It’s been 12 days since I last blogged about the Nokia E6, and it is time to say goodbye to this Symbian device. And in case you’re pressed for time, here’s the crux of my review:
The Nokia E6 might not be for everyone, but it’s an excellent Symbian device, one of the best QWERTY monoblock form-factor devices, and a smartphone I’d definitely recommend to anyone with good eyesight who’s looking for an alternative to a BlackBerry or an upgrade from the E72, E71 or even the E5 and E63.
With that over and done with, let’s now get into the bit you’re really interested in. 12 days ago, I ended my review promising to review the E6 by focusing on how it is actually like in real-world use. Since then, I’ve used the E6 as my main device and touched nothing else, firing up my E5 only when I wanted to do some display comparisons. I honestly love the Nokia E6; I’m really sad to see it go and I’d contemplate selling my E5 and upgrading to the E6 if I hadn’t already set my mind on going Android. I have to admit, though, that the E6 isn’t the perfect, be-all-and-end-all Eseries communicator and it isn’t suited for everyone.
No one around you is really going to be impressed with the E6. While the E7 I reviewed a while back drew a fair amount of curiosity, ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahhhs’ from everyone I showed it to, the E6 received no such attention. Some people I handed it to even thought it was a pretty odd-looking, ugly device! And if you do pick up an E6, don’t show it off by randomly placing your beloved smartphone on the table when having coffee with your friends at your local coffee joint. I guarantee that it will look hideous with your fingerprints, facial oil and smudges plastered all over the extremely glossy front. Even the black colour scheme does not help to hide your trails. The E6 is extremely difficult to keep clean – even the back is not spared. Dirt and dust collects in the gap between the slight hump for the camera and where the back cover ends, and is very hard to clean off. Dirt and dust also accumulates in the catch for the back cover, and in the gap between the back cover and the chassis. I have definitely seen back covers that attach more securely and don’t allow dust to accumulate, so I think the E6 is somewhat lacking when it comes to the feeling of solidity in the hand. As I mentioned in my previous article, it does not help that the back cover has a very slight play, up and down and left to right. This lets down an otherwise well-built smartphone. I also wish that it was possible to reconfigure the mute/voice control button between the volume keys to do something else such as launch the camera. It seems like such an obvious option to include but Nokia left that out.
Although the E6 is powered by Nokia’s 1500mah BP-4L battery, I really haven’t found battery life to be all that good. I have an always-active 3.5G data connection and I use push email via Nokia Messaging; Bluetooth and WiFi typically remain off. Let’s say I take the E6 off its charger at 9 in the morning and head to school. The journey to school is typically an hour long, during which I listen to music at 60% volume, keep tabs on my social networking sites, grab my email and triage my Google Reader. Once I reach school and head into class, the device sits in my pocket, still connected to the Internet via 3.5G but otherwise idle. It sits idle for long stretches at a time because I don’t touch my phone in class at all; during breaks I might retrieve it and have a look at what’s been happening on Twitter since I last looked at my timeline, reply a couple of SMSes, return a couple of short calls. I do the same with the device on my journey home as I do with it at the beginning of the day. Starting out with 7 bars, I usually end up with either 1 bar or nothing by the time I reach home at 5-6pm. I head out earlier at 7am on some days, and it’s either 1 bar or nothing by 4pm. It doesn’t quite make it through 1 day, and this has been rather disappointing to me. Switch Joikuspot on and watch the battery meter fall to nought. Worse, the battery meter, like on other Nokia devices, isn’t the most accurate thing in the world, staying at 7 and 6 bars for a long time before falling drastically towards 1 bar. And I have noticed that the E6 does tend to heat up quite a bit when connected via 3G even when sitting idle. Switching to 2G-only mode and not using push email does allow the device to last more than 12 hours off the charger, and also alleviates the heat problem. But who wants to be stuck on EDGE data and have to wait eons for anything to load?
Like every other teenager out there, I probably spend more time on my smartphone texting and accessing Facebook and Twitter than making phone calls. As I mentioned in my previous post, the E6’s keyboard is fantastic; I really love the definite click that the keys make as opposed to the softer feel of the E5 and E72 keyboard. What lets the E6 down, however, is the lack of decent free social networking clients on Symbian. Nokia Social is still rubbish (a mouse pointer amusingly appears when you try to use the d-pad to navigate around the app), the newly-released TwimGo 3 was very unstable in my testing and did not play well with the E6’s unique display resolution and Kasvopus worked fine was stunted by tiny fonts, tiny buttons and rather laggy scrolling. This leads into a general rant I have about Qt apps on Symbian: they seem to be very poorly integrated with the OS itself. The d-pad doesn’t work in any Qt apps other than Nokia’s own Ovi Store client. When faced with a display with a high PPI count like that on the E6, fonts become positively microscopic and difficult to read even for my relatively young eyes. And their ‘feel’ is very different from the built-in Symbian apps, unlike in iOS or Windows Phone 7 where third-party apps look and feel similar to built-in apps. If you’d like a decent social client on Symbian, your only real option is still the relatively pricey Gravity. Just buy it, even if paying for an app to access Facebook and Twitter feels like a positively archaic practice.
