Review: Nokia E90 - Web and Work

In our continuing review of the Nokia E90 Communicator, Steve Litchfield looks at the handling of Office documents and how the E90 copes with working online.

Previous parts to this review: Nokia E90 - the Early Verdict and Nokia E90 - Adapting the Applications

This is where I turn my attention to actually working on the E90, i.e. not just organising my life and answering email. Of course, Calendar, Contacts and Messaging are all part of the working environment, but it's handling Office files without breaking sweat and allowing Web work with some semblance of desktop normality that could really 'make' the Nokia E90.

Nokia E90

Office documents

By 'Office', I mean those file types that generally get passed around between you and your colleagues. Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint files, obviously, but also PDF documents, RTF text files from WordPad, JPG images, plus HTML hyperlinks.

The Nokia E90 ships with Quickoffice 3.85 in its ROM, just as did the Nokia E61i, reviewed earlier this week. This bought in solution copes with more Office file variants than the original Nokia 9500's Symbian-sourced suite did, and can be updated on demand 'over the air', at least in theory. Quickoffice includes Quickmanager, whose job is to handle these updates, with the main thrust being to facilitate the paid upgrade to Quickoffice 4.0. This has much better round-tripping (with far less content changed or lost when returning edited documents to their source) and better editing of in-document graphics and tables, but it's also pickier about which documents it will open (it's not a friend to OpenOffice's saved .DOC and .XLS files, for example).

Mind you, for casual Office file editing, the built-in Quickoffice v3.85 will do just fine, while Office power users who care more about 'rich' content preservation will almost certainly have Microsoft's own Office software installed on the desktop and so are less likely to hit compatibility problems. Quickoffice isn't really optimised for the E90, in that there isn't the wealth of keyboard shortcuts that previous word/sheet solutions have enjoyed on the Communicator. Large Word files are best navigated in read-only mode and then switched into 'Edit mode' when needed, while large Excel spreadsheets are just plain frustrating to move around in, cell by cell.

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Quicksheet is solid but not yet a good fit for the Nokia E90.

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All applications have the aforementioned printing support, especially useful for Office apps

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Quickpoint works well, but suffers (again) from lack of keyboard/E90 optimisation and no zoom control

Adobe's own PDF reader for Symbian OS is present and correct here and did a decent enough job on all the PDF documents I threw at it, as did S60's built-in JPG image viewer for photo attachments. RTF attachments open in Notes, with the raw text markup shown - not ideal, but at least the content was visible, and in any case RTF isn't that commonly used these days. HTML attachments (either intentionally attached by a sender or auto-attached because the sender was using an HTML-enabled email client to apply font effects, formatting and images) open directly in an instance of Web.

Most of the above is, incidentally, almost identical to the software bundle in the smaller Nokia E61i, which is also a capable part-time mobile office. In addition, the shipping E90 may have a Presenter module, to allow slideshows to be driven from the device itself - watch this space.

Working on the Web

Now, I'm going to be a little bit critical here, but the S60 3rd Edition Web browser team shouldn't take it personally. Web on any of the S60 3rd Edition-powered devices is a tremendous piece of software and, allied with a good 3G or Wi-Fi data connection, means that you can browse and enjoy a huge fraction of the web pages on the Internet. So good so far.

Nokia E90

But the problem is that the 'Web' itself has become a mess. The original pure HTML web was clean and elegant, but over complicated table layouts started to become a problem. Then we had the rise of Javascript, relied on by many sites for 'interactivity' such as buttons that change when a cursor rolls over them, followed by Cascading Style Sheets (a step back towards elegance, actually) and then the rise of Flash content (often mini apps or novelties that run inside containers on web pages) and now Ajax, a mix of Javascript and XML, adding further application-like functions to web sites.

I'm not a luddite and I like Google Documents and YouTube as much as the next guy, but I understand fully that what's being attempted in the humble browser window is far from straightforward. Mobile browsers (and the processors and RAM allocations that power them) have always been a couple of years behind desktop browsers and the situation hasn't changed when considering S60 Web, in my opinion.

