Friday, 20 January 2006

Nokia 7710 smartphone review & tips 1: overview

This multi-part review covers the Nokia 7710 mobile phone/PDA, which only became available in the UK a few months ago. This post, part 1, gives an overview including features, what you get with the phone, and pros and cons. Future parts will cover tips and hints, accessories, software, support and troubleshooting - effectively I hope a practical FAQ on the 7710, as I haven't found a comprehensive single source yet. Please send any contributions you may have, which will of course be acknowledged.

Note that this review is based on the 4.0.10 firmware - a small upgrade came out in November 2005 but I've not got round to taking it back yet to get it upgraded. Here's what the phone looks like [added 24 Jan as Kirk doesn't believe it's a phone!]:


Specifications and features

The 7710 came out in November 2004 so it's quite long in the tooth for a mobile device. I've had it for about 5 months now. I won't repeat all details here, see the official specs. But I'd mention the operating system is Symbian 7.0, series 90 and it has 90 MB of internal memory (about 80 MB free). It's the only Series 90 phone: Nokia aren't bringing out any more, they will instead incorporate some of the series 90 features into some future series 60 phones.

It's rich in features: phone (of course) with speakerphone and voice dialling, text/multimedia messaging (SMS/MMS), Net access (GPRS/Edge), proper Web browser (Opera), POP/SMTP/IMAP email, FM radio, MP3 player, video player (Realplayer), voice recorder, 1.3 megapixel camera (with video capability), image viewer, basic graphics editor, drawing, contacts, diary, wordprocessor, spreadsheet, Powerpoint viewer, PDF viewer, ebook reader, calculator, converter, alarm clock, games, Bluetooth, USB, synchronisation with PC, upgradeable firmware, takes MMC card up to 1 GB, ability to use third party software including Java apps and games, GPS (if you buy e.g. a Tom Tom Mobile 5), and (if the service is available and you subscribe) "Visual Radio" and mobile TV capability (trialled in Oxford for O2 users, though still not available to most of us I think; still, check it out). Whew!

There's no keyboard on this "landscape" touchscreen device, just 6 hard keys, 3 on either side of the screen (left: navigation/select, menu, go to Desk (its desktop); right: zoom, switch, cancel/escape). On the side are 3 more keys for call, end/hangup and speakerphone/voice recorder). You can't do without the stylus, really. For input there's an onscreen virtual keyboard and handwriting recognition too.

In the box

Your mileage may vary. My Carphone Warehouse box included:
  • 128 MB MMC card with a few preloaded trial/free apps
  • charger (any Nokia charger works) and rechargeable battery
  • wired headset - one button only, doubles as aerial for radio
  • USB/pop port cable for connection to your computer
  • desk stand (2 pieces of plastic you slot together into an L shape)
  • printed manual
  • leaflet with code to unlock one trial app for the cost of a (possibly foreign) SMS text
  • leather case
  • CD with Nokia PC Suite.

Major pros and cons

The good

The screen, the screen, the screen! The bright, crystal clear LCD colour screen blew me away (65,536 colors, 16-bit, resolution 640 x 320 pixels). This display's the closest I've seen to paper - good enough to make me ignore a number of niggles I wouldn't have been willing to live with before; well I bought it the same day I saw and tried it. There are 3 zoom levels too, which helps especially with documents, email and (essential this, I think) Web.

Multimedia delight. See features list above; good sound quality particularly for its size (smaller than my Psion 5mx), and a reasonable camera with video function.

The ooooh factor - if that matters to you! People often ask what it is or exclaim when I get it to strut its stuff (or maybe they're just being polite...).

Proper web browsing (including full screen mode) on a wide screen, and POP email. It's GPRS not 3G, so it's slower than I'd like, but 3G via datacard is too expensive and walled gardens are anathema to me.

Handwriting recognition.
Fantastic - accurate and speedy enough to be truly usable, though I write fast (however input's slower than on my Psion 5mx with its lovely proper keyboard - two hands are still quicker than one). Writing's even faster than the onscreen keyboard, you can even start the next character before the last one's finished displaying. I've only had to change the way I write one character (t).

