Review: Nokia 7710


Nokia market the 7710 as a 'Widescreen smartphone', which gives you a little hint as to what to expect, but 'Symbian PDA' is perhaps more accurate. Long time PDA user and Psion guru gives the 7710 the once over.

Author: Nokia

Nokia market the 7710 as a 'Widescreen smartphone', which gives you a little hint as to what to expect, but 'Symbian PDA' is perhaps more accurate. The use of a stylus to input text has been seen before, on the Sony Ericsson P900 (and other UIQ devices), but that also had a proper phone-like one-handed mode and the overall size and form factor was very much phone like. The 7710 is, well, different. If you know a little about the general PDA world, it's like using a Palm Tungsten T3 or T5 in 'landscape' mode. The stylus is used for just about everything, from tapping on-screen buttons, to entering text gestures, to playing hunt and peck on an on-screen keyboard. The use of a stylus means, of course, that operating the 7710 is almost exclusively a two-handed affair, and this aspect is absolutely crucial in determining if the device is for you or not. Where Series 60 smartphones are designed to be predominantly used one-handed, often on the move, you have to consciously stop, stand still and concentrate to use the 7710.

I have to confess that I came to this review expecting to really, really dislike the 7710, but I gradually found more and more features which worked well and which I could see myself using in real life. It hasn't toppled any of my current favourite mobile devices from my Grid, but it gave them a pretty good run for their money. Read on...

Measuring a quite reasonable (for the screen resolution of 640 by 320 pixels) 128 x 69.5 x 19 mm, but weighing a fairly hefty 190 grams, the 7710 follows the usual Nokia scheme of having replaceable front and back covers, sandwiching a black device frame. There are Call/End call buttons on top, plus a Psion-like Voice recorder button. As long-time readers may spot, this is the first of several similarities to the Psion Series 5 range and, along with the Nokia 9500, the 7710 forms a pretty logical current equivalent to a Psion palmtop (especially when in conjunction with the compatible Nokia Wireless Keyboard).

The dedicated Telephone application. Could this replace your standard phone keypad?

The front panel buttons have taken some stick from other reviewers and their layout certainly looks a little higglety-pigglety, but in Nokia's defense, after several days of using the 7710, all the buttons and their functions came easily to hand and each compliments the touch sensitive screen well. From bottom left, going clockwise, the buttons are for the Desk (Applications), Menu, the navigator (with central Enter keypress), Zoom (different applications support this to diferent extents, but there are usually two or three zoom levels to cycle round), a button to cycle between different views within a program (e.g. List/Card/Notes) and finally an Escape button, for backing out of whatever menu or dialog you're currently in.

This system of mixed keypress and stylus input, together with the Windows XP-like curved dialogs, is generally known as Series 90, although if the 7710 proves to be the only device of its type, the interface designation is going to be fairly irrelevant. The information coming out of Nokia suggests that Series 90 is going to be (somehow) subsumed into Series 60, although I'll have to see this to believe it. In terms of functionality, you can think of the 7710 as a Nokia 9500 with a larger, touch sensitive screen and FM radio. Certainly the main applications (Calendar, Contacts, Messaging, Documents, Sheet, and so on) bear an obvious common heritage and, behind the scenes, most of the actual Symbian Operating System is identical. You can even run a number of Communicator applications as-is, proving their similarity.

Calendar is much as it is on the 9500, with day/month and week views

As with the Nokia 9500, Office compatibility is a mixed bag. You can certainly open up most Office files that get emailed to you (after a short wait each time while the files are 'converted' (to native Symbian Word/Sheet format), and the 7710 will do a decent job of showing you the core content. It will even let you edit away happily, but watch out when returning these files to the desktop or to the original sender as not every document attribute and feature is preserved. As with other such handheld systems, it's best to resave edited versions under a different name, just in case.

Sheet features a handy 'Full screen' mode, for fitting in a pretty impressive amount of cells

As with the 9500, Nokia haven't skimped on storage memory, with 90MB of internal flash memory for the user to fill, although Series 90 seems to take up a lot more of the 32MB of RAM, leaving only about 10MB free for running programs after the OS has been loaded. This is not really enough and 'Memory too low' messages pop up several times a day. Although there's no way to close most applications down individually, a 5 second press on the 'Escape' button kicks the OS into closing everything down, to reclaim as much RAM as possible, after which programs work again but you've got to open them from scratch.

Although the OS is properly multitasking, as usual, there's no mechanism provided for looking at the applications currently running or switching to them, which is a huge shame. Instead, pressing and holding the Desk button brings up shortcuts to the most recently launched four applications, which I suppose is better than nothing. Application launch times are similar to those on the 9500, around 2 or 3 seconds, though once running, subsequent taps on an icon see the application returned to the foreground within a second.

