Saturday, December 05, 2009

Early Impressions of the E72

As the successor of the E71 (duh) - the E72 retains the svelte dimensions and long list of features, but with a faster processor and a slightly redesigned chassis. So does the device live up to the expectations of this E71 owner? Unfortunately not.

Things I don't like:

Build quality. For something slated as a business phone, and with fairly high RRP the E72 feels cheap in the hand, especially when compared with the E71. The percentage of plastics used in the chassis has been increased, and moreover the plastics used seems to be of a lesser quality as well. The metal accents are also thinner than on the E71, from the rear battery panel, to the border that frames the front of the device. It could be argued that Nokia went this way to reduce the weight of the device, but according to the Nokia website, the E72 is supposedly 1gram heavier!

This is very disappointing indeed as many reviewers expressly stated that the quality of the E72 had not changed, or have been improved on. So the question is, are these people on the take, or are they getting a different phone that the production model? Either way, you just have to hold the two phones in your hand to realise that the quality is NOT the same standard.

Unfortunately this decrease in quality has extended to the most important part of the phone - the keys. Unlike the E71, which have springy keys with a very precise travel and weight, the keys on the E72 are the exact opposite. The keys in the middle of the qwerty are fine and springy, while the ones on the edges are spongy and have less travel. The shortcut keys to are fine, and so are the call accept and end, but the two softkeys are lack are spongy and lack the clickyness of the others - this is even more obvious since you have to click those two keys in order to lock/unlock the phone keyboard each time. So basically you have a mess of keys that all require different pressures to register a click, and also feel differently, which makes typing on the phone difficult and frustrating. Very poor indeed for an email/messaging phone, and even more so since they got it so right with the E71.

Just as test to see if the issue is an inherent fault with the different keyboard layout, I compared the keys to the E63, the cheaper brother of the E71, which have identical keyboard layout. I must say that even the E63, with its rubbery and more spongy keys, still offer a superior and consistent experience than the E72. If this hardware inconsistency is a result of Nokia's recent decision to manufacture their phones to China (they were previously made in Korea) - then this does not bode well for the future of Nokia, as it degrades the reputation they have for making solid phones.

Lastly, the E72 has the new optical navigation key which is a first for Nokia, and perhaps other phones - it relies on essentially a small touch sensitive square in the middle of the fairway navigation key, and allows you to scroll through the screen and through menus by swiping your finger over it. In theory at least, this interface was supposed to offer some of the touch-screen goodness that is lacking in this non-touchscreen phone, but alas, the optical navi key is a gimmick.

Swiping the key like a deranged person doesn't really get you much further - I find it was less effort and more accurate to just press and hold the navigation key. Scrolling websites was a little better, as the navikey allows you to scroll diagonally on pages, but with the way the Nokia browser was designed, the little cursor is always being pulled towards the nearest clickable link as you scroll, so it effectively stops scrolling whenever you hit one. Perhaps the only redeeming quality of the navikey is that it offers the option of haptic feedback, so you know when the phone has registered your swipe - but it only seems to highlight how finicky the whole system is, and how many false 'swipes' it can register. You can turn the navikey off, but this means that it disables the one use of the navikey which I actually like, which I'll discuss more in the positives section below.

Things I do like:

But there are some redeeming features to the E72, though I'm still not sure it is enough to win me over. Firstly, the phone now runs on a 600Mhz processor with more RAM and ROM than the E71 - this doesn't really translate much to performance, except that the UI of the E72 has more eye-candy, with animations for every little thing. I'll resist the temptation to bag Nokia on the eye-candy, since some people might like it, but its a bit of a waste of CPU cycles to me.

The phone also comes with a 4Gb microSD card, which is handy for storing the photos and video you take with the 5MP camera. Ignoring the increase in pixel count, the camera on the E72 is noticeably superior to the E71's, rendering colours more accurately, and now employing the LED light as an autofocus lamp (a feature I first saw in the E75). The camera interface is also improved, which allows the user to engage the autofocus feature just by placing your thumb on the navikey, then pressing the button to take a photo. Having said that, the navikey's seemingly inherent sensitivity does mean that sometimes the autofocus is activating when you don't want it to, or more worryingly, not registering a touch when you do. If the navikey is turned off, the autofocus is engaged by pressing the navikey down, then releasing to take a picture. However, if the camera feels that it hasn't got the right focus (indicated by the red rectangle on the screen), it won't take the photo…which is annoying for the times when the focus is either good enough, or you don't care.

Ok, focussing again on the good (can you see where this is all going?) the E72 has more improvements on the E71, which I'll just list:

- 3.5mm headphone jack

- USB charging (with supplied proprietary cable)

- HSUPA (theoretical 10.2Mbps)

- more battery life (more efficient processor + same big battery)

- access to the secondary camera


If you haven't guessed already, I'm pretty disappointed with the E72 - having had such a stellar experience with the E71, I was really excited to have a phone which built on that foundation, with improved guts and features. Instead, what I have in my hand is a phone with a solid feature set, wrapped in a cheap, plastic case that I'm seriously worried would not last the two year contract I have it on. And frankly, for something with a RRP of $729 AUS, I expected more.

I'm not a Nokia fanboy as such, but I've always appreciated Nokia's solidly built handsets, great battery life, and their useful yet utilitarian UI - but if the E72 is indicative of the direction Nokia is going, I seriously question Nokia's longevity as a top tier handset manufacturer.

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