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LONDON, England – Since Tuesday I’ve been able to be a bit more open about the phone I have about my person. See, I received a Nokia E6 prototype at the end of last week and frankly, I’ve not been able to let it out of my hands since. But then, you’d expect me to say that wouldn’t you?

For a long while, the Conversations team have talked between ourselves about the notion of an E71/2 touchscreen. Usually kicked off by “if only this thing had a touchscreen, it’d be awesome”. The “if only” bit stems from the hardware, which on both devices (having been an avid user since the E71 launch) is utterly brilliant.

Before Tuesday, my show-off outbursts were limited to my wife “put it away”, my kids “is that a new iph….” and the dog, who wanted to lick it. This week, though, I’ve actually been impressing people.

The E6 hardware is a step up from both the E71 and E72, which is a big achievement – those two are monsters of rock-solidness. Most noticeable outside of the build quality itself is the accented ridge presented by the eight-megapixel camera housing. It acts as a perfect reference for your resting finger when you’re thumb-typing.

The camera it houses is spot on, too. Witness the snaps of Clonakilty’s model village which I shot at the weekend to see that the full focus cam works perfectly and the shots have plenty of detail and minimal noise, even on an overcast day (and when it is sunny, the screen performs as well outdoors as it does indoors, too).

The big leap forward for the Nokia E6, I believe, has nothing to do with the device and everything to do with how you use it. Moving your thumb up from the keyboard to a screen which reacts to touch is utterly seamless and brilliantly instinctive. If, like I have, you’ve spent time with a touchscreen before migrating back to a QWERTY you’ll know well what I mean when I say it resolves previous frustrations (my device usage over the last two years goes something like – E71, N97, E71, N900, E71, E72, N8, E72, C7, E72, E6 proto – I don’t usually like touchscreen devices).

While I thought touch and type was a smart, if novel, concept when it landed last September, it’s the leap it’s made to full-on QWERTY-based smartphones where I think it’s really come to life. We’ve got a usability improvement here which, mark my words, will be as influential as the original touchscreen was and a form factor which will be as significant as the original QWERTY.

You need to use one to understand, but twice this week I’ve actually shocked people by letting them have a play with mine. And, those two touchscreen diehards who have long ago left Nokia behind were suitably smitten. This is a device capable of not only appealing to current E71/2/6 users but also those who’ve become accustomed to full touchscreen devices.

The innovation ball might have been missing from these parts for a while, but with devices such as the Nokia E6 and software leaps like we’re seeing in Symbian Anna, the evidence is clear that it hasn’t gone far. I’d even be so bold to say that it’s back, just not where or how you might have imagined it to be.

And now we have it, you (or we) definitely won’t want to let it go.