The bad

Size and weight. Bigger and heavier than most mobile phones, just about pocketable without the case (or with thin silicone or PVC case) if you have big strong pockets and don't mind risking your thigh or whatever going numb. Otherwise you need a briefcase or bag, unless (as I do) you use something like the Krusell belt system, to be covered in a future post.

Speed (lack of). Takes a while to power up especially after battery removal; apps take a few secs to get to especially if not already open; web surfing's slow. But the processor isn't up to much (boo to Nokia, they really should have put in a much faster one), so it's not surprising that the poor lil fella struggleswith that big high res screen. There's a new firmware version which came out in November but I should mention that I've not upgraded yet as you have to take it back to the shop to do so, a royal pain.

Volume. Really too low for either phone or music (much softer than say the Sony Ericsson P101i) unless you use the headset or speakerphone. Very hard to hear the caller if there's any background noise like traffic. You can't adjust the ear volume independently of the ring volume, which is a pain. Ring volume's not loud enough either, again especially in less than quiet environments. And you can't change the volume one-handed.

Too pen-dependent. The phone's just about dialable one-handed with fingers (though I wouldn't without a screen protector), but you need the stylus to text so you can't text one-handed e.g. walking down the street. Many options can't be selected with the hard keys. As I said, you can't do without the stylus, lose it at your peril.

It's buggy. I've had it refuse to unlock (see below on screen lock) even on entering the right PIN (the fix is to power off, which it the only thing it lets you do then, though normally it won't when the lock is on). It's crashed quite a few times, often requiring a full reset (covered later). You'll stuff up the voice dialling if, after the screen lock has kicked in, you forget to unlock it before trying to voice dial. It's catch 22, if you switch it off it takes ages to switch on again, but if you leave it on it seems to get increasingly unstable.

Too much dumbing down. This gadget will appeal most to power users, yet they're the very ones who most hate having their freedom of choice and control taken away from them (Nokia, are you listening?) System files are hidden, period. No option to view or manipulate them except with third party software. See also Niggles below.

Back cover blues. Removing the back cover is a challenge if you care about the 7710, your nails or your blood pressure (I'll give tips later - you'll need 'em!). As for closing it, I've never had so much trouble. You may think you've refitted it fully, having spent ages opening and closing it repeatedly and carefully pressing it shut all round, but if it's just a nanometre short of being completely shut in one invisible spot, tough luck. You see, continuing the unnecessary overprotectiveness/dumbing down theme, the 7710 downs tools completely if it thinks the cover is open. I repeat: it won't. Work. At. All. If it thinks, thinks, the cover is open. Even though it's as closed as you can make it without squeezing it in a vice, and believe me I've sometimes wanted to. What usability stupidity. I dread having to remove the battery or MMC card as it takes forever to get it to work again afterwards, it's so triggerhappy in claiming the cover is open. Oh and if it got jolted in your bag so a tiny bit of the cover ceases to be in contact with the main body all round, though no one would be able to tell, then guess what: it won't work. Never mind Nokia Streamer SU-22 as an "active back cover solution" (that was in the mobile TV context), they should implement a much more low tech kind of "back cover solution"! Grrr.

MMC card slot. Badly designed, doesn't secure the card properly so with everyday use the card sometimes comes out and then of course it won't access the card, so you have to open the cover to shove it back in, and pray that you'll be able to satisfy its paranoia about the cover being open when you try to close it again.

No built in encryption. Why not, given that business use is one aim? It handles Word and Excel documents, you can view Powerpoint/PDF docs, it even has VPN capability. Yet there's no ability to password protect documents! Big mistake. What's the point of being able to connect securely to your company network if any docs you save onto the 7710 are unprotectable? You can buy third party software for encryption but you really shouldn't have to.

Software. Not enough third party apps are available for it yet (and several Symbian developers I contacted said they don't plan to do 7710 versions). However I do see new software coming out for it from time to time, even a few weeks ago, so at least some people are developing for it or porting from their Series 60 or 80 software.

