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The BlackBerry 8820 has been one of the best slab-style QWERTY smartphones for so long now, it's hard to imagine anything overtaking it. Its combination of ease of use, long battery life and excellent keyboard contributed to a maximum score of 10 out of 10 when we first looked at it last August, and our opinion hasn't changed much over that time.
But times move on, new handsets are released, and inevitably - eventually - a new champion comes along. That new champion, it would seem, is Nokia's E71 - the long-awaited successor to the E61. Why? First, this is a simply gorgeous phone. With a solid metal rear, chrome-trimmed front and flat, almost mirror-finish screen, it's one beautiful piece of design.
And, not only does it look fantastic, but it's also very slim and pocketable. Unlike its E61 predecessor, which was about as broad-shouldered as a phone could get, the E71 is as slim-waisted as an iPhone and 2.3mm thinner, too, at a mere 10mm. It may boast a full QWERTY keyboard, but you can slide it into a pocket and barely notice it. Even the slip case it comes with doesn't add to the bulk too much.
It's a remarkable piece of engineering ergonomically, as well. Cramming a full keyboard into a chassis this narrow is easily enough done, but making it usable is much more of a challenge. Nokia has achieved that and more with the E71: the keys, like the E61 before it, are slightly rubbery so your fingers don't slip off them when you're trying to type; they're slightly domed, so you can press one easily without hitting a neighbouring letter by accident; and the keyboard is blessed with a sensible layout too - important symbols such as the full stop, comma and @ characters are all accessible instantly, without the need to press shift - an ailment all too many other phone keypads are afflicted by.
The keyboard, then, is easily a match for the 8820's excellent offering, but how about the rest of the device? Well, there's no scrolling trackball, but the directional pad above the keyboard is easy to use and works well. If anything, the buttons for picking up and hanging up calls next to the pad are a little on the small side but they're easy to get used to. Combine those with the four well-sized shortcut keys and the pair of soft keys and overall you've got a very comprehensive control cluster.
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