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Nokia N9

The Good

Nokia presented the N9 this week. It looks pretty stunning, screen occupying the full face and a unibody shell made out of some scratch proof polycarbonate. The camera is said to be excellent, the screen is AMOLED, there’s NFC and 802.11N. MeeGo is built on the foundation of Maemo5 which despite not particularly pretty sucked in all the linux awesomeness.

The Bad

Let’s have a closer look at the hardware. It’s basically a souped up N900, same Cortex A8 overclocked to 1GHz and same graphics chip. Why ? cause this phone was supposed to be released one year ago when it could still pull Nokia out of the death spiral. Sure it has some nice bells and whistles like NFC but it’s not the earth rockin dual core A9 people expected.
On the software side we have Meego which seems snappy and inherits a lot of the expose like interface of Maemo 5. It has a fatal flow though, Qt. Nokia moved from S60, a C++ platform firmly rooted in the 90s to Qt, a C++ platform firmly rooted in the 90s. I have a long cultivated disdain for Qt which only grew with the rise of Gtk+ and then the lack of advance of Qt so I might not be the best person to pass judgment here. (The old) Nokia was more concerned with keeping whatever S60 developer community it had than reach a new and wide developer base so Qt with its Byzantine OO model was clearly the way to go for them. Meego will have some poor desktop apps ported over (like Maemo 5 had some poor Gtk+ apps poorly ported) and that’s it.

The Ugly

The N9 is a one off. It’s the only Meego product on the roadmap. You’re buying a dead product that won’t gather a developer community and won’t have any apps or long term maintenance. It’s like the N900, except worse. (The old) Nokia only announced discontinuing Maemo5 after the release of of N900, (the new) Nokia happily says Meego is a side project that’s not going anywhere.
Not only that but Meego is tainted by some last minute WindowsPhonification. The “swipe” thing is way to get users used to horizontal navigation, a steeping stone in Nokia’s plan. On the other side of the coin it’s highly unlikely Nokia Windows Phones will ever run Qt so the unification vision from 6 months ago is ruined.
I can see how Gruber is impressed with the N9 and I’m sure the design and Nokia brand will grant it some moderate success in the market place but in the long run it will be a fail.

/mobile | edited on 2011/06/27 -- permalink, click to comment

Windows Phone 7 Series UI

I’ve looked at the Windows Phone 7 Series emulator from the SDK and general assumption of the UI is: The user has a giant mental map of the UI landscape and navigates throughout the menu real-estate moving the phone screen viewport like a window.
While different, I’m fairly unconvinced it’s any good.

/mobile | edited on 2010/03/20 -- permalink, click to comment

Embrace. Extend ?

Singletasking. No copy’n’paste. Push Notifications. Different UI. Centrally controlled single source for apps. Standardized hardware platform. Capacitive touchscreen. Free (as in beer) SDK. 3D Games. 2010 launch.

Uh, what do you mean 2010 ? I bet up to that last one you were thinking I was describing iPhoneOS 2.0. But no, I’m describing Windows Phone 7 Series. That’s a whole lot of embracing, and only 2 years delayed.

I’m still looking for the extend. Don’t tell me it’s the develop for Phone/PC/XBOX stuff cause that’s just going to make me smile faintly.

/mobile | edited on 2010/03/16 -- permalink, click to comment

Nokia N900

The Nokia N900 is the first Nokia tablet that’s also a phone. It’s also the first (and probably only) Maemo5 device. Maemo5 is a debian based mobile OS with a Gtk+ based custom desktop called Hildon.
If I were to be droped in the wilderness with just one phone, the N900 would be it. Actually, it would be an Iridium but you get my meaning.

note: a limited number of first run N900 have what I gather is an arcane hardware problem which results in frequent reboots, specially when sleeping/resuming. My first unit had this issue, swaped it for another one from the same batch and the second one is ok. A number of other owners are reporting similar experiencies. Maemo talk thread

The N900 isn’t a brilliant phone as phones go but makes up for it by incorporating skype, google talk and generic sip into the phone app. Same goes for sms which is actually [telepathy] and can handle anything from msn to irc. Odly there’s no mms support out of the box but if your carrier allows access to the mmsc from the internet apn you can just fire off mms as email if you really need to communicate with 2004. That being said the phone app does the voice done and once you realize you can just type contact names on the home screen to find them in the address book everything just flows pretty easily.

The builtin browser is Fennec, Firefox mobile as oposed to some variant of webkit in iphone, android and s60. Firefox plus the 800x480 resolultion gives the most desktop like browsing experience you can get on a mobile. It even comes which Flash9 which means not only annoying ads but also full featured youtube as opposed to the digest version you get on a iphone. There’s also some extensions being ported like adblock (life saver on 3g), evernote and geolocation which s actually usefull on a mobile. Fennec can render the desktop version of google wave if that gives you an idea about the engine.

