Nokia 701 Review

Introduction and Design

If we are asked which features we'd like improved on current smartphones, apart from the obvious contender battery life, one of our answers would be screen brightness. Average pixel density we can live with, but the brighter the display the less annoying its outdoor usage, especially if you have that old yellow star shining directly on your phone's screen when you are trying to look for a contact or check a website.

The Nokia 701 manages to cram in the brightest screen on a mobile phone to date with its 1000 nits - Nokia E6 was the previous champion here with its 900 nits. The phone is about 50% brighter outside than the LG Optimus Black, for example, with its 700 nits. The Nokia 701 is, however, running Symbian, which is clunkier than Android, and has less apps to choose from.

The platform is not on the backburner of Nokia, though – parallel with the work on its Nokia Windows Phones, the manufacturer managed to out the new Symbian Belle, which has a lot of UI elements in common with Android and other modern mobile operating systems, so is the brightest screen out there together with Belle an enticing enough combination to resurrect the excitement about Symbian handsets? Read on our review of the Nokia 701 to find out...

The package contains:

  • Nokia 701 handset
  • Wall charger
  • microUSB cable
  • Stereo headset with microphone


The handset is thin enough at 0.43” (11mm), but not as anorexic as the sub-10mm crowd out there, which are, however, mostly expensive high-end handsets. The Nokia 701 is the most loaded so far out of the new Symbian Belle batch, and the design does sport some premium material like the easily detachable metal battery cover. The rest is plastic, but of the sturdy variety, and the phone feels pretty solid in the hand. We are not digging the overly rounded corners too much, as they make it look a bit like a toy. The back houses Nokia’s run-of-the-mill 8MP fixed-focus shooter with dual LED flash.

You can compare the Nokia 701 with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

Now let's cut to the chase and examine this sweet 3.5” LED-backlit IPS-LCD display with 360x640 pixels and the ClearBlack technology, which diminishes reflections outside. The screen manages to shine like a crazy diamond with 1000 nits of brightness , which is great outside. Compared to some other phones we put it next to in the sunshine outdoors, it was way more visible at full throttle.

See below the pictures from our comparison of the Nokia 701 screen with the iPhone 4, which sports the above-average 600 nits, and the Samsung Galaxy S II, which goes up to about 400 nits:

We enjoy pretty decent viewing angles on the Nokia 701. The image that the screen produces is with nice, punchy, but not overly saturated colors. One of the big downsides of Symbian is that it is mostly meant for 360x640 screens, but on the 3.5-incher of the 701, pixel density comes above average, so no complaints about that. Round elements in letters from smaller font sizes still appear jagged sometimes, however.

Of note is the dedicated voice control button, keeping a low profile on the right, between the volume control keys. It should come in handy when you are driving, for example and want to fire the Maps application, or go to the music player, but is with limited functionality as it only calls apps up, and is not a fully integrated solution.

Nokia 701 360-degrees View:

Interface and Functionality:

Compared with previous versions of Symbian for touchscreens, even with Anna, Symbian Belle feels fast, and we are talking a very notable difference. Browsing is faster, swiping and scrolling around the interface feels smooth, while installing apps is also much quicker. There is still a noticeable delay while launching some heavy apps, though.

Thiszippy performance has something to do with the fact that Belle's codehas been optimized for speed with loads of clutter taken out –Nokia claims it has 70% less code than the older versions. Also, wehave improved hardware with the 1GHz processor inside the Nokia 701plus 512MB RAM - this combo is a first for Symbian handsets.

Moreover, for the first time in quite a long period, we were actually enjoying the user interface on a touchscreen Nokia handset. Symbian Belle takes cues from the other popular mobile platforms with its multiple homescreens with individual wallpapers and the ability to place shortcuts on them. There are also widgets with various sizes, and a neat and swift pull-down notification bar with connectivity switches. The initial choice of widgets isn’t very rich, but the basics are covered, the visuals modernized, and some more can be downloaded from Ovi Store. When we add the characteristic landscape mode in Symbian, which works throughout the whole interface and the native apps, things are starting to look even more polished.

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While not as versatile as Android, for example, Belle holds its own with the contextual navigational buttons at the bottom of the screen, which are like taken directly from MeeGo-Harmattan on the Nokia N9. There is usually a back, search and context menu button handy on the bottom strip, but they can also change according to the app you are in, like adding a paper clip button for attachments in the email or messaging app.

