Monday 21 August 2006

The best phone ever.

As I mentioned, I've just got a new phone. And it's class.

A few years ago, I got a Nokia 7650, and was seriously impressed. It was my first (possibly even the first) Series 60 phone, and not only did I love it to bits, but I found that, after using it, I couldn't stand the old Series 40 phones. Honestly, I have no idea why Nokia even still make phones with the Series 40 interface when Series 60 is available. I suppose some people must like it. God knows why.

So my next phone had to be another Series 60, and so I got the 6600. It was like the 7650, only even better. I loved it to bits, too.

Then, a year ago, because a very good price came along at the right time, I jumped up a notch: I got a Nokia 9500 Communicator — almost more of a miniature laptop than a phone, with a wide screen, full keyboard, support for Word and Excel documents, a decent Web-browser, and wi-fi. By now, I used my phone for email a lot, so the wi-fi was a great feature: I could access email quickly and free of charge while at home. What with the large screen and full keyboard — with surprisingly good keys, by the way: you can't exactly touch-type on it (not that I can anyway), but I make no more typos on it than I do on a full-size PC keyboard — the 9500 has actually become my email device of choice over the last year. Whole weeks go by without my switching on any of my other computers. It's a fantastic little piece of kit.

Not perfect, though. The trouble with giving the user so many cool features is that we then come to expect even more. And the 9500 has a few obvious failings (and I don't mean its size — yes, it's big, but it's about as small as it can be with a full keyboard. It's a fair trade-off).

Firstly, it's a Series 80 phone. This is good. However, it's only a Series 80 phone when you open it up. When it's shut, it's a Series 40. Flip it open, and you have the most advanced user interface Symbian have developed — it really is more like using a PC than a phone. Snap it shut, and you have a crap old phone that I would probably rank as the worst Nokia make: not just a Series 40, but a pared-down Series 40 with half the functions removed. Even searching through your contacts is pretty crap — particularly bizarre when you realise that, when open, the phone has the best contact-searching ever. Nokia's thinking seems to have been that the phone's so damn good when it's open that no-one's going to use it shut anyway, so why bother? But you need both hands to use it when it's open. As a result, it's not a phone you can ever use with one hand for anything more advanced than speed-dialling or reading an SMS.

That's reading an SMS, not writing one, because the other thing Nokia didn't put on the 9500 is predictive text. Again, it's got a full keyboard, so why bother? Well, since it's got a huge memory and Nokia own the predictive text software so don't have to pay anyone else to use it, why the hell not? This was a major shortcoming.

The phone's a bit slow. Huge memory, powerful operating system, and yet opening an email takes a few seconds. There's really no excuse for that.

The final thing Nokia screwed up was that they closed the phone's front screen to developers. You know all those cool applications you can download for your phone? Well, there's plenty of stuff you can get for the inside of the 9500 — the Series 80 bit — but the Series 40 bit is untouchable. So not only is the phone crappy when shut, but no enterprising programmers can do anything to improve it.

Those criticisms aside, the 9500 does have some really nice little touches, quite apart from the big screen, full keyboard, Word support, Adobe Reader, etc. Its clock can hold multiple alarms at once, and they can be set to repeat at whatever interval you like. When changing profile, you can set it to change back at a certain time. It has remote locking, so, if someone nicks the phone, you can send it a coded text message that will completely lock the phone. You can specify any criteria by which to search through your contacts: email address, phone number, job title, street name, whatever. That is seriously useful. And it has standard PC shortcuts like Ctrl+A for Select All and Ctrl+X for Cut, as well as some handy shortcuts of its own, such as one key to turn Bluetooth on and off.

I just got a new phone, the Nokia E70, and it's safe to say that Nokia learn from their mistakes. It's a Series 60, it has a full keyboard, and every mistake Nokia made with the 9500 has been rectified.

Even when it's flipped open to show the full keyboard, predictive text still does what it can — putting capitals at the start of sentences automatically, for instance. And the phone is seriously fast.

The wi-fi's been cranked up to a nice high speed, the browser is much better than the 9500's (which was pretty bloody good), the email app is fast and flexible and can even handle push mail, it can still handle Word and Excel documents, as well as being able to control Powerpoint-type presentations wirelessly — there's something I'll never use — it has remote locking, and it's small! The 9500's size was never a problem in Winter — if I'm wearing a big warm coat anyway, I'll have big pockets — but it's nice to have something that slips into my jeans when it's hot. I just couldn't resist wording it that way. My apologies.

The screen's a decent size for a standard phone, though, of course, woefully small if you've got used to the 9500's big screen. It also has unbelievably high definition: I have not yet been able to make out any pixelation at all. And the font rendering is of Apple standard. The screen may be much smaller than the 9500's, but I can read much smaller text on it.

The PC shortcut keys are absent, but that's fair enough for a device that has no pretence of being a laptop. It does have its own copying-and-pasting system, so that's cool. The alarm clock, unfortunately, only handles one alarm at a time. Never mind. And the profile timer isn't here — again, a shame, but hardly a big deal. Turning Bluetooth on and off is a bit of a hassle. Tsk.

On the other hand, the E70 is VOIP compatible, so, in theory, I should be able to use it to make completely free phone calls to anywhere in the world from home. I've yet to try this out, but it looks promising. As an aside, it says something about how powerful Nokia are that they've persuaded the networks to sell something with a feature guaranteed to eat into their profits.

One thing Nokia are still insistently getting very, very wrong: although the phone has a perfectly good MP3 player built in and can take nice big memory cards, it has no jack plug. You're supposed to use this proprietory "Pop-port" thing to plug in special Nokia earphones, of which there were, last I checked, two different models. Have Nokia really not figured out that letting people use their own choice of headphones will encourage sales. Nokia are surely one of a handful of companies capable of blowing the iPod out of the water, but not until they ditch this nonsense.

To solve this problem, I'm going to buy me one of these things. Not only does it look like the bees knees, but its manufacturers compose a seriously entertaining press release:

The muses 801 is supplied with an extra clip battery cover. If you donot like to hang it over your neck, just simply change a clip battery cover with it then clip it on your cloth.

I'll make sure to do that. But first, I'll need a cloth.

The battery life issue is always happened with li-polymer rechargeable battery built-in headsets.

Yes, it certainly is always did.

Thank you, Grandvue.

And thank you, Nokia, for an utterly, utterly wonderful little phone.


Another good thing about the E70: Nokia have finally ditched their insistence that you use their PC Suite software to attach the phone to your computer; it's still an option, if you like installing things on your computer that will break it, but you can instead simply plug the phone into your computer and have it act as a standard USB card-reader. I haven't tried it yet, but I imagine that will work on Macs, too.

Further update:

I have managed to find a very slight fault with this otherwise perfect phone. It claims that the memory cards are hot-swappable — that is, that you can swap them without turning the phone off. Well, you can, but the new card you put in will be all screwy and unusable until you reboot the phone. I expect this fault to affect me approximately never.

On the other hand, I've got the VOIP working. The phone's not built to handle NAT, but various SIP providers, including Free World Dialup, have provided workarounds for that. (Until two days ago, I had no idea what NAT or SIP were. The learning curve is steep, and Nokia provide sod-all instructions for this bit.) Anyway, if you want to set up VOIP on your Nokia E70 — or any other E-series phone — you can find the necessary settings here. Perhaps I have just saved you having to repeat the many hours of research it took me to find that.

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