The UI is interesting and snappy enough if you don’t overdo the multitasking. One interesting feature is the expose-like window view which takes advantage of the 3d hardware and tiles the actuall windows instead of app icons. That’s particularly usefull while waiting for a page to load or something to happen on some app to do something. The model alert interface helps here too cause its a yellow line across the screen, can’t miss it even with a lot of windows open.
The top bar borrows a lot from s60 but the notification system could do with a bit of androidization. While messages flying across the screen are snazy they’re not the best solution. Something more like growl would be much better.

The 32Gb of storage (plus microSD card!) begs you to dump tons of media into the N900 and the media player does a pretty good job. It plays most avis out of the box and if you enable the extras repo you get even more codecs. The TVout is good enough to use as a standard def media player. The only disapointment is the lack of support for the xpressmusic heaphones but there’s no reason for the hardware being different and I’m sure support will come along.

But the fun part is it’s Gtk+ so if you’re a Gnome developer you’re right at home. People are also starting to port desktop stuff to hildon and it’s showing up on the extras repos. The plumbing is what you expect from linux: init, dbus and X11 (no, seriously, X11) so porting stuff over is a matter of redoing gtk_ UI elements as hildon_ elements.

Nokia clearly missed the mark with placing the N900. It’s being marketed as a high end or flagship and people are complaining about stuff like the lack of mms cause people just assume the features will be there. However the N900 is mostly a palmtop computer, a really small netboot if you will. Being a phone is the “oh, just one more thing” of the N900.

Useful stuff

More repositories:

  • SDK Tools: deb http://repository.maemo.org fremantle/tools free non-free
  • Extras Development: deb http://repository.maemo.org/extras-devel fremantle free non-free
  • Extras Q&A: deb http://repository.maemo.org/extras-testing fremantle free non-free

Extras follow the debian lifecycle, start in devel, move to testing and then graduate to extras. Beware of enabling testing and specially devel cause you may update to buggy versions of installed apps. Extras have a number of usefull stuff like more protocols for IM (telepathy plugins), ssh/vnc and media codecs so you might want to enable it even if you’re a casual user.

Documents, Sounds and Videos live under ~/MyDocs as .documents, .sounds and .videos.

Google Latitude browse to http://www.google.com/maps/m?view=data&mode=latitude&source=mog&gl=uk which is the webview the iPhone uses. If you have the geolocation browser plugin (extras-testing) it will even automatic updates.

/mobile | edited on 2009/12/20 -- permalink, click to comment

Three things on the S60 browser

There’s three things Nokia needs to fix on the S60v5 browser:

  • The engine needs an update, specially the javascript bits. WebKit didn’t stop in 2008 you know people ?

  • The menubar needs to autohide. 640 is almost desktop width, why kill it with an annoying menubar that’s useless 90% of the time ?

  • Get multi-window right. At this point you can kludge a new window bookmark and then use the craptastic switch window interface to switch but I know you can do better!

/mobile | edited on 2009/03/05 -- permalink, click to comment

MWC09 in review

  • App Stores: Nokia is launching in May, Android is already with us and WinMo’s is comming with 6.5. The standard fee is a cool 30% off the top but Android got some extra game with app returns and no stupid bling apps.

  • Google: Nvidia, Huawei, are on the Android parade. Offline gmail has finally come for Android and iPhone (except not with gears like I predicted) so the final phase of googlification of everybody’s life is underway. And as offline HTML5 stuff wasn’t enough Google also showed off Maps on the Pre.

  • Nokia: N97 seems yummy and will be probably be pricey too. It certainly looks much snappier than my 5800. There’s also an interesting tidbit about Nokia preloading phone with Skype. Somehow I don’t see that happening for branded phones.

  • There will be Flash for all, except the iPhone that is. Witness the birth of crappy annoying flash applets being pushed everywhere.

  • WinMo: My Phone is just a sync service with a bunch of lipstick on and not much to offer (200MB! cause you know, disk is expensive) but everybody’s pretty amazed it actually works. WinMo6.5 top feature seems to be stupid hexagons though so that counterbalances it. The 6.5 UI is just a rehash of 6.0 crap (seriously MS, mandatory stylus and no multitouch ?) and honestly I’ve seen better home screens from OEMs. Also, Microsoft lost. WebKit+Google+HTML5 is basically the way of the future. k

/mobile | edited on 2009/02/22 -- permalink, click to comment

Nokia 5800

nokia 5800

The Nokia 5800 has been reviewed and videoreviewed to hell already so I’m not going to repeat the intarwebs and I’ll just give the highlights. Don’t get confused by the rant further down, this is the best phone in it’s price range. It’s a plastic phone so it’s got a plastic feeling to it but it’s not cheap and feels solid enough for a non-N phone. The screen is clearly the strongest point, bright and crisp, and if you have good sight you can cram quite a lot of info into 640x360.

