The Nokia 700 marks an important updating of Symbian^3, arriving alongside the Belle update. This OS update is meant to drag Symbian into the present, with an overhaul that Nokia hopes will stop people like us from labelling it hopelessly out of date. Does it work?
For the most part, yes. The interface has been thoroughly redesigned in the image of Google’s Android, and while it may not have its own striking identity like Windows Phone 7, it’s a lot more attractive than the drab Symbian^3 look that was at the root of our disappointment with the Nokia N8, among many others. The widgets system feels less boxy, the naff old menu bar has been replaced and the notifications system has been re-worked.
You now drag a finger down from the top of a home screen to pull down a notifications bar, which is also home to buttons that turn data, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Silent mode on and off. It’s so Android it hurts. But, hey, it’s a big improvement.
You’re given four home screens that you can pack with widgets and shortcuts, and each has specific wallpaper linked to it. They cycle as you flick through them, but if this is a bit too much like frivolous fun for your liking, you can set them to the same image. You can also slim down to just three home screens, or bulk-up to six.
To customise these home screens, you simply hold a finger down on the touchscreen until a pop-up appears, letting you add shortcuts and widgets or change wallpapers. The selection of pre-installed widgets is fairly comprehensive, featuring 21 ranging from clocks to social networking streams and Wi-Fi switches. What’s still present here is that old Symbian lack of style.
(centre)The widget selection menu(/centre)
Although functionally very useful, there’s nothing quite pretty enough to make customisation fun, within the widget toybox. Part of the reason why HTC Sense is so popular is that it offers a handful of funky-looking clocks. Uber-geeks may not want to admit it, but looks are an important part of smartphone customisation – and the drab-looking clocks and calendar here don’t quite cut it. A nice selection of wallpapers is included, though.
The way a system responds to touches is also at the root of how we react to a smartphone, and Belle has made headway here. Day-to-day navigation felt curiously abrupt on the Nokia N8 – the way it leapt between homescreens and menus were a bit too awkward when compared with iOS or Android. Improved transitions and animations make the Nokia 700 feel more in-line with its rivals on this front now, although Symbian^3 is still not as slick as iOS, Android Gingerbread or Windows Phone 7.
The Nokia 700 does have processor power on its side. With a 1GHz processor, it has more grunt at its disposal than either the Nokia N8 or C7. This is impressive as the 700 is cheaper than either. Multi-tasking is very easy to manage too. Just press down on the physical select soft key to bring up the multitasking menu, which shows snapshots of any running apps. Within the main apps menu running apps are signposted with a little dot icon as well. There’s no mistaking what is and isn’t running here.
Although the Nokia 700 hasn’t yet (at the time of writing) been given official support for the slew of impressive 3D games made for the Nokia N8, such as Gameloft’s Avatar and Asphalt 5, they all seem to work just fine on the phone. These supply you with a better gaming experience than you’d get on a rival 600MHz Android device, but the back catalogue is limited. The range of “Nokia HD” games, as they’re called, hasn’t grown a great deal in 2011 and was always primarily powered by Gameloft. This is one of mobile gaming’s most important publishers, but Symbian^3 gaming and app activity don’t have the wider developer support of iOS or Android.
(centre)Asphalt 5: an oldie but a goodie(/centre)
Delve directly into the built-in app store, the Nokia Store (previously known as Ovi Store), and you’ll find the mobile gaming staple Angry Birds and a few classic like Tetris and Bejeweled, but little else of value. Many games are old and are based on Java titles rather than their smartphone counterparts, and hence feel and look old and clunky. Seek out the Nokia HD titles yourself though and you’ll have a blast.
It’s the same story with apps. Symbian app development has been going on for yonks – since before the Apple App Store opened – but as the current pace of development isn’t as strong as iOS or Android, plenty of what you’ll find is out of date or of low quality. Lots of the best bits aren’t available on Nokia Store, either. Spotify, for example, has to be downloaded directly from Spotify’s website. Accept that to get the most out of Symbian apps you need to go the extra mile and there are several gems to uncover.
(centre)The Nokia 700’s native app store(/centre)
However, if apps are a priority, you’d be better off with a budget Android phone. Too many smartphone staples are missing. Where’s the official Facebook app? Where’s the Kindle bookstore? Where’s the decent Intenet radio app (Nokia Internet Radio can’t even find BBC 6 Music)?
That said, the Nokia 700 packs-in much of what many smartphone users need anyway.