So it's finally here. The Nokia E90, the Communicator concept brought bang up to date and running S60 3rd Edition.
Let's get the obvious out the way first: yes, it's a shame that the Series 80 interface wasn't developed further and yes there are some S80 applications that we'll all miss. In fact, many people will argue that even the applications on the Nokia 9210, 9300 and 9500 were dumbed down to a degree and that the Psion Series 5mx (or even Series 3mx) remains the purest example of Symbian's art.
But, back in the real world, life has moved on. Not wanting to split software development between several interfaces (remember Series 90, on the 7710?), and with Series 80's code only running on Symbian OS 6 and 7, Nokia found itself with a huge runaway sales success in S60, which was already working under Symbian OS 8 and soon to be also there under Symbian OS 9. Dragging Series 80 along for the ride was deemed to be too much work and the decision was made to merge the best bits of Series 80 and Series 90 into the evolving S60, encompassing qwerty keyboards, touch screens (in theory) and larger screen resolutions. At the time, this decision seemed strange, although with the E61, E62 and E70 now established and selling well, each with full keyboard and a port of the Communicator's office suite, it now seems a lot more achievable.
Most critics of the switch to S60-only point to application compatibility and interface changes, but there's an awful lot more to smartphones in 2007, with extra expectations and plenty of new technologies under the hood, in the OS. From HSDPA to 3G to UPnP to Bluetooth 2.0 to all the latest video codecs and TV or DVD quality video recording. In accepting a slightly different interface and application platform, there are an awful lot of gains. Some of the applications themselves are better too, with the (almost) universally acclaimed Safari-based Web, the iPod-rivalling Music player and a much more capable RealPlayer. In an ideal world all these would have made their way onto Series 80, but it hasn't happened that way and Communicator users will probably want to move on.
Despite the qwerty keyboard and office suite, the Nokia E61 was a bit of a sideways step for someone used to a Nokia 9500 (for example), but the new E90 brings all that was good about the classic Communicator hardware and form factor into the same series as the E61. In fact, the hardware's demonstrably better:
- the 800 by 352 pixel by 24-bit colour main screen (dwell on those specs for a second - two and a half times wider than that on the E61 and almost double the height)
- the full QVGA external screen (no more cut-down external interface)
- the full integration of external and internal displays (so that you can switch seamlessly between the same application in open or closed mode!)
- fast processor and around 80MB of RAM (yep, that's RAM, not storage memory) free after booting
- a significantly better keyboard
- a more flexible hinge (stronger and allowing flat-use, as in the 9300)
- an integrated GPS receiver (a la the N95, and a great match for the new Nokia Maps software/service)
- a standard miniUSB port (no more Pop-port, thankfully) and stereo headphone socket
- a far superior (3 megapixel, auto-focus, with flash) stills camera
- a pretty decent (VGA resolution, 25 frames per second) video camera
That's a HUGE improvement list over the 9500 or 9300!
Software-wise, most readers will be familiar with devices like the E61. The E90 comes S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 1, with tweaked versions of the same application set, with optimisations for the large and wide screen. The old Symbian/Nokia office suite is now gone, replaced by Quickoffice 4 in ROM, providing mobile editing of Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents (reviewed recently, and see the notes on compatibility) with great round-trip document integrity, something the old suite was never good at.
This is the one device I've been quietly advising Communicator (and even Psion) users to wait for since last October and it's been the one device that it's been hardest to keep quiet about, in the face of speculation and leaked photos (and even a screenshot!)
People have been touting smartphones as 'laptop replacements' for a long time, but the current Nokia Eseries range and even most of the Windows Mobile keyboarded devices from the likes of HTC haven't really hit the spot. The E90 looks like being the closest match yet, most powerful device ever to be shoehorned into something that looks like a 'phone' and it should make business professionals like you and I a lot more productive.
Good job, Nokia. Now get AllAboutSymbian a proper production review unit and we'll see what the E90 can really do...
Steve Litchfield, 12 February 2007
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