Corner Geeks 6: The Nokia N9

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Nokia N9
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Notable Hardware Specifications

  • Quad-band GSM/EDGE 850/900/1800/1900
  • Penta-band WCDMA 850/900/1700/1900/2100
  • Screen size: 3.9″
  • Resolution: 16:9 FWVGA (854 x 480 pixels)
  • AMOLED display
  • Capacitive touch screen
  • 8 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics
  • HD quality video capture in 720p resolution at 30 fps
  • Wide-angle lens
  • Large lens aperture F2.2 for better and faster photos in low light conditions
  • Dual LED flash
  • Continuous autofocus
  • Touch-to-focus and exposure lock
  • Internal memory: 16 GB or 64 GB
  • RAM: 1 GB
  • Dedicated power, camera and volume keys
  • NFC (Near Field Communication) for easy pairing and sharing
  • WLAN IEEE802.11 a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 2.1 +EDR (Enhanced Data Rate)
  • High-Speed USB 2.0 with micro USB connector for transferring data and charging
  • 3.5 mm AV connector
  • Micro SIM card

Notable Software Specifications

  • MeeGo for Nokia N9 (MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan)
  • User interface simplified to three home views: events, applications and open apps
  • Swipe gesture instantly takes you back to the home view you started from
  • Multitasking and app switching through open apps view: a live snapshot of all running apps
  • Apps compliant with Qt 4.7
  • Software updates over the internet
  • Support for MS Outlook synchronisation of contacts, calendar and to-do with Mail for Exchange
  • Support for viewing documents in Word, Excel, Powerpoint, PDF and Open Document Formats
  • Online calendar synchronisation with CalDAV

It’s not technology, it’s what you do with it

(Images courtesy of Nokia and Apple)

So during the first week and a half in Australia, while the wife and I were trying to gather things together, we did not have a proper Internet connection. And to make matters worse, the computers that we used to go online did not all have a USB drive to save any screenshots / webpages that we wanted to keep for reference. Thus in order to ‘save’ any information we found online we had to resort to taking photos of the screen. Having them in the dedicated digital camera would be good as it would be able to keep high resolution photos of the information, however it would be a hassle trying to retrieve as we filter out which photo corresponded to which piece of information we would be looking for. So I resorted to my trusty phone, a Nokia E71, to take photos of the screen: not the best quality photos but the functionality that the phone provides, allowed me to gather the information and sort them out properly.

Method of organizing photos on the go on the Nokia E71 (and any older Nokia phones):

  1. Take photo of the information
  2. Rename the photo to a useful name describing the information

  3. Open the file explorer and locate the file

  4. Copy/move the photo to an organized folder layout for easy retrieval (in my case I had an “Australia” folder and I copied maps to the “maps” folder, and house documents to “lease” folder)

This method would work in Android as well since you have access to the fie structure via a file explorer which typically is already installed in the device.There could be a way to do this on iOS, but an application would probably be needed and my efforts of asking around came to nothing (probably time to get an iOS device myself).

What would have been perfect of this situation would be the ability to tag photos. Tagging would allow photos to be categorized in several categories (e.g. a picture of a map of bus routes can be tagged under “map” and “transport” while maintaining a single copy of the file, as opposed to copying the same file into different folders in a file/folder structure). Browsing photos by a tag would allow quick retrieval. I was surprised when I discovered that Symbian (or S60 as most people refer it it as) was the only phone OS to have tagging out of the box: iOS and Android do not have them out of the box. It seems that Symbian has had tagging since the N97 based on this ‘How to Organize Photos on N97 & Mini with Tags” article and thus probably started with Symbian OS 9.3 (as my E71 running 9.2 does not have it). Another side note: the N8 running S^3 also has this tagging feature. I did find that Evernote does support tagging and is available for iOS and Android. It’s meant for organizing data (photos, notes) however it does require an account and Internet connection (when setting it up) and could be a hinderance.

It was the discovery of an Nokia E5 running an old smartphone operating system that made me go back to Nokia’s newest catch phrase of “It’s not technology, it’s what you do with it” because if you talk about buying a smartphone these days it’s basically iOS (in the iPhone) or Android (in many different Android phones). However, neither of these platforms can do tagging out of the box like Symbian can. It is always about what you can do with technology and not just about the hardware/software by itself. Technology should always be an enabler: helping you do to things. It is always great when you can make a device do something it was not able to do before: e.g. magnifying glass for macro photos on fixed focus camera phones or using a blacked piece of film to take photos of a candle (shown to me by @nickthien). So I put forth to all you readers that you take a look at your gadget and see what added functionality you can get out of them. Explore and make full use of your technology. Live long and prosper!

