Nokia E90 vs. Sony Ericsson P1i – Stage 2

[The previous article]

Its time to continue the E90 vs. the P1i shootout I think, as I’ve used both for a long time now. most of my last month was spent with the E90 – to compensate for the month or so I used the P1i exclusively before I got the E90, and in the last week I really started to use both at the same time (I’ll expand about it later). Another good excuse for me to get off my butt and write again is that the Sony Ericsson just crashed – hard, to a reset, and for the first time. It had “mini-crashes” before: applications would just crash and put up a dialog box that explained what crashed, but this time I got lots of crash dialogs about stuff I’ve never seen crashing before – including the connection manager – and the top status bar was gone. I was in the middle of writing an email and it wouldn’t send it nor receive any other email, so I quit the messaging application and the standby screen looked ok except for the missing status bar. I started the main menu in hopes that it will reset my status bar and it looked like it did – for a couple of second before the entire screen went blank.

To Sony Ericsson’s credit I must say that its the first time I’ve seen a total crash of the phone since I’ve started using it, while the Nokia’s are known to crash from time to time and if I remember correctly I already experienced 3 crashes of the E90 – none quite so spectacular though 🙂 . Also to their credit I’d note that the email that I was working on was saved properly in the outbox and starting the messaging application after the crash I was able to send it without a problem.

Survivability

All in all, survivability-wise both are excellent phones. The P1i has the standard ring for attaching a neck strap – which I use and it makes it a bit more manageable, though its almost standard-sized bar form factor gives it an edge in the first place. So the P1i doesn’t get a lot of abuse from me because its very easy to handle properly, but I usually dump it in my bad with other phones, wallet, keys and a few other metallic things and it looks like it doesn’t care – there’s not a scratch on it. I’m not sure how the screen would fair unprotected in such conditions because I’ve put some heavy duty screen protector on it, and I would recommend anyone that uses a touch-screen based device to do the same regardless of the conditions. From past experience with Nokias under heavy abuse – even the non-touch-screen based devices could use a screen protector if you’re prone to abuse your phones – like going on active military reserves duty.

The E90 is a whole different story – it is large and ungainly and I got into the habit of placing it into my jacket’s or coat’s front pocket as I work – of which it teeters and falls down whenever I bend a bit. Due to this and many other coincidences, the E90 has suffered through more falls in the last month then my other Nokia (a small 6120 “business” phone) suffered through all of its like (almost 2 years now) – but all this doesn’t seem to affect the E90: apparently it doesn’t only looks and feels sturdy, its a real metal brick made to last. The worst fall had popped open the battery compartment and I was sure something had broke, but after replacing the battery and the cover it booted without a problem and even the screen wasn’t scratched. It doesn’t mean I’m going to have the E90 with me on my next reserves duty (coming up January), I’m not that confident in its abilities to suffer through abuse, but it gives indication on how touch this device is. Ever since then I carry it in the side pocket of my coat or in the pocket of my jeans. Much safer. I want also to comment on the fact that the E90’s has four small rubber coated nobs on the other side that appear like they are used to stabilize the phone when its lying on some flat surface (and they fail at that, as noted in my previous article), but they do excellent work in gripping the surface – I often use the Nokia as a speakerphone when I’m driving by simply putting it on the dashboard and opening it. The speaker is good enough to understand speech over the engine noise, the microphone is apparently good enough for even the voice detection to work that far away from my face, and the rubber stubs grip like crazy – it doesn’t budge even in the worst curves.

While Nokia starts from a bad position here, this point goes to the E90.

Look & Feel

[I’m probably going to repeat a few things I’ve wrote about in the previous article, but I don’t mind – this is how it feels after a month of usage:]
After getting over the first impression of the Nokia E90 – which is quite impressive and every phone enthusiast I meet on the street likes what he sees – the insides isn’t all that interesting: its just the same Series 60 operating system everyone knows and loves – nothing fancy about it, but it works and works as expected. Its slightly improved and I liked the fact that in the menu display there are markers on the icons for applications that are running, so you can see what runs at a glance without opening the task switcher (which surprisingly or not most Series 60 users don’t know it exists).

The P1i isn’t such a head turner – only people who actually sit right next to you would go something like “hey – this is a funny looking phone, what is it ? oh – its cool”. On the inside on the other hand I think the P1i has much more interesting interface, prettier with better visual elements – is has prettier font rendering, and while it has a much lower resolution then the Nokia (and smaller screen compared to the internal one) it uses it better by using smaller text for more text on the same screen and anti-aliased fonts for better readability of those smaller fonts. The E90 has much higher DPI (more Dots Per Inch of the screen) so much higher physical resolution but it doesn’t have anti-aliased fonts so to make the text looks good each character must use many more pixels. It gets really ridiculous with the internal screen which is very wide so that using old-style 8×8 characters (which the Symbian version of Putty supports) you can get a couple of hundred characters per line – wider then even my PC, but the standard applications usually show 65 characters per line – about the same on comparable width as the P1i that has a much lower physical resolution.