Speaking of apps, there are definitely fewer apps and games available for download in the Ovi Store on the E6 compared to other Symbian^3 devices. I could not find Molome, for example, nor many of the Symbian^3 games we’ve become used to seeing in the Ovi Store. Angry Birds is available, though, and does work just fine apart from having to contend with the positively tiny birds and catapult. I Must Run, another one of my favourites, also works, except that everything on the screen is very tiny. You’ll also be able to play Fruit Ninja just fine, despite it not being available for download.
Because the E6’s display has a 4:3 landscape orientation, I have to admit that much of the Symbian^3 UI looks quite weird even in built-in apps like Messaging. Everything looks very cramped and just a bit odd. Having the content of the app squished towards the left while the 3-button toolbar sits on the right, for example, needed some getting used to. The toolbar buttons also seem too large in comparison with the virtual soft-keys. And tabs in apps, usually a nice large size in Symbian^3, are so tiny that the best way to navigate between tabs is by using the d-pad. In fact, I have found myself using the d-pad quite a lot solely for this purpose. Certain 3rd-party apps like Nimbuzz don’t play that well with the aspect ratio either, as you’ll see in the screenshot. There are of course, exceptions like Nokia Email, Web and Nokia Maps which look just fine despite the non-standard (for Symbian^3) aspect ratio. Once you get used to how everything looks and learn to overlook the fact that not much content can fit on the display at one time, as I did, the Symbian^3 UI works on the E6 and feels natural enough with the virtual soft-keys and pop-up menus. We also have to remember that the current Symbian UI does have its constraints and landscape-only Android devices also have similar UI quirks. Oh, and I really like the iconography in Symbian Anna, with the colourful squircle-shaped app icons and the monochrome icons in lists. Still, could we have Belle already?
Many have commented that the E6’s display is too small, but I wouldn’t necessarily want the display to be any larger because the device is already wide enough as it is. The only time I have really wished for more screen real-estate is when trying to pinch to zoom in the web browser or in Maps; there’s almost not enough room for these gestures to take place. I think the pixel density of the E6’s display is the only thing that makes this display usable because it essentially is the same size as that on the E72. Web browsing is honestly not the most enjoyable experience on my E5 because of how much scrolling is required when reading a webpage, but the high display resolution of the E6 allows a lot more content to fit on the display at one time albeit in smaller fonts. Hence, less scrolling is required to get around and browsing desktop webpages is not as laborious as it is on the E5. Sunlight visibility is also top-notch; at no point was I unable to read the E6’s display while outdoors even in the strong tropical sunshine over here. Overall, despite the UI oddities and the lack of room for multi-touch gestures, the E6’s display is rather good.
Compared to the E7 that I reviewed a few weeks back, the E6 feels a lot more stable and less prone to freezing, despite symptoms of Symbian Arthritis presenting themselves every now and again. Symbian Anna also feels snappier and smoother than the Symbian^3 release directly preceding it. I do have a complaint about the widgetized homescreen though, which on the E6 allows for 15 widgets spread out evenly over 5 pages. In Symbian Anna, the widgets do not load until you navigate to the homescreen page they are on. While this saves on RAM, it means that one often has to wait a few seconds for the widget he/she wants to make use of to actually become usable, which is a bit of a disappointment given how widgets are supposed to enable instant access to various apps and functionality. Certain widgets like the music player widget can be quite unreliable; that widget often froze up and refused to display the song I was actually listening to. I also wish the notifications mini-widget would also remain on the display all the time. It seems pretty weird to have it continually appear and disappear.
The new built-in web browser in Symbian Anna finally proves that Nokia can build a competent web browser for Symbian. Now, it isn’t perfect; you can only open a ridiculously low grand total of 3 tabs at a time which is a very disappointing limitation, text in mobile sites is displayed in a ridiculously small font and there is no way of zooming in, and I feel that the menu is overly cluttered and too many taps are needed to, say, subscribe to an RSS feed. I found myself using the d-pad a lot when browsing mobile websites because it is nearly impossible to accurately tap the tiny links with a finger, but the virtual mouse pointer is somehow more difficult and clunky to use in the E6. In spite of all that, for less demanding users in day-to-day use, this web browser is smooth, fast and very usable and I was quite happy using it through the past 2 weeks without opening Opera Mobile at all. At least until I needed to open more than 3 tabs.
The E6 ships with Ovi Maps 3.6 in firmware but I installed Nokia Maps 3.8 from Beta Labs. I was not able to test out the drive navigation as I do not drive, but walk navigation works as expected. Although Nokia Maps is widely regarded as the best GPS navigation app available today, it lacks real utility for me because of its inability to calculate and display public transport directions like Google Maps can. Still, the E6 manages to get a location fix almost instantly (with AGPS turned on, of course) and Nokia Maps remains as easy to use as ever. In this day and age I would not recommend anyone bother installing the Google Maps Symbian app because it’s very outdated and does not even support pinch-to-zoom.
