All 19 entries tagged Nokia

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December 21, 2009

Nokia N900 – the best N–series yet?

Writing about web page

Nokia N900Once again the folks at WOMWorld have been kind enough to lend me a shiny new phone for a few weeks. This time it was the Nokia N900. I was really looking forward to getting my hands on this. When I tried out this device’s predecessor, the N810, almost two years ago I liked almost everything about it. The main issue was that it only had a WiFi connection and so much of its functionality disappeared when you were out of range of a wireless network. The N900 is a phone as well as in “internet tablet” and so doesn’t suffer from that problem. It should be the perfect device for me…

Of course, in the last two years things have moved on. In particular the iPhone, which all new smartphones are inevitably compared to, has changed people’s expectations of what such a device should provide. Has the N900 developed enough to keep pace? I’m pleased to say it has. There are a few shortcomings still, not all of them with the device itself, and those mean that I still prefer my iphone to the N900. It was close, though. I do think that for me this is the best N-series device I’ve used. And so to the details…

The N900 is a Maemo-based device. This is a Linux-dervied OS built by Nokia specifically for their “internat tablet” range, starting with the N700. The N900 has the latest version, Maemo 5. I really like this OS and the UI. It isn’t quite as intuitive as the iPhone but after just a few minutes I had found everything I needed without having to resort to the manual. And one of the major issues I have with all Symbian-based phones, the way they deal with network selection on a per-app basis, is dealt with nicely. The OS chooses the appropriate network connection (WiFi or cellular) and everything just uses it. Perfect. It did feel like the UI needed just a little more horsepower from the CPU, though. Inertial scrolling wasn’t quite as smooth as you’d like, and nor was opening windows. To be fair, though, the same is true of my iPhone 3G (but not the 3GS).

Running multiple apps worked flawlessly, and switching between them was straightforward. All apps continued running in the background and could provide notifications where appropriate – new IM conversations, emails, SMS, etc… I so wish the iPhone worked this way. That said, I once had to reboot the machine because a background app was causing it all sorts of grief. Speaking of apps, there’s a default link to the “Ovi Store” for downloading new apps but that just took me to a “coming soon” page. That was a bit of a disappointment. One of the expectations that the iPhone changed was the “app” ecosystem, and shipping without a working app store these days is not a good thing. Without an app store you could make an argument that this isn’t really a smartphone. The Palm Pre has a similar problem, but it at least has some useful apps in its app store…

I did have two surprising issues with the software on the phone. I couldn’t get it to sync to our Exchange server. This is apparently because we are running Exchange 2003, and that isn’t supported (yet) by Maemo 5. Apparently it will be supported in the next update. That makes the device useless to me, and presumably many others, until the update is released. Next, and possible more surprising, the N900 doesn’t support MMS! How can a device released in 2009 not let you send MMS messages? Yes, I know the iPhone didn’t either, and Apple were rightly criticised for it. It isn’t like Nokia don’t know how to do MMS – they’ve got one or two other devices that support it. I’ve not heard when MMS support is coming along.

The touchscreen is resistive, which is a bit of a shame. It is the best resistive touch screen I’ve used, though, and most of the time it worked as well as the capacitive screen on my iPhone. It doesn’t support multi-touch, of course. Most of the time that wasn’t an issue but when you need it there’s no real substitute. The camera is Nokia’s usual 5MP device with auto-focus, Carl-Zeiss lens and LED “flash”, and it does its usual very, good job. I’d be more than happy for this to be my “carry anywhere” camera, even for indoor and low light situations.

Back when I tried the N810 I was really looking forward to a device with a physical keyboard, but was quite disappointed by that one. I also didn’t really take to the one on the N97 I tried earlier this year. I suppose I was expecting the N900 keyboard to be the same, but it wasn’t. I can’t quite put my finger on what is different, but I did like the N900 keyboard a lot. It worked a lot better for me that the others. I think I still slightly prefer the on-screen keyboard on the iPhone, but then I’ve had almost 18 months of practice on that and I’m sure I’d like the N900 keyboard more as I got used to it.

As far as the device goes, then, pretty much everything is good. The keyboard and resistive touch screen work better than I expected, the OS and UI are good, the camera is excellent. The major problems with this device are actually not with the device! I’ve already mentioned the app store, or lack of one. The PC software for communicating with the phone is also a bit of a disappointment. Getting music onto the phone is just too hard. iTunes for the iPhone just works. Nokia’s PC Suite is too much of a pain. It does the job, but it is too awkward to use. Maybe when you get used to it it is fine, but these days you shouldn’t have to “get used to it”. More work needed here, Nokia.