This round the roles are reversed – coming from a strong position, Nokia loses this point to the P1i.

General

One huge advantage of a touch screen based device is that you have a pointing device, and a pointing device means one thing – Copy & Paste. The Series 60 UI supports copy & paste, I’m assuming the clipboard is a feature of the Symbian operating system that runs on both Nokia and Sony Ericsson phones – but most applications do not expose this functionality, probably because there is no easy way to mark what you want to select. Several text fields on the E90 offer the option of copy and paste in their options menu and some applications let you SHIFT-arrow to select things using the internal keyboard, but aside from that there isn’t copy and past for most things that I want – when reading email(1) or web pages, from calendar entries, etc. I really think that Nokia could have added some features to support copy and paste better.

Running applications on the other hand is much easier on the Nokia – its main menu is both faster, easier to manage and navigate and its grid view has labels on the icons – making it actually usable. The P1i main menu’s grid view hides the labels and only shows them on a status line on the top of the screen when you hover the icon – using the scroll wheel. The whole point of a touch interface is that you don’t need to hover over something to hit it so the text labels are next to useless. In list mode the main menu items on the P1i have full labels but the icons are small and the narrow line of text is hard to hit even with a pen so you must use the scroll wheel! frustrating. Also the placement of applications inside categories of the menu is a bit dubious – “web”, “rss feeds” and “install more applications” are all under “Multimedia” together with “Picture Gallery”, but not with “Music Player” which is under “Entertainment”. Categories have colorful icons exactly like applications themselves so its hard to discern which icon is another menu and which icon would launch a new application – unlike on Series 60 where categories also have a specific icon for each category but is overlaid on a large “folder” icon so you can tell its another menu. Finally the P1i puts all newly installed applications initially into “Tools” while in the Series 60 new applications are installed into “Installations” which makes much more sense.

For network connectivity both phones support both GPRS and UMTS over the air IP access as well as the mandatory Wireless b/g and bluetooth, but the E90 also offers HSDPA(2) which allows an order of magnitude faster downloads – almost like with a decent DSL at home.

Discovering new wireless networks is rather similar in both devices – you start the wireless LAN manager (it is easier to find in the P1i as it has an icon on the phone status bar which you need to click with a pen – a finger is too stubby for the tiny icons on the status bar) and let it scan for networks (which it does automatically in the E90 but you have to push “scan” in the P1i). The E90 also has a shortcut (possibly to compensate for fact that you need to dig into two menus to get the wireless LAN wizard) on the standby screen where you can enable wireless scanning and launch the web browser directly with a newly found wireless access point. But with “wireless scanning” enabled, the phone will continue to scan for wireless network in a preconfigured delay until you manually turn it off – and this is a huge drain on the battery.

The phones also differ in how they offer to use this connectivity – both offer the concept of generalized access point which allows you to define both cellular IP access points as well as WiFi access points (per known wireless network) and bluetooth access (PAN or point to point). Where they differ is that in the Nokia device each application can be setup to use only one access point at a time – that can be either configured statically to always use one connection, or the user can be prompted to choose one every time the application starts. The P1i offers an additional concept called “Groups” which allow the user to setup a group of connections ordered by priority. Additionally if more then one group is configured (I found no need for that, but its supported) then the user can denote the “preferred group”. Applications then use either a specific connection, or a specific group or not even care at all and just use the “preferred group” allowing you to change what connection actually get used with out going to each application and changing it manually. But the group concept is much more useful then that – if you put in the same group both wireless access points and cellular access points and prioritize the wireless access point higher, then whenever an application needs internet access (for example for push email), then the P1i would initially scan for each of the configured wireless networks and if one is found it will use that saving a lot of data charges on your cellular account! It does make start internet access slower and even slower if you have more then one preferred wireless network (I have 3, and the phone has to scan for each one before falling back to cellular access) but its well worth the money.

This point was looking like a draw for a while, but the P1i offers such a compelling internet connectivity solution that it takes this round also.

Phone Functionality

Address book management is superb on both phones – the E90 offers the Series 60 contacts list that I know and love, and the wide internal screen surprisingly doesn’t offer anything new except offering a details view for the current contact while in list mode. The P1i address book also starts as a list but the currently selected item shows on a second line the primary phone and arrows you can scroll through. For calling in the E90 you press the call (green handset) button and it calls the primary phone, regardless of how many numbers that contact has – to dial a non-primary phone, and if you’re not on the internal screen (with the details preview) then you can’t tell what number is actually going to be called. The P1i shows you what number will be called and let you scroll through what contact items are available for that contact, and this includes email addresses, so when you scroll to an email address the “call” button changes to “Email”:
P!i address book
The P1i address book also lets you filter contacts into groups (called “folders” in the P1i address book) which like the Series 60’s address book groups you can assign several groups to the same contact, but its easier to manage because you choose the groups in the contact’s edit view (in the Series 60 you go into a “groups tab” where you open the group and then use Options->add members to select members), and to get a filtered view instead of using a special group browsing interface as in the Series 60 you just use the menu to select the folder you want to filter on – it isn’t less key strokes, but its easier to understand I think.

