Nokia E6 with Symbian Anna - First Impressions

by Volker Weber

e6sidebyside.jpg

Looks a bit like a BlackBerry, doesn't it? It should, because it appeals to the same audience. People who need a good phone with email messaging. Nokia has two prior devices, the E71 and its successor E72. They both have a 320x240 px screen which no longer is acceptable. This is the new E6 with 640x480 resolution, and much like the iPhone 4 screen you can't get close enough to see pixels.

Other than the E71/72, the E6 has a touch screen. So it's a bit like the next BlackBerry Bold, that RIM has announced in May, but won't ship real soon now. The E6 has very impressive specs that I won't get into. Just a minor detail that makes it nicer than the E71/72: there is a small spring loaded switch at the right hand side which locks and unlocks the device, much like all the other new Nokia smartphones. Very handy indeed. THe E6 feels very solid, has a stainless steel back, and there is absolutely nothing that I would not like about the hardware.

This cannot be said about the software. Symbian is a train wreck in slow motion. You can see it happening. An example: a group of young engineers ran a small project called Widsets. Small widgets you could run on your old Symbian phone. Very neat, five years ago. Three years ago, the widgets became part of the E71 interface. Then two years ago Nokia shipped the N97 and would not only have one widget desktop, but two. One for work and one for play. Last year the N8 shipped with Symbian^3. Major innovation: three desktops. Now I am looking at the latest Symbian version called "Anna" and what do I get? Four desktops. And you can make it five by adding another one. Does this remind you of razors?

What's different in Anna (PR2) from Symbian^3 (PR1.0, PR1.1, PR1.2)? On the surface of it: new icons and a new browser.

annaicons.jpg

annabrowser.jpg

The browser screenshot is a bit nasty since it is showing something that is not working. It should, and I don't know yet why it doesn't. Maybe it's the website, that hasn't yet been adopted to support Anna.

The beauty of Anna is only skin deep. It's still the same old desktop. You can't put shortcuts there without going through this very much outdated panel:

annashortcuts.jpg

By now you should have seen vast differences in font sizes. Let's take a look at three browser screens. Without menu, then after I tapped the arrow in the lower right corner, and finally, after tapping the Mehr (more) icon:

annabrowser1

annabrowser2

annabrowser3

Same thing. Vast differences in the interface. That is not going to change until Belle (PR3). And by that time, Nokia should be ready shipping Windows Phone devices without any such annoyances. Sidenote: Facebook is broken in this browser: look under Top News. "What's" is the entry field for your status update.

To end on a higher note, let's add some screens of things working: vowe.net in the default resolution and then zoomed out. And yes, the YouTube video plays:

annabrowserdefaultszie

annabrowserzoomout

And here is the email client, connected to Google Mail:

annaemail1

annaemail2

Would I recommend the E6? Only if you have decided to get a Symbian device. I find it superior to the E7 since it packs the same punch into a much smaller device. After having played with three recent Symbian devices, I still prefer the N8 over the E6 and E7, if only for the camera.

Comments

1. I wonder where you take the energy from to still (!) worry about Nokia phones? To me, they are dead horses. Even if the hardware rocks. So sad. (see last week's Businessweek article on CEO Elop).

2. How's the e-mail client? From the screenshot, it looks okayish.

Juergen Eichholz, 2011-06-10

Vowe, thanks a lot for your insights. One can only speculate how fragile the Symbian code must be, that it takes ages to implement minor changes. I do not really expect Belle anytime soon, judging by the time it takes them to get Anna out of the door. And Belle is going to be a LOT more changes.

Juergen, I disagree. Nokia still is the largest manufacturer of mobile phones, after three years of wholeheartedly doing almost everything wrong they possibly could. The Featurephones are really good, the hardware is brilliant (feel an E7) and Symbian works very well in certain aereas (energy efficiency being one). Now they only need to start earning money from it again ;)

It may not be as pretty, but for someone like me, who used it for years, it is more than OK. And yes, there is a spot in my heart for Nokia, I confess ;)

Nevertheless even I am owning an i[Pod,Phone,Pad2] by now. The Phone is from work, the Pod was won (thanks, Heise), the Pads formfactor is brilliant. Still, for messaging and daily use, the Nokia E7 is a winner. Gorgeous, large CB-display and (the most important thing) a great qwerty keyboard.

I am very much looking forward to the Mango (WP7) Nokia Phones. I really find Metro-UI intriguing, it is a very nice alternative to the grid-UIs (Android, iOS, Symbian). But, if either Nokia or Microsoft drop the ball here, it's over for them in the long term.

