I spent some time with Symbian-powered Nokia C7. This is a collection of random notes once the date is over.
A quick summary on the hardware. The phone itself is looking really good (but beware, beauty is in the eye of the beholder). Both the stainless body and the shiny glass display boost its cool factor. I feel confident holding it in my hand, it is certainly a different feeling to the Nexus S I’ve used for many many months. The moderate resolution of 640 × 360 pixels does not really compete with iPhone 4’s retina display, this is compensated nicely with the sharp and vivid AMOLED touch screen.
On the inside, it packs the standard goodies of modern smartphones: 8 megapixels rear-camera, VGA front-camera, Bluetooth, MicroUSB, 8 GB internal flash, MicroSD slot, WiFi, GPS, and a final nice touch: NFC. The processor is however underpowered: “just” 680 MHz ARM11. This is a far cry from the de-facto standard of dual-core SoC found in high-end phones these days. This lack of power would be evident as soon as you launch and use some applications.
Speaking about the software, by default it is shipped with Symbian^3 though it gets updated to Symbian Anna few weeks ago.
Since my life evolves around e-mail, web browsing, and social network, that’s the first thing I tried to setup with C7. First of course, OTA (over-the-air) update, which does the job without any hiccup. Mail for Exchange works flawlessly, in just few minutes (surprisingly) I got my Google Mail, Contacts, and Calendar synchronized, all out of the box. For Twitter and Facebook, Nokia’s own Social application is not the most-performant application, but it is definitely usable enough for most people. On the other hand, the official Foursquare application and LinkedIn are hassle-free to install and to use.
Coming from Android, the lack of scrollable list of application icons requires some strategy to work around. Rather than using a third-party home screen app, I decide to dedicate two screens full of Shortcut widgets. Since each of this widget can contain 4 shortcuts, now every screen can host 24 icons. Two of them are more than sufficient for all the apps I’ve tested.
For media usage, C7’s camera produces high-quality pictures and videos. It definitely shows that Nokia is still strong in this respect. However, being spoiled with the excellent photos taken from Nokia N8, I will still vouch for N8 if I am about to pick a replacement for a pocket camera. Music player is rather basic but it does the job. Testing Bluetooth streaming to my car audio, I can say that it has no problem. As usual, Nokia includes FM Radio and Transmitter feature, handy in some cases. A bunch of little apps to watch assorted online videos are not too disappointing as well.
Now onto some annoyances.
The biggest problem I have is the on-screen virtual keypad. In the landscape mode, somehow the keypad is less usable for me unless I use Swype (which works great). What about portrait mode? No QWERTY, which is a showstopper. Fortunately, the firmware update Symbian Anna fixes that. Anna’s portrait QWERTY is pretty decent, it works surprisingly well given the screen estate.
Ovi Store, supposed to be the central point for app discovery and management, is still miles behind the competitor. For a start, the application itself is implemented in such a way that there is a noticeable delay/lag for every operation. Being a developer myself, I can’t stop asking why a certain strategies (like caching, just to mention one) are not in place. Sliding back and forth between different views is far from smooth, seems that the app just recreates the views every single time there is a navigation action. Combine with the lack of CPU power, you can witness the layout process and how the pixels fly here and there!
The browser has been and is (sadly) still a pain point. Fortunately, the brand-new browser in Symbian Anna kind of improves it. The updated browser still does not perform as fast as the competitor, getting SunSpider to run only 8.8 seconds. If we care only about DOM performance, Dromaeo DOM tests get 63 runs/s, which is the low end of various smartphones (see my previous blog post on smartphones web performance to get the full chart).
Having said that, the difference between Symbian browser and Harmattan browser in N9 (or N950) is still day and night. After a day using the built-in browser, I finally gave up and did what most Nokia users do: install Opera Mobile. Consider how good Harmattan browser is, I still have a faint hope that someday Nokia will bring the same technology and innovation to Symbian.
Apparently, Nokia Social app does not work if there is no SIM card active for the phone. This is quite mysterious, I would speculate that it has something to do with the legal ramification of using certain functionalities depending on the geographic location. The workaround is simple, just use any other apps. The famous Gravity is stellar, had I decided to stay with C7 for a longer time I don’t mind to shell out ten bucks for that.
Ovi Maps comes a long way since the last time I tried it (years ago). I still don’t put my faith 100% on it but it does a decent job at giving the navigation information. For some reason, the GPS system is only slightly faster than the old Nokia X6 or even Nokia N8. Lane-assist feature is also really helpful. Combined with turn-by-turn navigation and offline support, these features are fantastic for the price you pay ($0, aka free).
Because Symbian is not the #1 target for developers, there are tons of applications not available on this platform. I am disconnected from some services like Google Books, Yelp, Google Voice, Meetup, Google Plus etc since there is no official Symbian version of these applications yet. The typical workaround is usually by leveraging third-party applications or connectors, which sadly have a varying degree of quality.
How to get C7? In the US, C7 is better known as Nokia Astound sold via T-Mobile. At the time of this writing, it is available for the subsidized price of $50, with 2-year contract. Without the contract, you can get it (depending on assorted deals) for as low as $250 on various on-line shops. This is unlocked and perfect for prepaid customer.
What’s the conclusion? I believe C7 is not suitable for tech junkies. If you are eager to try all different applications in iPhone App Store or Android Marketplace, this one is definitely not for you. Road warriors will be frustrated with the sluggish applications and lack of comprehensive business tools. Hardcore gamers would find that the selection of games (if they run at a decent speed at all) is not as crazy as other competing platforms.
I reckon Nokia markets C7 for the first-time or casual smartphone users, those who stay connected occasionally, use Twitter or Facebook once a while, read and write email few times a day, check out some news on the web, take and share pictures. For this particular segment, the price and the features hit a nice sweet spot for the temptation.