So, in summary, the device is pretty good. Definitely the best N-series device I’ve use, at least for my purposes. There are a few surprising problems (Exchange support and MMS), though, and they need sorting out. As does the PC software. Linking the N900 to a PC to swap data should not be as hard as it is. Overall, though, this was the hardest device to send back. Somebody asked me if I’d have sent the iPhone back and kept the N900 if given the chance. For previous Nokia devices I’ve tested, the answer would always have been a resounding “No”. This was much, much closer. I still sent back the right device, but when the N910 (or whatever it is called) comes along I might just be tempted! Keep up the good work Nokia – you’re definitely getting there…

July 13, 2009

The Nokia N97, Two Weeks On

Follow-up to Testing out the Nokia N97 from Steve's blog

I’ve had the N97 for a couple of weeks now, thanks to the kind folks at WoM World. Before I got it I’d heard some quite negative things about it, and slightly fewer positive things. Opinion was clearly divided and I was looking forward to finding out for myself. On paper it does everything I want from a mobile device, so two weeks on, how has it fared?

To test it I spent a couple of days just playing with it to familiarise myself with the interface – I’m not a regular Nokia user any more – and upgraded the firmware to the most recent release. Then I switched my SIM to it and used it as my regular phone for a while. As this is a proper smartphone I wanted to test all the online capabilities of the software, as well as the hardware. I was especially interested in the keyboard and the touchscreen. I’ll admit now that I’m an iPhone user and have been since the day the iPhone 3G came out. I do like the iPhone a lot and there was no way the N97 would escape being compared to it, but I think that’s what a lot of other people will be doing too.

In summary, I almost like the N97 a lot. It does everything I need. Some things it does better than others. The hardware is really nice, and I like the keyboard a lot. I wasn’t expecting to, having disliked the slide-out keyboard on the N810, but it works really well for me. I think the iPhone on-screen keyboard might be slightly faster to type on but I’m a lot more used to it so maybe that’s not a fair comparison. The major disappointment I have with the N97 hardware is the touch screen. It is a resistive screen rather than the capacitive screen on the iPhone and Google phones, and it simply isn’t as responsive. You have to press quite hard sometimes to get it to register anything and it just isn’t as satisfying to use. There are a lot of iPhone apps that wouldn’t work on the N97 because the screen simply isn’t up to it. Nokia provides a stylus with the phone and using it does make the screen work a lot better, but it doesn’t live inside the phone like the stylus on the 5800 – it hangs from a loop attached to a corner of the phone. It just looks wrong. And anyway, a stylus! Really?

On the positive side, the camera is up to Nokia’s usual standards, and the LED-based “flash” is much brighter than I expected and works very well. Not quite a Xenon flash, but actually pretty good. I like the sliding lens cover. Audio recording also works well and is very good quality. As usual for an N-series device, this makes a good multi-media machine. Overall the device feels solid and the flip-up display to reveal the keyboard doesn’t feel like it will break after a few days.

Moving on to the software, the S60 OS and default apps just feel old. S60 is clearly an OS from quite a few years ago now that has been tarted up. It looks pretty, but under the covers it just doesn’t work so well. One of the first things I always have a problem with on S60 devices is the network connections. Each app has its own idea of how to connect (WiFi or cellular). Some have defaults that you have to change if they are wrong. Some will ask you each time. Some simply refuse to work if there’s no cellular connection. It is all just too much hassle compared to the iPhone, which just connects the best way it can and gets on with it.

Then there’s the default email app, which is barely usable. Yes, there’s a much better one you can download for free, but why isn’t is installed by default? There’s no excuse for that, really, Nokia. There are lots of other little things, like that some apps will flick scroll and some won’t, that all contribute to the general feeling that this is an old operating system that’s been prettied up.

In summary, I like the device more than I was expecting to given what other people have been saying about it. It is the closest Nokia have come in a long while now to persuading me to part with my own money. It does everything I want, but that’s not good enough these days. I didn’t enjoy using the N97 in the same way as I enjoy using my iPhone. The iPhone is as much about usability as it is about functionality. The N97 might have better functionality, touch screen aside, but it falls a long way short in the usability stakes. You could say I’ve been spoiled by the iPhone. If I hadn’t seen the iPhone I’d probably love the N97, but now that I’ve seen how much better a mobile device can work I’m afraid I don’t.

