While Nokia makes a habit of practically defining "featurephone" for the industry, traditionally it's handsets like the N95 that hog all the spotlight, leaving Nokia's few QWERTY phones in the shadows. Not that they've been trying too hard -- while the E62 and E61i have both shipped over here, neither has featured 3G data in US bands, and the E62 even had the distinct pleasure of having WiFi stripped out. Enter E71, the successor to those phones, and Nokia's very first QWERTY device to feature US-friendly 3G.
Nokia is also (finally) taking form factor much more seriously: at 10mm thick, the E71 is one of the slimmest Nokia phones to date, and Nokia claims it's the thinnest QWERTY smartphone on the market. The E71 also attacks the drab, plastic looks of its predecessors with chrome accents and a glossy screen. The phone is incredibly pocketable, and comfortable to hold and use. Of course, with the smaller size Nokia had to cut down on screen real estate and keyboard spacing, but at a QVGA resolution there's little suffering on that front. The keyboard had a much more rigid, clicky feel to it compared to the spongy keys of the E62, and we were virtually typo-free on it within minutes.
With all this concentration on the exterior, Nokia hasn't forgotten the feature overload of old. The E71 includes A-GPS, WiFi, a 3.2 megapixel camera, A2DP Bluetooth, 110MB of built-in memory and a microSD slot. There's also plenty of software to take advantage of all that tech, thanks to the quite-mature S60 platform. It's running 3rd Edition Feature Pack 1, which lacks the screen transition fanciness of FP2, but seems much more stable and usable to us than its fresh-faced successor. Being a business centric device, the E71 comes with a full complement of office, email and PIM software, including a feature to switch on the fully between business and personal accounts, complete with separate mailboxes and home screens.
We'll confess to being spoiled by the iPhone's touch interface -- while there is more customizability and more power at your fingertips with the standard, d-pad controlled S60, there certainly seem to be an abundance of button presses to accomplish even simple tasks, though we never feel lost or confused by the OS. Some of the truly powerful features include Nokia's impressive Maps 2.0 application, the WebKit-powered S60 browser (which even includes an easy-to-use feed reader), and a strong integration with online photo services such as Ovi and Flickr, the former of which even includes geotagging for your photos. Nokia's own music store doesn't yet support the United States, but while the media-playback interface pales in comparison to today's more music-centric phones, playback support is certainly there, including true YouTube and Flash support.
The screen isn't particularly stunning, only 2.36-inches diagonal, QVGA and none-too-bright, but it certainly gets the job done and leaves room for all that QWERTY. Battery life is basically a non-issue, with 20 days of standby, and 10.5 hours of GSM talk, though the 4.5 hours of 3G talk might pose an issue. We didn't really put the processor to the test, but load times for just about everything were quite zippy, especially compared to the E62's consistent sluggishness in loading up simple things like recent calls and the address book.
Overall it's all about your OS of choice and what exactly you want to do with your phone. If music and video playback are key, the E71's screen and interface are going to pose a challenge, and if typing is paramount you might need a slightly larger QWERTY keyboard -- though our typing speed after about a day was roughly equivalent to our iPhone speed after about a year of use. As for accomplishing what it sets out to do, the E71 manages it all with style, providing a plethora of features in a speedy, beautiful and miniscule device. Since Nokia won't be working with American carriers right away on subsidizing the E71 -- thouch we can keep hoping for an AT&T berth -- you'll have to spring about $500 to bring one home, but it might just be worth it.