Battery life. Not the best, though it could be worse. I've found it has to be recharged every 2 or 3 days especially with heavy use (see the pretty red battery in the screenshot above...?), though once it actually lasted a whole week.

Nice things and niggles

The nice

Security. A security code (lock code) can be enabled via Control Panel, Security so if it's left switched on for a while a code is needed to use it (but not to answer calls), and you can lock it quite quickly. However this means you have to enter the lock code not just after you've left it unused for a while, but also on switch on (so you have to enter two codes on switching on, if like me you've also enabled a startup PIN code for the mobile part of it).

Music player keeps playing while you do other stuff on the 7710, cuts out when you use the phone, then comes back in when the call ends - now that's proper integration.

Quick dial or email or Web. Phone numbers (indeed most numbers), email addresses and Web URLs appearing in documents cleverly get recognised and if you tap on or near them a special icon appears by them, which if tapped calls the number, starts an email to the address or goes to the Website - very useful; if only this worked for all apps (like the spreadsheet) not just some.

Flight mode in Profiles turns off the phone so you can still use the 7710 on a plane just for the PDA/multimedia functions

Upgradeable firmware (but see Niggles below).

The niggles

Phone dialler orientation. Displays in landscape not portrait mode, which would have been more natural for the phone function and given where the mike and speaker are located (a friend couldn't even tell which way to hold it and which end to put to the ear, initially. Honest.)

"Welcome" music, go away! The little tune on turning it on can't be disabled. Senseless for a phone which is at least partly aimed at business users, as you can't switch it on during a meeting (the solution's to leave it on and switch to silent, but what if you forgot?). The startup sound can be disabled even on a relatively cheap Nokia e.g. the Nokia 7250i, so why not on this?

Saving docs. You can't save without closing. You can't choose where to save your docs. By default all files, documents, images etc are dumped onto a "Mydocs" folder on the internal drive. Messy. Part of the "dumbing down" mindset that doesn't let you close individual apps either. But see tips, later.

Pop port.
The headset cable pops out all too easily. I think that's all Nokia pop ports though, not just this phone. It really needs to be more secure for pocket use, as the phone just brushing against my leg can dislodge the cable.

Camera shutter lag.
Not as bad as some but noticeable, and only 1 zoom level (2x), no flash; no zoom for video at all

Firmware is updateable only by taking it to a Nokia service center (and it costs if you're beyond your 1 yr warranty period), plus as Nokia have discontinued this OS I doubt their commitment to update the phone.

Case. A bit bulky and (to me) badly designed - flips towards you to open, not away, the bottom edge rides up to hide the onscreen toolbar, and there's no clear top to protect the screen (it's just exposed). Missed trick: no belt loop, though there's room for one. Belt clip, even? Nope. Third party cases are much better.

Saving files. You can't save without closing (documents, spreadsheets etc) and you can't choose where to save files easily. There's a workaround for documents, which I'll mention in my tips.

"Realplayer" files aren't really Realplayer files but 3gp, a special format for mobiles, so it won't play "real" Realplayer files. However third party software can help with that.

Bluetooth pairing can be tricky though USB connection works fine.

Memory. Occasional warnings that memory's too low, apps not opening or working properly e.g. camera pics not saving. But this can be dealt with, see future post.

Apps handling. There's no way to close most built in apps individually, hence the occasional memory problems, but again the same solution applies

SIM card slot. A bit fiddly to insert/remove (you need a pencil tip or something), and the indicator showing which way to orient it is almost invisible.

No Wifi. But in London it's not like free hotspots abound. No infrared either, but at least there's Bluetooth.

Images. No slideshow-type function to move from fullsize image to next fullsizeimage, that I can see. Have to switch to thumbnails and select the next image to see it fullsize, which is slow.

Synchronisation. Supposed to synchronise with Outlook or Lotus but I couldn't get it to work properly especially things going into the wrong fields in Contacts.

No PDA without phone. The PDA functions can't be accessed unless you have a working SIM card in it, at least from my experiments. Shame.