[status draft]

Why the Nokia N8 interests me

(image via Nokia’s media resources)

While stumbling onto the Nokia N8 together with the C7 today (okay this post is almost 2 weeks late due to the fact that I’ve helped my wife relocate to Australia) at Incomm HQ, it got me thinking about the future of phones and computers and got me all that more interested in the Nokia N8. The N8 is B$768 and the C7 is B$638. If you order online through the Incomm website the N8 is just B$730 (thanks GeekInWhite). My interest in the N8 is not just because it is Nokia’s flagship model at the moment, but just the functionality it brings and the possibilities of having a computer in your pocket.

First and foremost the Nokia N8 is a multi-touch capable smartphone with a 12 megapixel camera and Xenon flash. The N8 itself has stand out features that are not really found on any other phone. The camera, which is a focus on many reviews, has proper colour representation (vs the iPhone 4 that does post processing on photos to make them look more colourful) and while also taking relatively good low light shots (thanks to the large image sensor which is even bigger than some digital cameras). Some photo comparisons: DeviceMagazine, Symbian World, Into Mobile, It also shoots 720p video at 25 fps and has a built in video editor and image editor for photos too.

The device is capable to play back 720p content with Dolby Digital Plus Surround Sound via the HDMI out making it a multi-media centre device.There was even mass movie screening of the Prince of Persia on the N8 itself. When connected to an HDMI output the display will be mirrored on both the screen of the N8 as well as the output device (e.g. an HD display). This has possibilities to showcase gaming on the N8 by letting spectators watch exactly what the player sees. However for a regular user, this means it can be connected to a bigger screen and even act as a desktop computer (more on this later).

The N8 also has USB host with USB on-the-go support. This means that you can connect a regular USB drive to it (with the necessary connector cable: micro USB on the N8 to a full USB connector) and transfer files to and from it. What’s more is that you can even attach a keyboard and mouse to the device to make it a productivity device. Most video’s I’ve seen, show mouse and keyboard connected via Bluetooth so I am not sure if you can attach a USB hub and connect all keyboard, mouse and USB drive to the device all at once. However once keyboard and mouse via Bluetooth you will have a setup similar to a real computer as shown in the video below, with a (micro) USB port to be connected to a USB drive to transfer data.

Now the scenario of using the N8 as a full productivity device will also depend on software support: meaning to say that it needs to have applications to allow users to use this is a productivity tool. Software that will let users create and edit documents on the go would be great. According to the specifications the N8 has the feature of “Editing of key office documents” making this possible and what’s more is that with the HDMI output, you can even do presentations powered from your phone (caveat: seems that you need to pay for a ‘pro’ version to edit documents). Productivity is also enabled via the real multi-tasking abilities of the N8 (as opposed to ‘faux’ multi-tasking of the iPhone). Applications run in the background enabling switching from a browser (to search for something) and jumping straight back into your document / tweet that you were composing.

Note that the N8 also uses readily available standards: from micro USB (for data transfer and even charging), to micro HDMI, to a 3.5mm standard jack, a regular micro SD card and a normal sized SIM card. Using these readily available standards, makes it even more interoperatible with your existing devices / cables (as opposed to proprietary connectors like the iPod or even Galaxy Tab).

There are also a couple of technologies that could be built into the phone that I have not heard been mentioned like printing and Bluetooth transfer file transfer/file system browsing support. However I will base this on existing Nokia S60 devices such as the Nokia E71 that I originally typed this post on. The Nokia E71 has abilities to print direct to printers (via Bluetooth / infrared) and allows browsing the filesystem from a host device such as a PC or Mac. What I love about Bluetooth file transfer and filesystem browsing is that you can quickly and easily copy data from the phone wirelessly. Also with HP technology that is getting into printing from the web (i.e. Emailing documents from the phone to the printer to print), it will make things all so much the easier.

I know the device isn’t perfect: for instance in portrait mode you can only type in as a virtual numeric keypad and no QWERTY keyboard. Swype may change that. Also when typing in text, the entire screen is taken up by the text box where you type meaning that if you forget what you’re doing you will have to close or confirm the text input before seeing what you were filling in and going back into the text input screen. I think it was Daniel at Tech65 that mentioned that it seems like a separate application in the way it works and does seem a bit cumbersome especially having to press cancel/back or confirm before continuing.

