Nokia E73 Mode Review

Nokia E73

Nokia E73 Mode

“The near-identical successor to the E72 further refines an already stellar design, but still suffers from the curse of Symbian.”
  • Extremely attractive design
  • BMW build quality
  • Rock-solid voice quality and reception
  • Reasonably quick browser
  • Above-average camera
  • Responsive navigation
  • Antiquated S60 interface
  • Optical trackpad not useful
  • Awkward camera bulge
  • Clumsy browser
  • Hard-to-use microSD slot

nokia e73 mode reviewIntroduction

Nokia’s E73 Mode is essentially a spruced up version of the E72, repackaged and sold through T-Mobile. Given the uncanny similarities, large parts of this review borrow directly from our earlier E72 review, but with pains taken to point out the differences between the two.

Look at the E73 and you’ll like it. Handle the E73 and you’ll love it. Nokia’s $70 (on T-Mobile with two-year contract) E73 follows in the footsteps of both its twin-like E72 and the lovable E71 before it with a rock-solid steel chassis built for the businessman. It also hides a hideous and complex operating system in sore need of an update, but it’s still worth a definite look for S60 devotees and those who don’t demand iPhone-like ease of use.

Features

Although it can’t quite compete with the likes of the do-it-all N97, Nokia’s E73 includes an enviable feature set tailored for the business professional. That means a full QWERTY keyboard, QVGA (320 x 480) display, 3.5G HSDPA modem that can push up to 10.2Mbps, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0, A-GPS, FM tuner, voice-command capability, and a 5.0-megapixel camera with flash. Although it has only 250MB internal storage, Nokia includes a 4GB microSD card, and the phone can handle up to 16GB.

Like most of Nokia’s late-model smartphones, the E72 uses Symbian OS 9.3, with Nokia’s S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 2 (also known as S60 3.2.3), as a user interface.

Design

At first glance, you might mistake the E72 for any of one of the more pedestrian BlackBerry models, but get closer, and Nokia’s attention to detail immediately sets it apart as something different. It’s as much a tool as a work of art. Shiny gunmetal runs around the edges in broad strips, loops around buttons and the speaker in subtle accents, and carries over to a magnificent rear battery etched with a fine cross pattern. If BlackBerrys are built for a suit pocket, the E72 is meant for a tuxedo, taking class up yet another notch. The only mar on this otherwise gorgeous design would be the rear camera, which bulges out significantly, ruining the otherwise clean look a bit.

nokia e73 mode reviewYou will notice a few marked differences from the E72 – if you look closely. That gunmetal finish used to be bright chrome. It gives the E73 a stealthier look than the E72, which sparkled enough to call some attention to itself. You’ll also find more metal on the chin than the E72, which had a plastic placeholder below the keyboard where steel now wraps around.

On the interface side, the E73 also knocks a row from the crowded three-row buttons that used to flank the center control pad. Dedicated home calendar, contact and e-mail keys remain, but now they share space beside other functions, rather than getting squeezed above and below them. Besides improving access, it makes the phone look less cluttered and intimidating, too.

As on the E72, the center directional pad works two ways: You can either press the raised edges, or drag a finger lightly across the black middle key, which works as an optical trackpad. Nokia calls it the “Navi Key.”

The right-hand side has separate volume up and down keys, along with a voice key for access to applications and contacts without typing (more on that later). The other side has a sealed-up microUSB port, and one of the most deeply recessed and therefore hard-to-use microSD slots we’ve ever found (unless you have long nails, you’ll need a key or pen to pop cards in and out). Up top, you’ll find a centered power button and standard 3.5mm stereo jack for headphones. The bottom offers another tiny charging port for accepting the pin-sized connector from Nokia’s charger, but fortunately, you don’t necessarily need to use it because E72 can also charge from USB, just not as quickly.

Build Quality

Nothing exudes strength quite like steel, and the E72 has been absolutely wrapped in it. From the edges to the rear battery cover, the E72 feels industrial-grade, with a weight and solid feel that even the iPhone cannot match. Like a cobblestone, we found ourselves idly handling it even when we had absolutely no use for it. You can see why Nokia has changed the design so little from the E71 to the E72 and E73. From the outside, it’s nearly flawless.

nokia e73 mode review

Accessories

Nokia’s comprehensive E73 package includes the usual headset, charger and data cable, along with quite a few unexpected extras. You’ll find two extra pairs of ear gels for the headphones, a lanyard, a sleek leather case and most thoughtfully, a car charger.

nokia e73 mode reviewOperating System and General Usage

There’s no getting around the fact that the E73 feels old as soon as soon as the screen flickers to life. The S60 3rd Edition user interface has been kicking around with various “feature packs” as upgrades since 2005, and wears every year of age worse than Cher without makeup. While the snappy 600Mhz processor lets it zip through the icons with reckless abandon, the menus look cheap, pixelated, and just generally outdated.

