Review: Nokia E75 - Part 3: The Consumer's Viewpoint

It may be named an enterprise device, but Nokia's E75 could easily measure up as a consumer device on the High Street, couldn't it? Ewan takes a look at the slider form factor device from the point of view of the regular man in the street.

See also the rest of our full blown multipart Nokia E75 review: 

Nokia E75 - Part 2: Camera and Multimedia

Nokia E75 - Part 1: General Design and Hardware

Author: Nokia

Nokia's recent enterprise device, the E75, may well be targeted at the mid-level office workers of the world, but what happens when it's handed to the man in the street? Well, he should be pretty happy, as this is a really good all-round smartphone for day to day use, in addition to the enterprise features.

I'm pretty sure that the design remit for the device did have this group included, at least as a secondary consideration – the choice of colours for the E75 (coming in silver and black, red or copper yellow) hints at this dual nature.

Nokia E75

All the way through the E75's design is this paradox of two discrete things living next to each other; you have the market segment issues; you have pairs of buttons rather close to each other; hard hitting business apps next to N-Gage gaming, the dual homescreen modes, and of course you have the portrait and landscape modes living side by side, as you switch from Qwerty to ABC keypads at the slide of the screen. Does all this make the E75 a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde machine, constantly fighting the other side, or is it a buddy-cop movie, working in tandem by the end of the film?

Nokia E75

Thankfully it's more the latter than the former (but it's not as clear cut in some cases). Let's start off with the hardware. For the technically minded, S60 3rd Edition, Feature Pack 2, 2.4 inch QVGA screen, 50MB internal memory, microSD card support, micro USB connector and all the expected connectivity options, including Wi-Fi, 3G data and quad band GSM and WCDMA for the European or American market. Two years ago, we would have poured over a list like this to see what's missing – thankfully that's no longer the case as Nokia are pretty good at providing the same hardware across the whole S60 platform.

Nokia E75

The biggest feature of the E75 has to be the slide out Qwerty keyboard. It takes a short (but positive) action to slide the screen to the side and reveal a four row keyboard. As this happens, the screen automatically switches from a portrait view to a landscape view. Nokia have had a fair bit of experience both in running the S60 platform in landscape mode (starting with the E61 devices, as well as the auto-rotation on the N-Series devices) so there are no fundamental problems in how everything works. I do wish that it could be a little bit faster when the transition happens, there always seems to be just a little bit too much of a blank screen as everything gets worked out by the E75 and re-displayed.

Nokia E75 Nokia E75

Nokia E75 Nokia E75  

Because of the off-centre screen in landscape mode, the layout feels comfortable for a right-handed user, but lefties may feel the placement of the cursor and soft keys is a little bit awkward for them, but the small form factor doesn't hamper the ergonomics in a huge way. The Qwerty keyboard is a success though – the decision to move the number keys to be shifted keypresses on the top letter row allows the remaining space to be populated with keys closer to the expected square shape. Because of the sliding mechanism, there isn't much tactile feedback from the flat keys.

Unusually, there is nothing to guide your fingers to the home keys, without any marks on the 'f' and 'j' keys, and that feels unusual. The central silver bar which splits the two sides of the keyboard is a strange design decision as well – while it clearly divides the keyboard for those using the two thumbs method of typing, I'm not sure of the actual benefit of this. Perhaps it's required because of the construction methods used? [Yes, it's part of the slide mechanism - Ed]

The success of the keyboard doesn't continue to the ABC keypad. While the number keys have a nice dome effect, and the '5' has raised elements to help you find it by touch, the keys surrounding the d-pad/cursor ring are very tightly packed together, and having home/delete on the same bit of plastic as the two soft keys is asking for trouble – and it won't take you long to find said trouble. It's just about manageable in portrait mode, but switch to landscape mode and you'll find that you still need to use the same soft keys for the options and functions in an application, and you will be hitting the incorrect key thanks to the tightly packed keys. This needs more thought.

Going round the edge of the device (the comfortable heft of metal means the E75 feels an incredibly robust phone that could hammer in the proverbial reviewer's nail), you find a standard 3.5mm headphone socket that also has a mic connector for Nokia's regular hands free units, volume keys and the camera shutter button, and the charging port. Unlike the N85 and other newer designs, the charging port is still the straight AC adaptor connector, although like the N85 the E75 will charge over microUSB as well.

What is missing is a power key – this is now integrated on the End Call red key, so don't lean too long on that key when you hang up a phone call. This has the side effect that the quick way to change your profile (tap the power key no matter where you are to bring up the menu) is also on the same key that powers down the entire device. Again, this just seems to be asking for trouble.

Nokia E75 Nokia E75

Unlike other recent Eseries enterprise devices, the software suite that comes in the E75 is very close to that in the Nseries roll out, there are no obvious applications that are not available on the E75. Given that there are close to 60 icons available to choose from straight out the box, that's not surprising. Nokia have not gone down the simplicity route in loading up their budget communicator device.

I worry that this tsunami of choices for a new user will leave them confused as to the capabilities of the device. That's all well and good if they have already bought the E75, but standing in a shop and having a little navigate through the device is not going to be pleasant. Nokia have made the decision that folders in the app screens should not look like folders (with smaller icons above them, as you see on devices like the N95) – when you click on an icon on the E75 you have no idea if it is a folder (leading to more icons) or an application (that could start up something that looks like the home screen, or the S60 icon'ed list, or something completely different). Leaving users unsure of what is going to happen when they click on something is not a good state of affairs.

