Does the E72 prove that Nokia needs a giant kick in the ass?

Nokia, how do you disappoint me? Let me count the ways. You have great hardware: reliable, tough, ergonomically excellent and a robust operating system. But then you ruin it with shortsighted, badly-integrated, buggy software applications and “services”.

And then you ruin it even more by compromising engineering and design decisions with your petty internal politics and power struggles.

Harsh? Yes. And this is coming from a died-in-the-wool Nokia fan-boy.

My first phone was an Ericsson in 1995. I think it was a GA628. Then I had a T18 that a then-girlfriend gave me. It was indestructible, even surviving a motorbike accident which resulted in the tar grinding the texture of my pants into the case. It didn’t even turn off! Then I was wooed over to Siemens – the S55, SL45i. Tough, sand-proof, great batteries.

But I used my phone a lot for texting and taking notes. I wanted a keyboard. Not many options around in 2001. Nokia was out, out, out. Every man and his dog had one. Not for me as a hip, quirky individualist. Just in time, Siemens brought out the SK65, with a clever “cross” design where a quick twist gave you a qwerty keyboard. Unfortunately, it was the start of the end for Siemens mobiles – rushed product development and bad decisions meant the keyboard was stupidly designed, and battery life awful.

The only show in town, the only phone that gave me a small phone with a full qwerty keyboard was the Nokia 6820, where the front unfolds to create a full, landscape-oriented querty keyboard. Cheap. Small. Light. Insanely practical. From then onwards, I was a Nokia man. Next up, the improved 6822. Wonderful.

Then the 6800 series, despite its popularity, was killed (probably in one of those “my product group is not part of the in-crowd with management, so I get no funding or marketing support”). The only option was to make the jump up to a smartphone, the E70 – same form factor, but much chunkier.

E70 – best phone in the world

As any Nokia geek knows, the E70 is the best phone in the world (for its time). It was the phone you’d most often see creating a bulge in the pants of tech people. Send emails, take notes, run a SSH terminal to reboot your server…

Then Nokia murdered the foldout candybar as a form factor for keeps. The much-anticipated E71 turned out to be not a better E70, but an update to the E61 with the Blackberry-style oversquare-with-a-tiny-qwerty-on-the-front.

As it turned out, it’s a damn good phone. I really like mine. Display could be a bit bigger (320×240), being significantly smaller than the E70’s generous 352×416. But faster processor, more memory. Again, techies and power users loved it – and it won a bunch of awards from Wired and other tech mags.

So I was really looking forward to trying out the E72 that Nokia’s local PR company kindly sent.

What a disappointment, and what a squandered opportunity to keep the lead in the “serious smartphones for serious people” category.

Better camera (moving from 3.2 to 5 megapixels). But exactly the same screen. Yes, it has a faster processor (369MHz ARM11 bumped up to 600MHz) and more internal memory – but the only time you’ll notice this is when loading cumbersome websites.

Because the phone feels no snappier in the hand. And the new whoo-whoo “Optical Navi Key” is a complete waste of time. It’s actually just irritating. You can’t navigate around any faster, but it does mean that when you try click it to select something, the pointer has drifted off. It has “accelerometers”, which are good for nothing more than rejecting a call if you turn the phone over.

Essentially, the rest of the hardware is the same. Although at least you now get a proper 3.5mm headphone jack and “torch” button, which is hugely welcome.

It’s the software, stupid

But the software? Ugh. Buggy as hell. There’s a whole bunch of bits written by one group (Ovi Mail) that doesn’t talk to another group (device’s built-in POP mail support), so both compete. The email setup wizard crashed, then crashed, then finally ran. It asked for the POP username and password, but failed to ask for the server address. Fail. And when I manually fixed that, the inbox was there if you go through many levels, but it resolutely refused to appear in the messaging home.

When you leave it and the screen dims, a prod on a key makes it wake up with a cute – but supremely time-wasting and annoying – “fade up”. The music player would not find MP3s on the SD card until I rescanned it several times.

And Nokia: about 30% of “high-end notebook users”, i.e. your market for smartphones, are on Macs. Which still does not get a version of the software updater/PC Suite/Ovi Suite. Nokia’s site has been saying “coming soon” for how long now? It’s about f***ing time, guys.

And that’s just on the phone. PC Suite was a bit of a dog, but worked pretty well. Ovi is a total dog, and does not work, OK. The Ovi Website and appstore is just a bitch (if it’s up, took me three days to reach it). Its launch was a content-free farce, and only more recently does it have good apps and music, but good luck to you developers navigating the “Symbian Signed” minefield.

And if you thought I was being mean about the phone, let’s not even start on Ovi, which encapsulates in three little letters everything wrong about Nokia today.

The unlimited free downloads of “Nokia Comes With Music” is only for a couple of handsets, and it’s as confusing as hell, not helped by stupidly oblique marketing that plays straight into the average users “if it sounds too good to be true, they’re probably bullshitting me” reality. Especially after the bait-and-switch. Nokia Maps are FREE! Forever! Unless you want navigation, then you have to pay. Gotcha!

It’s the user, stupid

It shows how while other manufacturers understand that the balance of power has shifted to the customer, Nokia is still old-school. The handset manufacturer and especially the network tell you (the little user) what you can do. It’s all walled gardens and lock-in.

Ovi has no mechanism to upload a picture and then share it to Facebook. Hello! The most popular social media platform on the Internet! So don’t bother with Ovi then, just use the quick, friendly little and do it directly.

Nokia, I love your phones. I resist iPhone like genital warts. Ericsson became Sony-Ericsson became anathema. Samsung and LG don’t quite do it for me with their rather gadgetry frills. But you’re so big, so powerful, and have so many business units and product groups that you’ve lost your way, and your product (and market share) is suffering.

It’s simple. Less products, less confusing offerings, less internal competition. Simple is good.

So, getting back to the E72. It’s a very good phone. If you have the E71 and have a free upgrade due, get it. But don’t break your back for it, because it’s not good enough.

Nokia: please give us E71 owners the E72 we are hoping for.



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