The UI clearly isn’t on par with the iPhone for two main reasons, sometimes the interface gets a bit slugish and there’s no multitouch. On the other hand you get backgrounding with real multitasking and haptic feedback by way of a gentle bump from the ringer errrr vibrator. The UI is more Android-y than iPhone-y probably because the Android UI was designed to work in everything from non-touch and single-touch resistive to multi-touch capacitive screens. There’s also a clever notification area that keeps track of events and hardware status (functionally similar to Android’s notification area) and working handwriting recognition which is always a plus for old Palm diehards.

There are some areas needing work on the UI. The first is a long standing S60 problem, lack of customization of the home screen. You get the useless blank screen option, the classic screen with media and calendar view and a third option which lets you speeddial four contacts and is also fairly useless unless you use it as a photo frame or only know four people. There’s one hidden gem on that screen, a rss reader that might be useful if you’re into following feed on your mobile. The new upcoming flagship N touch will have much more interesting webruntime driven homescreen widgets but Nokia always used the home screen as model diferentiator and there’s not much hope for improvement there on a xpressmusic class phone.

Other point that needs work is the browser UI which clearly needs to be brough up to par with the engine’s quality (webkit). The soft menu buttons take up a quarter of the screen in landscape and to make things worse there’s no timeout to autohide the menu and go into full screen. Of course when that happens Nokia will have to figure out a better way of navigating prev/next and through tabs. Something involving finger swipes preferably :).

But the real sticker are the services. Before the iPhone the services were an afterthought, something that hapened after launch and if at all possible pushed to the carriers. Apple leveraged its iPod experience to deliver seamless desktop integration (by its own rules at least), an app store with all existing 3rd party software and mobile syncronization (most of the time). Nokia is trying to follow with Ovi and truth be told they’re clearly ahead of the pack (at least until Google gets Gears going flank speed with Android). But back to the Nokia experience, it all started when i tried to migrate my N80 to the 5800. Ovi doesn’t know about that and as far as i can tell doesn’t even know about sms either. So it ended up back on Nokia Desktop a some fighting and fidgeting.

Next there isn’t such thing as a software market. There’s a download app on the phone that gives access to some extra downloads, some clearly 3rd party extras that Nokia doesn’t want to integrate into the firmware while others are full fledged commercial apps. The thing is they’re all similarly marked ‘Free’ but some end up not free at all and demand payment right download. This puts the user off with the app download thing and might hurt nokia’s future atempts at a software market.

Another that didn’t quite work or was the music store but simply because Portugal isn’t covered yet. The interesting thing about the music store is it focus on N series and the bad country escape hatch sends me to nseries music downloads despite me being on a xpressmusic phone. That’s probably because its web store and there’s previous 5000 phones with decent browsing.

Update The 20.0 firmware came out with more snapiness in the interface (particularly the orientation changes which lagged a bit), a faster browsing experience and some relatively useless new stuff like an application updater.

/mobile | edited on 2009/02/15 -- permalink, click to comment

Palm Pré

As opposed to my predictions CES didn’t end in tears for Palm and the Palm Pré is actually decent and webOS can actually be a fitting successor to PalmOS. Their success will be down to two things (after they make the Pré relevant to the world with GSM of course).
First is the Pré price point. This is a very bad time to release a new interesting gadget, there’s the global recession, there’s the iPhone and there’s Nokia felling threatened and flooring the smartphone prices so unless you get your price point really right your shinny new gadget becomes a footnote.
Second, and hopefully there’s still someone at Palm that remembers that, you got to treat your developer community really really well. Palm seems to have started well with standards based UI and they mention “an eclipse based IDE” which may turn out really well or really bad. But the tipping point is the community, Palm knew how to foster it, Handspring didn’t. At some point Palm was able to swallow Handspring.

/mobile | edited on 2009/01/09 -- permalink, click to comment

Three companies for Fail

The handheld market is a bitch. And to prove it, here are 3 companies heading for the tubes.