The context menu options have been reduced, but still present too many redundant choices for the uninitiated. Do we need the “help” option everywhere telling us common sense stuff, for example? The main menu, on the other hand, is now just a scrollable list of fat, easy to press rounded icons, instead of apps distributed amongst arguably decided folders and subfolders like the mess it was before.

It’s a bit inconvenient that you first have to create a folder in the main menu, in order to add it to a homescreen afterwards, instead of directly making one on the homescreen. Also, rearranging the icons is a tad cumbersome since you have to specifically choose “Arrange” from the context menu options instead of just tap, hold and move around like on the homescreens. The search icon on the strip at the bottom of the screen, however, comes handy when you are looking for an app in the long list.

Digging further into Belle, we find that some of the native apps have been updated, too, and for the better. The basics, like Contacts and Calendar have seen the interface rearranged for easier access to options, and some small details are taken good care of, like the abundance of contact detail options (including a personal assistant number, for example) receiving more compact font so much more of them can fit on one screen now. The browser and camera interfaces have been retouched as well, but more about that in the respective sections.

In short, Symbian Belle is the best and closest to Android and iOS effort on Nokia’s part for a touchscreen OS. This is an interface that is pleasant and suitable for everyday usage like nothing that the Finns have done before, and the few flaws left could be easily plugged in subsequent editions. Too bad iOS and Android are with a few hundred thousand apps, and a few hundred pixels of supported resolution ahead of Symbian, making it mission impossible to catch up, especially if your focus has shifted. Belle, however, is great news for people who currently own Symbian^3 devices, as the update should be hitting their handsets soon to breathe new life in their 2010 devices.

Messaging, Internet and Connectivity:

The virtual keyboard with split-screen appearance has stayed from Symbian Anna, which means fat, round and well-spaced letters, with the ease of use only limited by the screen size. The messaging app has made attaching various multimedia a breeze, thanks to the contextual navigational strip at the bottom, same with the email app, but they haven’t changed much other than that.

Browsing on the 701 is the best experience you can have on a Nokia device, thanks to the new interface and the significantly sped up hardware, which makes panning, scrolling and pinching smoother and, Nokia claims, 3x faster than before.

With that said, it’s still not much compared to iOS or Android. The rendering engine resorts to the checkered boxes more often than it should, pages with plugins get scrambled, especially with Adobe Flash, support of which is sorely missed. On 1GHz with dedicated 2D/3D graphics accelerator and 512MB of RAM it’s only a matter of will and a cooperation effort with Adobe to run it. In short – you can teach old dog new tricks, but don’t expect it to perform like a young puppy. One thing the browser does very well, though, and it is automatic text reflow for easier reading of articles.

The Nokia 701 has a 14.4Mbps pentaband HSDPA radio, plus all the usual connectivity suspects, so you can use the phone on any GSM network with 3G speeds, including on T-Mobile USA. As on all touchscreen Symbian handsets of late you have the latest version of Nokia Maps to provide you with free offline voice-guided navigation worldwide, including the US, which recently added public transit and live traffic support in major countries, so you don’t need to splurge for navigational software.

The handset also offers an FM radio with RDS, and the Play via Radio FM transmitter app, which streams the sound to a radio station frequency of your choosing. Mass storage mode and USB-on-the-go for hooking up flash drives directly are also becoming standard for higher-end Nokias with Symbian, and are thus present on the 701. Since there is no HDMI or DLNA capabilities, your only option for video on a bigger screen is the composite TV-out via the audio jack.

What sets it apart in the connectivity department, though, is the embedded NFC chip with its own polished little app. Nokia has announced some grand plans for NFC functionality going into all of its future handsets, so it might not go to waste, especially if you have other new Nokias around to bump and quickly exchange files with, without pesky PIN codes like with Bluetooth. Mobile payments and using NFC as an access pass are taking off rather slowly, though, so ultimately it’s still a show-off-to-my-friends feature.


