Monday, June 14, 2010
The Full Nokia E73 Review
Customers (and reviewers) made their love for the E71 clear, and Nokia sought to recapture the glory with the introduction of the refined, upgraded E72. For Americans, of course, the biggest problem with the E72 was that you couldn't buy it from a carrier -- and unlike the E71, it never got much traction as an unlocked purchase. That's where the E73 Mode comes into play, a mildly reworked version of the E72 with T-Mobile branding and, of course, support for 3G on T-Mobile's AWS bands. Put bluntly, though, this is still just a warmed-over E71 -- and in 2010, is there a market for that? Let's have a look.
Similarly, the navigation keys above the keyboard are a little weird (albeit for different reasons). This is actually an area where the Mode has taken a small step backward from the E71, because the shortcut keys for Home, Calendar, Address Book, and Mail are no longer delineated. Instead, they share the same piece of plastic as the soft keys and the Send / End buttons, giving the functions far less positive feel than we'd like -- especially since they're mushy, to boot. The center is dominated by the d-pad, a four-way rocking ring with an optical pad in the middle. It seems Nokia got a little too ambitious here with the spec sheet; they should've picked a rocker or an optical pad, not both, because we found the pad uncomfortable to "swipe" when it's surrounded by a raised ring. It's not a huge problem -- we just turned off the optical pad and used the ring the same way you would on an E71 -- but we would've been fine with a properly-designed optical pad alone, too.
The screen is a landscape QVGA unit, a relic of days gone by -- but that's just a reflection of the underlying operating system as much as anything else. Using the E73 is a serious time warp, though it does at least manage to use S60 3.2, a bump up from the Eseries-customized build of 3.1 used on the E71. In practice, that means you'll enjoy some quaint screen transitions (which look pretty awful compared to the transitions on any current Android device or iPhone), a clock and third soft key on many screens, a new gallery app, and other refinements sprinkled throughout. The browser is typical S60 fare, which is to say quite good -- by 2007 standards, anyway -- employing a WebKit rendering engine along with Flash Lite 3.0 support. Sure enough, Engadget's full site, our gold standard for this sort of test, rendered just fine -- but it was painfully slow to complete and actually continued to periodically freeze up while scrolling even after loading had completed (probably Flash's fault, if we had to guess). Indeed, the E73's processor, just like the platform itself, is straight out of yesteryear.
On the bright side, T-Mobile has done a marvelous job of staying hands-off with the E73's software build, leaving it nearly bone stock (compare that to the debacle of AT&T's butchered E71x, for instance). Don't get us wrong, there's quite a bit of software in ROM, but it's actually all stuff you probably would've downloaded anyway, believe it or not -- no, seriously. Stuff like Google Mobile, YouTube, Adobe Reader, QuickOffice, Psiloc's Wireless Presenter, and Ovi Maps with free turn-by-turn nav is all bundled, and about the only two things you'll find with a whiff of T-Mobile influence are TeleNav and access to visual voicemail. Good stuff.
Nokia isn't really playing up the E73's front-facing camera, and it turns out there's a good reason for that. Strangely, this is one place where T-Mobile's ROM customization actually didn't go far enough, because the E73 lets you try to place video calls as though you were connected to a network that supports them (T-Mobile's network -- just like AT&T's -- does not). You do this just as you would on any other modern S60 phone, so it's obvious that someone just forgot to take out this menu item; clicking on it tries to make a call, followed by an error message a couple seconds later. Not a big deal, but it's a little sloppy. What bothers us more is that there's no great way to video call on the phone over Skype or a similar service; Fring is the only viable option that we're aware of, but it's awkward to use and (in our case, anyway) extremely buggy. We'd recommend sticking with voice until Fring gets better -- way, way better -- or another player like Qik gets into the game.
Speaking of the camera, the E73's primary shooter -- a 5 megapixel unit with LED flash -- wasn't half bad, especially considering that the phone is far from a multimedia-centric device. We'd love to have had a dedicated two-position camera key, but in lieu of that, we found autofocus and shutter lag to be pretty minimal. Picture quality was pretty solid, with little noise and a JPEG compression rate high enough to keep visible distortion to a minimum. Macro mode was a bit weak -- we couldn't focus nearly as close as we can on most modern handsets with dedicated macro modes -- but it still gave us an advantage for close-up shots over the standard setting.
As audio quality goes, the Mode's earpiece was crisp and very loud at the maximum setting; the loudspeaker less so, which surprised us considering the large three-hole grill to the left of the camera lens. It's usable in a room with little to moderate noise, but recently, we've noticed a trend toward very loud speakerphones on these devices that can nearly hold their own against traditional desk phones -- and needless to say, the E73 doesn't fall into that category. That might not be a big deal for many potential buyers, but considering the Eseries' traditionally business-heavy leanings, it's more of a consideration than it'd be otherwise.
Unlike T-Mobile's other recent Symbian offering -- the forgettable Nuron -- we're inclined to think that the E73 has earned its keep, and there are people out there for whom this phone legitimately makes sense. Don't get us wrong, anyone coming from a G1, myTouch 3G, iPhone, Pre, or the like is going to be troubled by S60's aged, tired feel, but at the end of the day, this is still a very capable, versatile platform that can do pretty much anything you need it to -- as long as you know how to coax it, you can figure out what software to download, and you've got enough patience to let that geriatric silicon plod along
This Article was originally posted at Engadget