Palm

Palm sadly ate itself. I’ve discussed this before, at some point Palm believed they would rule the handheld world and that obviously, now, didn’t go so well.
Well ahead of the technology Palm come out with a wireless device before 2000 that was able to do very limited browsing on the pre dot-com Web (which was itself limited). The early PalmVII success, the dot-com times and some PalmOS licensing deals put some high hopes on Palm’s exec heads and it went ahead spinning off Palmsource as a separate company to develop and license the next generation of PalmOS while palmOne focused on the hardware side. A couple of years latter it was pretty obvious Palmsource couldn’t develop a cross-platform new-gen OS and palmOne couldn’t develop nice hardware cheap enough to compete with the new competition. Oddly enough it was during this period what I consider to be the best palm ever, T2 came out. Shortly after the split palmOne merged in Handspring, a splinter group from the original Palm. Handspring designed really interesting hardware and efectivelly invented the smartphone with the GSM springboard for the Visor (which then was integrated as the Treo180). On the other hand Handspring was utterly unable to extend PalmOS properly and support the developer community so the Treo line never picked up enough steam (hear that Apple ?).
So eventually Palmsource capsized, got bought out by Access and palmOne took a nasty hit acquiring back the exclusive rights to the Palm brand. Soon after, with the market fully focused on smartphones and faced with an old OS plagged by Handspring leftovers, Palm destroyed the hard earned brand by releasing Treos with Windows CE instead of PalmOS. Loyal fans were shocked, casual buyers were confused and nobody understood why buy a CE Treo when he could buy cheaper hardware from a competing vendor and get exactly the same crappy experience.
Eventually, Palm pulled a play from the old book and went ahead of the times inventing the netbook. Sadly, it was expensive and useless and the Folio never went on sale. To this day Palm is still pinning and longing for Access to develop PalmOS6 which is actually Linux based and called PalmOS2 now.
Palm, have you ever heard about Android ? It’s supposed to be hell-u-va cool and stuff.

Motorola Mobile

Do you have a motophone ? Yeah, me neither. That’s a bit of a problem for Motorola. The problem is Motorola can create 2 types of phones, cheap and expensive. Sadly both types are ugly and have ugliers user interfaces. The only decent motophone is the razor but then you open it up and try to use it.
But Moto turned to Android, so lets hope google tells them about designers. And UI specialists. And testers. Oh well.

Sony-Ericsson

You probably remember when Ericsson phones were butt ugly, had crappy UIs and were built like small GSM bricks. Then Sony came along and made them considerably less ugly, redid the UI and kept the very decent radios. Those were the days of K600 and P900. But the SE that kept UIQ alive reared its ugly head on the M600 and infected the whole line to generate depressing phones like K850i.
Lets see if SE turns it around with the X1 or if, most likely, becomes HTC.

/mobile | edited on 2008/11/09 -- permalink, click to comment

Nokia 5800 “Tube”

Today Nokia presented their first S60 touchscreen phone, the 5800 “Tube”. As usual there wasn’t a lot of surprise on account of the leaked photos. Being a MusicXpress instead of a N or E I was a bit uneasy about the specs as 5000 phones don’t usually pack a lot of punch. Nokia however threw in the usual goodies this days including WiFi and A-GPS (fairly surprising) and a not so hot 3.2Mpx camera (take that iPhone!). The punchline of the specs is obviously the 3.2” screen with a wopin 640x360 pixels which pretty much tramples the iPhone’s and G1’s 480x320. On the other hand the iPhone’s capacitive touchscreen wins hands down against the 5800’s resistive touchscreen and Nokia signalled defeat there by including a pen and a fashion guitar pick. The 81M “internal memory” should be enough for the job.

The S60v5 UI isn’t revolutionary, big thumbable buttons and making things slide across the screen. The onscreen keyboard looks decent (I’m holding out till I see the localized keyboards) and it include handwriting recognition (decent enough excuse for the pen) which brings a joyful tear to PalmIII affictionados like myself.

Nokia did a steady job on the connectors with a 3.5mm headset connector, micro-usb and TV-out as opposed to HTC’s extUSB brainfart for instance. We really should congratulate makers for not succumbing to fake shine of the crappy accessory’s revenue stream. Surprisingly we get WiFi b/g and unsurprisingly we get HSDPA. The 1.3Ah battery should up for the job and Nokia claims it’s good for a bit over 5h of 640x360 “nHD” (eheh) MPEG4, which means MPEG4-SP which is not h.264 but more like xvid/divx so get ready to transcode your stuff if you want it to play on the 5800 (or any other mobile anyway …).

Media claims it will show up on the street unlocked under 300 EUR so Nokia is really taking the iPhone serious and pulling no punches. For that price I’m sure to retire my N80 as soon as the 5800 is available.

Links:

/mobile | edited on 2008/10/03 -- permalink, click to comment
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