July 2011 was when I decided to ditch my Apple iPhone 4 and try something different. As I mainly text or email from my mobile, having a physical keyboard with tactile feedback appealed to me. After doing some extensive online research on Pay As You Go (PAYG), I eventually decided on the Nokia E6. On paper it ticked all the boxes, a quality physical keyboard, touchscreen, decent camera and build quality, extremely good battery life and built in maps. The price was very competitive too at half that of the iPhone.
The E6 promptly arrived and on unpacking it was definitely a beautiful piece of engineering, sleek and reassuringly weighty combining cool stainless steel and glass. I naturally chose black. The 2.46″ touch screen was stunningly crisp and very bright, VGA resolution at 326 ppi with a protective hard covering of Gorilla Glass. A four way rocker type navi key also provided a tactile alternative to the touch screen, or so I thought. The phone has 8GB of built in storage, I fitted an additional 32GB micro SDHC memory card giving a whopping total of 40GB.
The E6 provides excellent connectivity with just about every cellular network band covered, as well as Bluetooth 3, GPS and WiFi. There is even a built in RDS radio to listen to news on the go. I particularly liked that you can use Nokia’s servers to push any email account to the phone, including standard POP3 mail. The phone also supports Microsoft Exchange. At the time I purchased the E6, the phone was one of the first to run Symbian Anna OS although I understand you can now update it to run Nokia Belle. If you aren’t familiar with Symbian, think back to the Psion organisers from the 1980s and early 90s. These ran EPOC which later transformed into Symbian OS as organisers were replaced by the smartphone. For the record I had also previously owned a Sony Ericsson P900 smartphone, a rather interesting touchscreen Symbian phone with a stylus and flip keyboard. Naturally I was looking forward to the latest Symbian experience.
So how was the E6? On the plus side the battery life was amazing compared to the iPhone. I managed nearly a week without 3G and light usage. Even with 3G and regular usage I think it lasted about 3 days on a single charge. The screen appeared even crisper than the retina screen of the iPhone, the ability to play flash was a bonus for sites such as BBC news and the keyboard felt reassuringly clicky, if not a little on the small side. I also found the 3G connection to be noticeably faster than my iPhone 4 on O2 UK. The onboard free Maps application was possibly the biggest strength of the E6, especially as global street level mapping could be stored offline using the memory card and thus not require any data connection. The 3D view and places of interest was also impressive.
On the negative side, I found home screen and icon customisation rather limited. The phone on many occasions also felt a little sluggish and less snappy that I would have liked. There were times the interface would pause momentarily which proved frustrating. The so called extended depth of field camera though was very impressive under the right conditions, but unsuitable for close up due to its lack of autofocus. I also noticed that on occasions the software processing sometimes created softening in the corners and edges of certain pictures. There was also a notification light in the centre of the navi key which would flash for missed calls or messages arriving. Unfortunately this was almost impossible to see unless you were in a dark room and sitting directly above the phone. From what I have read this was a common complaint with this phone.
Perhaps the biggest frustration though for me was the lack of third party applications for the E6, more so because of its non-standard VGA screen resolution within the Symbian world. Of the few which did work, these usually had text so small it was almost unreadable. I also found that navigating the phone using the touch screen could be very difficult as many of the onscreen buttons and options were too small and fiddly to use. Resorting to use the keyboard or trackpad in these situations didn’t help either, as equivalent key functionality for onscreen options was inconsistent or missing altogether across different applications.
The E6 could shoot 16:9 720p HD video and also featured a small 0.3 megapixel front camera for video calling. I am not sure how you would go about making a video call though. Whilst HD video quality was respectable for a phone, it wasn’t as fluid and smooth as the iPhone 4, especially when panning.
I used the Nokia E6 for several months and as well as texting, emailing, making calls and listening to mp3s, I took some fairly decent photos with its onboard camera.
As for the Symbian Anna operating system, well I have to say for me it was a disapointment. Unlike mobile operating systems that have been clearly designed from the ground up to work with touch, Anna feels like touch was a last minute afterthought. No doubt Symbian fans will love the new operating system, and given time applications may begin to embrace the touchscreen and VGA resolution. I should add that the E6 has received many very positive reviews from customers, it just didn’t fit my expectations.
Within a few months of owning the E6, it was clear that my confidence in Symbian was declining. Overall the E6 is a very well designed handset, but I felt it was let down by the software. It was Nokia’s withdrawal from the Symbian market that eventually persuaded me to look for my next smartphone, though again with a physical keyboard.
Look out for my future mobile experiences article where I review my move to RIM Blackberry.