That Nokia has been in forefront of mobile imaging is surely not in doubt, whatever you think of the operating systems the company has chosen at each stage (Symbian and then Windows Phone). In fact, it's a testament to how good and ground breaking the Nokia N95 was in its day (the first 5MP camera on a smartphone etc.) that it can even hold its head up here in 2013. But seven years has seen quite a bit of innovation in sensor quality, resolution and image processing - which is why I thought a 2006-2013 data point might be in order. Here's the legendary N95 pitted against the latest Nokia Lumia 1020 across six test scenes/uses.
A slightly unconventional head to head then. Though perfectly valid, since my N95 is still working at 99% even today, seven years later, and I see them in use out in the streets sometimes. More to the point, let's see just if and how much phone cameras have improved in the intervening seven years.
It's also worth noting that the N95 was at least three years ahead of its time in terms of imaging. Comparing the Lumia 1020 here to results from, say, the original iPhone, from mid 2007, would be something of a farce, and I wouldn't insult anyone's time by doing so.
[NB1: As usual with this sort of test. although I've tried to roughly match the results for direct comparison, the two smartphone cameras have different fields of view, so 1:1 crops won't match up exactly.
NB2: To download the original JPGs, just click the links above each comparator.]
Test 1: Sunny suburbia
Here's the full scene, just a nicely lit close of houses and plenty of detail:
And here's the 1:1 cropped output from both devices, both at the standard 5 megapixels - it's interactive (if your browser and bandwidth are up to the job), so use your mouse or pointer to swipe between the two photos - N95 on the left, 1020 on the right:
It's fair to say that the 1020's shot is clearer and crisper, even if some of this comes from sharpening algorithms. As ever, the 1020 stays just the right side of overdoing it. The colours are warmer and truer to life too.
Test 2: Sunny nature macro
Here's the full scene - I wanted to look at saturated colours in the late afternoon sun and also depth of field:
And here's the cropped 1:1 output from both devices, both at the standard 5 megapixels - again, if your browser and bandwidth are up to the job, use your mouse or pointer to swipe between the two photos - N95 on the left, 1020 on the right:
The N95's control over exposure is pretty awesome here and there's little to choose between the two shots. There's slightly more saturation and warmer colours again in the 1020 photo, plus slightly better 'bokeh', but I'd forgive you for picking the N95 shot.
Test 3: Sunny path
Here's the full scene, with extremes of lgiht and shade, plus plenty of natural detail:
In truth, neither of the phone cameras can cope with the sun shining directly off the wet path, with the image totally blown out. However, around the central region, the leafy detail from the 1020's version looks a lot more convincing, helped by PureView oversampling and more advanced image processing, including the aforementioned sharpening.
Test 4: Zoom
Here's the full scene:
Just to be different, for this specific test I allowed the Lumia 1020 to stretch its PureView zoom legs, so the field of view for both shots will be very different. I wanted to see just how much more detail could be captured from a distant subject - in this case the road signs about 50 metres away. Here are the cropped 1:1 output from both devices, both at the standard 5 megapixels: N95 on the left, 1020 (zoomed) on the right:
When fully zoomed in like this, the Lumia 1020 loses any benefit from oversampling so, not surprisingly, things look slightly rougher and noiser - but the extra detail on the roadside bollards is impressive. The signs themselves are slightly blown out, if I was trying to capture something so bright I might have experimented by knocking down the exposure a stop in the 1020's Nokia Camera application.
Although colours are quite muted in the N95 shot, the amount of unzoomed detail is pretty good - remember this was a device from 2006!
Test 5: Party time
A camera phone 'test' without a 'party shot' simulation would be incomplete - as ever, it's an artificially lit living room with me (pretending to be) boozing it up and laughing (a way to make sure my face and arm aren't stationary!):
And here's the cropped 1:1 output from both devices, both at the standard 5 megapixels - it's interactive (if your browser and bandwidth are up to the job), so use your mouse or pointer to swipe between the two photos - N95 on the left, 1020 on the right:
The Lumia 1020's shot is far better lit than the N95's, helped by the larger sensor and Xenon flash, though I suspect that the Nokia 808 would have done even better here, at the expense of less natural light 'atmosphere' (the 1020 always looks to keep shutter speed slow enough to capture ambient light as well).
Test 6: Night time
Finally, an absolute test of light gathering, shot in the dead of night. Here's the full scene (and note that the sky was black to my eyes):
Quite literally, the results are like night and day. In fact, the N95's result is way too dim, compared to what my eyes registered, while the 1020's result is too light, though the latter's is impressive in how crisp it ends up being, despite a long shutter time, thanks to the presence of OIS. The usual arguments over how true to life low light shots should be will rage here, of course.
It's fair to say that the Lumia 1020 camera is a clear generation ahead of the N95's overall, though the latter shouldn't feel too disappointed - the N95 camera still matches results from some 5MP smartphone cameras in 2013. I'm not sure whether the same could be said of many other smartphone metrics from that same era.
Hopefully an interesting data point, at least. And, don't worry, I'll make the next camera phone test somewhat more contemporary!
What do you get if you take an (arguably) classic and robust design from yesteryear and stick new internals inside? Well, it's nothing to do with Symbian, but it is of interest because of the Nokia name and QWERTY keyboard, hopefully. I wanted to flag up Neo900, a new project to breathe life into the Nokia N900 form factor with a new motherboard and major update to the (in this case Maemo) operating system. See below. I can't help but feel that the Nokia N97 might have been a decent device to try this shenigans on, too. Thoughts?
The page describes the project like this:
Are you tired of all those closed mobile platforms? Do you want to truly own a device that has the ability to do whatever you want, just like your PC?
The Neo900 project aims to provide a Fremantle (Maemo™ 5) compatible successor to the N900, with a faster CPU, more RAM and an LTE modem. This is all based on a free, mature and stable platform - the GTA04.
We'll provide complete, ready-to-use devices, as well as motherboard replacements for your current devices.
Most importantly, the Neo900 is an open platform, carrying on in the tradition of the Openmoko project. Neo900 will support all operating systems available for GTA04 (QtMoko, SHR, Debian, Replicant, ...) and should serve as a great platform for porting systems like Maemo, Ubuntu or Firefox OS - or even for writing your own one! We bring the hardware, you choose your OS.
Importantly, the guys behind the project are "all about the hardware, we can't run a software development department to port maemo to the device. It's up to a community effort to establish this."
There are some startling claims for the intended Neo900, not least:
- LTE (nice idea, but wouldn't some approvals be needed?)
- Stereo line-in (shades of N-Gage?)
- Battery hot-swap (without turning the phone off. Wow. LIGHTNING swaps would be needed!)
- Makes tea (oh, ok, I made this one up!)
The idea is certainly tempting. Which retro device and form factor would you bring back to life with a GHz processor, more RAM and shiny new OS? Anyone for a 2GHz Android N8 (ok, ok, I'm dreaming now, but.....) Or what about a Nokia E70 with S60 3rd Edition FP2 and double the processor speed and RAM?
You can read more about the background to the Neo900 project here. Do you think it will ever see the light of day? Stranger things have happened, though it's obviously firmly in uber-geek territory. Comments?
Although the announcement of a new cutting edge Snapdragon processor for 2014 phones to use is only of tangential interest to AAS readers and only of interest to AAWP readers thinking about an upgrade in a year's time, some of the specications of the Snapdragon 805 chipset are worth quoting, since they address a very specific issue with smartphone imaging.
From the Qualcomm press release:
Qualcomm has introduced the next generation mobile processor of the Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 800 tier, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor, which is designed to deliver the highest-quality mobile video, imaging and graphics experiences at Ultra HD (4K) resolution, both on device and via Ultra HD TVs. Featuring the new Adreno 420 GPU, with up to 40 percent more graphics processing power than its predecessor, the Snapdragon 805 processor is the first mobile processor to offer system-level Ultra HD support, 4K video capture and playback and enhanced dual camera Image Signal Processors (ISPs), for superior performance, multitasking, power efficiency and mobile user experiences.
Key features of the Snapdragon 805 include:
- Krait 450 quad-core CPU, the first mobile CPU to run at speeds of up to 2.5 GHz per core, plus memory bandwidth support of up to 25.6 GB/second that is designed to provide unprecedented multimedia and web browsing performance.
- Support for Ultra HD resolution thanks to the inclusion of the new Adreno 420 GPU, which introduces support for hardware tessellation and geometry shaders, for advanced 4K rendering.
- Fast, seamless connected mobile experiences: Custom, efficient integration with either the Qualcomm Gobi MDM9x25 or the Gobi MDM9x35 modem.
- Ability to stream more video content at higher quality using less power, with support for Hollywood Quality Video (HQV) for video post processing and hardware 4K HEVC (H.265) decode for mobile.
- Support for sharper, higher resolution photos in low light and advanced post-processing features. First Gpixel/s throughput camera support in a mobile processor designed for a significant increase in camera speed and imaging quality. Sensor processing with gyro integration enables image stabilization for sharper, crisper photos.
Quite apart from the overall boost in speed for late 2014 smartphones, the sheer power on offer should significantly help bring down shot to shot times on large-sensored camera-centric devices following on from Nokia's Lumia 1020.
As a guide, the 2012 Symbian-powered Nokia 808 PureView, which debuted the 41 megapixel oversampling camera, boasted a shot to shot time of well under a second, thanks to a custom Toshiba image processor that had a throughput (famously) of over a billion pixels per second.
The blazingly fast but hand-rolled custom solution in the Nokia 808 was obviously not very scaleable or, indeed, portable to other platforms, so in contrast, the Windows Phone-powered Lumia 1020 handles the oversampling from the 41 megapixel sensor in its main Snapdragon S4 chipset, resulting in a much slower shot to shot time, of around four seconds.
Four seconds is obviously too slow for casual photography (though the default Camera application, much faster [though lower quality], also ships in each Windows Phone) and the appearance of the Snapdragon 805 chipset, with the same billion pixels per second throughput as the custom chip in the Nokia 808, could mean a Lumia 1020 successor with 41 megapixel sensor and oversampling with a shot to shot time that's a lot more competitive, down to under a second again.
The Snapdragon 805 processor is sampling now and expected to be available in commercial devices during the middle of 2014.
The photos from the Nokia 808 PureView are often said to be less striking than those from the competition, whether it's a Lumia 1020, iPhone 5S or a Samsung Galaxy S4, however much purists would say that the 808's output is more 'natural'. One advantage the 808 has in its armoury is a Creative mode which lets users apply the saturation and sharpness, so beloved these days. Here, in a followup to my earlier piece 'How to: Set the Nokia 808 up to satisfy '2013' photo preferences', I look at the practical differences in output a few sliders can make.
So on the one hand we have a 5MP oversampled 'pure' image from the Nokia 808. There's no attempt to artificially enhance any colours or to sharpen the result - the idea is that the purity of the image will speak for itself.
