Nokia rarely enters into clamshell territory. We recently reviewed the user-friendly Nokia 6131, but to find another example you'd have to go all the way back to the Nokia N90, the monster camera phone with the Carl Zeiss lens. Between then and now we've seen a couple of sliders and numerous examples of Nokia's favourite shape -- the candy-bar.
Looking at the N71, we have to be pleased Nokia is concentrating on other designs, because this is the giant clam of clamshells. There is plenty going on inside, though, from solid 3G performance through to a vast array of included software.
In an ideal world, clamshell phones are small and tidy, so you can drop them into a pocket with ease. They are easy to open and give you a certain cool factor when you flick the spring-loaded mechanism one handed and take a call.
Forget ideal worlds, though, because the N71 is large. Closed it measures 99 by 51 by 26 mm, making it almost the same size as Sony Ericsson's K800i, and when you open it up, you've got more than 180mm of height to handle. The mechanism is not spring loaded and the overall size of the N71 means you'll probably need two hands to open it. It also compares unfavourably to the K800i in weight -- 139g versus 115g.
The grey and silver colouring is not the most visually appealing, and the (mostly) dull plastic casing all round makes the N71 feel a little behind the times in these days of shiny fascias and metal casings.
Like all good clamshell phones it has a front screen. In this case it is a 96x68-pixel, 65k-colour offering with the only significant bit of fascia metal on show as its surround. A single button sits beneath it but its functions are limited. If you are playing music you can use it to pause and resume playback, but you can't skip around in your tracklisting.
The other thing on the front fascia is the camera lens and flash unit. You can only use the camera with the phone open -- Nokia doesn't give you the option to get a photo of yourself by closing the phone and using the front screen as a viewfinder.
The edges of the N71 are fairly free of buttons and other paraphernalia. There is a small infrared port on the left edge and the tiny on/off button is on the bottom edge. On the top edge, sitting behind the giant external hinge for the clamshell mechanism, is the mains power slot, Pop-Port connector and a covered slot for miniSD expansion cards.
Open the phone and the bulky format starts to show off a couple of benefits. The 320x240-pixel screen is large -- 61mm diagonally (2.4 inches) -- and is topped off by a second camera for video calling.
The number pad and key area are roomy too. It is a pity that the number keys themselves are so small, given the space available to them, but it's neat that they are physically separated from a large bay of shortcut and navigation keys. This includes a nicely shaped navigation button and, in addition to the main Nokia menu key, a separate 'multimedia' key that calls up a submenu offering access to music, the Web, the built-in FM radio and the image viewer.
Video calling is made more ergonomic by the fact that when you open the flip it has a lock a little past 90 degrees. With the N71 sat on your desk this provides a good angle for handsfree video calling.
The screen is big enough for large images of yourself and the caller to be shown, and it is easy to switch to showing what the outer camera can see rather than see your own mugshot during a call.