Unlike with Series 60, this panel of shortcuts are simply pointers to recently launched applications

And so to the unique features of the 7710. The screen is large and clear and a pleasure to view. The stylus is housed in a silo on the bottom left of the device, cleverly camoflaged, and this positioning works well in practice. Having to get it out to enter text was never something I really got used to, although once out, entry of text is just as fast as on a Palm or Pocket PC. Once nice touch is that within Control panel you can 'train' the 7710 to recognise extra gestures that are unique to you, so if there's a favourite Graffiti shortcut from an old Palm, the 7710 will happily read it after being shown an example.

Training the letter recognition to read your strokes is thankfully easy

Here's the pop-up keyboard in action. You can drag it around the screen if needed.

Nokia make a lot of the integrated 'Visual Radio', a system for tying in web content (accessed over GPRS) to a traditional FM signal. Example content might be adverts, purchase links for the tracks being played and information screens. The theory's fine, but in practice the system is still unavailable across most of the world. In Reading, in the centre of the UK, I wasn't able to pick up a single station that had the appropriate visual tags. Still it's always nice to have a stereo radio on board a smartphone, so it would be churlish to complain too much.

Visual Radio as it should appear. Radio station support is still non-existent, though.

Like most recent Nokia smartphones, multimedia is a fairly strong suit on the 7710, with support for MP3 and AAC-encoded music, plus playback of most 3GP formatted video files. If you want full-screen video at any decent quality though, you're going to have to look to third party software. The built-in RealPlayer is as weak as on other Symbian platforms and you just know that the hardware's capable of a lot more.

RealPlayer, ever present in the handheld world and always adequate but not spectacular

Other things I found worthy of note (good and bad):

  • The way applications are assigned to Desk groups is unintuitive. Neither the 'Move' nor 'Add to group' menu functions did the job. Instead, you have to go into the destination group and 'Edit' its properties, adding application shortcuts from a list.
  • the built-in File manager won't display files in any other folder than 'My files' on the internal disk or non-System folders on the MMC. While this is acceptable for new users, power users will be lobbying for a decent third party alternative from day one of ownership.
  • Sketch is back! Or at least a function with the same name as the old Psion favourite. Within the main Images application is a painting/editing facility, with the capability of creating new, original sketches if needed. It's fairly basic, with just pens, lines, basic shapes and text, but it's a logical next step given that there's a stylus and touch-screen. You can even embed your images in Word (Documents) files, just as on the old Psion.
  • the megapixel camera is only barely that. In fact, if you do the maths, 1152 x 864 pixels isn't actually a megapixel camera at all 8-)
  • the built-in web browser is Opera at heart, just as on the 9500. This does a pretty good job on the whole, although it's limited in power by the slowish (150MHz) processor in the 7710.
  • Messaging shines by providing a proper 'Automated send/retrieve' system for either full messages or just headers. Alas, for those conscious of GPRS costs, it also scores an own goal by not providing any means of showing you how large each message is going to be before retrieval. This could get expensive.
  • among the extra bits and pieces on the 7710 is an excellent global Find utility. This does such a good job of searching files and contents for specific text strings that I hope we see this ported around the Symbian world.
  • the 7710 is fully compatible with the latest and greatest PC Suite, so it's quite practical to have several Symbian devices connected to your PC at the same time.

Other specifications you might be interested in: it's a triband phone, supporting 900/1800/1900 MHz. There's Bluetooth, but no infrared or Wi-Fi (unforgiveable, considering the price point and target market). The battery is 1300 mAh Li-Polymer and should last a fair while. I gave it a full charge at the start of my review and it lasted two or three days of inveterate fiddling before needing a top-up.

The only real downside to the Nokia 7710, other than the fact that it needs two hands to operate, is that it's just all a bit sluggish. True, the 9500 is no speedster, but there the occasional wait is forgiveable because there's the keyboard to speed your work once the relevant dialog or window has opened. In the 7710, windows (for example, in Messaging) take even longer to open but there's no keyboard to make amends once you get there. Used intelligently, the 7710 will be quite fast enough for most people. It's just a shame that the speed lets it down now and then. The worst example is possibly the application installer. Attempting to install the (admittedly 20MB) demo version of TimeOut Guide from the Nokia 7710 web site resulted in the installer 'hanging' for over 90 seconds. With no 'Busy' or 'Please wait' message up, and of course no Microsoft hourglass, I'll bet that the average user would pull the battery out after a minute of doing nothing.

The 7710 certainly doesn't look like any phone you've ever seen and this will probably hit sales. Those in the know will think of it as a Nokia-branded connected PDA and enjoy it for what it is, but the rest of the world may just scratch their heads. More fool them.

The Nokia 7710 comes with a black plastic stand, USB sync cable, good quality stereo headphones, a 128 MB MMC card, battery, CD with PC Suite (ignore this and get the latest off the Web), a printed user manual and a pretty decent leather carrying case (with all the right cutouts).

Steve Litchfield, 3-Lib

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