Looking old might be excusable if S60 actually worked very well, but instead it feels like among the most complex and obtuse operating systems out there. Want to change how long it takes to power of the screen when idle? Go to menu, control panel, settings, general, personalization, display. Six menu levels to reach one very basic setting. There’s really just no excuse for a phone to work this way in 2010.

Although Nokia’s four shortcut buttons unquestionably create some clutter, Nokia has minimized it on the E73 to the point where you might actually overlook them entirely if you don’t want to be bothered configuring them, or if you would rather just use soft menus to access options like contacts and e-mail. The Navi key, which we complained about on the E72, hasn’t gotten any better. Because the edges of the directional pad form a shallow box around the optical trackpad, you can only make very short gestures on it before the ridges around the edges interrupt your swipe. Even with sensitivity cranked to max, we found it hard to navigate more than one tile in any direction on the application menu, without grossly exaggerated (and imprecise) swipes. This basically negated its entire purpose, and after using the directional buttons long enough, we opted to simply turn Navi Key off.

The voice command button on the side promises to end these navigation woes by simply saying what you need to access, like “contacts.” Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Nearly all of the commands we tried were met with “no results found,” leaving us to mainly give up on this lame feature.

Browser

The small screen and lack of touch make the E73 browsing experience agonizing compared to much larger phones, but in terms of speed, its streamlined browser actually does well for itself. For mobile content, it routinely beat our test iPhone 3G. For instance, it loaded Yahoo Mobile in just seven seconds when the iPhone took 15. On non-optimized pages, like CouchSurfing.org, it lagged behind by a bit, but not nearly as much as you would expect for the age of its OS. Couchsurfing.org, for instance, loading in 39 seconds on the E73, and 31 on the iPhone 3G.

nokia e73 mode reviewKeyboard

The keyboard on the E73 rivals even the best out there, like BlackBerry’s Bold 9700. Each key has a pillowy bulge that makes it easier to peck, gives a nice snappy return, and generally feels very solid. We found ourselves typing at full speed in no time, and have few doubt that this sturdy keyboard will hold up well to wear and tear.

Call Quality

Inbound and outbound sound quality were both outstanding on the Nokia. We gave it the ultimate test: our hard-of-hearing grandmother on her birthday. Without any prompting, she commented on how clear we came across, and other callers reported “landline-like” quality. As a business phone, both factors highly recommend the E72.

Battery Life

Nokia reports battery life of 13 hours talk time and 22 days on standby – a tiny increase from the E72. While we weren’t able to scientifically validate these claims, our anecdotal observations about battery life during testing line up quite well with these expectations. This thing runs lean on the juice, and we love it.

nokia e73 mode reviewCamera

Say what you will about the bulge that goes with Nokia’s 5-megapixel shooter, but it produces nice pictures… when it focuses properly. We found that most snaps from camera had outstanding clarity and improved color accuracy from the E71, but the autofocus function seemed quite flaky, especially when dealing with close-up subjects. We wish Nokia would release a firmware update to fix the somewhat hit or miss quality to the camera, which would make it a real winner.

Conclusion

Nokia’s conservative “don’t mess with success” approach to phone design has earned it an international following unrivalled by even the likes of Apple and RIM. More recently, the lack of evolution has also started to look suspiciously like stagnation. Nokia’s E73 continues down this route by continuing to tweak the near-flawless perfect exterior, but leaving the S60 operating system to rot.

We compared the E72 to a Porsche 911 Turbo with the interior of a 1995 Chevy Lumina, and the analogy still applies. Even though everything “works,” we just have a hard time getting over the crummy cloth seats, hard plastic shifter and manual windows while we’re driving it. If you can look past the many shortcomings of S60, the E73 makes a perfectly usable and downright attractive phone, but Nokia needs to do some serious thinking on its software before going head to head with the likes of Apple, Google and Palm.

That said, its $70 price point on T-Mobile puts it out of competition with many of these top-tier competitors. If you’re willing to tolerate the steep learning curve for S60, an incredibly sleek design, crystal-clear voice quality and a capable camera all make the E73 a great value.

Highs:

  • Extremely attractive design
  • BMW build quality
  • Rock-solid voice quality and reception
  • Reasonably quick browser
  • Above-average camera
  • Responsive navigation

Lows:

  • Antiquated S60 interface
  • Optical trackpad not useful
  • Awkward camera bulge
  • Clumsy browser
  • Hard-to-use microSD slot

Editors' Recommendations