On the right side of the unit is a jog wheel that acts as the main navigation tool and here’s where the usability problems start. Now, I’m not one of these people that hates jog wheels, in fact I quite like them, but on a device like this it just doesn’t work. Take the main menu screen for example – here you’re presented with three rows of icons with your cursor sitting on the top left icon. So, if I want to select the icon that’s two rows down from where I am I have to scroll through two whole lines of icons before I get to where I need to be – if I had a four-way navigation stick I could have just jumped down two steps and be there. Also, if I scroll through to the bottom right icon, the cursor won’t wrap around back to the top left, I have to scroll back through all three rows to get there. I’m not saying that I don’t want the jog wheel, because I do. In fact the jog wheel is perfect for scrolling through emails, but I’d like a four-way navigation pad/stick as well. Below the jog wheel is an “Escape” button that exits your current menu and jumps back a step.
On the left hand side of the casing is a headset socket and a standard mini USB port. The latter is used to sync the 7100v with your PC and to charge the battery. The 7100v will charge over USB, but you do also get a power adapter in the box. The power supply incorporates a clever design – there’s no wire attached to it, instead it has a USB port, so you can use the USB to mini USB cable to connect the 7100v to the power supply. Vodafone has also been thoughtful enough to supply two USB cables in the box, so you can keep one with the power supply and leave the other connected to your PC. On the top of the unit is the power button, but you have to be careful when you’re switching the device off – pressing the button quickly will turn the screen black but not actually turn the 7100v off, you have to press and hold the power button to power the device down.
As I’ve already mentioned, SureType is very good, but actually using the 7100v to write an email can still be frustrating. At first I had some problems with the key layout – for some reason I subconsciously expected the keypad to be in alphabetic order instead of qwerty, which resulted in a very slow and difficult typing experience. However, after a bit of use, I overcame this problem and found myself being able to type text quite quickly. But getting to extended symbols is a real pain. Take an @ sign for example; a pretty important symbol for a mobile email client you might think. To type an @ sign you need to press two buttons, then scroll along to it in the first page of the symbols menu, then press the jog dial – quite a convoluted procedure for such a commonly used symbol. Of course if you’re picking your recipient from the address book this isn’t a problem, but it should still be easier to get at the @, so to speak.
Another issue I had was switching between SureType and multi-tap input methods. When you’re in a text input application you can hold down the * key to switch from SureType to multi-tap. To show you that you’re in multi-tap mode a large “ABC” icon appears in the top right corner of the screen, but unfortunately this then obscures your battery level indicator, so if you prefer to use multi-tap you’re going to have to guess how much battery life you have left. Also, you can only switch between input modes when you’re in a text input application – this means that if you exit your email and notice that the “ABC” is stuck in the top corner, you have to go back into a text input application in order to switch back to SureType and get rid of the icon.