So, Nokia is dead, long live Nokia :)

Hubert Stettner, 2011-06-10

why are you trashing the phone update for having 3-5 screens ? isn't the same available on iphone or on the android ? you are attacking the very thing that makes symbian so much useful. I can do much more at a glance than I can do with an iphone! I have setup multiple mailboxes, my frequently called contacts are available on the home screen on a carousel (another widget. there's weather, there's access upto 16 apps on the homescreen in addition to the widgets. missed calls/ alerts like sms, emails. it handles very well.

If i use an iphone I still have to click a hundred apps. while MS mango is impressive, the more features, they bake into the OS the worse its going to be as regards the bloat. besides, there's always freedom I;d want to chose my own apps many a times. even though the flip side is better - where more features baked into the OS would mean buying less apps for basic things. then again, there are certain things I'd like to avoid like plague - too much social integration - like facebook

the part where you can damn symbian is the way the whole OS works. is aging, the email is clunky at best. the software in general works like its from the past - sometimes too many menus, sometime it got usability issues.

ashok pai, 2011-06-13

Ashok, it's fine having 3 or 5 or 7 screens. What you can't do is add more screens instead of playing some real catch-up. How about having a mail widget that can show more than two messages. Or a shortcut widget that can drag program icons on to. Or being able to drag widgets around at all.

I guess what I am trying to say is that fall behind because everybody else is moving way faster.

Volker Weber, 2011-06-13

What about the notification light?

Did you notice how very weak is it?

Trying to figure out if it's a hardware or software issue...

Gabriele Giuseppe, 2011-06-13

The symbian anna software also includes a vertical qwerty keyboard, speed enhancements, battery life enhancements and sliding homescreens that move with your finger and stability fixes. So it is a reasonably large update.

@Volker Weber - there is a shortcut widget and you can drag widgets around the screen in blocks. Have you actually used a Symbian 3 handset for more than 5 minutes?

Oh and in England the Nokia N8 is half the price of the iPhone 4 and comes with Angry Birds Rio and Angry Birds Seasons among many other games for free (without advertising).

Neil Pugh, 2011-06-13

Gabriele, I did not check the notification light.

Neil, I have used a Symbian^3 device for 248 days. Is that enough? How would you drag a program icon to the shortcut widget, and how would you move it around from the first to the second position for instance? Why do you even need a shortcut widget to place icons?

All of the current Symbian devices are great. Their problem is that there are far greater competing products out there. I am looking forward to the Anna update for the N8. The split screen keyboard and the portrait qwerty keyboard are way overdue.

I believe, it would have been much smarter to first fix the existing C6, C7, N8 and E7 lineup before dumping two more products on the market. Your existing customers are your best ambassadors, or your worst critics. Chose your poison.

Volker Weber, 2011-06-13

"it appeals to the same audience. " unless Operators provide unlimited global data plans for a flat rate (and in my region they don't) it does not appeal to the same audience.

Joel Demay, 2011-06-13

@Volker Weber - sorry, i didn't read the paragraph covering the shortcuts widget properly. tbh it took me months to find the shortcuts widget, it really isn't intuitive. my previous phone was an n96, and symbian 3 absolutely savages that os for quality. so symbian still impresses me. i've used iphone and android handsets, neither of which can compensate for the quality of nokia handsets. i no longer need own a digitial camera since i have an n8, worth the investment alone.

- and yes i totally agree with your comment regarding the release of symbian anna on new handsets before releasing it to existing customers. the exclusion of a qwerty portrait is a total shambles.

Neil Pugh, 2011-06-13

Joel, I understand your requirements. The BlackBerry is the only solution for somebody living in Dubai and traveling all over Africa and the Middle East. There are however a few people with a different profile.

Volker Weber, 2011-06-13

@Vowe From what my friends back in Europe and the States are telling me, Make it the only viable option for anyone willing to use 3G Data services extensively outside of his home country (slightly wider group than the one u are making reference).

Having said that for those staying strictly within their national boundaries, or happy to use their brand new smartphones as a 1996 Motorola startack, then I agree the Nokia and BB are made for the same audience.

Joel Demay, 2011-06-13

Looks like neither your friends nor yourself are up to speed to what's happening in Europe. One example.. VF is trying to preempt legislation.

And trust me, there are plenty of people who can do very well without a BlackBerry. At least according to market research.

Volker Weber, 2011-06-13

@Vowe......

- ¢3 a MB up to 5MB, then ¢15 for every 5MB after that

vs.....

Unlimited. (as in use anywhere in the world as much as u want for a flat rate).

I rest my case.

The BB is the only viable option for the International road warrior. Or at least the ones that want to use 3G freely without signing up for a new mortgage to finance the cost of their data plans.


Joel Demay, 2011-06-13

Joel, I am afraid, you will have to learn new rules. Less convenient, since they are in German.

Volker Weber, 2011-06-13

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