Review: Nokia 700, part 2: Camera, Multimedia and NFC
Interrupted by the week of Nokia World 2011, where there were plenty of Nokia 700s on show, here comes part 2 of my review of this smallest ever Symbian smartphone. In which I focus(!) on the camera, multimedia and NFC functionality. It's a fair assessment that the 700 is not built for multimedia - how does this diminutive device cope? And how well does the much vaunted NFC fare? Watch out for part 3 of this review next week, here on All About Symbian.
Absolutely noone's going to buy the Nokia 700 for its camera, yet there's still an expectation that 'because this is a Nokia' then its camera must be OK. While true, I still found myself somewhat disappointed by the results overall. Having seen the 3 megapixel EDoF cameras on the Nokia E52/E55 (surprisingly good results) and the 8 megapixel versions on the Symbian^3 handsets (e.g. C7, C6-01, E6, again surprisingly good results), the 5 megapixel version on the 700 is undoubtedly the weakest of the three variants.
Much of which is common sense, once you've looked at the size of the 700 and the space available for a camera of any kind - never mind the 5 megapixels, the optics, sensor and pixels themselves are all scaled down and the results below speak for themselves. I'd rate the Nokia 700 camera as producing 'fun'/feature phone snaps only.... It is what it is, though, and it'll be down to individual users to work out whether they take a lot of phone photos and can live with the 700's output.
Here are some sample snaps, a few at the default of 3.7 megapixels (widescreen) and more at the full 5 megapixel resolution. In each case, click to enlarge or download:
Goodish results if the sun's shining, at least - the waterfall one's almost arty, and shows off EDoF's ability to capture moving subjects
Blurrycam time? A fairly close-up shot of a ball, showing EDoF's macro limitations, plus a shot in great light that should have come out much better - EDoF electronics getting confused, perhaps?
More EDoF testing, this time at 5mp resolution. A pretty good demo on the left, though the optics on the 700 just aren't good enough for anything to be really crisp - and a close-up of a sign, taken around 30cm away - plenty good enough for reading content, obviously.
Arty enough - though the colours and sharpness aren't particularly satisfying to a camera geek like me(!) - and a typical 'casual' sign shot, perfectly good enough for the average phone user?
A disappointing park scene - it's possible that my attempts to wipe the camera glass weren't thorough enough, raising the issue that most average users will hit exactly this problem since the glass is completely 'flush' with the device's back; and a typical 'camera phone down the pub' shot, showing low light noise and typical blurring.
One area where EDoF cameras have traditionally done well is in video capture, since the EDoF electronics work continuously and can do the same 'everything always in focus all the time' job as in still mode. You do need decent light conditions for the electronics to do its job properly, but keep the light levels up and the subject more than 40cm away and you'll get some great video with the 700.
You may recall that I shoot the Phones Show on an EDoF-equipped phone (the E7) - the quality of the 700's video isn't quite as good, due to the smaller optics and sensor, but it's still pretty decent. Here's a sample clip, I've left it as an MP4 download so that YouTube's encoding doesn't get in the way, click the image to get the file, etc.
(23MB, 720p resolution MP4)
Both videos and photos look great on the 700's screen, of course - the pixel density and the super-bright CBD display make sure of that. And therein lies a problem, since you don't immediately see any problems in your snaps or footage. It's only later, when the moment's long gone and you're back at your PC, do you examine the media and (perhaps) sigh in disappointment.
Of note is that Symbian Belle introduces a whole new file scheme for captured media. As with the interface in general, it has converged on 'accepted' practice in other mobile OS, with all new photos and videos being stored in a \DCIM folder in mass memory or a microSD card (rather than in the traditional numbered folders inside of \Images\Camera and \Videos\Camera) - it's yet another minor adjustment for the hardened Symbian fan, but not actually a major problem.
As with other nHD-display (16:9) phones, the default resolution is one that means no 'ugly' side bars on the screen when viewing captured media, but you do lose quite a few pixels in the process. Still, again, few people who know anything about 'megapixels' and camera quality are going to be picking up the Nokia 700 anyway...
The camera interface has received a little spruce up for Symbian Belle, but it's still a little clunky - note the presence in the screenshot below of both the dotted and lined 'More' icons, bottom right - is there any excuse for this in 2011? The lined version only brings up the option of a 'user guide' - this whole interface could still be much better thought out.
Meanwhile, the 'Back' icon is what most people will use to exit Camera - that or simply pressing the phone's main 'Home' key.
The Photo and Video editors from Symbian^3 are present and correct in Belle, with a few interface tweaks as needed.
And, importantly, the Video editor now lets you 'Continue with previous saved project', eliminating the biggest disincentive to use in the Symbian^3 version. Now you can stitch clips and photos together and 'Save project', ready for adding to (or reworking) later on. A simple, but nice addition to Belle's multimedia functionality.
Video functionality is rounded off with stub apps for the YouTube and BBC iPlayer (in the UK) mobile web sites and CNN Video, all of which we've seen before.
We've seen this Music Player, minus the Belle toolbar before, giving rise to a few simplifications on the Nokia 700. 'Repeat' and 'Shuffle play' are now on the toolbar, though the size of the Nokia 700 display does mean that it's quite hard to hit the various control icons when you're out and about (e.g. on a bumpy bus).
The 'coverflow' album selection in landscape mode is also much the same, but with a subtle twist. Tapping on an album cover no longer obscures the cover with the song list - instead, the pop-up window is transparent and the songs are listed in this pane. Nicely done.
Sound quality is very good, as you might expect, though only on custom headphones - the supplied ones aren't in-ear, don't have multimedia controls and aren't that special. Headset types are a personal preference though, and it's easy enough to plug in generic headphones or use a higher quality multimedia headset from another Nokia smartphone. Or, I suspect, to use the NFC to pair up with a stereo Bluetooth headset of your choice.
