Nokia 701 Review

Interface, Functionality, Messaging, Internet and Connectivity
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.

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.

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