Much has changed since we last looked at a Nokia phone: what was once the undisputed king of smartphones is now fighting to stay a major player after Apple and Google took over. With Windows Phone coming soon, then, devices like the X7 are attempts to bridge the gap and keep Symbian relevant in an era where big screens, gaming, and Twitter mean more than phone calls and e-mail.
Design and the screen
First impressions are positive, if not very conventional, for the X7. It embodies much of what a late Symbian phone is like: a very sturdy yet thin, aluminum shell. It's tapered to fit comfortably in your hand and usually does, although we found it a bit slippery. The oddness comes in through the shape: each corner is seemingly clipped off, creating a more octagonal shape than the iPhone's rounded corners or an out-and-out brick shape. Disappointingly, though, what looks to be speakers on all four corners isn't, as there's only two; don't expect a quadrophonic experience.
As with the N8 and other Symbian^3 or Symbian Anna phones, the battery isn't removable. You do get more control than some phones over storage, though: it's one of the few fully sealed designs to have a microSDHC card slot. Nokia gives an 8GB card in the box that's enough for most casual image capturing, apps, and music, although you'll want to trade up if you're prodigious or using it as a music player replacement. A micro USB port provides your charging and syncing, and thankfully makes a replacement cable easy to find if you lose one on a trip.
Controls are mixed and show that Nokia was focusing a bit too much on form over function. There's a very handy dedicated camera shutter button, but in our experience, it needs to be held down for a few seconds to get into the camera app -- somewhat defeating the point of using it as a shortcut. The volume rocker is also difficult to hit easily. The screen on the X7 is one of the more ambitious Nokia has had, relatively speaking, short of the N9. At four inches, it's just about in that sweet spot between size and portability that Nokia's rivals, in the Android world, are starting to ignore. In good conditions, it's bright, colorful without being oversaturated, and copes well with motion like you'd expect AMOLED to do.
Still, there are definite limitations, and ultimately it comes across as not quite where it needs to be. Ironically, as a media phone, it's lacking the HD-friendly display that other more 'distracted' phones have -- and there's no HDMI output, either. It's not quite so ideal outdoors. As it's using a regular AMOLED, it tends to lose viewability in bright sunlight considerably faster than Samsung's Super AMOLED or an LCD. We also noticed a slight, greenish color tinting when the phone is held at a certain, and not necessarily wide, angle. While it won't sour the experience, it's something that none of Nokia's rivals have encountered, so it puts the X7 at a disadvantage.
Software has been Nokia's biggest challenge, and arguably the cause of its rapid decline in share over the past few years. Much of its more recent work has been to simply adapt the platform to the modern definition of a smartphone, where an intuitive touch interface and strong media skills are everything. In some ways, Anna is a lot better than even what Symbian^3 just last year was managing. The biggest is the browser, which is indeed a lot faster and is at least competent with other browsers, if not quite as speedy as when put up against a high-end rival matched with both a recent OS and a fast processor. It's more intuitive as a whole, too.
There's similarly a much-needed addition of a portrait keyboard. Users can now finally type without having to tilt the phone on its side, scrapping a somewhat arbitrary limitation of the past. It's clear early on that Nokia needs to refine this for Symbian Belle or later, however. Even on a fairly large screen like that of the X7, the keys are frequently too small, and the strictly grid-based key layout tends to lead to unintentional input, even when you've grown used to it. We'd equally question why certain text entry modes jump to an 'empty' screen showing nothing of the context while others don't. It's not very intuitive.
A few other extras exist, though unless you're in a workplace that needs Exchange support, most of them are cosmetic flourishes for home screen transitions and icons.
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