My 2010 Nokia QWERTY smackdown.

On a previous blog I took a look at the available options for qwerty smartphones in 2007, and followed up with the evolution of Nokia Eseries qwerty keypads as of 2008. Back then an Nseries qwerty was the stuff of fantasy; today there are no less than 3 of them!

Though I’ve mastered the art of T9 on my N86 (kinda), I’ll always have a soft spot for qwerty handsets. And seeing how I’ve got an N900 for a week or two let’s see how it fares in comparison to the rest of Nokia’s current lineup of smartphones for two-thumbs.

In other words, it’s time for a smackdown!

Nokia E75

5th Place – E75

The oldest handset of the group is showing its age here, with big flat rubbery buttons that are very stiff. Key travel is mercifully short, at least.

The E75’s slide-out keypad is certainly usable, and gets points for the added number-pad, but it’s still the worst of the bunch. And is that silver bar down the middle really necessary?

Disclaimer: I’m basing my ranking on a dummy device (albeit an official Nokia one) — if you think I got it wrong, leave a comment below…

Nokia N97

4th Place – N97

The very first Nseries qwerty is, in fact, nothing to write home about — putting the shift key and d-pad right next to each other makes selecting a block of text a real pain — it’s much easier to press and drag on the touchscreen directly above.

The keys themselves are generously spaced apart, but they’re so shallow that you’ll often find yourself checking if the character you entered actually took.

Nokia N900

3rd place – N900

I put the N900 around the middle of the pack. Despite the keys being crammed up against each other they’ve a slight contour to them, so you’ll have little trouble finding the one you want. Pressing a key yields a satisfying click, but compared to my #2 keypad they’re maybe just a bit stiff.

Other usability fails include the comma and period not being beside each other and, more importantly, the ‘@’ symbol requiring a simultaneous press of both the blue ‘sym’ key and the space bar, as there’s no long-press functionality built into this handset. Apparently that’s on the way, though…

N97 mini

2nd Place – N97 mini

Nokia’s updated N97 fixes all the issues with the previous keypad. Like on the N900, the navigation and shift keys are now at opposite ends, but unlike the N900 all the keys have some breathing room between them. And the addition of just a little bit of key travel makes a world of difference.

You could argue that the mini’s touchscreen options trump my #1 choice — I gave it second place solely because of the distance my thumbs had to travel across the width of the handset. For example, I often hit the ‘t’ key with my right thumb, and that’s a bit of an awkward stretch.

By the way, you may have noticed that this too is a dummy phone — but rest assured I had my hands on the real deal in the UK last November…

Nokia E72

1st Place – E72

It’s truly an amazing thing that Nokia could fit such a fantastic keypad in so narrow a space, but that’s exactly what they’ve done with the E72. I reckon it’s even better than the qwerty on the BlackBerry Bold — I don’t find that handset’s ridged keypad comfortable at all. Plus on this Nokia a long-press will yield an alternate character, or a handy flashlight in the case of the space bar.

And yes, this too is a dummy… What, you think I can afford to have five high-end Nokia handsets just lying around?

17 comments:

  1. You don’t have to press both keys at once to get the symbol shift to work on the N900, press blue arrow, then press space bar and it still works.
    Symbol lock works the same as caps lock (press shift key twice to turn on, once to exit) which is also handy.

  2. grrr…. just when I thought I could avoid an E72, you make it sound so good.

    I wonder: get rid of all my devices and go with E72 + N900 for the perfect combination, using the $100 AMZN gift card from #symbiangives? Or hold out for a Symbian foundation version?

    Decisions, decisions…

  3. A lot of good things in the E72 – I especially love the flashlight. Camera/optics are improved over the E71 (results more than specs). Maps are vastly improved, and it comes preloaded with a bunch of games I’ll never play. Opera runs pretty great on it. Traveler is a neat program that gives you local time, currency conversion and weather wherever you go. Exchange, Gmail and Hotmail are all supported. Other software is, surprisingly, a little sluggish compared to the E71 – though this was helped a bit with an update last week. Mail for Exchange is super slow. And the phone is still a bit buggy – in particular I get “memory full” often when opening attachments, even if email is the only program open. I’m hoping for a firmware update soon to correct some of these issues.

  4. @Klaus thanks for the review. I just updated my E75 to version 202 the other day, and I have to say that so far, it’s a massive improvement.

    I think it is also helped by the fact that i have decided it is a work-only device, and I am not loading my personal email accounts on it (yet). This has helped stability, and it worked fine through this morning when I woke up and the email (Exchange 2007 based) went from 38 unread to 445 unread messages.

    I do miss the big screen, however, and I long for an Eseries version of the N97. And by Eseries, I mean massive phone memory like the mini, and tons of RAM like the E71.

    I saw a review by Khouryt pitting the E71 vs. the E72. Even though they have the same RAM, the E72 uses more of it, presumably because of FP2. Hopefully updates will fix the memory issues.

  5. These are not the results I wanted to read!
    I’m at an E71 right now and will have a upgrade coming the end of this year. While I want a bigger screen the way everything is going it seems I’ll have to go with the E72.

  6. very good ranking and i tend to agree with you, but i’d rather put the E75 more in front, since i think the actual keyboard design is much better with its 4 Rows.

    I’m currently trialing the Nokia E72 and you’re right, the keyboard is amazing, although nothing for people with small thumbs!

    Thanks a lot for that write up!

  7. To me the only 1 in your list that doesn’t belong is the E72. Like the E71 the keys are just too small to see if you don’t have your reading glasses on. Not that I text and drive, but those that do and only need glasses to read cannot see the keyboard. The order for best qwerty for me is:

    Tied for third spot are the N97 and N97 mini

    Second spot is the N900

    First place goes to the E75.

  8. Hmmm, I used an E71 for over a year and had no issues with the keypad — I have not, however, used a production E75.

    In practice the buttons aren’t as shallow and stiff as they are on my dummy, then?

  9. The keys on the E75 are still shallow and stiff. One definitely gets used to them, and I think it would be difficult to really judge w/ a dummy unit, since you cannot use it exclusively for, say, 2 weeks. That’s about what it takes me to get used to a new keyboard.

    I like my E75 when I use it. I actually complain more about the top row being right up next to the upper half of the unit than I do about anything else. I find it difficult to get my finger up there, especially if I haven’t cut my nails for a while. Still, it’s not a bad keyboard, though you probably placed it correctly.

    I actually like the E71x best of all. The keys were slightly less hard than the E71, but not quite as rubbery as the E63. All three of those are great. I’ve not had a chance to use an E72 as of yet.

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