Dec. 12, 2008 -- In what is becoming an increasingly crowded smart phone market, the Nokia e71 is a pleasant surprise. While everyone races to get Apple's iPhone 3G, T-Mobile's G1 ("Google") phone, Samsung's Instinct or one of the newest BlackBerry phones, there must be some credit given to those who dare to be different.
And for those who want to be different, the Nokia e71 may be just for them.
Unlike many of its competitors, the e71 does not sacrifice feel for look -- a common complaint of the iPhone 3G. The e71 will not easily slip out of its owners' hands. In fact, the whole look and feel of the e71 is refreshing.
Unlike new touchscreen phones, which can be slippery and difficult to navigate when half of the screen suddenly becomes the keyboard, the e71 has a real, honest-to-goodness keyboard. This means it can be poked, prodded and dropped (though I don't advise this) like any good phone should be. During a fun night on the town, dropping the e71 most likely won't result in a cracked screen, a useless phone and, ultimately, a mad fit of crying.
But that is hardly the only reason the e71's keyboard makes up for a multitouch screen.
iPhone users often complain about the lack of feedback their fingers receive from typing. And many BlackBerry Storm adopters are baffled by the "entire phone is one button" feature, but e71 navigators will love the certainty the buttons provide, while still enjoying the benefits of advanced cell phone technology.
Unlike many similar phones in the market, the e71 boasts an improved, more familiar browsing experience. e71 owners can use the main phone navigation buttons, such as forward, back, up and down, to browse intuitively in a way that resembles browsing on personal computers. Although the e71 browsing experience may not rival the iPhone's, it is still a good one.
However, the e71 was not built to compete with the iPhone for mobile Internet users.
It was built for the person who wants a powerful, multitasking professional device.
Besides the ease of working with actual buttons and the clean design of the e-mail interface, the e71 provides several other work-friendly tools.
Most notably, the e71's calendar seems to me to be the premier calendar for any mobile phone.
Nokia found the sweet spot between an overly complicated, intimidating application and one that is overly simplified and inadequate. For the e71, it streamlined all of the necessities of a digital calendar onto a small screen. When you select a day on the calendar, for example, all the activities listed for that day appear on the right side of the screen.
This might seem like a small feature, but it is an indispensable one for the business user. Most phone calendars abridge each day's activities with a bullet and color code, forcing you to select the details for the day to know what's coming down the pipe. However, the e71 seems to understand that most people bouncing between meetings simply don't have the time or patience to select each day on its own. Instead, this quick, instant snapshot is preferred and welcomed.
That said, the e71 is not without its flaws. A distracting background design, lack of phone memory, complicated main menu and obscure applications mean that Nokia still has several improvements to make.
But if you want a small device that is nice to hold, easy to use, work-friendly and actually has buttons -- the e71 is for you.