And it usually does, but the Nokia 808 camera can also do a pretty good job of impersonating the characteristics of other smartphone cameras, something that can't usually be said in reverse.
I covered some of this area in a set of tests here, but I wanted to a) simplify things slightly [dropping the Vivid and Superfine adjustments], b) do everything at 8MP rather than 5MP, and c) take advantage of some gorgeous autumn colours.
Here then is my Nokia 808 PureView pretending to be an Apple iPhone 5S. Using the 808's Creative mode (in Camera, tap on the top control and pick the 'Creative' tab), here's the set-up:
- Set resolution to 8 megapixels - this matches the output of most other top devices and eliminates any silly 'Ah, but my phone produces higer resolution photos' arguments.
- Set 'Saturation' to '+3'
- Set 'Sharpness' to '+3'
That's it. Now, heading into the cold autumn sunshine and snapping this scene in both the default settings for 8MP Creative and then the 'iPhone' set-up above:
Cropping in to 1:1 in each case, use your mouse on this interactive comparator to explore the differences in colour and image processing (default settings on the left, 'iPhone' set-up on the right):
[if you see two images one on top of another then please either wait for your browser to get round to rendering them properly or try another browser!!]
The impression is pretty convincing - the right hand image would also be typical of the likes of the Samsung Galaxy flagships, and indeed of Nokia's Lumia Windows Phones. Which image is 'best'? The 808's default settings produce something that is, as usual, hyper natural, perhaps boringly so, while the 'iPhone' impression photo is arguably too colourful - nature's colours are rarely that vivid.
What's probably needed is a compromise between the two extremes. Minimal messing with the essential characteristics of how the Nokia 808 creates its images, but richer colours to help them 'pop' more for discerning human eyes.
In fact, the Nokia 808 includes such a compromise in its settings, in 'Vivid' mode. As you'll see below, it's not quite as obviously over-saturated, nor as over-sharpened as the example above.
In the example below, I also wanted to tackle the stronghold of the Galaxies and iPhone - the macro. So I'm using the full PureView zoom on the Nokia 808 to get as close, optically, to the tiny autumn leaf as possible:
This time, rather than just compare two settings, I've shot the leaf at 8MP with (from top to bottom) default, vivid, saturated (+3) and sharpened (+3, plus the existing +3 for saturation):
The increase in saturation brought in by using 'Vivid' is quite subtle and probably represents a good mode to shoot in for a wide range of subjects. The bottom two crops show how the colour of something can actually change when messing around with saturation. Sometimes this is to the benefit of the image, but often not.
In fact, because Creative mode allows varying Saturation, Contrast and Sharpness in small increments, there are literally hundreds of possible settings combinations available to try. It's this flexibility that still sets the 808 apart from other camera phones, in my opinion.
"Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be taking photos like the Galaxy S3" etc.(!)
Comments welcome on Nokia 808: the impressionist - do you have a secret set of settings that you have saved and like to shoot in?
As expected, Nokia's shareholders today voted to approve the sale of the Devices & Services division to Microsoft for €5.4 billion. The Financial Times reports that of the shareholder taking part in the vote 99.7% voted in favour of the deal. The shareholder vote was not expected to be a stumbling block, but remains an important stage in the sale process. It will be followed by a variety of regulatory approvals, none of which are expected to raise any roadblocks. The deal is expected to be completed in the first quarter of next year.
Here's the Nokia press release announcing the news:
The Extraordinary General Meeting of Nokia Corporation held on November 19, 2013 ("EGM") decided to confirm and approve the sale of substantially all of Nokia's Devices & Services business to Microsoft in line with the proposal and recommendation of the Nokia Board of Directors. More than 99 % of the votes cast at the EGM were in favor of this proposal.
"This is a significant step forward for Nokia. We are delighted that shareholders have given us overwhelmingly strong support to proceed with this transformative agreement," said Nokia Board Chairman and interim CEO, Risto Siilasmaa. "Today's vote brings us closer to completing a transaction which will mark the beginning of the next chapter in Nokia's near 150-year history, offering the potential of greater value for shareholders," he said.
As a reminder here's how we first described the proposed transaction:
As a result of the transaction Microsoft will acquire "substantially all of Nokia's Devices & Services business". This includes the Mobile Phones (Series 40) and Smart Devices (Windows Phone) business units, Nokia's design team, operations including all Nokia Devices & Services production facilities, Devices & Services-related sales and marketing activities, and related support functions. Consequently, approximately 32,000 people are expected to transfer to Microsoft, including approximately 4,700 people in Finland.
As part of the transaction, Nokia will also grant Microsoft a 10 year non-exclusive license to its patents and Microsoft will grant Nokia reciprocal rights related to HERE services. Further, Microsoft will have an option to extend this mutual patent agreement to perpetuity. Of the transaction cost of €5.44 billion, €3.79 billion relates to the Devices & Services business, and €1.65 billion to the mutual patent agreement.
Microsoft will also become a strategic licensee of the HERE platform, paying Nokia for an initial four year license. The revnue stream for HERE will be equivalent to the internal revenue streams that Devices & Services currently transfer to the HERE and will be a key factor if maintaining the business viability of HERE.
Microsoft has also agreed to a 10 year license arrangement with Nokia to use the Nokia brand on current Mobile Phones products, but Nokia will continue to own and maintain the Nokia brand. The Nokia brand will continue to be used on Series 30 and Series 40 products, but the indication are that Windows Phone products will switch to the Microsoft brand, although it seems likely the Lumia sub-brand will continue.
Please accept this generic rant across the All About sites, but the subject matter applies to all platforms to various degrees. In-app purchasing or, more specifically, in-game purchasing is the current fad in game development and it's time enough people took a stand and said 'No'. And not just writing editorials and blog posts on the subject but actively boycotting such titles and recommending alternatives that rely on the traditional 'buy it once' model. Does it sound like I'm over-reacting? Maybe - it depends on exactly who's playing the games on your phone(s)?
Here's what should happen with games on mobiles:
- You like the look of a title
- You buy it
- You enjoy it forever
Sadly, what's happening more and more these days is a tactic that's a recipe for worry, hassle - and extra expense. In-game purchases are the 'in' thing with developers at the moment, mainly because they're raking in lots of money by misdirecting members of the public. Yes, I realise that's a strong accusation, so here's my experience.
- I download title X (for Symbian/Windows Phone/Android/whatever) for free. Now, I realise that most things of any worth have to be paid for, so I'm expecting some adverts. I'd rather have simply paid a sensible price up front (e.g. £2.99 or similar) but for title X there was no alternative.
- My eight year old nephew likes the look of title X and, with my permission, starts playing. That'll keep him quiet(!), I think.
- Within ten minutes he's come up against a screen suggesting he 'buy' more powerups or boosts or gems (etc.) in order to make faster progress (or to save the game at all). "No, just cancel that" I command and he goes back to playing.
- Five minutes later we're back to a 'buy' screen and I'm paranoid that he's going to press one of the options simply to make better progress.
- Rinse and repeat.
Multiply this sort of stress by ten if we're dealing with a game that a five year old can play, i.e. someone who can't read properly yet and will just stab away at any on-screen button that looks colourful and likely to aid progress.
Now, if the in-game purchase was as simple as a one-off £3 (e.g.) to remove ads and provide a 'normal' experience then I'd think this was fair enough. But this isn't how it works. Game developers are turning into drug dealers, requiring £2 or £4 or £6 sales, over and over again for more gems/coins/powerups and so on, in order for the gamer to keep playing. "You like it so far, you're doing great, but you need to pay another packet to carry on..."
I've seen games with in-app purchases of over $50, one even offered a chance to pay over $100. To think that a misplaced finger tap might lead to an inadvertent purchase at this level is scandalous and makes me angry. Software shouldn't work this way.
Maybe, in the absence of kids, in-game purchases can be managed more responsibly by end-users. I mean, we can read the 'buy' text and amount and make an informed decision, surely? If we don't like the terms we can just stop playing and delete the game. However, things are rarely that simply and some titles (Real Racing 3 comes to mind) are so complex in terms of in-game currencies that it's sometimes easy to lose track of whether you're spending real or virtual money at each point in the UI.
With all this in mind, I'm making a proclamation to developers - I will never recommend a game which survives on in-app purchases, nor will I ever spend a penny or a cent this way.
I'd love to pay you for a great game, so just put it up for sale in the traditional way, please. And if you're confident in your game title then you'll make a trial version too. Pay once to convert a trial to a full game? Yep, I'm all for that. But I'm not going to pay again. And again. And again....
Comments? Is it just me that abhors this modern trend?
The 361 Degrees Podcast is back for a sixth season. In the opening episode the team discuss some of the key mobile industry news from the six weeks that they have been gone. Topics include the new iPhones, the new iPads, the second generation of Microsoft's tablet products, thoughts on some UK retailers cheap tablet offerings, Nokia's entry into the tablet space (Lumia 2520), and an update on BlackBerry's woes.
A lot has happened in the 6 weeks we've been gone so the team get caught up on the news, having had a little extra time to reflect. This week we cover:
- New iPhones - If the 5c wasn’t a ‘cheap’ iPhone was the 5s a new high-end model? Is there a big-enough pricing gap?
- New iPads - Is the iPad Air what Steve Jobs really intended the iPad to be? We marvel at what Apple’s new A7 achieves with weight and battery.
- New Microsoft Surface - Ewan’s keen but we wonder how it can find customers not already well-served by iPads.
- Cheap tablets - Tesco’s Hudl, Argos’s MyTablet, Carphone Warehouse’s ‘cheap tablet thing’.
- Nokia’s tablet - Is Nokia’s new Windows RT tablet - the 2520 - the best Windows tablet yet? Does it matter?
- BlackBerry woes - Who was mad enough to give BlackBerry $1bn?
Our first reader’s question is "Who needs the other more to remain as the dominant player: Samsung or Google?". The team get stuck in...
This episode is sponsored by O2. Check-out O2 Refresh - the tariff which lets you get the latest phone whenever you want.
About 361 Degrees
361 Degrees is a podcast all about mobile technology. From consumer to enterprise and from fun to industry analysis, we investigate and discuss mobile technology and the mobile industry.
Tomi Ahonen has been prominent and outspoken in the mobile industry for a decade now, most recently as being highly critical of Nokia and its CEO, plus many of his blog posts run to well over 5000 words and are hard to digest. But I was interested to read his translation of an article on Stephen Elop at Nokia in Finland's largest newspaper, giving some interesting background to the famous 'burning platform' memo (condemning Symbian and Meego) in February 2011 and indicating some backlash for Elop as a result of it.