The bright display helps when framing a shot outside, and the updated camera interface is quite handy. Not that it has received much functional changes since Symbian Anna, but it’s cleaned up and the camera options are neatly tucked in the bottom navigational strip, as in all other apps of Symbian Belle. You can geotag your photos, which is turned on by default, just like the face detection function. Shot to shot times are almost instant when you turn off the preview option, since the camera is fixed-focus.

The 8MP camera is decent, but good shots usually come from very well-lit environments, it struggles in lower lighting. Dynamic range is also not great when you have contrasting or bright objects, so halos appear sometimes when the sky meets a darker object’s borders, for example. Photos could be sharper, and, while contrast was decent, colors came out colder than they should, with the overall effect of blandness. Since we have infinite fixed focus, which starts from about 20cm onwards, you can't do clear macro shots with the Nokia 701.

Video capture is done in HD 720p definition with 30 fps, and the clips are pretty smooth, without skipped frames, but the colors could be jollier, and the image sharper. The active noise cancellation mic did a decent job in making our voice stand out in the video captured, and you can use the LED flash as a video light. All in all, the 8MP shooter performs on par with the other Nokia phones with the fixed-focus module, which means it does fine only in well-lit situations.

Nokia 701 Sample Video:

Nokia 701 Indoor Sample Video:


The updated interface of the music player shows album art now on a bigger part of the screen, which prettifies it, and the progress bar is fatter, making it easier to touch. The sleek CoverFlow-like interface in landscape mode has stayed, with just the buttons reshuffled around a bit. The music player keeps its good level of functionality, with equalizer presets, and Play via Radio present directly in the song options. The loudspeaker is decent, but not as powerful as the ones on the Nokia N8 or the Xperia line of Sony Ericsson, for example.

The Nokia 701 sports a pretty broad video formats support out of the box, with DivX/Xvid or MPEG-4 video playback up to 720p resolution presenting no issues for the handset. The default video player is pretty basic – none of that video looping or showing the battery status when you touch the screen wussy stuff.

There are photo and video editing apps preinstalled, which work very well, especially the picture editor, which is brimful of options and with pleasant, easy to use interface.


The Nokia 701 call quality is pretty decent in the earpiece, no hollow sounding voices or hiss, but it could use a bit more volume. The other end said they could hear us with excellent clarity, as the dedicated noise-cancelling mic did a great job in filtering out street noise.

The alleged extra toll on battery life from a brighter screen is negligible, says Nokia, because of the ambient light sensor. We ran a 720p video at full and then half brightness for a few hours, and a maxed-out display seems to drain the battery about 30% quicker, but that can probably be said for most other smartphones.

In reality, the sensor will only max the brightness when you use the phone while the sun is shining directly on the screen, which will likely be a fairly short amount of time. The manufacturer cites 6 hours and 45 minutes of talk time in 3G mode, which is about average.


Having a more visible screen outdoors than other smartphones is a very tangible differentiating factor for the Nokia 701, but the handset has some other tricks to show. It is solidly built and features the best-looking Symbian to date in its Belle edition.

When we add convenient features like the mass storage mode, the NFC chip, a dedicated voice recognition button, USB-on-the-go and an FM transmitter, the phone is starting to look a versatile workhorse. Points, however, must be taken out for the hit-or-miss fixed focus shooter, and the still clunky browser, which is faster than on any other Symbian phone, but the underlying rendering technology and plugins like Adobe Flash are things that need lots of work.

Looking around this price point we find many handsets that deserve your attention. The extremely compact Sony Ericsson Xperia ray goes for about the same money as the 701, and has a very good pixel density, but smaller, 3.2” screen. Its 8MP sensor produces pics and video on par with the 701, but it is running the latest version of Android with hundreds of thousands of apps available for it, and has full Adobe Flash support in the browser.

If the 701 is on your radar, though, it’s probably because you follow the brand, not because it has the brightest screen out there. If that’s the case, the Nokia N8 has gone down in pricing to about the same point, and nothing beats its 1/1.8” 12MP camera sensor yet, so with the upcoming Belle update it’s also a wise alternative to the Nokia 701.

Software version of the review unit: 111.010.1009

Nokia 701 Video Review:


  • The most easily readable in sunlight mobile display
  • Symbian Belle is the most visually pleasing and easy to use Symbian to date


  • The default browser needs its rendering engine and plugin support improved
  • Fixed-focus camera can't do macro shots

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