The call log functionality is also good in both phones – the Series 60 call log can be accessed from the menu or by hitting the call button while in standby, and then offers either a list of dialed numbers, received calls or missed calls and the right/left arrows switch between them. In the P1i you can also get to the calls log from the main menu or using a special button in standby mode, but the call log is a single list that aggregates all the types of items and an icon besides each item lets you know what type of call it is. Its a matter of opinion which is better, but I think the P1i’s allows to understand the temporal context of calls in an easier way: for example its easier to see that I missed a call from person A because I was on the phone with person B and then I got a call from person C before I returned a call to person B – in the Series 60 interface you have to keep switching lists and comparing time stamps to get the same information that is immediately understood in a glance in the P1i call log.

Dialling a new number is a bit difficult with the P1i – as it has a single keyboard for both numbers and letters and it feels a bit weird to dial numbers with it as you try to press in the middle of the key and you feel two clicks for both letter keys. Its harder to dial blind (without looking or in the dark) as buttons with numbers feel the same as buttons without numbers (the rightmost and leftmost rows) and the raised notch on the 5 button isn’t much help. Also for some reason sometimes when I call I get a really bad sound quality like I’m using voice over IP on a lousy connection. The P1i offers a video call feature and when dialing instead of pressing “call” you can press “video call” and that uses a voice over IP technology to do the call, so its possible that my phone sometimes puts me on VoIP for non-video calls. It happens much less after I upgraded the software so its probably just a glitch. Another problem with the video call feature is that the video call button is the center button when I dial, and the center button is what the scroll wheel’s button operates, so you can’t type in the number and then squeeze the scroll wheel to call as that triggers a video call. The key-in then squeeze the scroll wheel use case is a much easier one-handed operation mode then the key-in then touch the screen use case, hence the confusion.

Speaking of video calls – if I haven’t mentioned it, the P1i has a front camera for this. The E90 lets you do video calls, but only when its open – the second camera is near the internal screen and you have to open it to for the front camera to work.

I’m thinking video calling with the P1i would be easier then with the E90 but as I don’t use video calls at all (have no one to call mostly but I don’t think I’ll like it anyway), the E90 takes this point for better one handed dialing even though its old and time-tested address book and call log are inferior to the modern implementations in the P1i.

This article is getting quite long, so I’ll leave the very important subject of E-Mail and SMS to the next article.


  1. it is possible to copy from an email – you hit ‘reply’ and then use SHIFT-arrow to copy from the quoted text []
  2. sometimes referred to as 3.5G []

4 Responses to “Nokia E90 vs. Sony Ericsson P1i – Stage 2”

  1. Alex:

    Just got my e90 a week or two ago, and was sort of disappointed.

    I really love my SE P990i, but because it’s too slow (compared with other modern phones), I decided to upgrade. I was about to purchase P1i, but changed my mind when I saw “Made in China” under the battery.

    I do not have to go to milyuim, and so I do not normally subjugate my phones to excessive stress or abuse. I really like the UIQ quarz interface on P*** series, but because P1i is China-made, and because X1 will be Windows-based, I decided to go with E90.

    I guess what I want in Nokia E90 is:
    1. different width-height sizing
    2. touch screen UIQ interface

  2. Oded:

    Why does being made in China bothers you so much? I don’t care for windows-based phones, and I hope Ericsson aren’t going to ditch the UIQ system, but the P1i is great and its currently my default phone.

    I like the E90 a lot, but I do miss the touch interface – they could have made the internal screen touch sensitive, but probably they don’t have the software for it- I don’t think Nokia ever did a touch interface. Nokia has put out some demos for a touch series 60 interface, as early as a year ago, but there is nothing on the market yet. If they manage to get a touch interface out and fix their horrendous email program, then if the Sony Ericsson breakage rumor is correct, Nokia will be unbeatable.

  3. Alex:

    Sorry, could respond for while – I was very busy in school in the evenings and spent most of my time on a client site during the day.

    I avoid buying things made in China and other barbarian countries with no respect for human rights….

    Chinese quality can be pretty good, but because of the of the grey market items, many are wary of buying China-made expensive electronics.

    Here is the US recently many cisco-branded devices were discovered to be grey-market made – meaning, made without cisco supervision or license. There were rumors that these cisco devices had some “extra” circuits for spying or something like that.

    I’m trying to sell my e90 and stick with my p990i for while.

    • Oded:

      I understand the issue with Chinese human rights (not that I agree that it warrants an embargo, but I won’t hold it against you), but trying to avoid any Chinese made items means that you basically can’t buy almost any electronics these days.

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