Here's Tomi's introduction and translation (in italics) of the relevant text into English:
I came across this interesting article in Finland's largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat (published more than a month ago on 29 Sept 2013) about Elop's tenure while Nokia CEO (the article is in Finnish of course). It is mostly a biographical story of the departing Nokia CEO but it includes an interesting passage about the Burning Platforms memo, which may ring particular bells to our readers who were here in 2011 and lived throught its aftemath. Plus it sheds some light on the negotiations with Microsoft. So let me do my translation of that passage into English (I will include the Finnish part also at the end for those who know Finnish and might want to read it to compare)
Early on Elop experienced friction with the Board. He made decisions quickly and at his own initiative and did not always remember to inform the Board, which at this time was still led by past CEO, Jorma Ollila. Elop's adviser Stephen Miles confirms that during Elop's tenure at Nokia, he and Elop discussed a lot about how Elop might be better able to inform the Board, and get it to sign onto the proposals of his management.
Nokia Board members were particularly annoyed by for example the famous memo where he compared Nokia's situation to a man standing on a burning oil platform, who had to decide whether to jump into the freezing sea. The emotional memo was published internally in February 2011, a little before the Windows partnership was revealed to the world. The purpose of Elop's memo was to awaken the organization to the necessity of change. It ended up also condemning the company's Symbian phones, which Nokia had intended to sell for another 150 million units.
The leaking of the memo into the public domain did not make it easier for Nokia sales staff around the world. Many have estimated the memo to have been very expensive to Nokia, as Symbian phone sales became ever more difficult. At the Nokia Board, the memo was seen as a severe error in judgement, and Elop was given stinging feedback from Jorma Ollila. The cooperation with the Board would improve over time. In the Spring 2011 Shareholder Meeting appointed Elop as a Member of the Board.
With hindsight we know that the selection of Windows sealed in the end the sale of Nokia's handset business to Microsoft. After a couple of years, the Lumia phone sales did not meet expectations. and Nokia's worsening economic condition forced the Board to the painful decision.
The exact role of Elop in the sales process is not fully known. He did participate in the negotiations which included members of the Board, active management of Nokia, and outside advisors. Nokia Chairman of the Board, Risto Siilasmaa has emphasized, that he led the negotiations with Microsoft. The negotiations got to speed in February, when Siilasmaa and Ballmer met at the mobile industry fair in Barcelona. One is unlikely to ever know, what kind of bilateral talks Ballmer and Elop engaged in, if any.
Yes, this is all arguably somewhat old news, but it's interesting to note that, if the article is accurate, Elop's leaking of his Burning Platforms memo was not only ultimately over-harmful to sales of Symbian handsets in 2011 but also strongly disapproved of by the Nokia board.
I've said all along that the transition from Symbian to Windows Phone was communicated badly. All Nokia had to say in February 2011 was "We're adding Windows Phone to our smartphone portfolio" and the impact on Symbian would have been far less, leaving Nokia without something of a big sales (and share price) hole through the rest of the year.
Of course, the counter argument is that Elop wanted to shock a complacent Nokia into action with this 'internal' memo - but in that case more care should have been taken not to 'leak' the memo to the press, surely?
Forgive a little retrospective, but it's (more or less) the five year anniversary of Position Art. Long time readers will know where I'm going with this - Stavros and his 'tool' (the Nokia N82!) A promotional campaign for the device created by agency Farfar under the guidance of Nokia's regular 1000 Heads, the character of Stavros transcended the usual ad boundaries and made a real connection to us, the Symbian faithful. I still remember many of his self-deluded mannerisms and faltering dialogue, I had a go at my own Position Art, and even learned to love the N82 as he did. The full story is remembered below...
Stavros and Position Art was a campaign dreamt up by this guy, Ake Brattberg, as far as I can tell, under the guidance of Nokia and 1000 Heads. The idea was to create a fictional character to show how the Nokia N82 could be used for GPS activities and navigation. Stavros was born and, it's fair to say, his persona almost literally jumped out of the screen in the debut web site, theworldismycanvas.com . This is sadly no longer being hosted live on the Internet, but thanks to the magic of the Wayback Machine, you can experience the full interactive site here, introducing Stavros to the world for the first time. The site won several awards and you can see why by clicking the link or this screengrab:
There then followed a series of videos, embedded below. But do please note that this was 2007 and YouTube was in its infancy, with resolutions of 240p, (gasp) 360p or (shock) 480p common, so forgive what seem in 2013 to be very low resolution video streams.
Here for your enjoyment, whether you're a lover of the N82 or of comedy, are the videos, starting with...
Meeting Stavros, introducing the idea of Position Art:
Stavros's guide to creating Position Art:
Stavros gets a new Position Art tool, the Black Nokia N82:
Stavros's rather excellent Q&A session with Nokia N82 fans around the world:
Stavros's magnum opus, Position Art around Rome:
Funny stuff, I especially love the bits where Stavros runs up against the limits of his own brain and fumbles desperately for ways to finish his sentences - we've all been there!
In fact, Stavros inspired me to have a go, in early 2008, in a segment for my video podcast, then dubbed The Smartphones Show, and, again, forgive the low resolution - I was only shooting at 480p then, using the likes of the Nokia N93 (remember that?):
What about you? Any abiding memories of Stavros that you care to share? Do you have a Symbian-related marketing campaign that you prefer?
PS. If the actor who played Stavros would care to step forward, I'll happily give him some credit by name!
The battle to preserve personal and secure data across mobile platforms goes on. You may remember that I went on an exploratory trip around every secure database system recently, with no satisfactory conclusion. Is it too much to expect to be able to take my PINs, my ID numbers, my software serial numbers, my secrets, from platform to platform? It may be too early to call off the search completely, but a solution is emerging that looks future proof and promising.
The story so far, from the intro to my earlier piece:
You'll probably be very familiar with the concept of a password manager - Lastpass springs to mind, a system for remembering the passwords you use on multiple web sites. But here I'm talking about a 'secure database'.
Sounds grand, but it just means a store for all sorts of private information. You know, all the info that you'd worry about if your phone ever got stolen - how much do you keep in plain text in various documents and contact records? In my case, it's:
- web site logins and passwords
- bank account details and security answers
- vehicle details and ID refs
- insurance and passport numbers/details
- credit card codes and numbers
- software registration codes
- hardware serial numbers and warranty information
So, yes, web sites are in the mix, but there's very much more than this. Almost 1000 entries in all, amassed over a decade in Handy Safe Pro, an application which started on Symbian, syncs to Windows PCs, and which has made tentative steps onto other platforms*. With this amount of information, you can see why I'm not keen to copy and paste individual fields and records into a new system, let alone re-type anything! Am I unusual in having this amount of 'secure' information? Quite possibly. But I'll bet that most people have some need for such a solution, even if they haven't got round to implementing it yet.
* though which now qualifies as 'abandonware', as the developers (Epocware) have stated that the product isn't being developed any further.
Now, my Symbian smartphone continues to largely work as advertised, so Handy Safe Pro (with the PC syncing) still fulfills its duty - entries can be modified on phone or PC and the changes get merged together. It's a wonderful system and it's no surprise that Handy Safe Pro is one of the biggest selling Symbian applications ever.
Yet, with Symbian in its latter days, the time has definitely come to plan ahead.
My conclusion, after trying every other system I could find, was that none were yet fully capable of taking over from Handy Safe. Yet one particular name kept popping up and for good reason: Keepass, for three reasons:
- it's open source
- as a result of this, it's available for every platform under the sun, from various third parties
- it has extensive import facilities from other secure database applications
Now, as noted in the previous article, the import from my beloved Handy Safe Pro (via XML) wasn't perfect, though I did find that all data was preserved, even if the field structures for items didn't always match perfectly. But it was good enough, given the promise of versions for other platforms.
In this case, my goal was full two synchronisation from Windows AND Mac to both Windows Phone AND Android. And I almost got there, thanks to both the portability of Keepass's database files and the ubiquitousness of modern cloud file storage.
- Starting with Windows (7), here's the client you'll need. Note that I went with the v2-style database throughout. The import process from Handy Safe was quick and simple and I left data in the form in which it arrived in Keepass. When it came time to 'save' the database, I saved it in my Google Drive folder - you can see where this is going, can't you?(!)
NB. The desktop screenshots here have been deliberately done from scaled down windows for privacy reasons - obviously the applications on Windows and Mac screens can be taken much, much larger!
- On my Mac, I used KeePassX, officially in alpha, but it seems to work fine. From the 'open' dialog, I simply pick the database from my synced Google Drive folder, enter my password and up comes all my data.
- On my Android phone (a Nexus 5), I use Keepass2Android Password Safe, which also takes the chosen secure database from Google Drive (this being a Google-based OS) and lets me view and edit entries again. When the database is closed, the file is synced back to Google Drive, ready for another platform or client to pick up.
- On my Windows Phone 8 device (a Lumia 1020), I use 7Pass, the only Keepass client I could find. Now, this application is clearly in flux, with the developer promising a new Windows Phone 8-optimised version soon (I wonder if the name will have to change?), but there is some functionality here worth using. With no user file system in Windows Phone and with Google not providing hooks into Google Drive for other mobile operating systems, I couldn't find a way to get my master database from here into 7Pass (though GDrive WP7 looks promising for a moment). Perhaps not surprising, which is why I switched to experimenting with Microsoft's SkyDrive.
At the Windows 7/8 end, it's easy to get a Keepass database synced up to my SkyDrive, from where 7Pass can download it directly. The application opens the database and allows both viewing and editing - but trying to use the synchronize option on the menu merely results in a duplication of the database (it's shown twice in the file list!) and there's clearly work here for the 7Pass developer to do. In summary, for Windows Phone, there's no conceptual reason why 7Pass or an application like it couldn't open from (and save back to) the Microsoft cloud in just the same way as happens with Android and Google Drive - the software just isn't quite there.... yet.
So, I fully achieved my goal for Windows-Mac-Android, but only partially for Windows-Windows Phone. But hey, my data is at least available in one direction on the latter.
It should be noted that for all this file syncing action, it's just that - FILE syncing. In order for the database to move around, the file has to be closed, and there's no concept of merging changes between two different versions of the file. In Handy Safe Pro, I could change entries on both the desktop and phone and it would all get sorted out at the next entry-level sync, but it seems that this low level flexibility may elude us for the time being in 2013/2014. In addition, I should also note that, skipping between platforms, you need to allow enough time for the Windows and Mac Google Drive and/or SkyDrive OS file plug-ins to do their thing, syncing the new version of the database up or down. Patience!
I'll keep 'All About' readers informed of updates to 7Pass in the coming months, of course. Or perhaps a new Keepass client will emerge?
Comments welcome if you want to weigh in with your own experiences here.
There's a timely article over on Nokia Conversations at the moment, advising on photographic tips that be used in the Lumia 1020 (and the 808 PureView, to a large extent) when trying to get a really good photo of the current fireworks. With displays happening this weekend especially, have a look at the tips and then see what you can come up with. Some quotes below.