Nokia – you really do need to do something about the S60 software, and you need a better touch screen. Come back when you’ve fixed those and maybe you’ll have a better chance of competing with the iPhone. Of course, if the iPhone doesn’t do it for you then maybe the N97 will. It is certainly worth a look.

July 02, 2009

Testing out the Nokia N97

Thanks to the good people at WOM World I’ve got myself a Nokia N97 to play with for a couple of weeks. I’ve been looking forward to this for months, actually. I’ve always been a Nokia fan and on paper this looks like a really good device. It does all the stuff I want a smartphone to do and it looks good. I’ve seen some mixed reviews of the N97, some from people I usually agree with, which is a shame. I really want to like this phone. We’ll see.

I’ve actually had it for a couple of days now, just getting used to it before testing out various things in detail. The first thing to do, though, is to upgrade the firmware from the version 10.0.012 supplied with the device to the current version 11.0.021. Hopefully this will address some of the little niggles I have with the device already. Anyway, testing will start in earnest this weekend.

October 13, 2008

Twitter starts to make sense

Follow-up to Thoughts from Open Lab, part 1 – or, why I don't get Twitter from Steve's blog

After persevering with Twitter for a while now it is starting to make sense to me. The first piece of the puzzle came from a comment from mike bradshaw – “Jaiku is for conversations, and Twitter is for broadcast”. I had been puzzled by how conversations happened on Twitter and this made me stop thinking about it, because they don’t! (Aside: if anybody can throw me a Jaiku invite, I’d like to try that out too!)

Of course, you can have conversations on Twitter, but they aren’t easy to follow unless you follow everyone involved – conversations don’t exist as entities in the twitter-stream.

The second piece of the puzzle came from a blog post about Enterprise Twitter by Jay Cross on the Internet Time Blog. The interesting concept here (to me at least) is this one:

Twitter operates in real time. It’s like a stream going by. It’s only a distraction if you’re watching it. It’s not something you go back to. It’s now or never. Unlike blog posts that will live online forever, Twitter is written in disappearing ink.

This is where I connected Twitter with the “Big Now” idea in my original post

After getting the Twitter concept straight in my head, putting Twitterific on my iPhone so I had constant access to the twitter-stream is the thing that finally made it work for me. If you are only exposed to twitter when you are sat in front of a computer, the “now or never” nature of it makes it less useful. Being able to check Twitter at will makes a big difference to how you relate to it.

I’m still not sure I’m much of a “Big Now” person, but maybe I’m less of a “Small Now” person than I thought, or maybe my “Now” is growing:-)

September 29, 2008

An iPhone compatible alternative to SportsTracker

Follow-up to Sportstracker revisited from Steve's blog

This morning I discovered an iPhone app called “TrailGuru”, along with a corresponding website. It does much of what SprtsTracker does, and more. The iPhone app records a track as you are walking/running/cycling/whatever and uploads it to the website. The app gives you just basic information – distance, time, max speed, etc., unlike the Nokia SportsTracker app which generates pretty graphs and stuff on the phone. You have to go to the TrailGuru website to get the extra analysis. My lunchtime ride is here.

An improvement on SportsTracker, though, is that it keeps cumulative statistics, so if you record and upload every route you’ll get nice pretty graphs with monthly distance, duration, etc. This is much more useful. There’s more analysis it could do once there’s more data in there (year-on-year comparisons), and some other data it could hold against the rides (cadence and heart-rate data, for example), but it is pretty good as it is.

There is a problem with the recording process, though. The “moving time” it records is longer than the moving time recorded by my cycle computer. By quite a lot – over 2 minutes during my 52 minute ride today. I know my cycle computer is pretty much spot on, so it seems the GPS software is taking its time noticing that I’ve stopped. Hopefully they’ll fix this soon, unless it is Apple’s fault in which case it will take years to sort out!!

Still, if you have an iPhone and regularly run or cycle, this is definitely worth a look…

September 22, 2008

Nokia Open Lab 2008 – Social Media Workshop

Follow-up to Nokia Open Lab 2008 – Overview from Steve's blog

This was the first workshop, and, at least in the group I was part of, the least forward-looking of all the workshops. Most people used several social networking services, including some I’d never heard of. Almost everybody (except me, maybe, which apparently means I’m no one) was a twitterer. But people also use flickr, qik, seesmic, jaiku and others for sharing information in text, photo and video formats.

