Friday, October 29, 2010

Phones: What I had

For the last 1.5 to 2 years, I have been using an unlocked Nokia E71 as my only phone. I used it heavily, often for two or more hours a day. My primary uses were email, calendaring, contact lists and to-do lists, generally done through Gmail, GAFYD and Exchange servers. I also used it for alarms and Google Maps and Google Reader.

Starting over the summer, the E71 would go through periods where it would reboot itself a dozen times a day. Sometimes the E71 would reboot when I was using it, sometimes when it was in my pocket and sometimes when it was laying on a table. Sometimes I would be at the office, sometimes at home, sometimes in a car. There would be periods of rebooting, and then the phone would be fine for a few days, or a couple of weeks. The battery always had plenty of juice. There seemed to be no reason to the behavior, it just seems like a disease that E71 phones can contract. I presume that I simply dropped the phone one too many times. Back in May, I dropped the phone at a SEPTA station and it landed hard enough to put a small crack the screen.

Looking back, I am slightly disappointed with the E71. I had a simple Nokia "candy bar" WAP phone before the E71. I only used that phone for very infrequent calls (I'm not really a talker), extremely rare WAP sessions (it was just too painful) and a couple of dozen texts (via a T9 predictive keyboard) a month. I carried the phone wherever I went for about five years, but mainly I used the phone as a pocket watch and countdown timer more than anything else. I had plenty of access to web-based email through desktop and laptop computers all day long, and carrying email access in my pocket didn't seem very valuable. I might have stuck with that old phone indefinitely, but rubber covering over the on/off switch disintegrated and I couldn't reliably silence the phone, or turn the phone on or off.

With the E71, I took a leap of faith and went with a smart phone. I graduated to email, calendaring and a more reasonable web experience and better texting software as well as a monthly bill for a data plan. The Google Maps Symbian app was revolutionary. These are clear improvements (except for the higher bill). The amount of time I spent with the new phone was probably two orders of magnitude higher than with the old phone.

Even so, I feel like the E71 never reached its' full potential. Mostly, it's little things, but there were some major annoyances/bugs:

  • The version of Symbian S60 that shipped with the E71 was missing my prized countdown timer, which my several-years-old S40-based phone had.
  • The "chrome plating" on the D pad wore off in spots, and now simply looks shoddy. Most of the body of the phone is made out of metal, but the spot that gets the most frictional wear isn't. That seems a like a poor engineering choice.
  • Finding, downloading and installing 3rd party applications was a hassle. Nokia has since tried to copy Apples' App store.
  • Sometimes, browsing to certain web sites would cause the browser to unexpectedly quit, or reboot the phone.
  • The mail program didn't support threaded, Gmail-style conversations or support Gmail-style archive/delete. There is a Gmail for Symbian app, but it feels cramped on the small screen of the E71.
  • QuickOffice was OK for quick notes, but you couldn't really write with it due to the screen and keyboard size.
  • It is widely known that the camera on the E71 is poor. Whatever megapixels it might have, the pictures are frequently blurry and/or have an odd tint to them. This was supposedly fixed on the E72. In two years, I have taken only three dozen or so still pictures and a few videos, mostly for kicks. I suspect that I would have taken more pictures if I had a better camera.
  • The Nokia firmware was only updated once the entire time I used the phone. Another firmware update, allegedly improving the camera situation, seems to only be available for certain European versions of the phone.
  • The 2.5 mm headphone jack only makes things difficult when it comes to headsets and headphones.
  • I experimented with other uses for the phone, trying out YouTube, Twitter, music and podcatcher apps. I never spent very much time with them, and they quickly fell into disuse.
  • I had hoped that I could stop carrying around my iPod, but the podcast experience on the E71 was much worse and the iPod simply sounds better when playing music. 
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