Nokia 701 Review – Belle Is Pretty, And Fast On The 1 GHz Processor

Nokia 701

Remember the Nokia C7? Of course you do. It was one of the first four new Symbian devices that Nokia launched. Besides the E7, C6-01 and N8, it was launched in 2010, and came with a 680 MHz processor, which, although good enough, could be found panting every now and then. Those specs were just too low, or you could say, just not quite enough. An year later, they launched the 701, increasing the clock speed and doubling the amount of RAM. The display used in the 701, however, is an LCD Clearblack unit, whereas the C7 came with an AMOLED Clearblack display. The 701 comes with Belle out of the box, and the C7 also runs on Belle now (Nokia rolled out the update some time back).

Pardon me if it sounds a bit geeky, but that’s what differentiates the 701 from the C7 – everything else is just same – the design, the weight, dimensions. Heck, the C7 also came with NFC, which was activated some time after the device was released, via a software update over the air.

In some more processor-related news, the 701 will be receiving an update (Belle Feature Pack 1), which will increase the clock speed from 1 GHz to 1.3 GHz. Almost double of the speed of the C7 (680 MHz).

But first, here are the quick specs of the 701 -

  • Symbian Belle (scheduled to receive Feature Pack 1 update in a couple of months)
  • 3.5″ LED backlit TFT IPS Clearblack display, 640×360 pixel resolution, ~210 PPI
  • 1 GHz ARM 11 processor, 2D/3D graphics HW accelerator with OpenVG1.1 and OpenGL ES 2.0
  • 8 MP EDoF camera on the back, dual LED flash, can record 720p videos at 30 Frames per second; front facing VGA camera
  • 512 MB RAM, 8 GB internal memory, expandable by another 32 GB with a microSD card
  • Bluetooth 3.0, Wi-Fi b/g/n, GPS with aGPS
  • FM Transmitter, USB On The Go
  • Standard Li-ion 1300 mAh battery

That they’ve persisted with an EDoF camera is sort of a bummer. They could have put an AF camera, lowered the Megapixels, but more on this later.

Hardware

The 701 is exactly like the C7. Nokia has gone for an all-metal design, and the few places there’s no metal are the display, the Call button(s), the Menu button, the microUSB port cover and the Power button. It may sound like a lot of plastic, but it isn’t. Heck, it doesn’t even feel plastic. But, it does feel bulky.

Overall, the all-metal approach gives a premium look to the device, and the effect does show off when you hold the device in your hands. Looks delicate, but is absolutely sturdy and all. Although I’m not too sure I like it as much as I thought I would. The Lumia 710 looks better, for some reason. Maybe it’s the color.

Nokia 701

The front of the device is occupied by the small’ish 3.5″ TFT IPS LCD display. Nokia’s used its Clearblack technology, and it shows. I can happily read and see what’s on the screen, even under the bright sun. Indian summers, the sun is always there (don’t laugh! Had to say that). And I had no difficulty whatsoever in reading while walking under the sun, even during afternoons. It’s that good. All at default settings, so yeah. Buuut, I wish they’d gone for an AMOLED unit. Oh well..

On the top, there’s the usual ear piece, a front facing VGA camera and proximity and ambient light sensors. There’s the display just below the Nokia branding, and there are three buttons below the display – Call, Menu and End. There’s a mic at the end of the Call/End strip, and the lanyard eyelet on the bottom.

I was apprehensive about the strip used for two buttons, after seeing how tacky it was on the C7, but turns out it isn’t bad. But over time, the strip may seem ugly, due to the scratches and all. I wonder why’d Nokia not use a different design here. Sure, it’s better than on the C7, but it’s not the best implementation either. Harr harr.

On the top, there’s a power button, which gives a good, smooth press. The 3.5mm audio jack is to the left of the power key, and the microUSB port is on the extreme left. I’m not too impressed with the port cover though. I mean the way it opens up on the side. Sort of comes in the way, but it is secure enough, so you won’t lose it soon. With my kind of usage, I could lose an average USB port cover in a couple of months. Don’t think I’d lose the 701′s cover for 6 months at least.

The right side of the device houses tons of controls. Which, again, isn’t as bad as it sounds. Again, I was apprehensive initially, but it’s not that bad. There’s the voice command key – you can long press it to launch voice input, but I’ve rarely done that. And when I did, it was accidental. I’d try to press increase/decrease the volume, and instead press the voice command key. Although it was rare, it’s still baffling.