On the multimedia front, the E6 pretty much has the exact same capabilities as the rest of the Symbian^3 lineup. It is possible to watch video on the E6 but I doubt you’d really want to, once again because of the size of the display. It’s fine for watching video podcasts and music videos; in fact, you’ll be pleased with the amazing clarity of the display during video playback but the eyestrain will set in if you try watching a full-length movie or even an hour-long TV show. Music playback on the E6 is par for the course; there’s no gapless playback, adjustable EQ and album art support is spotty but I don’t think we’ll see any improvements in that area now. FM radio is standard, of course, and the Nokia Internet Radio app that you can grab from the Ovi Store works great with the Nokia E6. I certainly enjoyed listening to various Shoutcast streams while on the go via a HSDPA connection. The Photos app now displays your photo grid directly without requiring an extra tap, and I’ve got no complaints with it as scrolling, zooming and swiping between photos is buttery smooth and fast. It is also possible to share photos on Facebook and Twitter from the Photos app via Nokia Social, although I stuck with the recently-depreciated Pixelpipe app for this purpose. On the hardware front, the single speaker on the rear of the E6 is a tad too soft even at maximum volume for my liking, and the bundled earphones are just mediocre, but you can always swap them out for a better pair. As mentioned before, the E6 has a microSD card slot and 8GB of mass memory, making it possible to have as much as 40GB of storage in your smartphone for tons and tons of music, videos and photos. Media functionality has always been quite important to me, given the amount of content I consume on my smartphone, and the E6 neither pleases nor disappoints in this regard. It’s just…fine.
The camera is an 8-megapixel EDOF unit, and despite the apparent lack of autofocus it’s actually been capable of producing very good results when used within its limits. As usual, you just won’t be taking any macro photographs, but for everything else it performs extremely well and honestly surprised me with its clarity and the amount of detail it could pick up, especially considering that it is essentially a fixed-focus camera. I’d say it’s better than the E7’s camera and any other EDOF unit I’ve tried, which is quite surprising. I have uploaded a gallery of unedited photos shot with the E6 over here so that you can make your own judgments!
In terms of actually using the E6 for communication and PIM, all of the functionality present is on par with other Symbian^3 devices. I do love being able to initiate a call or look up a contact by simply starting to type from the homescreen; there’s absolutely no need to tap on a ‘Call’ button like on the rest of the Symbian^3 range. Symbian Anna has brought slight improvements to Calendar; there is now a dual-paned month view bringing the app back on par with S60v5 and S60v3, but otherwise everything else is exactly the same. As always, there is really no good, free method of doing PIM syncing on Symbian unless you’re syncing to an Exchange server. Texting and sending emails on the E6 is a great experience on the E6 because of the awesome keyboard, although you have to download your own IM app of choice from the Ovi Store (I recommend Nimbuzz). I did notice something interesting though; when a call is active, a dim little red LED behind one of the circular openings above the display lights up. I wonder what that is supposed to be for!
Mr. DHL Man dropped by this morning to pick up my E6 review unit, and despite all the negatives, I really like this Symbian smartphone and am going to really miss it. Here’s the thing: at the end of the day, the flaws of the Nokia E6 don’t really matter that much at all. What Nokia has created here is a sleek, solid, well-designed QWERTY monoblock smartphone that manages to keep up with the times, can do everything that larger and more expensive smartphones are capable of doing, and does what it was made to do really well. Sure, it’s still saddled with dear old Symbian, but the E6 is competitively priced (especially in comparison with the overpriced BlackBerry 9900) and the Symbian UI is still a great fit for devices of this form factor, surpassing Android in terms of how well it adapts to landscape displays (at least every single app displays in landscape orientation) and beating BlackBerry OS in raw functionality and customizability. Throughout the past 2 weeks, the E6 hasn’t at any point in time been a source of problems, and relatively poor battery life aside it’s been very enjoyable to use and has met my needs and allowed me to be as productive as ever while on the move. With a bit of fun in the form of Angry Birds on the 2.4-inch display thrown in here and there.
If I weren’t already considering a move to Android, I’d definitely give the Nokia E6 a serious look as an upgrade from my E5. Honestly, I’d take the E6 over an E7; the microSD card slot, user-accessible 1500mah battery, easy-to-use volume buttons and its lighter and smaller build are huge points in the E6’s favour. It’s easily my second favourite Symbian^3 device after the N8, and one that I can recommend without reservation to anyone looking for a device of this form factor. It is, quite simply, the best monoblock QWERTY device you can buy today.
This concludes our Nokia E6 Review Series.
The Nokia E6 Unlocked GSM Phone is available at Amazon.com