The Nokia Music Store and Shazam (music recognition) are both well known and here presented with just the Belle UI facelift. Note that Shazam is free but ad-supported.
Multimedia is well represented on the Symbian Belle homescreen system - here are a few examples of how it might all look, in place:
I've already gone overboard in this review, praising the clarity and crispness of the 700's display, but it really, really shines for video playback. OK, the viewing area isn't huge, but (given decent source material) the colours, sharpness and fluidity of video playback is stunning.
The video interface has been improved too, with the new toolbar at the bottom providing consistency, with less pixels in the way of your video content. There are functional changes, too. Importantly, the 'Videos' player remembers where you got to in each video (at last!), so you can hop between feature films and won't have to keep fast forwarding each to where you got to. The familiar icon for changing the aspect ratio (e.g. to get rid of black bars) has been relegated to the 'More' menu and only appears if the video isn't 16:9.
The forward-facing main speaker ensures plenty of volume if you're not listening on headphones. A good experience all round.
With no kickstand, watching videos on the 700 is rather dependent on a suitable stand, at least if you want to watch hands-free. (Here's my DIY stand!)
Despite the 700's small volume, it's clear that the same graphics processing power is present as on its larger sister devices, meaning that even 720p videos at high bitrate play fine and with Symbian providing a rich set of video codecs. Everything I threw at the 700 was played perfectly.
Near Field Communications
NFC is the 'in' technology this year, of course. In theory, Symbian has had it for longer than any other mobile OS, in the form of the C7, but the functionality wasn't unlocked until a few months ago. There are a handful of other smartphones available now that also have NFC on board, one of which is this, the Nokia 700.
You'll have read my NFC primer a few weeks ago, exploring how the technology works and what it can make possible. Not everything described there is available right now, but Nokia has identified three key use cases and they all work in this device. Helpfully, a new mini-app, NFC Tutorials, is included in the 700, showcasing what you can do:
I say 'tutorials', but each of the panels above just links to a one minute narration-less video. Each function ('pair', 'share', 'play') is shown in action. The videos are glossy and do demonstrate what's happening clearly, but they're hardly tutorials in the classic sense of the word.
The News and Apps panes can be expanded to reveal a selection of NFC stories from Nokia's web site and a selection of applications (in the Nokia Store) which are NFC-enabled. It's all nicely done, though the actual link goes to the old 'Ovi' version of the store and some of the items listed are 'no longer available'. Still, in time, I'm sure these niggles will be sorted out - the Nokia 700 is still at the start of its update journey.
In use, NFC performs as advertised, even though the range of things it can do at the moment is somewhat limited. Frustrated NFC fans on Symbian can at least take solace in the fact that NFC implementations on other mobile OS (e.g. Android) are far more basic at the time of writing.
The simplest NFC use case isn't even listed by Nokia in the 'tutorials' - tapping to read a passive 'tag'. In this case (shown below), my test tag pops up a short URL leading to my Facebook page, which then opens up in Web once I've tapped on 'OK'. It's also noticeable how fast NFC tag detection is - the first implementation on the C7 (in Anna) was very slow, taking around a second. The C7 has since had the Anna service pack and new v25 firmware and is as fast as this, the 700, in detecting and reading the tag in a small fraction of a second.
Another common use would be 'touch to share', currently limited just to contact cards and media, though I'm sure plenty of other phone content will be supported in the future, hopefully with Symbian leading the way still. With a contact entry on-screen, I tapped the 700 to my C7 and acknowledged the transfer (actually accomplished via Bluetooth) on the latter. After receipt, the Anna-running C7 didn't know what to do with the received .vcf file, so I had to go hunting in my mass memory - it's expected that Symbian Belle to Belle transfers would be more complete and seamless.
Another clue that Symbian Anna's NFC support is not complete is that I couldn't transfer contacts from the C7 to the 700 in the same way. Roll on Belle for all the current handsets!
Photo sharing was much the same, from 700 to C7. Highlight a photo (or photos) in Gallery and then touch the phones together and a Bluetooth transfer is initiated.
I did other NFC tests too. I couldn't get the Nokia 700 to send anything to the Samsung Nexus S, which appears to only be able to read passive tags at the moment (the forthcoming Ice Cream Sandwich update should add much more NFC functions in). I also tried 'reading' my Nokia World NFC-enabled name badge, but the data format wasn't recognised.
I didn't test the NFC-facilitated pairing of the 700 with Bluetooth audio accessories since I didn't have any to hand, but we've all seen this demonstrated many times on video and I don't expect any unpleasant surprises.
Early days then for Near Field Communications. The 700 will get regular firmware updates expanding what it can do in terms of NFC content sharing, plus (at some point) compatibility with various wireless payment systems. And the world around it will gradually acquire NFC compatibility too, not least other smartphones (other than those already running Symbian Belle) throughout 2012.
NFC is starting, just starting to become a 'must-have' on my personal phone buying check-list. It's not there yet and most Nokia 700 buyers won't have heard of NFC, but it's great that it's there under the hood for when needed in the future.
In summary, in part 1 of this review, I found the 700 to be well made and with pretty good hardware, even if it wasn't the form factor for hard core smartphone fans. I found Belle to be a leap forward in terms of convergence with the UI that other mobile OS are standardising on. And in this part 2, I found it to have one of Nokia's less inspired cameras that nevertheless can knock out a mean video. And I loved the inclusion of NFC.
In part 3 of this review, I'll be looking at other aspects of Symbian Belle in action, at other incidental applications and I'll be summing up this latest Symbian smartphone.
Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, 31 October 2011
Reviewed by Steve Litchfield at