Talking about volume, you can increase/decrease volume using the two buttons above and below the voice command key. Below the volume button, there’s the screen lock slider. Slide it down to lock, and the same to unlock it. It’s placed very nicely, and the 701 doesn’t slip out of hands, unlike the E7. However, I do wish Nokia would do away with this button altogether, and let us lock the device by pressing the power button. Like on the X7. Too many buttons on a touchscreen device, just bothersome.

Further down, you’ll find the Camera button. It’s placement is sort of silly – when you’re in landscape mode, it’s perfect. But in portrait mode, it is downright silly. The device almost fell twice, when I was holding the device in portrait mode, and tried to open the camera app using the camera button. Not even sure if the design was approved, or if they just did away with the approval process.

There’s nothing on the left side, save for the 2mm charging jack. That’s as much about it.

Moving to the back of the device, you’ll find the 8 MP EDoF camera, accompanied by a dual LED flash, and a speaker. No, there’s no dual speaker stuff in here. There’s only one speaker. The other speaker grill is faux, and that’s for maintaining consistency in design.

Nokia 701

The 701 comes with user-removable battery, and the battery cover is very neat. And it feels secure as well, even after removing the cover many times. Nice.

The 701 requires the regular SIM card, so you don’t have to worry about getting a microSIM or cutting your precious, regular SIM card (I tend to love my 6 year old SIM card – the first ever SIM I bought, and which I use as my main number. Just beneath the SIM card slot, near the area where you place the battery, is where you insert the microSD card. There’s no need for confusion here, as Nokia has sufficiently printed the instructions. Or in more easily understandable words, the microSD card’s design (and the SIM card design) has been printed, and it’s the exact same way you’ve to insert the specific cards. Just press the card once, and you’ll feel a click. When you do, you’ve inserted the card properly. (I thought I’d explain that in a detailed manner, for people who haven’t done this often enough).

Moving on from Hardware.

Software

The Nokia 701 comes with Nokia Belle out of the box. In fact, it’s one of the first devices to come with Belle. And as expected, Belle is a nice update. It does away with lots of UI ugliness from Symbian Anna, and that’s a welcome change.

But is it enough? Read on.

First Boot

The moment you boot up, with your SIM card inserted in the device, you’ll be asked to create a Nokia account, or sign in with an existing one (excluding the fact that you’ll have to set the language, region, date and time manually. What is this, 2008?). Once you get past that, you’ll be asked if you want to transfer contacts from your old Nokia. Next screen is setting up of your eMail accounts. I’d have rather liked it if Nokia automatically detected all the mailboxes associated with my Nokia account. Imagine having to set up half a dozen mailboxes manually (I have nearly 15, yeah).

Cool new Widgets, Pull Down Notification Bar and More

Moving on to the core aspects, first thing you’ll notice about the OS is that it looks more like Android now. That is, assuming you’ve used Android. There’s now a pull down Notification bar, which looks more like what we’ve seen on Maemo. Oh, and before you go on to say that Nokia copied Android’s feature, let me make this clear – Google copied it from Maemo. The idea was there, and the thousands of N900 users were using it. Although what you see on Android is a bit different, it’d be silly to say it’s a unique feature. Sure, Android popularised it, there’s nothing to take away from that fact.

You’ll also notice a few more things – a revamped Homescreen. You can add up to 6 homescreens, which can then be filled with freely movable widgets. These widgets are, in my opinion, one of those few important improvements. They are much more appealing now, and with the Surround icons, it all looks neat. Things were awful even with Symbian Anna, as in you couldn’t freely drag the icons and widgets, and I’m glad that’s been improved upon. But you still cannot resize these widgets, but that’s not as important – I barely resize widgets on Android, and personally, it’s not a drawback.

My favorite widgets? The Analogue clock and the Mail widgets – both styles. I also liked the Calendar widget – it’s clean and all, but I seldom have the need to check Calendar. There are FM Radio and FM Transmitter widgets as well, which look good too. Not to forget the NFC toggle. Overall, pretty good work with the widgets. They’re all neat, save for that yucky Digital clock.

Coming back to the notification bar – you cannot hide it, as in you cannot go fullscreen. Coming from Android, I’d have really liked the option to do so, but it’s not a deal breaker. Not as much as the fixed toggles you get in the notification bar, when you’ve pulled it down. You get the Wi-Fi, Mobile Data, Bluetooth and Profile toggles. You cannot even change their places, not can you add any more toggles, or remove. Someone added the bar just for the sake of it.