From the Nokia Conversations article:
Keep very still
It’s fairly obvious that if you want to effectively take photos of fireworks you’ll need to do it in the nighttime, when it’s dark. This has some drawbacks when taking a photo, with one being that you’ll need to keep the shutter open for longer which will mean blurry photos if you’re wobbling about.
Depending on which camera phone you’re using, you might want to take a tripod. For example, you can buy the Nokia Camera Grip for the Nokia Lumia 1020 that has a standard tripod mount socket for an occasion such as this.
Or, if you’ve not got a tripod, position yourself so that you can stay as still as possible.
It may be possible to rest your camera on a table while you take the shot, or you could use the side of a tree or a fence post. Hold your phone against something solid to anchor it and stop from the gentle camera shake that you’ll inevitably have when holding it free hand.
The Lumia 1020 (etc.) all have OIS, but that's for making sure that 1/3rd sec exposures come out crisp, OIS can't help once you start experimenting with two second shots - so, yes, grab a tripod and a convenient mount. Yes, a table or wall might do, but in my experience the very fact that you're holding the phone at all introduces enough movement to ruin the shot.
The article continues:
Turn down the ISO
The higher the ISO number on your camera, the brighter the scene will be.
By default, the camera may try to compensate and turn up the ISO because you’re in a dark environment. However, a high ISO could introduce lots of ‘visual noise’ into your final shot, so make sure you manually turn it down.
ISO 100 is probably a good place to start. Experiment from there and turn it up depending on your scene.
A great tip this. What you want is low ISO - maybe even as low as 50, and then a long shutter time (this is set automatically on the Nokia 808 but is adjustable on the Lumia 1020), of a second or so.
Finally, and very important though usually forgotten by 'normobs':
Turn the flash off
There’s absolutely no point having the flash turned on when taking photographs of fireworks.
For starters, they’re way up in the sky and too far for the light to reach and the fireworks will probably be brighter than your flash, anyway.
Moreover, you’ll also increase your chance of taking a photo of clouds of smoke resulting in a less-than-impressive whiteout shot.
Absolutely. In fact, in some dusty climes, the Xenon flash is bright enough to reflect back off even particles of dust in the air, never mind smoke.
So if you're going for atmosphere at a fireworks display, think about how long the explosion or trail will be visible for, set the ISO as low as possible (the 808 includes an ND filter as well, so experiment with this too) and TTFFO. (Turn The Flippin' Flash Off!)
You can read the full article here.
In case you hadn't heard, smart watches are 'in' at the moment - or at least the idea of smart watches. We haven't actually seen any that have taken the market by storm yet. The Pebble is more of a notifications accessory, the Galaxy Gear is almost a standalone device and Apple hasn't shown its hand at all yet. Which is why I was interested in the concept video, embedded below, of a Microsoft Lumia Smart Watch, with distinctive 'tiled' notifications - looks like it's slightly closer to the Pebble in concept but then the designer has thrown in a big camera, so.... Make up your own mind!
In theory this type of accessory would work well with any Bluetooth-enabled smartphone, though there's an obvious bias here towards Windows Phone. Bear in mind that this is just a concept, but if Nokia's engineers (even under Microsoft's ownership in future) are working on something like this, then the idea is at the very least - interesting.
From the designer, Omar Pirela:
Hi, this is my third concept inspired in the Nokia brand, but well, in this case is beyond the Nokia-Microsoft Deal and explores the Lumia as a standalone brand with the first SmartWatch, the perfect companion to your Lumia phone and tablet, I think they need to rethink the Windows Phone brand too, because in the near future it will be more than phones. My concept is based on a hardware navigation with a colorful design, AMOLED screen and a camera connected via Bluetooth with your main device.
The main menu was designed to reduce the energy comsuption and to offer useful notification info, the form-factor offers a traditional watch shape and the possibility to customize the color to your personal preference. I´m working on a second video to show how this will work. I believe in the future of the Nokia Devices team under Microsoft umbrella coming soon, and that is my inspiration to create this work. Thank you for your support.
Here's the concept video, very slickly made and with attention to branding detail:
The use of an AMOLED screen might be an Achilles heel for such a concept, of course. Samsung's Galaxy Gear is crippled with a battery life of less than a day - e-ink, as used on the Pebble, with its week long battery life, is surely the way to go for a watch - unless it can somehow be motion-powered/charged?
Comments welcome. Are you ready for a Smart Watch? Is it one screen too many in your life?
Having set out a camera-centric stall for transitioning from the Nokia N8 and 808 to the Lumia 1020, for those who simply must have the best camera and Xenon flash, I also wanted to write something more generic, for all Symbian users and concentrating less on camera functions and more on multitasking and other unique selling points, replicating each in a move to the mobile OS which most resembles Symbian under the hood - Android, featured here in its latest v4.4 variant, in the Google Nexus 5.
Even as the most hardened Symbian fan, the continued moves by Nokia to withdraw support, the cessation of firmware updates and patches across the board and the imminent buy out by Microsoft, which has precisely zero incentive to prop up Symbian any more then it has to, all point to the advisability of lining up the next smartphone platform to jump to. Yes, many of us will hang onto our Nokia 808s and E7s, and so on, as long as is practical, but it always pays to look ahead too - to have a plan.
Having addressed the pros and cons of a switch to Windows Phone 8 (at least, on the Lumia 1020), it's time to turn to the next major smartphone platform - in fact, the dominant one by marketshare, though the fragmentation in the Android world is such that you can have five devices from five different manufacturers, all of which have slightly different user interfaces, menu structures and applications. With this in mind, I've recommended for ages that people stick to the 'stock' Android devices, the Nexus range, direct from Google.
This is a timely feature too, with the Nexus 5 arriving on the High Street in the last few days. Here's the white Nexus 5 with my white Nokia 808 from the Symbian world:
Cool, eh? But how practical is it to switch from one to the other? If you didn't fancy Windows Phone 8, is Android the way forwards for Symbian users?
As you'll have spotted from the title, the key is multitasking. Symbian, famously, had full multitasking, meaning that applications could all run at the same time. I often found applications in my multitasking carousel that I'd started a fortnight ago and had forgotten about - yet there they were, at exactly the same point in the UI and waiting for my input - or doing whatever it was supposed to do.
And this is the point. A smartphone needs to be fully intelligent and to do as much as possible for the user automatically, without needing babysitting or micromanagement. As a bare minimum, I'd expect the following to all happen automatically, unattended, with no input from me:
- Email collection
- Social network update collection
- Podcast checking and downloading
- Skype status maintained, ready for an incoming IM or call
- Weather forecast updates
And so on. One of the issues with Windows Phone 8 is that not all the above work reliably (yet) - once an application slips out of the 'running' (for which read 'frozen') list of recent apps, it's oh so easy for operation to be compromised. Meaning missed Skype calls, podcasts left un-downloaded, weather forecasts out of date, social networks looking as they did yesterday, and so on.
Android, in theory, promises multitasking in much the same vein as Symbian, so perhaps all this will work better on the likes of the Nexus 5 here?
One of the obvious differences diving into the Android world is that of size - although it's possible to get a wide variety of Android smartphones wirh smaller, Symbian-like form factors, the specifications are usually so modest that in terms of raw performance you don't gain anything over the likes of the Nokia 701 and 808. Still, prices are low too, sometimes under £200 SIM free. But, if you're going to go Android, why not start with the poster child of the OS - the 5" screened Nexus 5 (with a skinned version available as the LG G2 and with the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One being similar in specs and in the hand)?
Although a 5" screen would have seemed too big back in the days of (for example) the N97/5800, the screen diagonal sweet spot has been rising over the last few years thanks to much thinner bezels all round and thanks to thinner devices generally. Holding the 4"-screened Nokia X7 or E7 in one hand and the 5"-screened Nexus 5 in the other, the overall perception of size (in terms of how easy the device is to hold and use) isn't that different.
(Of course, Android phones can go further, with 5.7 and 6.3"-screened form factors from Samsung, for example, but these can't reall be considered as phone replacements within the scope of this particular article.)
Leaving aside benchmarks, which are almost completely artificial, it's perfectly valid to compare the day to day experience on Symbian and on modern Android. Although navigating around Symbian (especially on the speedy Delight custom firmware) can be pretty quick on the Nokia 808 and 701, opening applications can take a second or so and opening emails several seconds. Even with judicious set-up of the homescreen and using the multitasking carousel, the speed of Symbian is rarely jaw dropping. Web browsing is the biggest sluggard on the platform (I'm assuming you ditched Nokia Social a long time ago) and Chrome on the Nexus 5 is almost as fast as web browsing on a desktop - the comparison for this one function with Symbian is, to be fair, like day and night.
Although Android doesn't have a multitasking view per se, it does have a 'Recent apps' list which can be called up with one tap. You can think of this vertically scrolling carousel as a multitasking view, mind you, and with 1500MB of RAM free after booting, the Nexus 5 isn't going to need to close any applications down through lack of memory - so, effectively, whatever's been run recently will still be running unless you closed it (inside the application, or using a task killer utility). And, yes, tapping on something in this list, or tapping on a homescreen shortcut, brings up the application instantly.
In short, although the nuts and bolts of getting around a smartphone UI aren't that different in speed and flexibility, the worst speed culprits on Symbian are completely avoided, with Chrome and Gmail blazingly responsive here on the Nexus 5.
Day to day use and text input
The much-loved always-on AMOLED clock from the Nokia N8/C7/808 etc is a welcome part of the Symbian experience - and it's mostly absent here, mainly thanks to the use of a LCD screen. Yes, Nokia made always-on clocks work on the LCD-screened Lumia 920, but it's tricky voodoo to get right. I say 'mostly' here because there's a 'Daydream' always on clock which appears when the Nexus 5 is docked or charging, with time and date. But, on battery, you still have to reach over and press the screen/power button - so definitely a small step back here.
As a big fan of Google Now on Android, I did put up a piece looking at replicating some of its ideas on Symbian, but there's no substitute for the real thing, and Google Now has been enhanced yet again for Android 4.4, with its own dedicated pane on the homescreen system and with better voice recognition, you really can ask it almost anything in conversational English and get a meaningful response - always a cool demo, especially when the answers are spoken back to you.
My rails against the Symbian Belle FP2 keyboard have been legendary - I hate it so much, with no auto-correction, that I even switched to Swype, which did auto correct - and found that I quite enjoyed the experience in portrait mode. Moving from either to the slick input experience on modern stock Android is eye opening, though. Not only is there fabulous auto text correction for typos, 'swype' style gestures are also accepted, so you can mix and match, plus there's genuine voice transcription in many applications and situations (assuming your environment is quiet enough).