There is no touch to focus on the device though is something a firmware update could fix but that being said it still at this moment in time does not have it. Also the video recording has no auto-focus and only records at 25 fps. A hack has been demonstrated to enable both but yet again it is not available to all N8 users.

S^3 is also an newly released OS meaning that there are not a lot of applications currently running on it. If application developers do not support it, then users will be at a huge loss compared to iOS or Android users. S^3 can also be considered a convoluted/complicated OS. S60 users would be more accustomed to it but users who like simplicity make be taken a back.

However I think the biggest problem with the N8 is the web browser (TechRadar, Engadget, All About Symbian). I think all Nokia S60 phone users will know that the standard web browser isn’t fantastic and while the browser on S^3 is an improvement, from reviews I’ve read, the browsers still has quite a bit to go to catch up to Safari on iOS and Android browsers. It does play Flash Lite 4.0 which is a nice touch but nothing to write home about.

The N8 software needs real tweaking to make things more usable for the user and for it to make the product really great. But all in all the prospect of the functionality of the N8 makes things one step closer to having a computer in your pocket. Oh yeah it is also a phone with mobile broadband capabilities.
Able to output to a display? Check
Able to connect keyboard and mouse for productivity? Check
Able to copy files to and from USB drives? Check
Able to print to printers? (Probably) Check
What else more do you need from a computer?

Motorola Milestone XT launches while the Nokia N8 edits movies

A day after the iPhone 4 was announced with 720p video recording and iMovie for video editing, the Motorola Milestone XT has launched in Singapore with 720p video recording with HDMI out (similar to the Nokia N8) and Nokia also reveals video editing on the N8 (as shown below)

Check out Tech65‘s first look at the Milestone XT below, with pricing with StarHub contracts over at Justin’s blog

I’m personally more interested with Nokia only cause it’s a device with an OS that has yet been released to the public and has features such as USB on-the-go. USB on-the-go allows it to connect to a USB drive for reading and writing purposes just like a regular computer. How cool is that!? Nokia’s timing of releasing footage of movie editing on the N8 has to be a straight punch to iMovie for iPhone 4 and the only issue, specifications wise, for the N8 is the screen resolution of 640×360. Based on Engadget’s smart phone comparison, it’s the 2nd worst of the bunch just after the Palm Pre. However, I still believe in Nokia as it has features like file management via bluetooth, meaning I can transfer files to and from the phone wirelessly. While it may not be as fast as USB, the convenience factor trumps it and I use it all the time with my Nokia E71. Specifications-wise the N8 is similar to the iPhone 4 but being a new OS there could be issues, but I’m hoping that Nokia will use it’s many years of phone making experience to add that extra touch to their new product that could give iOS and Android a run for their money

Enabling Auto-Focus on the Nokia E71 for Qik and uStream video streaming

I found this out accidentally the a few weeks back. I was playing around with the Qik or uStream application and realized it was auto focusing, but the Nokia E71 by default in the video recording application does not have auto focus. After playing around a bit more I found that you need to enable auto focus in the camera application (by pressing ‘T’) and get red corners (it doesn’t work if you get green corners) before switching to Qik / uStream clients. If anybody knows what the significance of red vs green corners when you auto-focus on the E71 do let me know for I am curious why it doesn’t work for green corners but does for red.

  1. Launch the Camera Application
  2. Enable auto-focus by pressing ‘T’. Make sure you get red corners as it doesn’t work if you get green corners. Just keep pressing ‘T’ until you get red corners
  3. Click home and launch Qik or uStream and auto-focus should be enabled

Nokia Chargers

broken nokia 2 5mm charger tip

This is what I hate about Nokia’s current 2.5mm charger. I charge my phone, my phone drops with the charger attached and I get a bent charger tip. The charger will still typically work until it’s been battered into submission and gets broken as shown below. This is my second Nokia charger tip to bite the dust.

Instead of buying a new charger I just bought a cheap B$3 adapter from BIT Computer that converts an older 3.5mm Nokia charger to the new 2.5mm tip. Works perfect and if it gets broken it’s just a $3 change. Saves money and recycles an old charger. Win for me, win for the Earth. You can buy this adapter from Deal Extreme.

nokia 3 5mm to 2 5mm adaptor

Just make sure the old charger has an output rating of DC 5.0V, 800mA (I tried on an even older 3.5mm charger that has a rating of 3.7V, 355mA and I get a “Not charging” message on the phone, so you need the right rating)

nokia charger ratings

Days in the life of S60 with a Nokia E51

So recently my sister got me a Nokia E51 (GSM Arena) for my birthday, replacing my Nokia 3110 classic. Well actually it was more of her asking me what phone I want and she gave me the money to buy it.