Heck, if you’re a developer, you cannot use this awesome little feature addition to your benefit – Nokia hasn’t released the APIs yet. Wasted opportunity.

I’ll come back to the homescreen again, just for a bit. You get three virtual buttons. The left one is to open the Menu, which, in the case of the 701 and other similar devices, can be opened using the physical Menu button. In the center, you’ll find the Dialer button, and to the right, there’s the Homescreen settings button.

New Flat Menu structure

Pressing the Menu button reveals a new-structure Menu – Nokia’s gotten rid of the level-upon-level (the good ol’ folder style) structure, and replaced it with a flat menu. Also, you can arrange the icons in Alphabetical order, or drag them around to have them in the order that you want. Or, just hit the ‘Arrange – as it was’ option and you get the view Nokia had in place for the first time.

Arranging icons is fun actually – you long press an icon, select Arrange, and place it wherever you deem fit. Or you can also press the Options button and select Arrange. While moving around, the animations are quite smooth, and I’d just spend time moving them around. On a more important note, things don’t lag. Although I’d like to say that scrolling around in the Menu is laggy. At this moment, though. After the Service Pack 1 update arrives (I’m told it’ll take another couple of months), things should be smooth (I’m also told that there’s no lag whatsoever, so yeah). But it’s still annoying that there’s lag.

Update: I did a hard reset, and noticed that there’s no lag anymore. Could be because there are no apps installed anymore? Probably.

To avoid being irritated, I would drag the scroll-bar, and there wouldn’t be any lag. Still not very intuitive, but an easy workaround until things get sorted.

Messaging – Because the good Ol’ SMS still matters

Conversation style is the default in Messaging. Heck, if you want to check out each SMS individually, you’ll have to tap on the particular message in the Conversation. But, there’s an option to change to the Folder view, temporarily. Once you exit the app, and then open it again, you’ll see the Conversation view again.

One more thing I noticed is that you cannot delete all conversations at once. You’ll have to do it manually. Another UI blunder. I’m not on a rant here, but these things are just annoying.

CONTACTS

The core of the Contacts app is still the same, with only a couple of cosmetic changes. But it’s still more dumb than it is smart – in this day and age, you’d expect SNS integration out of the box, but no. That’s not the case. You’ll have to sign to Facebook and Twitter using Nokia Social (which still is a pain to use). Once you’re signed in, you’ll have to connect the respective FB or Twitter contact to your phonebook entry. If that’s Nokia’s way of saying that you’re better off not going through the process, I don’t know.

Dialer – A tad bit improved

Next up, the Dialer – Nokia hasn’t given up on including Smart dialing, which is awesome. I love this feature so much, that when I don’t find it on a phone, I go meh. I mean, how difficult could it be? 10 points to Nokia and Belle.

Email

Setting up Email is easy. If you didn’t setup your mailboxes at the first start-up, you can do so by going to the mail app. Doing this is easy – select your mail provider, punch in your username and password, and you’re good to go.

Although you’re supposed to get Push mail, I found that the app is unreliable. It pushed the mails initially very fast, but as time passed by, mails weren’t being pushed. In fact, I had to sync manually every now and then to see if there’s a new mail waiting for me. Conclusion – don’t trust the app. Mail has somehow been unreliable on the new Symbian devices, which is sort of funny, seeing that the older Nokia devices – the E-series (S60), are as efficient as ever.

I’m not sure if that’s an issue with Nokia’s servers, or with the new Symbian (now Nokia Belle), but it’s bad.

Camera – For when you need to capture that special moment, or record a party

The 701 comes with an 8 MP EDoF camera, and there’s dual LED flash to assist in low light conditions. There’s support for recording videos in HD, aka 720p, at 30 FPS. If that’s confusing you, rest assured, the video quality is pretty good. It’s the stills which are bothersome. Actually, I was disappointed with the quality of stills, even under good lighting conditions. I don’t know if it’s a fault with this unit, or what, but the results were below par. The images are grainy, and I’d clicked them all at default settings.

Coming to the UI, it’s fairly barebones. There’s a shutter button on the right-centre. A quick Video-Still toggle is located above the virtual shutter button. Tap on it to quickly change to either mode. There’s a persistent toolbar on the bottom, if you’re holding the device in landscape mode. I hate it. It distracts you when you’re trying to click something. They could have just added it to the left or the right side, or made the toolbar transparent. And this isn’t limited to just 701. All Belle devices have the same UI.