Simply no contest on the input front and, whatever input system you preferred on Symbian, you'll find things better on Android, especially on fast stock devices like this.
Imaging has, of course, been something of a Nokia and Symbian speciality, though this feature isn't so much about cameras. After all, the majority of Symbian handsets still in use probably have EDoF units. The camera in the Nexus 5 is on a par with the best from Samsung and is very similar to the unit in LG's own G2, so excellent images in most light conditions, even at night, thanks to the OIS here, with only Xenon flash missing from the equation. N8 and 808 owners will miss that, in a big way, of course. For the general Symbian user though - think E7, C7, 702, E6 - the camera in a modern Android phone like this will be a definite step forwards.
Internet and PIM
Email is slicker too, in that message rendering with 'rich' content is nearly instantaneous, you can have more than one Mail for Exchange account and the Gmail experience, by definition, is second to none - it's all of Gmail in your pocket, etc. Along with email come contacts and calendar sync, of course, via CardDAV and CalDAV, syncing immediately to the Google/Gmail cloud, while Symbian currently has to make do with syncing to outlook.com or accessing Google PIM via a third party like Nuevasync.
Ignoring Nokia Social and its plug-ins (into Gallery), Symbian is completely reliant on third party social clients - and the same is true, funnily enough, for Android, at least in this stock incarnation. Having said that, the first party clients for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Evernote, and so on are excellent, with full integration into Android's sharing system. Symbian doesn't fare too badly for Twitter, with the likes of Gravity and Tweetian, but the range of Android Twitter clients is vast. And, wonderful though Notekeeper is for Symbian, having an all-singing, all-dancing Evernote client here on the Nexus 5 is wonderful.
Given all the above, it's time to put a little balance back towards Symbian - if you move to Android, you will have to sacrifice the convenience of true offline navigation - Google Navigation can cache small areas of maps, but can't cope with whole countries and can't plan routes at all without an Internet connection. When it's working, it's very competitive with Nokia Drive on Symbian and with the benefit of a far better points of interest and place search system - but if you want to venture outside of decent cell connectivity then you'll need to budget for a commercial Android navigation software suite.
Mind you, Viewranger now works on Android too, so really hard core hikers and bikers can still get their mapping fix.
Symbian's range of video codecs/compatibility is pretty good, but modern competing operating systems match it, at least in terms of my video collection, all of which played perfectly on Android 4.4. The Android virtual controls get out of the way when playing back videos (or browsing photos) and seeing my 720p movies at full resolution on a 5" screen bears no comparison to Symbian's brave nHD downsampled version!
One area where you may struggle is when listening to podcasts or music or videos over the built-in speaker. The Nexus 5's speaker is somewhat quieter than even a Nokia C7's, so some way short of that on the N8 or 808 - it's not tinny, but it's certainly not loud. Which means that you'll need a Bluetooth or plug-in speaker for listening in a big room and you'll probably need a car kit when using sat-nav in a car moving at speed. Not that loud speakers are the exclusive province of Symbian - we've seen the HTC One in the Android world with speakers that match the 808 - and there are two of them(!)
One staple of Symbian which hasn't been matched yet on Android is 'Play via Radio' (FM transmitter), which is a shame. Mind you, the Bluetooth support is now excellent in Android (finally) and all car kits should now work without issue. And, as I've verified, you can pick up a really good 3.5mm FM transmitter accessory from the likes of Amazon for less than £10, if you really, really want to take this functionality with you.
Apps and games
With applications starting to disappear from the Nokia Store, with no new apps or updates being accepted and with the app ecosystem not being particularly well filled out in the first place, the third party app scene on Symbian has never been at a lower ebb. DIY approaches like my app and game directories are only stop gaps for enthusiasts, of course. All a great shame.
Needless to say, moving to Android solves the application problem in a huge way, with the best part of a million titles available. Quite literally something for everyone in the Google Play Store - and often two or twenty or two hundred items that fit a particular bill.
Particular apps of note: Podcatcher users on Symbian should head for Pocket Casts on Android, very similar and more reliable. Handy Safe users should head for the open source KeePass 2 - tutorial coming soon.
Battery life, charging
Battery life on Android is, based on my experiences over the last few years, not quite as good as that on Symbian, which has a lower standby drain. But you'd be hard pushed to compare the two operating systems directly because the use case for the two are different, for most people. With a 5" screen and full YouTube, BBC iPlayer and Netflix clients, for example, you'll spend more of the day consuming video. Add in ten times more games and you can see that the typical Symbian phone/converged-device use case uses battery power very differently on the whole.
At least battery sizes have risen in the wider smartphone world in recent years. The 1500mAh 'hero' battery (BP-4L) that we used to coo over back in 2008-2011 has been, by necessity, trumped by batteries in the 2000-3500mAh range in modern Android smartphones - the aim always being to get you through a full day on a single charge - but no more.
The ace up the Nexus 5's sleeve here is something that never made it to Symbian at all - Qi wireless charging, just as on a couple of the Nokia Lumias - in fact, my Nexus 5 charges beautifully on the Nokia Qi charging pad. With charging this trivial, it makes it practical to keep your smartphone at 100% charge almost every time you pick it up, without worrying about wear and tear on microUSB connectors.
Don't assume that all Android devices have wireless charging, mind you - it's limited to only a handful of models at the moment.
Writing these 'transition' articles is bitter sweet, as you can imagine. Symbian has been my tech life for the last decade and there are still aspects of Symbian OS and the Nokia hardware than runs it that are unique and which will ensure that I'm not parting with my N8/E7/808/E6 etc. for love nor money.
But at the same time, Android 4.4, implemented on hardware like this Nexus 5, is patently more 'modern', a million times better supported by services and developers, and the likes of the Nexus 5 would indeed be a fairly easy move - from one multitasking phone OS to another!
The Voicemail, a weekly podcast with a mobile theme, is required weekly listening for several members of the All About team. It offers an informal look at what's happened in mobile in the preceding seven days. The podcast was down one presenter this week, so to prevent a long monologue James Whatley kindly invited Rafe on to show. Topics covered in the podcast include Nokia results, a few highlights from Nokia World, Motorola's Ara project, curvy phones, tablets of various kinds, and more.
The final week of Stefan’s 2013 record absences and James is joined by none other than the amazing, the astounding, the nothing-short-of-legendary, Rafe Blandford.
Rafe Blandford is awesome. Rafe is also one third of the 361 Degrees Podcast as well as editor-in-chief and co-founder of the All About websites; with his main base of operations these days over at All About Windows Phone.
So to celebrate this momentous occasion, the geeky duo select an astonishing amount of news items to discuss, everything from Nokia actually making a profit through to LG phones that fit around your buttocks.
About The Voicemail
From the The Voicemail website:
James Whatley and Stefan Constantinescu get together every week for 30 minutes to talk about the mobile industry and anything else they might fancy.
If you're using iTunes, then use this link to subscribeto the podcast. Otherwise, put this RSS feed into your podcatcher of choice.
I wrote, a while ago, about possible showstoppers for people moving from Symbian to Android or Windows Phone, but a lot has happened in the intervening months, not least the arrival of the Nokia Lumia 1020, offering a more or less direct equivalent to the camera-centric flagships in Nokia's previous Symbian world. What I wanted to explore here was each aspect of smartphone functionality, from the point of view of matching what each generation did - and does. The overall picture may surprise you, though (as usual) there are a few caveats along the way.
N8... 808 PureView... Lumia 1020
Core to this feature is the assumption that, like me, you depend on the presence of a great phone camera and proper Xenon flash - your phone creates memories in all light situations and for all subjects and, put simply, no other smartphone camera gets close to these Nokia masterpieces. As I say, N8... 808 PureView... Lumia 1020.
Yet the latter runs Windows Phone and not Symbian, so naturally N8 owners (from 2010 onwards) and 808 owners (from 2012 onwards) will be eyeing the Lumia 1020 with some suspicion.
Having gone through the same transition myself, let me take each area of functionality in turn and offer my assessment. Again, this is unashamedly all from the point of view of Nokia N8/808 owners moving to the 1020, though some principles and conclusions can of course be taken by user of other smartphones from the Symbian (or other mobile) worlds.
The obvious place to start, given the focus (no pun intended) of the N8/808/1020. I've done a number of comparisons now, notably 'The legendary 2010 N8 versus... the 2013 Lumia 1020', which ended up as a narrow win for the 1020, and that was before the Xenon shutter fix recently, which would have widened the gap, plus there's the OIS 1080p video capture as a major plus point for the Lumia 1020. Then there was 'Nokia's 808, 1020 and 920 take on the LG G2' which again resulted in a narrow win for the 1020, again with the extra qualifier that the 1020 pulls further ahead in video capture, thanks to the OIS.
To be honest, once you factor in moving subjects indoors and in the evening, all three (plus the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom) are in a class of their own anyway - surely 2014 will be the year of Xenon? And yes, I say that every year!
A lot of comparisons then and, while there will still be some use cases and situations for which the N8 or 808 cameras might triumph, for every day use the Lumia 1020's camera may be the best, with the oversampling and zooming later already working well and promised to get better under Nokia Black, coming soon to the device. Staying with this theme, there's also something of a frisson of excitement knowing that, as a Lumia 1020 owner, you're back on an active development track, with genuine imaging improvements being released monthly.
The N8 and 808 proved surprisingly adept at handling multimedia, despite the relatively small and low resolution screens, thanks partly to the wide range of video codecs baked into Symbian, so almost anything could be side-loaded into mass memory or microSD and then played. Although you can't plug a Windows Phone into a computer as a vanilla mass storage device, note that it does appear as a drive under Windows 7 and Windows 8, plus there's the Windows Phone Connector for Mac, so it's fairly easy to get media across to the Lumia 1020, and a fair range of MP4-based content does play without any kind of conversion.
Streaming media is much more the province of the newer OS, of course. Where Symbian had to make do with a handful of third party YouTube clients, Windows Phone... oh wait. Due to bickering between Microsoft and Google, the situation's exactly the same, with just access through the mobile web site, though the higher resolution screen does at least make third party clients like MetroTube work rather beautifully. Other commercial streaming video services have a presence on Windows Phone, including the perennially popular Netflix, which works extremely well.
Audio is even better supported on Windows Phone, with output on Nokia's Lumia range that's up with the quality produced on the older Symbian phones, though you do have to get used to a different way of controlling playback using a suitable headset. Streaming audio services are practical too, with Spotify well known and first party solutions like Nokia Music baked into the Lumias and Microsoft's Xbox Music only a step away if needed.
The N8 and 808 both have 'Play via radio' (FM transmitter), of course, and this has yet to be matched on other platforms, possibly because the logistics of transmitting audio this way in a car are more problematic in the crowded airwaves these days - but I'd still like to see a company include this feature again at some point.