I’ve been eying the phone for quite a while particularly for the connectivity options (HSDPA, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi) and relatively reasonable price of B$398. Based on the comment count over at shimworld people are/were interested in this phone (I guess the focus is now on the Nokia E71 / E63. A bit over my typical device budget but I guess technology is just expensive, heh.

Most reviews online have mentioned the keypad is pretty good but I beg to differ, I’ve had issues with it, from not recognizing the next button pressed, but especially due to the placement of the backspace button. I vary the way I type on my phone, from the single handed method using my thumb to the 2 handed double thumb method. I found blind typing (I do not use dictionary) very hard, especially for words that utilize 2 letters from a single button, example food (f-o-o-d) which I would typically type by pressing 333,666,down,666. Notice I press the down button on the 4 way navigation keypad so that I can move on to typing the next ‘o’ without having to wait, but due to the placement of the backspace key, I tend to hit it, instead of the down button, leading to frustration. I’ve had to modify my typing habits by using the right button instead of the down button, but also due to the placement of the backspace key, when I do need to use it, I may end up hitting down / 2. Of course this is greatly reduced if I use to hands and if I stare at the phone thus forcing me to uni-task on typing. I think the button are cluttered around the navigation keypad and is a disadvantage for the chubby fingered like myself, you end up pressing the wrong buttons, leading to frustration. The typical complaint of the side rubber buttons (power, record, volume up and down) which are hard to press but that’s mentioned in all reviews and I knew about it but it is a concern.

The rest of my issues (so far) are with the S60 platform / Symbian OS that the E51 runs on, in comparison to my old Nokia 3110 with it’s S40 3rd Edition platform. The E51 runs S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 1 with the following firmware (as obtained by dialing *#0000#)

220.34.37
20-10-2008
RM-244
Nokia E51(14)

  • No message details for each SMS received: when I put my SIM card into the phone for some reason it did not have the DST SMS centre programmed into the SIM card or the phone couldn’t retrieve it from the SIM card. On a side not it retrieved Singapore’s M1′s SMS centre, as I used my old phone in Singapore and had to configure it as such. Anyway I thought to myself, it’s ok I’ll just go into an SMS I have received and check the message details and the SMS centre will be there. Sadly I was mistaken and I had to go into my old phone check a message there and get the details from that
  • Text functions (copy/cut/paste) not available in all text boxes/input fields: This one really surprised me and is pretty self-explanatory.*Update: 17/Dec/2008: I just realized pressing the * key brings up a menu with the copy/cut options
  • Active standby shortcuts contain a fixed number of applications: On my 3110c I could choose as many applications as I wanted to and the shortcuts could be scrolled left or right
  • No capitalise feature if in middle of word: If you want to capitalise a letter in the middle of the word and you press the case toggle button (#) it will change to all caps instead of (auto change to all caps)
  • No easy tone selection: Just say you want to change your ring tone, and in the ring tone selection it lists ALL the songs available in your memory card and all you can do is scroll up or down one at a time. That’s how the E51 does it. The 3110c had a great work around which was to use the gallery application (which was basically a file manager) and find the tone and in the menu selection there would be a “use tone as..” menu item, then you can select what type of tone to use it for, be it alarm, ring tone, etc. The E51′s file manager has no such thing and the gallery application is now a single list of all media (categorized by Images/Video/Tracks/Sound clips/etc) rather than in a folder hierarchy which makes things much harder to find.
  • Defaults to no alarm when creating meeting: I rather have an unwanted alarm go off than not having any alarm for a meeting, wouldn’t you?
  • Symbol order when pressing the 1 button is different: Why can’t it be consistent? I don’t want to know that to get an apostrophe (‘) on one phone is achieved by pressing the 1 button 5 times while on another phone it is 3 time. There should be consistency among a brand.
  • Cannot insert contact number/name into SMS message: You will have to open the contacts application copy the appropriate information, switch back to the SMS application and paste. Inefficient and troublesome

I am not sure how much of these issues are Nokia issues, S60 (and thus Nokia) issues, Symbian issues or just plain ole too-fussy-lil-me issues. Whichever way it is, they are issues that plague me once and a while and some that plague me day after day. In light to these issues I have to say the 3110c is superior to the E51 when it comes down to usability (but certainly not on functionality) on a day to day use. I have to say the E51 is too thin for taste and the 3110c has a pretty much perfect form factor and keypad, 2 things that will get me every time. Now if Nokia would make an E51 fit into a 3110c case that would be perfect!

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