Browser – improvements here, but it still ain’t as awesome

The Browser you get with Belle is a fairly good improvement over the one you got on Anna. The UI has changed, and it does feel a bit faster, although I still dislike it.

Nokia 701 Browser

There’s a toolbar on the bottom, which again, is persistent. But it’s not as much of an irritant on here. You can go back, forward, open a new Window and Bookmark the current page. There’s the Menu button on the extreme right. On the top, there’s the URL bar, which also acts somewhat like an Omnibox. If you’re entering a search term, you’ll have to select the highlighted line just below the URL bar. Not exactly good, but better than the plain old URL bar.

There’s text reflow as well, but it doesn’t work like it should. Either it takes too long, or it doesn’t reflow at all.

Music Player – slick, fast, configurable

The same Music player from Symbian^3 continues, featuring the cool Coverflow interface. I felt the 701′s speaker wasn’t really as loud as I’d have liked. The X7′s were great, though.

There are Equalizer presets, with support for most of the popular formats. The app sorts the entire collection automatically on the basis of album, genre, artist etc. Every time you add to the library, make sure you refresh it. And then, it is advised to use Nokia Suite mode while transferring songs to the 701 as the Suite optimizes them.

Nokia Maps – Because you shouldn’t get lost

This app continues to be one of the best aspects of a Symbian smartphone – you get free lifetime turn by turn navigation, and the Map data is very good – it did find places Google Maps couldn’t. On an occasion or two, Google Maps did return more accurate results, but I could trust Nokia Maps on most of the other occasions. Offline navigation really is a great add-on, and voice-guided navigation is icing on the cake.

Full marks to Nokia on this.

The Good

  1. The display. It is very, very good. Near total visibility even under sun.
  2. Nokia Belle is a good update. The UI is a lot more cleaner, more functional now.
  3. The new Widgets are very sleek and pretty. The pull down Notification bar is a welcome addition as well
  4. No more issues with respect to Qt and updates to Qt. It all just works now.
  5. Nokia Maps continue to be good. You shouldn’t need a dedicated navigation device.
  6. The device is built like a tank. I was thinking it would be delicate and all, but it surely is very sturdy. Don’t worry if it falls on the ground.

The Bad

  1. Camera is a letdown. Stills aren’t good enough. Video recording is very good, however.
  2. I would have liked it if Nokia let me configure the toggles in the Notification bar
  3. The Nokia Smartinstaller is still irritating. When you install a Qt app, you’ll find that you won’t be able to access any of the phone’s features while the app installs.
  4. The lags in scrolling can be irritating. Nokia has promised a Feature Pack 1 update, which should resolve this. It’s also going to increase the clock speed of the processor, so things should be far better, in terms of speed. But until then, the lag will be there.
  5. Battery life. It was below average. Fruit Ninja for half an hour, the battery would be down by about 40%. The device did last me for a good 6-7 hours, with zero gaming, half an hour of calling, push mail, Gravity and a couple of hours of browsing, but that’s still a bit less.

Conclusion

The 701 feels premium, but is it worth the price? I’m not sure if the feature-set matches the price Nokia is asking – the MRP on its online store is INR 18000, just 1200 INR less than the N8, which is the second best cameraphone, next to the PureView 808. Sure, you get NFC with the 701, but is it even relevant yet? I went in to a Nokia Priority Store the other day to see how it works, but the dealer said that he had sent back the NFC ‘kiosk’ to Nokia. There’s a faster processor and double the RAM on the 701, though, which should help with speed of operation.

With that aside, here are a few alternatives to the 701, in the same price range -

  • Sony Xperia Neo V – for about the same price as the 701, you get an Android device with Gingerbread (upgradable to ICS), a 5 MP auto-focus camera, a higher resolution display, although not as good as the 701′s.
  • Motorola Defy+ – it costs INR 16000, and comes with Gingerbread, a 5 MP auto-focus camera, but the UI is as messed up as it could be. Xperia Neo V is still a better option
  • Nokia Lumia 710 and Samsung Omnia W – for almost the same price, around 15000 INR, both these devices come with Windows Phone 7.5 Mango, a 5 MP auto-focus camera and a totally different UI. The Lumia 710 lacks a front facing camera, though.