Podcatching was always something that Nokia's Symbian devices like the N8 and 808 did well, at least using third party clients, thanks to the full multitasking (so checking and downloading could happen in the background, completely automated). Thing are a little more complicated on Windows Phone, as I discovered when I rounded up all the various clients, though applications like Podcast Lounge now offer background podcatching that's 'good enough', provided you don't stray out of connectivity too often.
The minimalist, menu-driven interface, with permanent URL bar is somewhat reminiscent of Symbian Web, actually, but the actual rendering experience is light years ahead and you can head for 'heavy' sites without having to wait minutes for content to appear.
There's also a number of third party browsers with various optimisations. The privacy-conscious Incognito Browser and Nokia Xpress come to mind, the latter compressing everything on an intermediate server, in the same manner as Opera Mini on Symbian.
Email and PIM
Email is one of the bug bears of Symbian on the N8 and 808 and one of the highlights of Windows Phone on the Lumia 1020, so (as with Web) there's a vastly improved user experience. I'll add in PIM (contacts and calendar) here too, since synchronisation of this content comes along with email these days. With Windows Phone now fully modernised in terms of supporting CardDAV and CalDAV, in addition to as many Microsoft Exchange mailboxes as you need, plus the usual IMAP and POP options, email handling is generally excellent.
Although there's no 'all in one' email view, each mailbox can be represented on the Windows Phone Start screen with a tile, on which the number of new emails (since you last viewed the mailbox) is listed, along with (if you choose the largest tile size) content from the last email from each.
PIM works pretty well overall on Windows Phone, with contacts and calendar entries shown from any supported cloud servers (my Lumia 1020 is set up with both Microsoft (live.com) and Google (Gmail) accounts and I'm asked which one I want to use when I create a new contact or calendar entry. It would be nice to have to option of 'both', but then I'm probably a special case, having a foot in both Microsoft and Google camps for all data types.
Overall, a vast improvement again from Symbian on the N8 and 808, where a user is stuck with one Exchange account only and no direct access to Google cloud PIM at all (anymore, though there are commercial workarounds in the shape of Nuevasync).
Much is made of Windows Phone's People hub, which can be thought of as social networking for beginners, and it's largely analagous to Nokia Social on Symbian, in that its fairly basic. In each case, anyone serious about social networking, with more than a handful of friends or followers, is forced to look at proper clients for each social network. The five biggest (arguably) are:
- Facebook - support on Symbian on the N8/808 is somewhat patchy, with only fMobi really managing to keep up with the changes Facebook keeps making to its APIs. On the Lumia 1020, a first party client is available and regularly updated, though do watch out for data charges, as it's know to be somewhat byte hungry.
- Twitter - with this service being (by definition) low in resource needs, Tweetian and Gravity offer first class Twitter experiences on the N8 and 808, while Windows Phone has both an excellent first party client and a number of equally great third party clients.
- Google+ - with Google refusing to support either platform(!), both the old N8 and 808 and the newer Lumia 1020 are in the same boat here, with just support via plus.google.com in the phone's web browser. Neither are ideal, but the experience is obviously better on the larger, higher-res screen of the Lumia.
- Flickr - although uploaders exist for Symbian, I never found a foolproof client for Flickr on Symbian. Windows Phone is in much the same boat, though Indulged is a slick new client released recently and I don't think it will be long before there's a good first party client too.
- Instagram - much as I hate it, this is quite popular (and owned/bankrolled by Facebook) and again both platforms are in the same unsupported boat. Nokia has said that a first party client is coming soon, plus there are third party clients for Windows Phone. So if you really, truly want to massacre your images down to VGA then there are ways to do this...
Day to day ergonomics
It's probably not appropriate to lambast the interface used in either the N8/808 or Lumia 1020, declaring one better than the other - they're simply different, though the general principle is common, of a starting screen with widgets/'live tiles', plus shortcuts to often used applications, plus the ubiquitous scrolling application menu. To be honest, whichever smartphone and OS I try to use, the end result, in terms of the functions and data I bring to the fore, isn't that different, and I suspect the same will be true for anyone else after using Symbian, Windows Phone or Android for any length of time (iOS is slightly different because of its interface limitations - no homescreen, of course).
One of the biggest benefits of day to day use on the N8 and 808 was Nokia Big Clock, an always on system that used the properties of AMOLED screens to display the time through day and night, with negligible battery impact. This is now replicated on Windows Phone (as of Nokia Amber) under the name Nokia Glance Screen, and has the added benefit of an optional 'double tap to unlock' function (not recommended, as the battery impact is higher), plus a night mode where the time glows a deep red instead(!)
Symbian's Nokia Sleeping Screen, where custom images show up as permanent AMOLED graphics, is also now replicated, with Nokia Glance Background on the Lumia 1020. In short, this aspect of the N8 and 808 is now fully mirrored and it seems just as effective and frugal on power.
Although the unlock switches of the N8 and 808 aren't present on the 1020, a side button press reveals a lockscreen that can be used in a huge number of ways. There are currently well over a dozen commercial applications (weather, to calendar to social to image host) all vying to take control of this lockscreen, so the flexibility in terms of real world use is arguably higher.
Text entry is via the Windows Phone multi-touch keyboard, a step up from the Symbian QWERTY keyboards but still some way short of the power and intelligence of the iOS and Android equivalents. On the Lumia 1020, I missed not having any 'Swype' gesture system in place. Still, the keyboard does 'learn' as it goes and, in theory, the longer you use a particular device/installation, the better it gets at auto-correcting your text input.
The situation in terms of application ecosystem on the various mobile platforms has been discussed ad infinitum across the web, of course. Summary: iOS has the widest selection of applications and many of the best games while Android isn't far behind, though weaker on games. Windows Phone hits most of the top application names and brands, with only a few notable exceptions (e.g. Google+ and YouTube, listed above), and with a decent but growing selection of games, some of which are linked into the Xbox world.
In contrast, the decade old Symbian OS used on the N8 and 808, is comparatively weak here, with the number of really good applications numbering in the hundreds only and with big brand app names almost non-existent. All rather ironic, considering that Nokia invented the 'app store' with its 'Download!' system on Symbian back in 2005 - and then did almost nothing with it!
You'll find equivalents for most N8/808 applications on the Lumia 1020, with notable exceptions being low level utilities such as profile schedulers and call recorders, both of which demand more of Windows Phone than the OS allows. I also had trouble finding a decent phone-cloud secure database to compete with Handy Safe on Symbian, I'll report more on this in due course.
Office document viewing and editing is something that has fallen somewhat out of fashion on Symbian, with Quickoffice being bought out by Google and then dropped and with the 'MS Apps' suite always being impractically slow. Happily, Microsoft's (Pocket) Office works a lot better on Windows Phone, with documents saved by default in the cloud in SkyDrive.
Navigation is much the same on the Lumia 1020 and Windows Phone, when compared to Symbian on the N8 and 808 - Nokia Drive is renamed HERE Drive, and so on across the board. A strange name, but the software is similar and the maps identical, thankfully. And, yes, you can still have 'Surfer Dude' be your navigation voice!
Skype is something I depend on, for communications to my family, friends and work colleagues, using IM, voice and video calls. It was a frustrating experience on Symbian, with the client availability coming and going and with no updates to the application since 2011 (and no video call support at all). Skype on Windows Phone should be superlative, since Microsoft bought the company a couple of years ago, but I'd downgrade my verdict of it to 'functional'. Video calling is super, call quality is also good, but there remain glitches in delivery of Skype IMs, however much investment Microsoft seems to pour into the system and however much it tries to integrate Skype into the OS. But I'd take 'functional' over 'frustrating' any day, so Windows Phone on the Lumia 1020 wins out here.
Evernote is another mainstay for most people, as an online repository of useful (not confidential) information - Symbian has a third party client, Notekeeper, which covers the basics, in terms of text and images, though nothing official, while Windows Phone on the 1020 has a full (and regularly updated) first party Evernote client, and with a rather slick interface that supports all the data types available on the desktop.
The flexible nature of the file system in Symbian on the N8 and 808 is modelled after desktop computer disks of the 1990s (disk C:, D:, E:, F: etc) and Windows Phone on the Lumia 1020 only offers one sealed, homogenous lump of flash memory - though at 32GB it's fairly generous.
The newest Windows Phones have started coming with microSD again, albeit only for media storage, so there's hope that a future 1020 successor might have 32GB plus card expansion - which might turn out to be essential, given that RAW image capture is soon to be possible, at 50MB per image, and with 1080p video at 250MB per minute!
Comparing battery life between phones running different operating systems and with arguably different use cases is always tricky. For example, my Nokia 808 only needs to be charged every other day, whereas my Lumia 1020 needs a nightly charge - but then I'm watching an hour or two of Netflix movies/TV each day on the latter and playing more games, whereas the 808 only had to cover the smartphone basics.
When using the 1020 in a light-use scenario (so just email, social, Skype, podcast playback through the day), it lasts a day and a half, so the battery life of the two phones isn't that different. The use of a user replaceable battery on the Nokia 808 is a major advantage, of course, with the option of carrying a charged spare or simply replacing a year old cell with a brand new one of full capacity.
On the other hand, the range of accessories available to pour charge into our phones keeps increasing - the Lumia 1020 even has a dedicated DSLR-like Grip with built-in top-up battery.
Upgrade or sidegrade?
Comparing devices from different worls/ecosystems is always going to stir up emotion from those invested in each - which is why I've phrased my summary title as above. You see, if your Nokia N8 or (more likely) 808 is currently doing all you want from it then why change? Symbian and your device still work, on the whole, despite some of the ecosystem's edges gradually being chipped away by Nokia, by Microsoft and by the evolution of online services, breaking compatibility.
On the other hand, if you've:
- got frustrated enough with the state of applications and services on Symbian in late 2013 and are looking for something with less history/baggage and more current support, yet without giving up the Xenon-equipped high spec camera from your N8 or 808
- devoured the comparison topics and links above and are happy with the few caveats that moving to the Lumia 1020 entail
...then I can recommend N8 or 808 PureView users giving the Nokia Lumia 1020 a try. It's not only a well built modern smartphone, the OS is very nearly ('there') too, as I've catalogued above. And, if anything, your real world photos will get better, not worse - something you can't say about the competing iOS and Android devices of the current age.
There has been a lot of background chat about the All About Symbian team really being All About Nokia, backed up by our enthusiasm for devices like the Lumia 1020, despite the change in OS. And there's some truth in this - at AAS and here at All About Windows Phone, we've always been fans of Nokia's hardware and of its imaging expertise in particular, which is why this 'transition' feature is, unashamedly, following my (Steve's) own journey from N8 to 808 to 1020.
Comments welcome on your own journey, even if the starting and end points are slightly different.
