The Nokia 701 is one of the first Nokia phones to be released with the new and improved Symbian Belle. Although it may just seem like a repackaged Nokia C7, it is little more than that. Exactly how much more is something we’ll have to find out. So let’s get on with it then. Design and Build
There is no denying the fact that the 701 looks almost identical to the C7. Only difference being that the shiny stainless steel edge around the front has been replaced by matte plastic. The unfortunate side effect of this is that the 701 does not look as good as the C7, which had a more upmarket look and feel to it. Nevertheless, it still is a good-looking device on its own.
On the front we see the 3.5-inch display covered by Corning’s Gorilla Glass, which makes it highly scratch resistant. We tested this out for ourselves by rubbing all sorts of sharp objects on it but neither one of them managed to produce even a hairline scratch on the glass. Above the display is a front facing camera, proximity sensor and the ambient light sensor, along with a prominent earpiece.
Below the display we have three physical controls for the call, menu and end button from left to right, in that order. To be honest I don’t really see the need to have physical call and end buttons as the phone displays large on-screen buttons whenever a call comes in and it is a lot easier just to use those instead of the buttons placed all the way near the bottom of the device.
On top of the phone is a micro USB port under a cover with an LED lamp that glows whenever the phone is charging. Next to it is the 3.5mm headphone jack and the power button.
On the right side of the phone are the volume control buttons with the voice command button between them, the sliding phone lock switch and the camera shutter button. On the right is the traditional Nokia charger connector, which is a nice touch for times when you can’t find a micro USB charger and we all know how common Nokia’s usual chargers are.
On the back of the device wee see the first signs of metal on the body. The battery cover is the only bit on the phone made out of stainless steel but I had to open it to be completely sure as visually it does not look quite, metallic. Above the battery cover we find the camera lens and flash along with two loudspeaker grilles although the actual speaker is only inside the left/top grille whereas the right/bottom one is just a dummy. We tested the speaker by keeping the phone on a surface and it did not seem to affect its performance in anyway.
Below the battery cover is a SIM card slot that does not require you to remove the battery to access it. The SIM card is not hot swappable though because when you put in a SIM when the phone is switched on it automatically restarts. The microSD card is strangely under the battery. It would have made more sense to keep this on the outside instead of the SIM slot.
The build quality on older Noka phones was one of their highlights. As such it is disappointing to say that the newer phones aren’t quite in the same league. I noticed this with the E6 before and now with the 701 but the phone generally does not seem very solid. Something or the other feels a bit loose. In case of the 701, it was the curved plastic strip below the keys on the front. It felt like it was stuck there with cheap glue and kept moving slightly when pressed. And since this is an area where your fingers go quite often it was very noticeable and distracting. Even the battery cover got slightly loose after a while. Display
Unlike the Nokia C7 that had a AMOLED display, the Nokia 701 uses an LCD instead, although it still has the same size (3.5-inch) and resolution (640 x 360) as before. The display uses IPS technology used in the iPhone 4/4S and LG’s high-end Android smartphone. The advantages of IPS technology are the richer colors and wide viewing angles over traditional LCD. It also uses Nokia’s ClearBlack technology, which places a polarizer over the glass that reduces the glare under bright light and lets you see the contents of the display clearly. To further help visibility under the sun, Nokia has packed in an especially strong backlight, which they claim makes the 701’s display the brightest in the world.
In practice the display does look pretty good. The resolution may not be very high but due to the relatively small size it manages to have a decent pixel density of around 210 PPI, which makes it look sharp enough as long as you don’t hold it close to your face. The colors also look nice but remain natural unlike the exaggerated colors on AMOLED displays.
The viewing angles, however, aren’t all that great. This is not a problem with the display itself but with its placement. There is a significant gap between the glass and the LCD panel that reduces the brightness of the display at off-angles due to the refraction of light. This is why companies like Apple stick the display directly to the glass as it gives the best possible picture quality and viewing angles. Another disadvantage to this is the ugly strips of light that you see between the display and the front glass when you tilt the phone. It’s been a while since we saw those.
Under the sun, the display remains readable, provided you have the brightness cranked up all the way to the highest setting. Hardware and software
The Nokia 701 has a 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM. In comparison, the older C7 had a 684MHz processor and 256MB of RAM. Like the C7, the 701 also has 8GB internal storage memory and at the same time it also supports microSD cards up to 32GB.
The Nokia 701 also adds NFC (Near Field Communication) to the list of connectivity options. NFC allows you to connect with and transfer data to and from other NFC enabled devices simply by touching them together. You can, for example, touch the 701 to another Nokia NFC enabled device and transfer images and other data or pair with a NFC enabled Bluetooth headset or speaker system. Note that the actual data transfer happens over Bluetooth, with NFC merely authorizing the transfer without having to go through the trouble of pairing the two devices. Of course, your permission is asked every time so there is no way for the transfer to happen by accident.
We tried transferring files using NFC with other NFC-enabled handsets such as the Nexus S and the BlackBerry Curve 9360 but it didn't work as apparently it is only designed to work with only Nokia phones. Nokia provided a small sticker in the user guide with an NFC chip, which when touched, launches the Nokia Store and gives you some free apps to download. Again, this only works with Nokia phones.