The verdict

It depends on what you want. I was seduced by the clear, wide screen, which I still love, and bought it in the white hot heat of passion, though I now have moments of regret. Its greatest benefit to me is being able to use my Gmail while on the move (and access the occasional website on a proper-sized screen, though it's slow). To me it's been worth it just for that.

However, as a phone it leaves a lot to be desired (I can cope with the size/weight using a belt attachment system, but it's the inadequate volume that's the killer). If your main need is for a good phone for voice and texting, with PDA functions on the side, I'd say don't buy the 7710.

As a PDA it's just that bit too slow (though the November 2005 firmware is supposed to have improved speed so I'll report when I get the upgrade), and while the handwriting recognition beats most others' hands down, the lack of a keyboard supporting two-handed use and the inability to copy/paste text direct from the 7710 to my PC (which to be fair most PDAs don't support) means me and my trusty Psion 5mx are still joined at the hip. But maybe that's just my own PDA needs (I work on blog posts etc a lot on the Tube or bus, in waiting rooms, etc): I simply have to have a proper keyboard I can type on, anything else is too frustratingly slow for me.

Nokia could have been on to a real winner here, particularly with the vast majority of people who don't need a real touch typeable keyboard, if they'd only given the 7710 a processor of about one and half times or double the power, made it insensitive to the supposed open/shut state of the cover, doubled or trebled the audio volume, improved the battery life and supported it properly with regular firmware upgrades to iron out the bugs.

However I can only advise strongly that you try it out in person fully in the shop before you buy and ignore the impulse to grab it, that's just the ooooh factor leading you into temptation! Also, check out:

One more thing to watch - if you buy from Carphone Warehouse, it's cheaper with a contract (as low as £50, maybe less by now). Also, they'll tell you it's a Vodafone or O2 contract. Actually it's a Carphone Warehouse contract using space on Vodafone or O2, which means you don't get the full Vodafone etc customer service but a Carphone Warehouse customer service at national rate with limited opening hours, and I believe if the network's busy then "proper" Vodafone customers get priority. I should have read the small print but I didn't; their brochures and sales reps led me to think it was a real Vodafone contract (I don't think I'd have signed if I'd known it wasn't), and because of that, after the contract expires, I don't plan to buy from Carphone Warehouse again unless whatever replacement mobile I get really isn't available from anywhere else.

The next part of this review/guide will cover tips and howtos on the 7710 (hey, once you've got it, might as well make it work for you).

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kirk said...

Another great review Imp. Although I'm with your friend who couldn't figure out where to talk into it.

Still doesn't look like a phone to me, but if you say you can talk into it I believe you. ;-)

And I think we've all made decisions in the "white hot heat" of passion that we sometimes regret. Some people are still paying child support on theirs.

Improbulus said...

Well I've added a pic to the post now so you can see it IS a phone, so there!

I won't ask if you're one of the people you mention. I'm a polite and genteel kinda gal, I am.

sooti said...

quite an ugly phone

David said...

Writing's even faster than the onscreen keyboard, you can even start the next character before the last one's finished displaying.

Can you still do this after upgrading to 4.10?

I'm in Asia and upgraded to 4.58, which is supposedly the equivalent to the European 4.10.

Since I upgraded, I lost the ability to 'write the next character before the last one's finished displaying'. Can you do it?

I like the new firmware but hate that they fixed something that was working so nicely...

Improbulus said...

Sooti - it's a matter of taste I guess! I don't mind the looks myself though there are certainly more elegant phones.

David - As I've mentioned in my review of the 4.10.0 upgrade, oddly enough I personally haven't noticed much difference in that, though I know others have. Maybe others just write faster...

But I agree, it's a shame they clearly tried to fix something which ain't broke.

Anonymous said...

Then Nokia N61 has way too low volume, even with max from the volume control its hard to follow a conversation if there is nois in the background. I opened the N61 phone and found two tiny springs pressing againt a piezo disk. After stretching the springs a bit I was convinced the N61 gained a bit in volume. The springs got "tired" ?

r4i software said...

I just love this phone . i can say its my life i have all in one ya only problem which i faced net doesn't work so fast