Nokia has released its Q3 2013 results, reporting an operating profit of €118 million (up from a loss of €564 million in Q3 2012), with net sales of €5.6662 billion (down 22% year-on-year). Nokia's Devices and Services division's operating loss was €86 million. The margin in Devices and Services was -3% (up from from -18.9% in Q3 2012). Total smartphone device sales were 8.8 million (all Lumia), up from 7.4 million in Q2, while mobile phone volumes were 55.8 million, up from 53.7 million in Q2, but down 27% year-on-year.
Nokia's non-IFRS figures (a measure of underlying performance) show a higher profit (€215 million) than the standard figures, due to one off charges around restructuring (-€57 million), costs associated with the Microsoft deal (-€18 million), asset amortization (-€17 million), and other factors (total of €97 million). The key Devices & Services division made an underlying loss of €86 million, down slightly from Q2 2013, but, along with the operating margin (-3%), are a significant improvement on the Q3 2012 results.
The headline results were slightly ahead of expectations, which together with improved mobile phone sales volumes (up 5% quarter on quarter) and a positive outlook for the NSN business, has resulted in a small rise in the Nokia share price (up 5%). The 19% growth in Lumia device shipment shipments, ahead of the proposed acquisition, by Microsoft, of Nokia's Devices & Services business, was also a positive sign.
Today's results are clearly being released in the shadow of the Microsoft-Nokia deal. While Nokia's Devices & Services division position is substantially improved from a year ago, device volumes, especially in the smartphone segment, are not yet sufficient to drive sustainable profits. Nokia's Devices & Services volumes continue to look modest next to Apple or Samsung. However, the continued growth of Lumia devices volumes is a positive trend. Moreover, assuming a similar cost base, smartphone volumes of around 13-16 million would result in profitability for the smartphone business, a level which now seems reachable in 2014 (the exact number depends on ASP and cost base).
In the press release and associated comments, more attention than usual is being paid to the HERE and NSN divisions. The two divisions, together with the new Advanced Technologies division (patents and R&D), will make up the Nokia Group, assuming the Microsoft-Nokia transaction is completed.
Both the NSN and HERE divisions generated solid profitability (€166 million and €14 million respectively) and positive margins (6.4% and 6.6%), with the latter improving both quarter on quarter and year in year for both divisions. Sales figures for both divisions were down quarter-on-quarter, but this is primarily the result of seasonality. NSN and HERE combined profits and sales are €180 million on sales of €2.764 billion respectively, reflecting a healthy business. The NSN division is the major potion of this, but HERE's figures are impressive for a relative young business that is still in the investment phase.
In many ways, the Q3 2013 results showcase a tale of two Nokias, with a dichotomy between the devices business and the networks/location businesses.
Risto Siilasmaa, Nokia Chairman and interim CEO commented on the company’s progress:
"Subject to the planned completion of the Microsoft transaction, Nokia will have three established businesses: NSN, HERE and Advanced Technologies. Our strategy work is making good progress and it has already become clear that there are meaningful opportunities for all of our business areas: NSN, HERE and Advanced Technologies. In all of these businesses, we have strong assets that we continue to invest in for the long term benefit of our customers and shareholders."
Timo Ihamuotila, Nokia CFO and interim President, said:
"The third quarter was among the most transformative in our company's history. We became the full owner of NSN and we agreed on the sale of our handset operations to Microsoft, transactions which we believe will radically reshape the future of Nokia for the better. Subject to the completion of the Microsoft transaction, Nokia will have significantly improved earnings profile, strong financial position and a solid foundation from which to invest.
We are pleased that NSN and HERE both generated solid profitability in what was a seasonally weak third quarter and at a time when we continue to make significant R&D investments into future growth opportunities."
Device volumes (sales)
Nokia reported Lumia sales of 8.8 million in Q3 2013, up from 7.4 million in the previous quarter. Nokia reported that Symbian device volumes for the quarter were "approximately zero", down from 3.5 million units a year ago.
Total Windows Phone sales (all manufacturers) for Q3 2013 are likely to break 10 million for the first time. This is almost three times the number of BlackBerry devices sold in the same time period, but less than a third of the number of iPhones sold in the third quarter.
Nokia's mobile phone volumes were 55.8 million, up from 53.7 million in Q2, but down from 76.6 million in Q3 2012. Asha Full Touch devices were 5.9 million of these devices.
Nokia and Microsoft will be encouraged by the trajectory for Lumia device volumes, which grew at a similar rate to the preceding three quarters. This pattern should continue into the high sales period of the fourth quarter, which means Nokia will ship more than 10 million Windows Phone devices between October 1st and December 31st 2103.
The average selling price (ASP) for Nokia's Smart Devices was €143 (down 8% from €155 in Q2 2012 and down 9% from €157 in Q2 2013), reflecting an increased proportion of lower cost devices (principally, the Nokia Lumia 520).
The ASP for Mobile Phones was €27, down from €31 in Q3 2012, but up from from €26 in Q2 2013. Together with the improved device volume figures, this suggests Nokia has been able to improve the performance of its mobile phone business in the second half of the year. This is underlined by the fact that Mobile Phones continues to provide a positive contribution margin (3.6%), significantly better that the contribution margin of the smart devices business (-17.1%).
In terms of the geographic breakdown of sales, shipment volumes and sales declined, compared to a year ago, in all regions except North America, reflecting the decrease in mobile phone sales year-on-year. In North America, device volumes increased by 367%, as sales of the Lumia 520/521 increased, but overall volumes (1.4 million) remain relatively modest. Quarter on quarter increases in device volumes were also recorded in Europe (up 17% to 13.2 million) and Asia-Pacific (up 17% to 20.2 million).
Combining Windows Phone and Asha Full Touch device sales gives a total smartphone volume of 14.7 million units. This compares with 11.7 million in Q2 2013 and 10.2 million units in Q1 2012 . The improving sales of Asha Full Touch devices has been driven by the release of the Nokia 501.
Earlier results: Q2 2013, Q1 2013, Q4 2012, Q3 2012, Q2 2012, Q1 2012, Q4 2011, Q3 2011, Q2 2011, Q1 2011, Q4 2010, Q3 2010, Q2 2010, Q1 2010, Q4 2009, Q3 2009, Q2 2009, Q1 2009, Q4 2008, Q3 2008, and Q2 2008
In the next couple of months, I suspect we're going to see more and more stories related to the closure of the Nokia Store to new applications and updates. One such is that, as I suspected, the December 31st deadline isn't the actual deadline. Given Christmas, plus the usual week or so to test and approve submissions, the real deadline for application developers wanting to get 'one last update' in is December 13th, 2013, according to an official tweet.
The tweet says:
Due to closing of Symbian Signed, the Certified Signed programme will not accept submissions after the 13th of December 2013. Sorry for inconvenience.
Essentially, Nokia won't be able to digitally sign applications after this date, a prerequisite for content being published in the Store. For the majority of applications, 'self-signed' applications and side loading onto user phones will still be possible, but anything low level (e.g. utilities) will likely need extra capabilities and therefore can't be signed after the new deadline.
As I've said in several stories, this is all an opportunity for developers to rethink their involvement in the Symbian ecosystem at this stage in its life-cycle. More and more developers (watch for stories over the next week) are republishing their applications as freeware in the Store, meaning that both they and their users can grab the Nokia-signed SIS files for downloading/archiving and eventual dissemination via developer web sites and application portals/side-loading. After all, certificates are expiring and applications 'disappearing' from the Nokia Store all the time, plus the Store itself may cease working at some point (possibly even before the 2016 time frame, given Nokia's impending new owners).
Yes, all very DIY, but this is how things used to be before manufacturer-run app stores arrived and, for hobbyists, the system did work.
If you're a developer, please feel free to add to this story in the comments. What implications are there for your particular titles and what are your plans for the next few months?
Richard Dorman has been well known in the world of Nokia smartphone photography, of course, specialising in long exposure 'wonder' shots of nature - and in this two part series, linked and quoted below, he shares some of this secrets, including composing landscapes and shooting silhouettes. Although Richard is quoted as using the Lumia 1020 for his examples, a lot of his work is done on the Nokia 808 as well, plus all the tips are (of course) applicable to almost any decent smartphone camera.
In part 1 of Richard's article, he covers:
- Freezing objects
- Using HDR
- Using exposure to create silhouettes
While in part 2 he chats about:
- Reframing (smart cropping)
- Long exposures (night)
- Long exposures (daytime)
- Shooting Star trails
Of course, Richard's subject material (nature) may be different to your own use case for a smartphone camera (for example, I mainly shoot people), which is why I'd also remind you of my own smartphone photography tips here on the All About sites (albeit written in early 2012, before the advent of the Nokia 808 and Lumia 1020!)
From Richard's pieces though, here's a short excerpt:
Using exposure to create silhouettes
Here is an example of something I like to do from time to time when walking around cities.
In this image, I dropped exposure to -1.3EV to create the silhouette of the statue while positioning the sun right behind her head. The Lumia 1020 allows you to drop exposure down to -3EV so you can create silhouettes of almost anything interesting you come across.
The world of tech interconnections is never simple, but it is possible to see progress amidst a sea of new specifications, profiles and recommendations. In this case, there's reporting on 'USB Power Delivery', essentially an upgrading of the familiar USB cable/port system to handle up to 100W per connection, enough to power/charge a laptop, tablet and, yes, the hungriest smartphone. Some quotes and more details below...
USB Power Delivery is a new spec adaptation from the USB Implementers Forum:
USB has evolved from a data interface capable of supplying limited power to a primary provider of power with a data interface. Today many devices charge or get their power from USB ports contained in laptops, cars, aircraft or even wall sockets. USB has become a ubiquitous power socket for many small devices such as cell phones, MP3 players and other hand-held devices. Users need USB to fulfil their requirements not only in terms of data but also to provide power to, or charge, their devices simply, often without the need to load a driver, in order to carry out “traditional” USB functions.
The USB Power Delivery specification enables the maximum functionality of USB by providing more flexible power delivery along with data over a single cable. Its aim is to operate with and build on the existing USB ecosystem.
USB Power Delivery offers the following features:
- Increased power levels from existing USB standards up to 100W.
- Power direction is no longer fixed. This enables the product with the power (Host or Peripheral) to provide the power.
- Optimize power management across multiple peripherals by allowing each device to take only the power it requires, and to get more power when required for a given application.
- Intelligent and flexible system level management of power via optional hub communication with the PC.
- Allows low power cases such as headsets to negotiate for only the power they require.
Of course USB Power Delivery will be fully backwards compatible with existing USB cables and solutions. But USB PD-compliant phones and devices in 2014 and beyond will negotiate how best to transfer power along with genuine data traffic.
