Technical Underdogging

Midnight Blues

After looking at my budget, looking at my options and looking at who I really wanted to give my money to, I’ve bought myself a Nokia E7.

I know.

I wanted a physical keyboard, really good bluetooth support and a phone that works with Wind Mobile; the pickings there were pretty slim, particularly if I wanted something unlocked and unbranded.

The phone pays for itself – Wind Mobile costs a third what Rogers does – and never speaking to Rogers employees again is awesome. But overall, it’s been a really ambivalent experience.

On the plus side, the hardware is pretty good. It’s classic Nokia; feels solid, maybe a bit thin on the specs, but does some unexpectedly great things – 720p HDMI out, USB in, a really good camera and a great physical keyboard layout on a better keyboard than my fat thumbs have used on any other phone.

On the downside… man. Nokia really doesn’t have their software act together. Not even in terms of stuff working right or being elegant, but in really basic, stuff-not-working-properly-at-all. The software is kind of clunky in places – email is pretty good, particularly compared to the tinkertoy iPhone client, but the less said about the web browser the better – but in terms of an integrated user experience, it’s just a disorganized mess.

I’m led to believe that it’s organized largely along the lines of Nokia’s internal organizational structure, which is both kind of sad and completely believable. I understand that place kind of a disorganized mess these days too.

Just as one example among several, there are at least four different ways of synchronizing your calendar and address book across different devices or services (Google, desktop, etc), and I say “at least” because it’s very possible I haven’t found them all yet. But there’s zero consistency between them, clarity as why you’d want one or the other and all of them just outright won’t do what they claim to for some segment of your data. Consequently you need to figure out which services you use to sync what data, entirely by trial and error.

It really reminds of solving Windows NT problems back in the bad old days – about 40% experience, 40% research and 20% voodoo. It’s not a good scene.

The thing that really hurts, of course, is the software ecosystem. The people who lament the pernicious effects of the App Store model on software sales should really take a look at what having one comprehensive place to find software has done for the portable space. There’s actually a fair bit of worthwhile software out there for Symbian, as dearly as I’d love to be able to put Maemo on this phone. It’s just about the platonic ideal software ecosystem model – paid or free options, you can install software from unapproved vendors and so forth; you have excellent freedom of choice – but the Ovi Store’s poor selection is further weighed down by a really uninspired UI and the find-it-in-the-wild alternative is snowed by the aforementioned weak-sauce browser; without the facilitating factor of a really good unified store, finding things that you want is an exercise, more than a transaction.

Skype video calls don’t work even though all the hardware’s right there; apparently it used to work, through a third party called Fring, but they’ve had some sort of falling out. This isn’t the first piece of Nokia hardware I’ve owned that failed like that, and I can’t tell you how sad it keeps making me. And desktop support for a Mac? Haha, no.

I’m fortunate, that my mobile computing needs are relatively humble; as long as I have SSH, SMS, a good email client and a plausible twitter app, that’s the basics of what I expect from a phone, and this one does all that pretty well. But I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that even if I never use another iPhone, I will need to bridge off my E7 to an iPod Touch just so that I can still see software made by people who put human users ahead of org charts of legacy compatibility. But we’ll see – this pendulum swings back and forth for me, so it’s hard to say.


  1. Posted October 26, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    So what’s your objection to Android?

  2. mhoye
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    That the only phones I can get that have Android on them (with WindMobile, not carrier-locked, reflashable) have as of this writing horrible, deal-breaking SMS bugs and no physical keyboards.

    I’m sure that will change in six months, but this phone will have more than paid for itself by then, so I’m going to just suck it up.

  3. Posted October 26, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    FWIW, I have never seen that SMS bug in the wild, nor known anyone who has (despite knowing lots of Android people). It has the sound of an internet kerfuffle, to the extent that it’s still supposed to exist in Gingerbread.

    (Although I guess in practice, I use Google Voice for sending SMS anyway.)

    Also, physical keyboards suck, because they lock you into using the phone in a single orientation.

  4. Posted October 26, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Instead of an iTouch, how about the Samsung Galaxy Player?

  5. mhoye
    Posted October 27, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    lol no?