When Nokia revealed its latest line-up of Symbian^3 handsets back in September, my personal highlight was the C7-00. While the N8 has an impressive design, the C7 is a very shiny smartphone that will have a lot of appeal in its own right. It also has the other key ingredients, like a large touchscreen and an 8-megapixel camera with HD video recording.
The shiny finish carries through with the display. Nokia proudly announced the use of a polarised screen cover that makes it easier to see the screen in bright, outdoor, locations. With the low winter sun, I can say that it definitely does work. However, it does nothing to stop reflections indoors from, say, office lights.
If you’re used to using laptops with glossy screens, it won’t be a big deal, and the AM-OLED screen has an excellent contrast ratio and bright, vivid, colours. The other plus is the clock and missed-call information remain visible at all times in standby, with minimal drain on the battery.
The problem, as always, is the antiquated user interface. In its latest incarnation, it is definitely an improvement, but it’s still frustrating all too often, having failed to keep up with the competition. If I also want to be picky, I could also say that the 360×640 pixel resolution is also in need of an upgrade, but that would be a little unfair as it’s still acceptable even if Android and Apple are now offering much more.
With the N8, you could excuse the software shortcomings because of its incredible hardware specification, namely a 12-megapixel camera, Xenon flash and HD recording and playback (with an integrated HDMI port). But, the C7 doesn’t have these luxuries to fall back on.
In fact, the camera doesn’t even have autofocus. Instead, Nokia has used an ‘EDoF’ sensor, which stands for Enhanced Depth of Field. This uses software to do away with the need for an autofocus sensor that adds unnecessary bulk to a phone. As a result, the phone is only just over 10mm thick. Not bad for any smartphone, let alone one with an 8-megapixel camera.
With nothing sticking out of the back, it keeps the phone looking sleek, but is the camera actually going to compete with a traditional autofocus one? Well, it tries but I am yet to be convinced that it’s worth having for the sake of shaving off a millimetre or two thickness.
For a start, it can’t focus on objects close-up at all, ever. That includes things to about one metre away. Then, from a metre to infinity, everything should be in perfect focus. While it does have the advantage of not requiring time to wait for the focus to lock on, making it pretty much idiot-proof, the results tend to look quite unnatural. Not only that, but the images aren’t very sharp when viewed at 100% size (as you can see from the samples below). The LED flash wasn’t really much good either.
So, the camera is okay but not great. The N8 is a world apart, and an autofocus still proves the best way to get good photo results.
With the same processing power as the N8, the C7 isn’t slow, but the touchscreen did occasionally refuse to respond to touches for short periods of time. Hopefully, such glitches (which were also present on our N8 review model, as well as a prototype E7) will be fixed in future software updates, although the big update will be from the next Symbian updates to further improve the user interface.
Although old Nokia smartphone users will be relieved to know that certain things are better, like pop-up windows that give information (such as going online) fading away without user intervention, there are still a number of things that just make you ask ‘why?’. Why do you need to give permission to apps to go online? Why do you need to know that your phone is going online at all? Unless told otherwise, wouldn’t you expect the phone to connect via Wi-Fi first and 3G second?
Why is it that, when you activate geolocation in the camera settings to save the location where you took a picture, the phone will stop you taking a picture in order to inform you that it couldn’t go online? What other operating system will let you miss that photo opportunity because you lost signal?
It’s silly things like this that annoy, and make you wonder what the development team has been doing for the last few years. Things are likely to change more rapidly in the future, under new direction from management and changes within the Symbian foundation, but they can’t happen soon enough.
All of this sounds like a broken record, but it is still as valid now as it ever was when Nokia first introduced Series 60 5th Edition.
Ovi Store also needs to continue to improve at a faster rate than it is. Nokia is proudly talking up the huge amounts of downloads it gets every day, but the choice of apps are still limited and the price of apps and games are still too high. Why, for example, is Angry Birds retailing for £3 when it is free on Android (with in-game ads) and just 89p on iOS?
Nokia has added a social networking app to the phone, allowing you to configure support for Facebook or Twitter. To use it, you must have an Ovi account and sign-in to that before adding your relevant login data. Once that’s complete, you can populate a widget on the home screen to give updates, although for proper functionality you’ll want to get the full Facebook or Twitter app. Gravity is still one of the best, supporting a range of services, but it costs an eye-watering £8.
When smartphones were used only by business users, high prices for apps were almost justified (I say almost, as they were still deemed overpriced to many) but Nokia must start to encourage developers to cut prices. As it stands, few people will likely buy much content for their phone, which in turn will dissuade developers from supporting the platform.
Nevertheless, I can have no complaints about the performance of the phone itself. The 1,200mAh battery keeps the phone going for days, and the talktime is equally impressive at over five hours in 3G mode. There’s Wi-Fi, HSPA support and, naturally, GPS for use with Nokia’s own navigation and mapping software.
The C7 also supports USB On-the-Go, allowing you to connect flash drives or even USB hard drives to the phone for enhanced storage (if separately powered), on top of the 8GB already installed in the phone, with a microSDHC slot for up to 32GB more. This is on top of an operating system that multitasks without issue and proves that the Symbian operating system is let down only by its front-end. Nokia may have bold plans with MeeGo for 2011, but there’s still a chance that the C7 and other Symbian^3 phones can be saved with a little bit of effort, and speed.
Overall, the C7 is an okay phone. It’s easy to make calls and text, and the standard apps do what they’re expected to do, even if they’re not as polished as others, but the UI issue has more of an impact here than it does on the N8. With that phone, you can accept the shortfalls because of the amazing hardware, which is quite unique in a market filled with handsets that are all quite average in the imaging department. Not even Samsung or Sony Ericsson has produced anything to rival the N8 camera this year.
The C7 also looks the part, giving it appeal to a wide audience beyond the loyal Nokia fans who believe the current user interface is just fine.
The C7 is another Nokia phone to use the Symbian^3 operating system, with a series of tweaks to try and improve the dated user interface. There’s still a lot of work to do, and the C7 doesn’t have the impressive features of the N8 to fall back on when you start to notice the cracks. However, the phone looks fantastic and it also has a great display and excellent battery life. The camera, while offering 8-megapixels, lacks autofocus and gets an alternative system that produces average results. If you can afford the extra, go for the N8 over this.