

Looking at the back of the device, we find a camera, which sports 8-megapixel EDoF (Enhanced Depth of Field) sensor with dual-LED flash. Introduction of EDoF camera units by Nokia in their smartphones has received very mixed reception, mostly negative I think. I was quite sceptical about it too at first, but once I've seen actual photos taken with that camera I stopped worrying that much. Well, yes, due to fixed focus taking close-up shots of objects located less than 30-40 centimeters from the lens is virtually impossible, but photos are actually quite good otherwise. I tend to think (or justify for that matter) that using EDoF camera unit in business-targeted mobile phone actually makes some sort of sense.

Few sample shots, click to enlarge or view more samples at my Flickr stream:

16062011 16062011008 16062011010 16062011016 19062011050

It's worth mentioning that camera is also capable of recording 720p (HD) 25fps video with high-quality sound and the outcome is pretty good I reckon (sample 1, sample 2). To help storing camera shoots and video recordings, there's 8GB of internal memory which can be extended with microSDHC memory card and additionally there's support for USB host mode too in case you'd need to exchange data with external mass storage like pendrive, portable hard drive or even other mobile phone (assuming that you already have appropriate USB adapter, which sadly isn't bundled in the box). Speaking of USB socket, it supports battery charging too.

Last but not least, time to mention the battery, as this is what has surprised me the most actually. I tend to use my smartphone for online activities (like mail, web, newsfeeds, twitter, facebook etc.) quite a lot, especially while commuting, having always-on data connection and sync either over 3G or WiFi. I get or make few phone calls and/or text messages throughout the day too. Utilizing that kind of usage pattern each day I've accepted as the fact of life that modern smartphones (I mean the ones I've been using recently - Nokia N900 or HTC Desire Z) are not able to survive one full day so I always tend to charge them up while at work and then during the night again. However, at my greatest surprise Nokia E6 used in the same way every day easily manages to survive a full day even leaving spare 20-30% of the battery capacity before going off to bed late in the evening! I am guessing that if Nokia E6 was primarily used for phone calls and text messages, rather than heavy mobile web activities, it would easily get through at least 3-4 days of standby before asking for charger, which is pretty rare result nowadays.

Final thought in terms of Nokia E6 hardware is vibration alert, which I simply found not quite powerful enough. Even while keeping it in pretty tight pocket I managed to miss the call because vibration didn't tickle me enough.

Hardware conclusion

In terms of hardware Nokia E6 delivers really really well. It's beautiful and solid, it has stunning display, very good keyboard, impressive battery and finally quite capable camera. Well, it's pretty much perfect in that sense and I've fallen in love with it to be honest! However, this is just part of the story, as there's a whole lot to be said about the software department, which I am going to cover separately. Shortly speaking, Symbian Anna provides a bunch of additions, new features and gradual improvements, so overall impression is quite positive, yet there's still plenty of room for improvement. Stay tuned for the second part of my review to find out more.

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