As a result, much of our discussion was about aggregators (like friendfeed) and broadcasters (like twitterfeed) so that people have fewer places to look and fewer places to update. Also, though, people deliberately use different services for different communities so that not everybody sees the same information about an individual. Some stuff is just for friends, and not for colleagues. There’s no concept yet in any of these services of levels of friendship, and so no way of presenting different views of yourself to different communities. The reverse is also true, of course – you don’t always want the same level of detail about all of your friends. You want more information about closer friends. Again, social networking services don’t seem to provide that either. Well, Facebook used to, but it doesn’t any more.

There was also a big discussion about data portability. When you switch from one service to another, which early adopters tend to do at frequent intervals, you want to be able to get your data out of the old service and put it in the new one. That’s generally not possible. You also want to be able to take your community with you, and that’s even harder. Many people talked about using aggregators just as a way of dealing with old accounts left lying around because of a few friends that are still using the service.

There was one dissenting voice in that discussion, though. Micki thinks most people (i.e. not the techies & geeks) don’t care. They use social networking sites for now stuff, and the history really isn’t important to them. I can relate to that when talking about twitter and similar services. For others I’m not so sure. I can certainly believe most people don’t care now, but maybe they should? Maybe in the future they’ll realise they do? What if Facebook went away today and everything in there was lost?

One final thought is that many people at the workshop were already into this stuff in a big way, twitter in particular, and there was clearly a virtual community overlaid on the physical community of people at the meeting. There was a build up as people travelled, a bit of a twitter buzz in all the breaks and during the evening entertainments, and there were people not at the meeting that were following it anyway through various social media sites. It has encouraged me to explore these things a bit more and see if I can “get” them. In particular I’m going to have another go a twitter and see if I can go from a nobody to a somebody!

Nokia E71

Writing about web page

My latest trial device from Nokia is the E71. This is one of their “enterprise” range, intended for business use. Consequently it has Exchange email support, office apps and other things your average business user would need from a mobile device. Given how I use mobile devices, and the things I was looking for in a PDA when I was looking a while ago it should be a good fit. Except of course I’ve now got a new mobile device. I’m afraid I’ve been “spoiled” by the iPhone, and while I would have written lots of complimentary things about the E71 3 months ago, now I just can’t. Sorry Nokia.

Physically the E71 is just a shade smaller in every dimension than the iPhone, and a little lighter, but there isn’t really a lot in it. The other obvious differences are that the nokia has a screen half the size and uses the space for a physical keyboard. Both have 3G, WiFi and Bluetooth, although the nokia does BT properly including the ability to use the phone as a modem. Both are nice to hold but the nokia feels more solid and robust through being a mostly metal case. And it does look nice. Nicer than the iPhone, even.

In use I was expecting to hate the Nokia’s keyboard because the keys are very small. In fact it works quite well. There’s enough key travel to give positive feedback and they are shaped well enough to help avoid mis-keying. There are some characters missing from the keyboard though, some of them quite irritating. Plus, it doesn’t have the same auto-correct feature that the iPhone keyboard does and I’ve got so used to that that I miss it. Typing is slower on the nokia as a result. Neither are great devices for mass text entry but the iPhone is marginally better.

The support for Exchanges works well enough. Pointing it at our Exchange server quickly populated the phone with contacts, calendar entries and emails. It even has a concept of “peak” and “off peak”, so you can keep up to date in real time while at work but shut it off (or slow it to a trickle) at home. I’d love the iPhone to have that. Also, the big button in the centre of the scroll pad has a nice, subtle heartbeat when there are unread messages. No need to unlock the phone to see if there are things to attend to. A really nice usability touch. Apple take note!

From here, though, things go downhill a bit. The Nokia’s screen just isn’t big enough. A few months ago I was giving serious consideration to getting an N82, and the E71’s screen is better than that, but after having used the iPhone there’s no going back. And it isn’t a touch screen. That is just so infuriating! The number of times I had to stop myself from stabbing my finger at the screen to press a button, or flicking the screen to scroll. And at the Nokia Open Lab, I wasn’t the only one. Again, once you’ve used a touch screen, anything less is just annoying. I even find myself wanting to do it to my laptop, so the E71 is in good company.

Those are my major comments, really. I have thoughts on lots of the details of the device, but for me the small screen and lack of touch makes the device uninteresting. It is a bit of a cliché, and probably lots of people disagree, but I think the iPhone has changed the game a little.

September 19, 2008

Ambient computing

Follow-up to Nokia Open Lab 2008 – Overview from Steve's blog

One theme that cropped up in a few of the workshops at the Nokia OpenLabs was the notion of “ambient computing”. That is simply the idea that the environment around us, the things that we interact with every day, have some digital intelligence and are able to react to things we do. A simple example. My phone has a GPS receiver in it and so knows where it is, and generally therefore where I am. When I leave the house it knows, and can turn off the lights and TV that I left on. Obviously it isn’t quite that simple, and since a lot of the applications for this sort of thing are location based I’ll discuss it more in a post to come about the geo-location workshop, but that gives you an idea.