Nokia E75 Nokia E75 

Nokia E75 Nokia E75

The E75 comes with the regular PIM applications of S60, and these are still the underpowered, lightweight Calendar, Notes and To-Do applications – but on a device that's not going to be tied into an Exchange server or handle a huge work-based diary (remember I'm looking at the device from the point of view of the man in the street) the PIM suite is a slightly better fit. There is still a lack of category support, and you generally don't get more than a few lines of information on the screen at any one time, but if you follow the assumption that a consumer will not be using these applications for more than a few items a day, then the PIM suite is passable for the consumer, but only just.

It should be no surprise that the Contacts application is fully formed and handles the job of being the hub of your device (calls, texts, mails, incoming alerts tagged with names, group handling, allocating a custom ring tone, and so on). This is what you can do when you evolve an application over time. The new tweaks in this S60 version include a specific call to action in “type to search” to help you know what to do, and by touching 'right' on the D-pad you get a little pop up menu that lets you jump to quick actions, such as calling the contact or sending a message. It's a nice touch, and shows what continued development can do.

Nokia E75 Nokia E75 

Nokia E75 Nokia E75

The other app that has had a major overhaul is the email portion of the Messaging application. Previously, the email part has been shoe-horned into the same look as the SMS/MMS inbox of an S60 phone. That's gone out the window now, with a brand new look and filters designed specifically for using email. Clicking on your mailbox in the Messaging app leads you into the new view, where you have two drop down choices well suited to email. The first allows you to jump around the classic Inbox, Draft, Sent Items and Outbox folder; while the second chooses how the email is sorted, by date; sender; subject; priority; unread; attachments or size. This is a vast improvement on previous S60 mail clients, and makes it feel more like a desk bound mail application.

Nokia's web browser, powered (as many of you know) by the same rendering engine as Apple's Safari web browser, hasn't received any changes in the way that Messaging and Contacts has, but it still gets the job done. It follows the ideology of steering a pointer around the screen with the d-pad, which is the closest analogy possible on a non-touchscreen smartphone to what people are used to on the desktop. It's workable, but a touch unwieldy, and I personally wish that some method of 'page down' was still available, instead of having to move that pointer constantly down, but this is what happens when your devices are geared towards the mass market and not a smaller pool of power users (who after all, will be au-fait with installing a different web browser if they must).

Nokia E75 Nokia E75

Having a Qwerty keyboard actually helps the web experience – so many sites nowadays in the Web 2.0 world are interactive, so visiting your Facebook and MySpace's of this world means it is far easier to update your status and leave comments for your friends. The same goes for the rich vein of blogs, both in commenting on others and writing your own posts. So in that sense the web browser is actually a little better than on other devices, not because of the software, but the hardware.

Another reason I think Nokia were always looking for the E75 to make inroads with the consumer segment is the inclusion of the N-Gage client – the first E series device to do so. On the face of it, these seems a good thing to do – after all, the point of N-Gage is that it uses standard S60 code, so if it runs on one, it should run on all. Unfortunately, there are some problems with N-Gage on the E75, and they can be showstoppers. The first is that while many of the titles will default to a landscape display (thus having you play with the keyboard slid out), the client itself will not rotate – and you 'll have to do some mental gymnastics to move the cursor around the screen.

The E75 is not suited for the whole spectrum of games (but then having a demo for every game will help you decide), but the stumbling block for many will be the control layout – the d-pad is under the right thumb, and not the left... which is completely the opposite way to pretty much every other game controller on the planet. In itself not a problem, but enough to make people think 'something isn't quite right here' when they pick it up. And with a full Qwerty keyboard available you would think you could redefine some keys to make it more comfortable. Unfortunately not, and the 'A/B' action keys are permanently mapped to 'q' and 'w'. Easily fixable in a firmware update for the client, but perhaps harder to change individual games. It's also something that I expect was noticed in play-testing the E75 and Nokia were happy to leave as is.

Nokia E75
Even Screenshot doesn't understand the N-gage App's Orientation on the E75!

Yes, it is a first attempt, but perhaps it would have been a better option to download N-Gage from the website (as the first N-Gage compatible devices had to do) as opposed to having the client in the firmware and available to all, albeit hidden in the menu and icon structure of the app screen.

Connectivity to the desktop comes from Nokia's now mature PC Suite, and part of this allows the E75 to be seen as a Windows Media device to facilitate the transfer of music to the player. Again we're looking at a tried and tested solution from Finland, which has become pretty much standard for the S60 platform. Music player is still one of the best available, and while the new iPhone interface is a shade better, Nokia's music player, when coupled with a Qwerty keyboard for quick searching through your music list, wins out every time.

While there are no dedicated music playback keys, the D-pad competently controls the main functions (play, pause, stop, fast forward/skip and rewind/skip) and the volume controls on the side mean the E75 can stay in your pocket while you jump around your playlist. And the regular headphone jack on the top of the device means you can use your own favourite headphones.

Nokia E75 Nokia E75

Nokia's appreciation of the smartphone camera has led them to have some brilliant optics on some of the higher end S60 devices (e.g. N95) and, while the E75 does not carry the Carl Zeiss option, the 3.2MP camera that is in the package can do the job pretty well. While the video and still pictures are not quite at the level of devices like the N85, it's worth remembering that these standard Nokia optics are probably some of the best available for the price range of the phone. It's also nice to see the self-portrait mirror continue to be included

The results of the camera are also in line with the E75 as a whole. They're above average when compared to pictures taken by similar phones, and you would be happy to use them as required. The E75 is exactly the same... it's an above average phone for the price range, it performs most of the expected smartphone functions well (if not perfectly) in a decent sized package that has a good balance of style and practicality. There are some areas I would tidy up a little, but I'd have no qualms if I was left with an E75 as my day to day smartphone.

-- Ewan Spence, May 2009.

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