Saturday, September 18, 2021

The Great Nokia E90 Review, Episode 1, The Hardware

January 13, 2008 by · 35 Comments 

Nokia E90

This review isn’t going to include a series of test photographs comparing this phone’s camera to that of a Samsung or even to that of a sibling ‘N series’ device. This isn’t that kind of phone. This is a ‘business phone’.

This phone is about getting business done. It is about not only projecting the image that you’re all ‘business’ but also about being able to whip out your phone, download the latest version of your M&A spreadsheet and do a vlookup while holding a speakerphone call at the same time. Yes. That is what this phone is about. It is about showing the world how big you are, and how big your phone is to prove it. So it would seem normal then, and right in line with your expectations, that 100% of the comments you will get are:

“Wow, that’s a big phone.”
“What time are you in, the 1980’s?”
“Does that thing do your laundry?”

So, the real question then is, does this phone live up to its expectations? Well, unfortunately, not entirely.

This review is broken up into two parts. This part will deal with the hardware ‘stuff’ and the next one will deal with the software ‘stuff’. Thus, in this part I will cover construction, display impressions, keyboard impressions, GPS/WiFi/3G connectivity, reception, and battery life.

Let’s start with the construction. This phone feel relatively solid overall. However it also feels like a typical rental car. Looks new and clean, but after a few day’s rental you start realizing that random hidden things are broken or squeak. Most of the problems with the E90 surface from the back side. The battery door moves around a bit, and the panel around the battery squeak whenever you squeeze it, which is mostly during typing. The hinges of the door, though feel pretty solid, but when the phone is closed, they allow some backwards forwards play of the screen on top of the keyboard, which if you did it enough, would presumably scratch the screen. To confirm some weird thing going on between the keyboard and the inside screen, you will typically get marks on the inside screen from the keyboard. So far these key-like marks haven’t been permanent, but only time will tell. I give the construction an 8/10.

One of the key selling points of the E90 is the Dual Display action. You get a small screen on the outside which lets you deal with things that don’t merit a full screen (such as initiating a call, or looking up a bit of information quickly), and inside you get a nice wide screen to deal with things such as web pages and spreadsheets. There isn’t much to say about these screens other than they are beautiful and well executed. 10/10.

However, as we all know, big, bright, and pretty displays = battery hogs. The E90’s battery life is an odd duck. It is supposed to be an enterprise device which will allow business people to hold conference calls, browse the web, modify documents, and do other ‘business stuff’. However, the E90’s power drain prevents you from doing this for more than a day, unlike my favorite power-efficient smart phone, the E61. In order to get this day, you need to be conscientious of how much you use the larger display. I only use it for the bare minimum of things, and rely on the smaller external screen with T9, for example, for simple SMS. This is not to say this phone is unusable like the N95, whose battery life I found unacceptable, but rather, just enough power to get you through the day, and no more. One thing I found helpful was to take the phone’s radio off of dual-mode and placing it either only on UMTS or GSM. UMTS-only isn’t that bad actually, and can get you through the day while enjoying the benefits of 3G. Battery life = 7/10.

Which brings me on to connectivity services, mainly stuff like GPS, HSDPA/3G, and WiFi. I have tested the E90 on T-Mobile UK’s HSDPA network, and when it can get a lock on a HSDPA slot, the 3G icon adds a little .5 to it, and off you go at what I have clocked at around 400 kbps or thereabouts to the phone’s browser. You can take advantage of this as well by hooking up your laptop via Bluetooth to take advantage of the HSDPA connection, a nice plus. As for voice calls, the sound quality incoming and outgoing is good, but the speakerphone volume is a bit weak for my taste considering the size of the phone (and presumably speaker).

WiFi connectivity works much like that of any other Nokia phone. Its reception isn’t stellar, but it works fine so long as you don’t stray too far from the Access Point. Lastly, GPS is a joke. I think I’ve only got a satellite lock once and it was by leaving the phone by my window unattended for a period longer than my short term memory can recall (and yes, this is with A-GPS). Thus, I largely rely on my recent Google Maps install which will give you a rough estimate faster than relying exclusively on GPS via other apps. I’m sure that if I were outside hiking the E90 would come in nicely in a pinch, but for driving, I may very well rely on my external Bluetooth GPS device for a link up. 8/10 overall for all the connectivity options.

So what about phone reception in general? Well, as with most Nokia phones, reception is pretty darned good. EXCEPT, and this is a HUGE thing, which is why I’m writing in CAPS; HUGE. When the phone is open in ‘laptop-mode’, and you are using both hands to type (you need to), your right hand will SEVERELY impact the reception of the phone whilst on 3G. I can actively decrease the imprecise ‘bars’ of reception by 3 just by placing my hand in writing position. What this means to you is that if you are in an area of mediocre reception, you need to type, and then remove your hand in order not to kill your reception. Big MINUS. I have come up with a little dance which involves typing quickly, and then placing the phone vertically half-open, while it downloads things in order to get the best reception. Very annoying. 7/10.

Touching briefly upon the keyboards, I find that the internal keyboard is excellent in terms of shortcut buttons, but slightly less excellent in the distance between hands, leading to a bit of a stretch to reach some of the keys in the middle. If your hands are larger, you may have a different experience than mine. Key travel gets better with age, and while at first it was tough to tell when you hit a key, I find that now it is better and has a more pronounced ‘down press’ feeling. As for the external keyboard, it’s acceptable. Not stellar in terms of feel since the travel is shorter than a typical phones (due to the display in the back most likely), but acceptable and solid feeling. However, one thing that struck me as odd about the keyboard is how poorly optimized it is. As you can see from the pictures below,

E51 E90 Front

The E51 (on the left) has more dedicated external buttons such as address book and calendar. The E90, has a whole bunch of wasted space below the * 0 and hash keys. It’s like a there is a huge gap there! I don’t know why they didn’t use that space to move the keyboard down and add some dedicated keys to make up for the lack of shortcuts the external screen has compared to the internal screen.

So, as you can see, from a hardware perspective, the E90 doesn’t cruise in with a stellar performance. Sure, it has two beautiful screens, but at a price, both in terms of battery life and cost to your wallet, as this phone is sold in the UK for £624 or roughly $1200 US. So far, I’m not sold that this phone is truly worth that much money. Stay tuned for episode 2, where I’ll explore the software and see whether or not it truly adds value to this ‘mini computer’. Oh yes.. and if you’re still wondering how the camera performs… yeah, it’s decent. Slow, but good for a camera phone.

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