If you haven't used a modern Symbian version before, the day to day experience of the interface itself is solid, though definitely nothing special. The interface is somewhat austere-looking in many menus but generally works, including for media playback that includes podcasts and even an FM radio. The home screen is somewhat limiting in the inability to take fully customizable app shortcuts, but it has an emphasis on widgets that can be very handy for quick access to the music player, contacts, or other common tasks.
There's also a few key, though not necessarily unique, benefits. Ovi Maps (already renamed Nokia Maps elsewhere) gives it an Android-like free option for turn-by-turn driving and walking directions out of the box. Multitasking is also not only real but works fairly well: hold the home button and you not only get a list of running apps but thumbnails to show what they look like. HP's nearly defunct webOS, Nokia's MeeGo interface on the N9 and Microsoft's upcoming Windows Phone 7 Mango update will both have a similar effect, but as of this writing, only Nokia had an actively shipping implementation.
After spending enough time with the OS, though, it still proved to be more and more frustrating as time went on. A lot of it can be attributed to a death by a thousand cuts. E-mail is a bit less intuitive. Customizing the home screen is harder than it has to be. Nokia has taken care of many of the eccentricities of earlier Symbian versions, but you'll still get cryptic certificate errors browsing the web or other pop-up dialogs that would spook a relative beginner and don't show up on other platforms.
More importantly: Symbian Anna is still buggy, and extremely so at times. Apps periodically take inexplicably long pauses during tasks. The interface will occasionally grow unresponsive, only to "catch up" and suddenly process all your commands at once. Apps crash noticeably more frequently than they do on other platforms. We've even had some definite showstoppers. At a couple of points, the X7 became almost completely unresponsive and had to be given a hard reboot (by holding the power, home and camera buttons all at once). Such problems certainly creep up on other platforms, but you shouldn't start facing them almost immediately after getting a phone and with this kind of frequency. We even saw the video player app choke on one of Nokia's own included sample videos; that doesn't bode well. The impression given would be like having Windows 7's interface on top of Windows 3.1: it might be mostly more intuitive on top, but the underneath code is old enough that it genuinely interferes with the experience.
Apps, the Ovi Store, and performance
Preloaded apps are relatively few on the X7, but generally start in the right direction. Everyone gets Gameloft's Asphalt 6 and Galaxy on Fire for games as well as song recognition from Shazam and voice commands from Vlingo. The Ovi Store, Nokia's official app store, has come a long way since it first appeared. Along with being easy enough to browse, it's sufficiently stocked enough that there's a decent ecosystem, at least for the next while that Symbian is a living platform.
For a phone pitched as gaming-friendly, the performance isn't where it needs to be. Games that are relatively straightforward run well, such as Fruit Ninja, but games that demand a lot of 3D, such as Asphalt, run disappointingly slow and just quickly enough to be acceptable. The anemic 680MHz ARM11 chip is to blame. It doesn't matter that there's a modern graphics core on top; the main processor is clearly behind the pack. Even many budget or mid-range phones now have 1GHz processors on designs that would be faster even at Nokia's clock speed. We know there's likely compatibility reasons behind it. That doesn't change that this media phone is somewhat limited.
Camera apps and image quality
Photography has often been a centerpiece feature of Nokia phones. This certainly manifests itself in the apps. The video recorder is basic, as you might anticipate, but the still photo app is fairly well loaded with fine-tuning, such as the color tone, exposure compensation, white balance, and other settings that help massage the final output. Photography is fast, other than that few seconds of initial startup. There are some slightly odd decisions. We're still wondering why manual ISO is limited to high, medium, and low options rather than actual values.
The image quality is a let-down from what we're used to with Nokia.
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