There's no point beating about the bush, the Nokia E7 is in a funny old situation. Nokia has essentially put the brakes on developing the Symbian software upon which it runs, in favour of using Windows Phone for its future smartphones. This was bad enough for the otherwise impressive Nokia N8, with its magnificent 12.1 megapixel camera, but without this headline feature and an arguably archaic keyboard to add to its bulk as well, the E7 has a real fight on its hands. So without further ado, let's have a clean fight, no biting and gouging, and no pulling any punches. Ding! Ding! Round one!
Where the Nokia E7 doesn't disappoint is in its styling and build quality. Crafted from great slabs of aluminium and a large glass screen, the only rivals that come close to equalling the general feeling of quality are those built by Apple, and even then it's only really the iPhone 4 that competes. There's an argument for saying that if dropped on a floor it would come out just as badly as countless others but as a device to handle it is exceptional.
Slide the screen up to reveal the keyboard and this impression isn't dull for a moment thanks to a strong slide mechanism and beautifully crafted and laid-out keyboard. However, the slide action itself is a bit awkward. While we appreciate that having the screen rise to a more readable angle is beneficial, it does mean you can't deftly slide the phone open with one hand. Moreover, even two-handed the action is a bit fiddly and takes a little while to get the hang of without having the phone nearly fly from your hands.
Another immediate concern is the sheer bulk of the device. It's surprisingly slim considering it's packing a slide-out keyboard but the 4in screen and tough build combine to make this a hefty 176g beast with dimensions of 123.7 x 62.4 x 13.6mm (compared to 137g and 115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3 mm for the iPhone 4 - a phone that's already fairly heavy).
As ever Nokia has packed the E7 with connectivity and buttons. Straight away we applaud the move to place the main menu button on the front in the middle rather than off to the side as on the N8, but elsewhere it's a mixed bag. The power button on the top is tiny and recessed so is rather difficult to reach, while the slider switch on the left edge that locks and unlocks the screen feels superfluous. Yes, we appreciate some people find it useful but other buttons combine to perform the same function so it really isn't necessary. Conversely we do rather like the volume slider on the right edge and greatly appreciate the dedicated button for the camera that's also found here.
Also to be found on the right edge is the SIM slot, which uses an, again beautifully made, metal tray to house the SIM. Finally up top are sockets for headphones, microUSB (for data transfer and charging) and HDMI, for piping video straight out to your TV. - not something we'd do all that often but useful nonetheless.
For watching video on the phone itself, the superb, bright and colourful AMOLED screen works wonders. Colours just leap from it while blacks really are black. It's not quite perfect in that there's a lot of blue colour shift when viewed from an angle but for general multimedia it's a delight. For more precise work, however, like browsing the web or writing emails, the lower-than-average 360 x 640 resolution makes it a bit harder to see what's going on.
All in all though, it's a pretty good show so far. However, it's when we come to the software that things break down.