8 February 2009

Smaller is not necessarily more beautiful

Filed under: MIDs, Nokia — David Wood @ 2:16 pm

I’ve been using a Nokia E61i as my main phone for at least 15 months. I’d grown very fond of it.

However, as part of the integration of Symbian’s corporate IS structures into those of Nokia, all Symbian employees who previously ran the BlackBerry Connect push email service on older phones like the E61i have been migrated onto a newer phone – the Nokia E71 – with a “Mail for Exchange” connection to the Nokia email servers.

To avoid too many changes happening at exactly the same time, I left it until Thursday this week to unbox my E71 and start personalising it. For about 24 hours, I switched back and forth between the two phones, but I now think the E61i is switched off for good.

First impressions are that, going from the E61i to the E71, there are scores of small but valuable improvements in the usability and feature set of applications. These improvements add up to a powerful reason not to go back to the E61i. They’ve been very nicely implemented.

Another big plus point is the built-in GPS.

No wonder the E71 has received so many rave reviews.

But yet, but yet, but yet: I confess to missing the larger keyboard and the larger screen of the older phone. For someone who does a great deal of data entry into my smartphone, the smaller keys (although implemented as a technological marvel) mean that I mis-hit keys more often than before. (And several keys have been removed from the keyboard altogether – you now need to use the “Chr” key to type them in.)

Another slight drawback of the smaller form factor is that, to my mind, the vibrator is less powerful, and more easily missed. So I’ve missed more incoming phone calls in the last few days than in the preceding week. (I’ll need to develop some greater sensitivity…)

Whilst the prevailing wisdom in the smartphone industry is that smaller and lighter phones reach larger markets, I count myself as part of a small but growing sub-market of users that would prefer larger hardware. For us, a larger keyboard and screen – up to a point – add significantly to the overall usability of the device as a high-volume data-input and data-output terminal.

The iPhone is another example of a phone that was larger than prevailing wisdom said would be tolerated by mainstream purchasers. Previous to the launch of the iPhone, industry usability experts held the opinion that a device with the dimensions of the iPhone would inevitably have a limited market. However, as the iPhone shows, if the user experience is good enough, worries about device size tend to fall away.

So I am personally looking forward to seeing the software enhancements of the E71 available in larger devices – whether these devices are called “smartphones” or “MIDs” or whatever.

Small is beautiful – yes – but it’s not the only beauty.

Footnote: For an excellent introduction to the E71 from the point of view of an E61i user, see the comprehensive comparative review by Steve Litchfield.


  1. I’ve found that, for me, the autocorrect on the E71 more than makes up for the smaller keys. I can pretty much ignore typos as I type because more than likely the phone will have guessed what I was typing anyway. Shame it doesn’t work for email addresses or URLs (where the stripped-down set of punctuation keys is also quite annoying).

    I’m a very happy convert from E61i to E71. It’s like Nokia heard all my complaints about the former and fixed them. If only it had a 3.5mm audio jack…

    Comment by Sam Stokes — 8 February 2009 @ 10:34 pm

  2. Hmm, now that I’ve found how to enable autocorrect, I can see that it’s clever, but it’s also driving me mad.

    If I write a longish SMS or email and then cursor up and down the message to review it before I send it, the editing system frequently grabs the cursor keys into the autocorrection system, resulting it the system changing the words I had typed, replacing them with some incorrect alternatives. It’s more trouble than it’s worth.

    (Eg I type “DW” and the system changes it to “DWINDLED” if I don’t pay enough attention…!)

    // dw2-0

    Comment by David Wood — 11 February 2009 @ 11:38 pm

  3. Hi David, Just found your blog and am enjoying the articles. I have visited the shops on the high street a few times and am still not sure that I want to move to the smaller E71. But since my 2 yrs old E61 is falling apart, will need to make a decision soon.

    I definitely am one who would prefer a slightly larger hardware. I was in the tube the other day and saw one of those Sony eReaders. Now something that size might seem too big, but as you said get the user experience right and the size doesn’t matter.

    Forget Netbooks, give me a Mobiputer!

    Comment by Azza — 13 February 2009 @ 12:45 am

  4. Hi Arun,

    Despite my reservations about high-speed data entry to the E71, I’m sure you’ll find it a great device.

    Certainly it’s better for data entry than many other devices – like those without keyboards which require touch interaction.

    // dw2-0

    Comment by David Wood — 13 February 2009 @ 1:28 pm

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