Note that there's an official introduction to the technology here, in PDF format: PD Introduction (664KB)
According to SlashGear, "USB PD (Power Delivery) is set to be the new standard for the next generation, working with standard specifications set to start taking effect as early as 2014. "
We've been used to charging smartphones over USB and current being limited to 500mA typically (for a USB 2.0 port on a laptop or desktop, for example), but it seems as if 2014's and 2015's smartphones will be USB PD compliant and, from new computers and other peripherals at least, will be able to charge at full current capacity and rate, equivalent to plugging into a manufacturer-supplied/optimised mains charger.
In perhaps the most 'current' Pimping piece yet, I tackle the Nokia 808 PureView, still a lot of people's main device, perhaps based on the super flexibility, the great camera, the gadgets, and so on. But what are the keys to keeping this going into 2014 - any tips, tricks or software goodies that you need to know about? It's all here.
For once, I don't think a 'pimping' piece of mine needs any lengthy introduction to the device itself. The Nokia 808 PureView has been featured more on All About Symbian than any other previous device and its benefits are well known. I'd highlight, in particular:
- the 41MP oversampling PureView camera (obviously) with bright Xenon flash
- the terrifically high contrast ClearBlack Display AMOLED screen, still topping the GSMArena test table
- the very loud, high quality mono loudspeaker
- the replaceable battery - swap it in seconds
- the 'Play via Radio' FM transmitter
- the microSD support
- the narrow form factor (unusual in these days when flagships come with 5" and 6" screens and width to match)
Against these selling points, unique when taken as an ensemble, are the obvious cons of an operating system which is gradually being abandoned by Nokia, an ecosystem which is about to be officially 'frozen' and something of a widening application and service compatibility 'gap' with the rest of the world.
Hopefully this 'pimping' guide can help address some of these issues, at least.
Central to a lot of what follows is discovering as much independence as possible. With Nokia effectively washing its hands of the Symbian handsets (apart from contractual 'normob' support calls/emails and repairs if you're very lucky), getting a Nokia 808 up to par in late 2013 is very much a DIY job. But the effort is worth it and your 808 can see a whole new lease of life.
Core to this 'pimping' is the use of custom firmware. The best known is Delight 1.2 and it's what I'm using here. It's easy to get scared off from trying to flash (refurbishing) a Symbian phone, but once you've got the right version of Phoenix installed and all relevant USB drivers already in place, it turns out to be a piece of cake. Going from stock firmware to custom firmware does mean wiping the system (C:) disk and thus you'll have to reinstall all your apps and data, but subsequent updates to the Delight firmware can be overlaid, keeping everything intact, happily.
The core reasons for going with custom firmware here are:
- More disk space, more RAM (thanks to removal of Nokia cruft). After flashing, my Nokia 808 showed 599MB free on the system disk and free RAM after booting was 301MB.
- Independence from Nokia's update timeline. You're now on the Delight team's update timeline, and they're still thinking up ideas, unlike Nokia's (Accenture) Symbian teams, which are almost gone now.
- Independence from the Nokia Store signing process. In addition to Store items, you can also now install 'unsigned' utilities from all corners of the globe. Of course, you do have to be careful what you install, but for the careful geek this isn't an issue.
- Extra functions and options, from the use of Nokia Pure font to being able to turn theme transitions off to more widgets, to more EQ options to even louder output from the main speaker, to flexibility in the main app menu (sub-folders!), to faster Music player, to more homescreens, to a hundred other tweaks that can be played with.
See my main story on Delight 6.2 for the full benefits list.
Email presents an issue or two, too. Almost everyone reading this will use Gmail, I suspect, and the old 2010 Java client is now very flaky on modern devices. While the old standby of using Symbian's one Mail for Exchange 'slot' for Google and Gmail no longer works for most of us because of Google's withdrawal of the protocol for mainstream use.
Leaving the use of IMAP4 for Gmail (i.e. pick 'Google' from the Symbian mail set-up wizard) - which itself has been running into performance issues. It's not clear whether the issue is at Google's end or some subtle interoperability problem between Gmail servers and Belle FP2, but I've had the 808 slowing to a crawl for several seconds at a time while Mail does an IMAP4 hook-up. My solution was to reduce the IMAP interaction as much as possible, by setting the Gmail mailbox to retrieve just the first '2kb' of each email and to only sync the latest '10' emails on each connection, which then happens every '15 minutes'. I'm sure you'll want to tweak these parameters for your own email load, but these work fine for me, with IMAP slowdowns only noticed very infrequently.
Of course, with Gmail taken care of with IMAP (by necessity), that leaves Symbian's one Exchange slot free for another system. Perhaps you have a corporate mailbox to keep track of? Or perhaps, like me, you're experimenting with Windows Phone and Microsoft's ecosystem - outlook.com is a pretty fair alternative to Gmail and offers not only email, but Contacts and Calendar sync through Exchange ActiveSync that's fully compatible with any Nokia Lumias and with the guarantee that the all importat Exchange protocol won't be withdrawn (as with Google) because Microsoft owns it(!)
I've ended up with the latter, so Contacts and Calendar syncing in from Microsoft's cloud every time Symbian Mail hooks up via Exchange to live.com/outlook.com, with settings:
- Pick 'Exchange ActiveSync' from the Mail wizard
- Username as your live.com/hotmail.com/outlook.com email address
- Use m.hotmail.com as the server name
- Domain, leave as 'None'
If you'd previously had all your PIM data in Google, it's a slight wrench to switch to Microsoft's servers, but the export from Gmail Contacts and the import into Outlook.com is foolproof, plus the latter has a really good 'duplicate' removal and sanity checking system. So you'll be and running in no time. [And, if you do decide to move to a Lumia 1020 in 2014, you'll already be set in terms of data sync.]
One of the central tenets of a modern smartphone is, of course, keeping you connected with your online followers and friends. Symbian's native Nokia Social application is written partly in Qt and partly in Web runtime (I believe), with the result that it's slow and inflexible - and dumped unceremoniously from the Delight custom firmware. Which means that you need to source your own clients for the social networks you're interested in:
- Twitter - there are more Twitter clients for Symbian than you might think, but I'd suggest you start with the free Tweetian, shown below, left, which has improved a lot in the last 18 months, or the ubiquitous Gravity, for which you've probably already paid and you just need Jan Ole to add your IMEI to his database, etc. Either provide a Twitter experience which is easily up with the Twitter clients on other mobile platforms, and both are distributed through a model which doesn't rely on updates through the Nokia Store.
- Facebook - the mobile web experience for this is pretty awful, being designed for feature phones. Run, don't walk and head for fMobi, shown above, right, which by simple virtue of being regularly updated stands apart from previous contenders. I do worry about updates to this in 2014 though, and I'd hope that the developer is going to provide updates via a standalone server - a self signed SIS should be fine here. If you ever find that this client drops behind Facebook's cutting edge in terms of compatibility, note also that Pixelpipe's Facebook Browser is worth installing, as it fools Facebook into serving up whatever the latest version of its mobile site for the iPhone and iPod Touch is - and turns out to be surprisingly useable, as shown below:
- Google+ - the problem here is that there aren't third party clients for this - for any mobile platform, since Google hasn't released a proper API yet. However, you can keep up with your G+ stream and interact by leaving comments, etc, by going to plus.google.com - for best effect, long press in any white space on the page and 'Install as application'. Hey presto, a Google+ 'client' in your app menu and on your homescreens. Well, sort of!
- Skype - Skype v22.214.171.124 dates from 2011 but still works well for VoIP and Skype chat, though there's no video calling (which is a shame). The app comes and goes in the Nokia Store, whcih is odd, but see here for a direct download.
- Whatsapp - Constantly updated (arguably to stay top of the 'new' column in the Store!), this is a very slick Whatsapp client that rivals what you can do on other platforms. Commendably, it's also available directly from the developers, so again no issues after January 1st 2014.
It's no secret that I wasn't a fan of Belle FP2's qwerty keyboard, at least in portrait mode, where there's no auto-correction of words. Such a terrible step backwards in terms of real world usability. In desperation, I turned to Swype, implemented on Symbian in useable (though demonstrably not perfect) way, since it offered full text correction in portrait mode - by definition.
In fact, on the whole, Swype works really well on the narrow screen of the Nokia 808 - the input area is just the right size for a thumb to trace out letter combinations. There are just a couple of areas within Symbian's UI where the Swype pop-up keyboard proves inappropriate (because the applications concerned don't know about Swype and don't allow for it to appear. The quick reply facility in Messaging is one such. Personally, I find I can work around these areas and enjoy the speed of Swype the rest of the time - but your mileage may vary.
I've tried the stable version 1.0 in the Nokia Store and the beta version 2.1 from Beta Labs and, from a Swype newbie's point of view, there doesn't seem to be much difference. Anyway, I've linked to both here, so go try it for yourself. And if you come across an app or situation for which the Swype keyboard gets in the way, note that you can disable the system (and re-enable it) in the main Swype settings application.
The Nokia 808's multimedia prowess is well known, albeit that the screen resolution is looking a bit low-res these days, even for a 4" screen. Symbian's range of supported codecs is excellent, for sideloaded MP4 (and similar) files, but you're also going to want to branch out into YouTube and Vimeo, which is best addressed by buying CuteTube.
Also note a couple of things about the audio side of multimedia:
- The 'Play via Radio' system works well with the Video player. So, waiting in the car (e.g. for a partner or child), you can use your car's stereo to provide top notch audio for the video unfolding on your phone screen.
- Audio output over the 808's speaker is already loud and of quite high quality - but the 'MoreSoundInLoudSpeaker' patch that comes with Delight custom firmware doubles the volume again, with only minimal loss of quality at peak amplitude of whatever you're listening to. [NB. There's also a side effect if you don't enable this patch - headphone output ends up too loud, somewhat bizarrely! Still, at least you have the choice....]
All hackery and no play makes Jack a dull boy, etc.... One common criticism of Symbian is that it doesn't have enough games available for it. But every time I head over to my own Games directory I'm still struck by how much more there is than I'll ever have time to play through. We're not talking a massive, iOS-like catalogue here, but still plenty to amuse you in boring moments....
My main app homescreen and main menu...
The all-important Internet folder with some likely candidates... and some relaxation titles for later!
2014 and beyond
With games not needing to be kept updated because of API changes, most can be left in the Nokia Store, despite its update freeze, of course. Though I'd yet again urge Symbian developers - of games or general apps - to seriously consider going freeware or donationware and thus being able to release their SIS file independently of the Nokia Store. Just in case.
The Nokia 808 PureView continues to be a phone that ticks more boxes for many people (including me) than most of the competition. Armed with custom, install-server-hacked firmware and applications, utilities and games installed where necessary from side-loaded SIS files, there's no reason why the 808 can't continue to work its magic for some time to come - whatever Nokia do or don't do from a support standpoint. And I've already recommended that 808 fans consider getting a spare, since the 808 is getting harder and harder to find now.