As far as the software is concerned, the Nokia 701 runs on the new Symbian Belle operating system. Compared to Anna, which had only minor updates, Belle looks and feels like a much more significant update to the ageing platform. Some of the noticeable features are the homescreen widgets, which cannot be of any size and shape. You can move them around on the screen and quickly add or remove them, just like on Android. You get four homescreens by default but you can have up to six screens if you like and you can set a different wallpaper for each of them. The phone comes with a decent number of widgets and more can be added from the Nokia Store.
Another feature borrowed from Android is the new notification screen, which can be slid down from the top. Along with the notifications, Nokia has also added toggle buttons for to data connectivity, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Silent mode, something that Android lacks by default. This screen can be accessed from almost anywhere in the phone where you can see the notifications bar on top and hence is understandable missing in full-screen apps.
You will also see that Belle drops the soft key-like functions at the bottom of the screen to simple, self-explanatory icons. You usually have an icon to go back one screen on the left and to show additional options on the right. In the middle you can have up to two more icons depending upon the app.
The new menu now lists all the icons in a single, long grid instead of keeping them in discrete folders. Newly downloaded apps automatically go to the bottom of the list. You can rearrange the order of the icons or create folders if required. As before, the app icons show a circle if they are running in the background. You can still switch between running apps by pressing and holding the menu button.
The last major change is a new browser that looks and works much better than the one in Anna. The rest of the changes are minor UI updates.
The latest update makes Symbian a lot more user friendly but there are still some creases left to iron out. The on-screen keypad, for instance, is pretty much unusable for anyone, whether you are used to a physical keypad or another on-screen keypad. The keys are too close to each other, certain keys are placed in an odd location and the auto-correct system is not at all up to the mark. In iOS, Windows Phone 7 and to some extent on Android, you can just blast away at the keypad and know full well and 95% of the times the keypad will guess correctly. On Belle, you have to put in an unnecessary amount of effort to ensure every word is typed properly, to a point where you start avoiding typing. The landscape keyboard makes things bit better but not by much.
The web browser, although improved, is still not up to scratch. Page loading performance wasn’t quick enough and scrolling on a large page can often be sluggish. Sometimes it would mess up the background image of the page and at times display different fonts at different places. Also, a significant portion of the screen is wasted by the top and bottom bar and since the display is not that big to begin with; it leaves very little room for the actual page.
Belle UI also seems inconsistent. At some places you have large, easy to use buttons whereas in others you have to click on a tiny object that was clearly not designed for touch. The bounce back animation at the page, something that we first saw on iOS, is highly exaggerated here and seems over the top every time it happens, especially in the browser.
Then there is the performance. Even with a 1GHz processor under the hood, the UI speed is not consistently. At times it can be very smooth whereas other times it would be frustratingly slow.
I also have several other issues but I’ll leave those for some other day. The gist of the matter is that even though Belle is the best version of Symbian so far, it feels nowhere as polished as the current leading platforms.
As far as apps are concerned, the Nokia Store takes care of most of them. You even have access to paid apps now, something that wasn’t available before. Despite that though the choice of apps is fairly limited. It’s not particularly bad as such but you won’t be spoilt for choice as on other platforms. Often you’ll have to settle for an app not because there aren’t better apps but because there aren’t any other apps of that type available. Performance
The call quality and network reception was quite satisfactory on the device. Both the loudspeaker and the vibrator were also sufficiently strong.
The audio quality on the phone is very good through headphones. The loudspeaker on the phone is strong but doesn’t sound very good. Nokia provides a very good quality headset with the 701. It’s not one of their in-ear models but it still sounds quite good and is fairly comfortable to boot.
The 8-megapixel camera on the 701 lacks an auto-focus, which makes macro shots impossible. However, the actual camera quality is not bad, with decent colors and details.
The camera is also very, very fast and even at maximum resolution, if you disable image preview you can easily take a couple of pictures within a second. The 720p videos also came out very well, with smooth frame rate, good details and clear audio. The quality of the front VGA camera was quite average. Here is an example of an image taken with the phone’s 8-megapixel camera.
The image gallery on the 701 was very fast. It took minimal time to generate thumbnails and after that scrolling was silky smooth, regardless of the number of images. The zooming and panning of the images was also quite fast and smooth.
The video player on the phone is capable of playing videos up to 720p resolution in AVI, MP4, MKV and WMV formats. Unfortunately, in most cases we had no audio. The video player refused to work with AC3 or any kind of multichannel audio. At times when everything seemed to be fine the video playback still failed. Standard definition videos playback was more reliable but the sound issue still prevailed. Battery life
We tested the phone on 2G network, with a few calls, messages, few hours of music playback through headphones, couple of hours of video playback and a bit of web browsing. With this we managed to get about two days of usage on a single charge, which is pretty good since most phones these days struggle to last even a single day. Verdict
At Rs.18,999 (Rs.16,700 on Flipkart) the Nokia 701 is not a bad phone per se. But to be honest there is nothing great about it either. There was nothing that blew us away, with the battery life being the only thing that stood out. The phone is outclassed in almost every other aspect by phones that cost about as much. For the same amount of money you could get a Samsung Galaxy S LCD, Optimus Black, Motorola Defy+ or Sony Ericsson Xperia neo V. Or if you don’t like Android you can probably still get a HTC Mozart running Windows Phone 7 for about 16,000.
As such it is hard for us to recommend this phone to someone who isn’t either a diehard Nokia or Symbian fan. If you’re one of the former, you probably already have your mind set on the new Lumia 710 or the 800 and if you’re the latter, well, the 701 is the best you can get right now.