Thursday, September 8, 2011

Nokia E6 - Workhorse goes touchscreen

The Nokia E6 is an evolution of a product line that has won Nokiamay fans. It started with the launch of the Nokia E71, which was loved by users and reviewers alike and sold millions of units worldwide. It was loved for its slim and stylish design, comfortable QWERTY keypad, powerful smartphone
features and a solid battery life. Backed by the Nokia brand name the phone was an instant hit. It was followed up by the excellent E72, which improved upon almost every weakness of its predecessors and was again met with a positive response.
Fast forward to 2011 and the candy bar QWERTY form-factor is slowly dying away. But it seems Nokia isn’t quite ready to let it go and neither are many of the users of the E71 and E72 who have been holding on to their phones all these years despite the growing temptation from competing brands. They have probably been waiting for a suitable upgrade to a phone they bought years ago and trusted Nokia to come up with another winner for them to spend their money on. But has Nokia managed to do that? Read on to find out.

The Nokia E6 maintains the basic design of its predecessors. An untrained eye will probably mistake it for the E72. But look closely and you will see subtle differences such as the lack of soft keys below the display and rearranged shortcut keys which makes the area look considerably less cluttered. The D-pad also looks different. The D-pad and the QWERTY keys are the only parts of the front that are raised and everything else is flush.
The back looks completely different than its predecessors, with a less flamboyant battery cover and camera lens. On the top is the headphone jack, power button and the microSD card slot. It has the micro USB port at the left and the traditional Nokia charging port at the bottom. Recent Nokia phones sport USB charging ports but Nokia understands that the E6 buyers will mostly be old Nokia customers and hence are likely to have the old Nokia chargers lying around.
The new phone maintains the slim profile of the older phones and feels nice to hold in the hand. It also feels very solid and there is a nice heft to it. However, not everything about the design felt right. The battery cover was slightly shorter than the slot it was in and hence would slide up and down by about half a millimeter, which I personally found annoying. The plastic cover at the top creaked when I pressed it.
Another thing about the design that bothered me was the LED under the USB port cap. It lights up when the phone is charging, which is fine if you are charging through a USB charger but if you use a standard charger that Nokia supplies, the port remains closed and the LED then shines awkwardly from underneath it. The overall build quality and attention to detail then, it seems, has taken a step back from the older E-series phones.

The keypad on the E6 is standard QWERTY affair and is mostly identical to those on the previous phones, which is to say it is comfortable to use. The keys below the display are also well spaced out on this phone and easy to use too.
The right side seems a bit busy due to the presence of an extra button between the volume control keys. The volume keys are backlit but I don’t feel that was particularly necessary. Volume keys are hardly looked at before operating and Nokia should have made them more tactile. I often pressed the middle button when I wanted to pressed one of the volume keys.
The button in between the volume rockers actually activates voice commands. You can press and hold the button and then speak the name of an application or file or contact to open it. If you press it during a call, it mutes the mic.
The sliding phone lock key on the right feels bit awkward to use because of its position. As on the E7, you can press and hold it to activate the LED flash on the back to be used as a flashlight.
The E6 lacks the soft keys found on the older phones since it has a touchscreen now. Users of these older phones will have to condition themselves to this new arrangement before they get used to it.
The Nokia E6 has a 2.46-inch display, which is slightly bigger than its predecessors. Nonetheless, the resolution has quadrupled.
Having 650x480 pixels in such a small area has given the E6 display tremendous pixel density. In fact, at 326-PPI, it is the same as the iPhone 4's Retina display. This makes the display very sharp and clear.
Also, unlike its predecessors, the E6 has a touchscreen. Unfortunately, 2.46-inch is not quite the ideal size for a touchscreen and it does feel cramped. This is particularly noticeable in the browser and the image gallery when you try to pinch to zoom.
Even if you remove the touchscreen out of the equation, the display still feels very small and not worthy of a modern smartphone. And I'm not sure if it was the resolution or the fact that I'm used to a much bigger display but my eyes hurt after looking at the display for more than a few minutes. This is one of the biggest shortcomings of this form factor, wherein the display size will always have to be compromised.
The Nokia E6 runs on a 680MHz processor with 256MB of RAM. In today's day and age, these specifications seem very outdated and I know that Symbian fans would say that the OS is very efficient. I can tell you for a fact that the E6 feels sluggish, particularly when it comes to launching applications or switching between them.
The E6 runs on the latest version of Symbian named Symbian Anna. Anna brings a few useful features to the table, such as an improved web browser and a portrait QWERTY keypad (not present on the E6 for obvious reasons), along with more subtle ones such as home screens that follow the movement of your finger as you switch between them and a brand new set of icons.
The updated browser, although new to Symbian, doesn’t offer anything that you haven’t seen in other browsers, such as the ability to create new windows and search from the address bar. Even those have their limitations; you can't have more than three windows at a time and when you enter a term in the address bar, the browser will think it is an URL and try to open it instead of doing a web search. The performance was disappointing as well -- with sluggish page scrolling and occasional crashes. The download manager continues to be sad and the Flash lite plugin is not as good as the full Flash 10.3 player on Android devices, which itself is not as good as the one for desktop computers.

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