Nokia E6: a niche smartphone

The fine folks of WOMWorld/Nokia sent me a Nokia E6 for a trial period of two weeks. In this post, I wanted to write a couple of quick comments on my experiences with the device.

However, before I get into the device itself, I wanted to dedicate one paragraph to the context in which this device is launched. Nokia announced last February that it has chosen Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS for its smartphone platform going forward, while in the mean time “extracting” value of the legacy Symbian platform while they can. In line with this strategy, they have launched two additional Symbian^3 devices since then: the Nokia X7 and Nokia E6. We have already seen that Nokia’s Q2 results were very poor, and it is becoming obvious that Nokia has lost preference and market share among smartphone buyers with its Symbian offering.

Despite all this, I got interested in the Nokia E6, because of the price point (SIM-lock free for 325€ on Expansys.es) and my previously positive experiences with the Nokia E71. So, how does the Nokia E6 fare? To cut a long story short, it can no longer hold itself as a general purpose smartphone, in my opinion.

The device has one thing going for itself: hardware. In every way possible, it is a great piece of kit. It looks nice, feels good in the hand, is very sturdy, has a well performing keyboard, a nice crisp screen (though a little small), and a good camera (if you don’t mind full focus cameras).

In terms of performance, the Nokia E6 also holds its own. It’s not a 1GHz dual-core processor and you notice that, but it is by no means a slouch. You zoom quite nicely through the whole OS without really any hiccups. The only thing that was disappointing from a performance perspective  is battery life. I had expected to easily get two days on one charge, and I didn’t. And that was without using it very intensively (though with data on continuously). It would certainly go for a day, so it wasn’t worse than any other smartphone, but I was expecting a bit more with such a large battery and small screen.

One of the corner-stones of the Symbian^3 phones that were launched up until now, is that in terms of specs – screen resolution, RAM, processor speeds – they were all the same. This facilitates the development of the OS and apps for them. The Nokia E6 departs from this in terms of screen size and screen resolution: it has the smallest size of them all (2,4″) and the highest resolution (VGA vs nHD). This means in practice that Nokia has had to make adjustments to make Symbian^3 work well on the E6. In general, I feel they did a good job and normally text is easy enough to read and touch targets are easy enough to hit. There are some exceptions though:

  • Only in some some instances – like HTML emails in the email app – the fonts are really too tiny.
  • In some apps you can move around nicely without using the touch screen by merely using the dpad  (normally the legacy symbian apps), however in others you basically can’t use it at all (like Nokia Social), while there is a bunch where you can’t use it for everything (like Ovi Store). A bit of a mixed bag, though not critical for me in real life usage.
All these “incompatibilities” with the rest of the Symbian^3 smartphones combined with Nokia’s limited commitment to Symbian (I’d call it at maximum “maintenance mode”), makes me worry about how well the OS will be supported in the future. I imagine they will update for critical bugs, but I somehow doubt we’ll see Symbian Belle on this phone (they’d have re-adjust the UI for the different screen for a second time).

The real problem, however, with this phone comes with third-party applications. They are few and of those available, some are very poorly optimised. Thank goodness, Gravity works great on the phone, but I need a little more than that. I don’t use many apps, but for me a proper Google Reader app and a proper Dropbox app are pretty vital. Both are offered on the Ovi Store – I tried NewsFlow, Grap!, Cutebox – but because they are Qt apps, they do not work properly on the phone. Mostly it is matter of fonts, way too small, but sometimes it is the whole UI that is misconfigured (the app is perhaps designed for portrait, and the E6 screen has a landscape orientation). I am sure some will be optimised, but it is not a good experience to get a phone and then not have your most vital apps available from Day 1.

The last issue is the reason why I consider the E6 not to be a general purpose smartphone. If you know exactly how you want to use this phone in the coming year, perhaps the E6 will do just fine. However, if you rely on apps to make the phone more useful to you, it is quite likely that the E6 is not a great choice, as it is quite likely not future-proof.

So if it isn’t a general purpose smartphone, then what is its use-case? Well, the two distinguishing factors are its keyboard and the good looking and better feeling, small form factor. Hence, for anybody that does a lot of calling and emailing/texting/IMing, but is not too worried about Web service integration or a wide app catalogue, this phone will be great. Add to that the stellar Nokia Maps, and we are in fact talking about a good business usage phone (except if you need to Mail for Exchange accounts synced!).

As for me, like I said in the beginning, I am certainly not getting the phone, as I need the phone to be able to “grow” with me, and I can’t see that happening with the Nokia E6, but I am sure it will make some people very happy.

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