The release of HTC's S710 smartphone (also branded as, for example, the Orange SPV E650) marks something of a milestone in the mobile world - has there ever been so small a 'phone' with a qwerty keyboard, for easier messaging and note-taking? It'll be interesting to see whether any of the Symbian licensees are able (or are allowed) to produce a similar design. But in the meantime, the closest thing in the Symbian world is the Nokia E70 - admittedly a little long in the tooth now, at over a year old, but it still makes for a valid comparison.
The E70 is significantly bigger than the S710 and less rounded - on pure cosmetics, the Windows Mobile device wins hands-down...
Both smartphones are phone like in normal operation, with a one-handed interface and high contrast (no touch screen) display - and when the need arises, both have a hidden qwerty keyboard that can be brought into play, along with a display switch into landscape mode to suit.
With both keyboards opened and backlit, the two devices are a surprisingly good match...
Let's match the two devices, head to head in detail:
|Nokia E70||HTC S710|
|Form factor||'Gull wing' fold-out keyboard, 127g, not elegant||Side-sliding keyboard, 120g, I loved the idea behind this design, as did Rafe|
|Price||£246 plus taxes, SIM-free||£255 plus taxes, SIM-free|
|OS and interface||Symbian OS, S60 3rd Edition||Windows Mobile 6 'Standard'|
|Communications||3G, GPRS, Bluetooth, Infrared, Wi-Fi||GPRS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi|
|Keyboard||Good key sizes, great 'feel', but there's a learning curve because of the split arrangement, either side of the screen. Twin space bars effective but unusual.||Tiny keys, small travel and poor 'feel', but keys fall easily to hand when thumb typing, and you do get used to it. Non-standard key layout sees the full stop and comma beside 'p' and a minute space bar.|
The spec for both is 2 megapixels, fixed focus, no flash. Taking the same picture (midday but overcast) then zooming in a lot with images from both smartphones, see below:
In truth, there isn't a world of difference between the two cameras in terms of hardware, although contrast and colours were slightly better on the E70. Neither are good enough for semi-pro use, of course, but they're handy for occasional family snaps in good light, to be printed later...
Oddities on the S710 include that it only takes pics in 'portrait' mode, i.e. 1200 by 1600, so you'll quickly get on good terms with your PC image editor's 'Rotate' tool. Bizarrely, there's even a dedicated shutter button on the side, encouraging camera operation in landscape, too. Maybe this huge oversight can be fixed in a firmware update?
|Video camera||As with almost all of Nokia's S60 3rd Edition phones, the E70 takes video at 352 by 288 pixels by 15fps, just good enough for occasional family use but not much more.||HTC's S710 camera seems stuck in a different age when it comes to video, with only MMS-grade 176 by 144 pixel capture. Very disappointing.|
|PIM apps||S60's PIM apps are well known by now. Adequate for most people but limiting for traditional Outlook power users.||Although the applications themselves aren't much different to S60's, there is (crucially) category support, enabling the device to be used in a more powerful role.|
|Office document handling||The E70 was one of the last S60 devices to come with Psion/Symbian/Nokia's Office viewing and editing software. Though very powerful, this is starting to show its age in terms of document support. (It's been replaced by Quickoffice in newer Eseries devices)||Windows Mobile 6 introduced a version of Office for the non-touchscreen devices. So we have Word Mobile, Excel Mobile and PowerPoint Mobile, although they're cut down quite a bit even from the usual 'Pocket PC' versions and, bizarrely, there's no way to create new documents - you have to open up existing ones and 'Save as'!|
|Multitasking and general speed||It has to be said that neither device was exactly speedy and that both were as slow as each other. Not a huge problem, but even 1 to 2 second waits add up, whether it's switching screen modes or opening folders. Multitasking in S60 is fairly painless, through the Menu/S60 key, while HTC's Task Manager does a similar but clumsier job for the S710, as you have to find and switch to it each time.|
|Internet||S60 3rd Edition Web is also well known, doing a grand job with almost any web site provided there's not too much Flash or Ajax involved. Browsing works well over 3G or Wi-Fi.||Pocket Internet Explorer arguably does well too, though it too falls over on cutting edge Web 2.0 sites. Great to have Wi-Fi onboard, too, unusual for a Windows Mobile 'Smartphone'.|
|Messaging||Roughly similar capabilities and performance here, both devices work well for SMS use and for occasional email catchups.|
|Multimedia||With the slightly smaller (physically, at least) screen, the E70's not anybody's first choice for watching video clips. As long as your eyesight's good though, the detail's there, with a screen resolution of 416 by 352 pixels. Music playback is adequate at best, with a meagre speaker and flat quality through a headset. And there's no WMA support.||The S710 has a great screen for video playback but it's let down by lowish speaker output and lowish volume over the supplied miniUSB stereo headset. This carries over to music playback too, and as with the E70, the playback quality isn't a match for a good standalone player. There's A2DP support though, always nice to have.|
|Expansion||miniSD, hot swappable||microSD, hot swappable|
Anybody reading this on AllAboutSymbian will already know that I've got lots of experience of Symbian OS-powered devices, but I'm really, truly trying to like Windows Mobile as well and trying to always give it a fair chance. In particular, I desperately, passionately wanted to like the S710 because the form factor and design is so insanely great.
The HTC S710 is a cool design and there's absolutely nothing wrong with the basic interface and the switch to keyboard for easier Messaging. And I could learn to like the miniature keyboard keys. But away from Messaging, the little things do start to add up: the forced portrait photography/rotation 'feature', the average still photo and terrible video capture quality, the average music quality, the lack of 3G and the way you can't create new Office documents.
In turn, the Nokia E70 has its own flaws, including similarly unremarkable headset quality (in fact it comes with only a mono accessory!), a smallish screen, a strange split keyboard and an interface that could definitely be faster. But the Nokia E70 at least has the excuse that it's a year old. With the HTC S710 being a mid-2007 smartphone, I'd really, truly, hoped for more. Ultimately, despite the style and sheer 'cool' factor of the spring-loaded qwerty keyboard, it's arguably too quirky for anyone wanting to go beyond its core expertise of messaging.
Steve Litchfield, May 20, 2007