In practice, this all means that some sites will work and some won't, depending on the level of technical ambition. In preparing the gallery of screenshots below, I tried to think about the sorts of sites I use on my PC every day without thinking - how many of these could I accomplish things on using just the S60 3rd Edition FP1 Web browser? The wide screen certainly helped enormously, as did having a decent qwerty keyboard for entering text and URLs, but ultimately I was a little underwhelmed. And I wasn't helped by the way many sites 'intelligently' leap in and display a mobile version of their content with no option to link through to the full site.

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Attempting to log in to GMail proved fruitless, generating this error before the site got near my mailbox.

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Online banking proved far more successful, I was able to log in, browse around and transfer money.

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Searching for an image to use usually means going online and using Google's 'Images' tab. This worked very nicely in Web on the E90, just as on a desktop computer.

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Generally browsing round news sites also worked well. Here showing Web's Page overview feature on Google News and AAS's own drop-down toolbar.

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I was curious as to how the E90 would cope with logging into AllAboutSymbian, handling private messages and forum posts. Aside from a few annoying pop-up warnings from Web, it all went smoothly.

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Disappointed that the Nokia E90 couldn't get into Google Maps because the site refused to serve anything but its 'mobile' version, I remembered that there's a Java-based dedicated Google Maps client....

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Given a little bandwidth (in this case at an open Wi-Fi hot-spot), Google Maps for Mobile is stunning. I still can't work out why people were cheering Steve Jobs at the iPhone launch for showing Google Maps, when any smartphone of any type has been able to do the same thing for several years.... Hey, let's try and replicate what SJ did and zoom in on the Eiffel Tower...

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Mission accomplished. Now back to Web...

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Trying out some more Google offerings. Attempting to go into the Ajax-based 'Documents and Spreadsheets' resulted in a simple error. Trying to bring up a Google video at least displayed a page. But not video. And you'll remember that YouTube (and Yahoo) video also doesn't yet work in the S60 3rd Edition FP1 browser...

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Ah yes, keeping up my blog. Logging into Blogger, I saw there were comments awaiting moderation. Trying to 'Publish' them resulted in an error though. Similarly when trying to post a new blog entry. Looks like I'll be sticking to blogging via my PC or by mobile email then....

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What about trying to find and download teaching resources for my wife? No problem, I was able to browse a major education site and pull down the plans and guides I wanted, viewing them in Quickoffice or Adobe PDF reader.

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Time for a spot of shopping. My wife fancied seeing the new film 'Tara Road' and I had no problem logging into Amazon and ordering it for her.

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This estate agent's site must have had some Javascript that Web didn't like, as property results were all truncated within the page.

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Trying to get an up to date 24 hour weather forecast for my area from the good old 'Beeb, I found that my choice of home town wasn't remembered properly and that, whatever I tried, I was always shown the forecast for London. Still, it's only 30 miles away, it'd have to do....

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I'm already a Yahoo member but I'd never tried getting into their email system before. Using Web on the E90, I was able to set this up and get properly logged in without incident. And hey, Yahoo proves to be another way to get colourful weather forecasts! 8-)

The verdict

As with all 'flagship' devices that are announced, there's been the usual lengthy delay before the Nokia E90 is available in stores, during which people's expectations rise and rise, hailing the device as salvation from smartphone hell. The E90 Communicator is a capable document handler and, with the default Quickoffice 3.85 and other applications, will almost always let you view whatever you've been sent. Moreover, it's easy to create new documents, to get a rough draft of an idea down, with that large display. With the keyboard being rather stiff, writing anything lengthy is going to be a bit of chore though.

Working on the Web is a bit more hit and miss, with the more dynamic and interactive sites (e.g. Google Documents) being simply too much for the S60 browser, and more traditional content (including banking and shopping) working superbly. It's possible that there may be minor additions to Web's capabilities for the final E90 firmware and, of course, web sites themselves are also hopefully working to improve their compatibility with different mobile solutions, but I don't expect the situation outlined above to change markedly.

So... is it possible to take a Nokia E90 on the road with you instead of a laptop? Certainly, for a day or two, but much longer than this and there will probably be too many caveats and things you'll have to start batching up 'to do' when you get back home, to your PC or Mac.

Steve Litchfield, AllAboutSymbian, 10th May 2007

Nokia E90


Published by Steve Litchfield at 15:54 UTC, May 8th

Section: Reviews
Categories: Hardware
Platforms: S60 3rd Edition