I wonder how far we are from being able to implement such ambient (or perhaps another term is pervasive) computing? It seems like technically much of this is doable today, at least as far as the devices themselves are concerned. There are definitely some services and infrastructure required that will need careful thought. What does my phone communicate my location to? How do I know I can trust it not to reveal my location to others? Who/what do I trust to control my house? Where are the standards that allow such disparate devices to talk to each other?

Practically, this has to all be some way off still. Again, though, it is interesting that Nokia are thinking this way. And surprising, to me at least.

September 17, 2008

Sportstracker revisited

Follow-up to Nokia N82 – GPS stuff from Steve's blog

Back in January I wrote about Nokia’s SportsTracker, which is a phone-based application that uses GPS to record a “workout” including the route itself and various other stats, and then provides a set of mostly useful reports and pretty graphs. Since SportsTracker is on the E71 I got a couple of weeks ago I thought I’d try it again, and in particular I recorded my MacRide cycle a couple of weekends ago.

The end result is here. There’s no easily embeddable version, but you can wrap it in a simple iframe:

The workout profile is interesting, and you can clearly see Bakers Hill in the Cotswolds, about 45 miles into the route, where I had to get off and push because the hill was so steep. Oddly, you get more graphs in the phone version of the app than on the web version, which is a bit surprising.

It seems like not a lot has been done to this since I last tried it. I would really want cumulative distance and time figures to support my quest for annual totals. Those should be easy to do. A moving average speed would be good too. On the plus side, last time, I complained that you couldn’t import GPS tracks from other devices. You can now, as well as creating them manually by clicking on a map. That’s good.

Overall, this is still interesting, but not interesting enough for my purposes. I need to record every route and have cumulative statistics, like I currently get from MyCyclingLog. SportsTracker could be really good, but it isn’t yet. And given some of Nokia’s current focus on community services, the community functionality in SportsTracker is somewhat lacking too. I’d expect groups and friends in there somehow.

September 16, 2008

Thoughts from Open Lab, part 1 – or, why I don't get Twitter

Follow-up to Nokia Open Lab 2008 – Overview from Steve's blog

I don’t get twitter. I’ve tried. I’ve signed up, I’ve posted the odd tweet. I’ve followed a couple of people. But frankly I don’t get it. I don’t feel I have anything interesting enough to say to tweet on a regular basis, and if I follow too many people the tweets get disruptive and annoying. Of course, none of the people I know in person are twitterers, at least not that they’ve told me, so finding people to follow is challenging anyway, and that’s the first clue to what I’m missing.

The second clue came in a talk given at Open Lab 208 by Adam Greenfield, the recently appointed Head of Design Direction at Nokia. He titled his talk “The Long Here and The Big Now”, in reference to Brian Eno’s The Big Here and the Long Now. What he said about the Big Now is what struck me about my reaction to Twitter. The point is that now is a single moment in time, but it is happening right around the world. So many people are experiencing so many different things now, and that’s what Twitter is about. It is about what is happening now, everywhere. Yes, people use it to keep up with what their friends are doing, but they also use it to find out what is happening around the world. Proper twitter users will follow all sorts of people, from all walks of life, with the only constraint being that they have something interesting to say.

And that’s why I don’t get it. What people I don’t know are doing in places I’ve never been is just not appealing to me. Following the tweets of strangers isn’t interesting. I’ve always said I’m not a people-person, and this is a perfect example of that. Similarly, I’m not one of those people that collects Facebook friends. I have about 20. I know them all in person, and mostly interact with them regularly in person (except for one or two who have moved away and I’m trying to keep in touch with). There are lots of people I know vaguely in real life and who are on Facebook, but who I don’t intend to send friend requests to. If they asked me I wouldn’t refuse, but I’m not doing it pro-actively. I’m just not enough of a social (or maybe sociable:-) person.

So, Twitter is a “Big Now” thing, and I’m a “Small Now” person. I think.

There was lots of other, similar, stuff in Adam’s talk, and that gives you a flavour for how Nokia are thinking about the future and how society is going to evolve digitally over the next few years, and therefore what mobile devices might need to do 5 years or more from now to support that. It isn’t the sort of thinking I would have expected in a mobile phone company.

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