Thursday, February 17, 2011

The new QWERTY slinger: the Nokia E7



I managed to get some time alone with the Nokia E7, so I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on the device.


As you'll quickly notice once you're in the presence of an E7, this thing looks really good. It's got a majestic air about it, something I haven't felt about a Nokia device in a long time. The build quality is superb as is to be expected, and I think the black / very dark gray colour is perhaps the best colour for this prestigious Communicatior heir.

I'm going to break it down real quick, though: for enthusiasts, the E7 is bad news. Its nothing special. For your regular business oriented person, there's no better alternative.

Strengths


Its pretty obvious what the strengths of this baby are.

The keyboard is simply fantastic, the legend makes perfect sense, plus Nokia has learned from past mistakes to make a decent Scandinavian localisation. Here you see the scandinavian layout of the keys.

The screen is boosted up to a full 4" from the N8's 3.5", which is more than welcome for when you have a lot of text on the screen. It's pretty cool watching videos and photos off this screen also.

Also, like I said the build quality is absolutely fantastic. Every port seems sturdy, and the sling-out mechanism of the keyboard feels solid. It is incredible how a device this slim can A) contain a hardware keyboard and B) achieve this level of sturdyness. Of course the slimness comes at a cost, and I'll talk about that in the weaknesses section.

The E7 comes loaded with the praised Multimedia software initially developed for the N8. Just as well, because the camera is very good, minus a few short comings.

The e-mail app in Symbian^3 is the best there is in any Nokia device, although I must say that Modest (on Maemo) is about as good. I also really enjoyed the calendar, as the big screen is really helpful when viewing the monthly view. The calendar is basically the same from any previous Nokia Symbian device, so rest assured it will probably fill your needs. Little tweaks here and there increase the functionality and appearance of the calendar.

Overall, the performance of the device is surprisingly good. Zinging around the menus is fast and happens without your random Symbian-like stutter, and the device really performs on packing and repacking the videos you capture on the device. I couldn't believe my eyes how fast editing a video and saving it was. I remember I used to edit my videos on my XM5800, and a 2 min clip would process for about 5 minutes after every change to it. Bravo, Nokia.

Below is me zinging around in Ovi Maps. KICK-ASS!




Weaknesses

Here we go again, about to embark on a quest into what the weaknesses of a S^3 device are. Now most of the things I ranted about on the N8 are still present. The menu structures are needlessly complicated, duplicate or nonsensical because of translation. English speakers don't really have to worry about the last bit,  but I can only imagine localizations in other countries if Nokia can't pull off a decent translation in its own (previously) native language.

To a large degree I agree with the claim that Symbian only needs an UI overhaul, but there must be a reason Nokia ends up implementing the same kind of mistakes into the UI. For example, the Conversations feature. The point seems to be to make your text message chats look like they do in Android and iOS. Some call this a threaded view. As something that was clearly crafted on Maemo and then implemented into Symbian, its astounding that the version on Symbian is so much worse.

Keskustelut = Conversations

Main gripe: there's the Conversations view and there's the Inbox view. Nokia wants to introduce the new way to do things, doesn't quite finish polishing it and then leaves another way of doing the same thing in the system. Result: clutter, duplicates of functions and confusion. Basically the point with Nokia's Conversations is, that you only get the view, but not the functionality from other platforms. Expect to be using the traditional Nokia method for viewing and replying to messages.

The Nokia E7 has an EDoF camera. This means, that it doesn't really contain optics, probably because of its incredible slimness. I think the camera's really good, except for the fact that I can't take really close-up shots.

Here's a video shot using the camera, showing off this weakness:



I think this video quality is pretty damn impressive, and sound quality is really good as well. But I personally require a macro mode on my cam.

Worse than the lack of macro mode is the lack of any out-of-the-box method of sharing your photos and videos. You can set up your social networking apps such as Facebook and Twitter, but you can only share files up to about 25Mbs through these services. Just under 20s of video on the E7 is already well over 30Mb. I even tried sharing the file through e-mail, but I got an error message saying I couldn't attach anything larger than 300Kb. Is this the attachment size limit for Ovi Mail?

So this is another case of Nokia screwing over their top-of-the-line hardware with sofware that renders it obsolete.

Another strange thing was the browser experience. I don't know if the software on the E7 I was using was somehow jumbled up, but the browser seemed slower than usual. Scrolling was also really erratic  and at times what happened on the site seemed to bring the entire device to a halt. I had good reception and switching over to a fast Wifi didn't help. What's going on here?

Also, the E7 fails to make use of the volume rocker. I was expecting it to zoom in and out in the browser, but I'm stuck with either pinch to zoom or the awkward "tap on text to have the view zoom into it" feature, that makes the text unreadable without constant panning left and right. What's the point behind this feature?

Conclusions

Although my initial tweets about this device were ecstatic, I soon became overburdened by the confusion and shortcomings of Symbian. I'm a heavy user of my device and I demand that the device works the way I want it to, and not the other way around.

I totally see previous Nokia customers being happy with this, as its probably something very familiar to them. It is also a fact, that if previous Symbian devices have served you well, then there's really no risk of moving up to the E7. It will be well worth your money.

For me and other enthusiasts like me, the E7 will feel like it has a tonne of potential, but dissapointment is imminent as the software doesn't allow us to use it to the fullest.

- Chris

Thursday, February 3, 2011

My Essential N900 Apps

 
After another reflash of my N900 I noticed, that time after time I end up installing the same apps again and again. I then decided to put together a list of the apps I feel are essential to the N900.


I thought I'd do a little bit lighter post this time, as in the past all the posts to this blog have been a bit more on the heavy note. This post is aimed for people not classifiable as "├╝ber users" of Maemo, as these are the most basic, easy to use and easily found apps out there.

Most of the program headings below are links to their thread on talk.maemo.org!


System apps:

Here are the apps I feel sit best under the category of "System apps".

1.) Faster Application Manager

This app is absolutely essential to getting things done on the N900. It is a custom application manager, that allows you to download, remove and upgrade applications. It also allows you to manage your repository list. This is such an essential application, that it almost completely replaces the built-in application manager that comes with Maemo 5. Only system updates to Maemo 5 itself are better to install with the built-in Harmattan Application Manager (HAM).

FAPMAN allows you to perform multiple chores at once. Green means marked for installation

It gives detailed information on what's about to happen.

It shows which package its downloading and at what speed

Expect installations/removals to go without a hitch. FAPMAN also clears package cache after installing new apps, a feature welcomed by anyone looking to keep their device memory clean.

2.) Erminig-NG

Erminig-NG is a way of getting your Google Calendar synced with your N900, without the expense of a Mail for Exchange account for your e-mail. It started out as a command-line only app (usable only through the Terminal) but now the UI is evolving. It still remains rather un-intuitive, though, so below is a screenshot from the application's thread explaining all the functions.

Erminig UI and explanations on functions.

The basic logic behind Erminig is, that you add a Google Account, you tell it which local calendar syncs to which Google Calendar, and then you choose whether markings go from your device to Google, or only from Google to your device or if you want a mixture of both. The functionality is still a bit rough behind the corners, but it performs pretty well already.

3.) Enhanced Linux Kernel For Power Users

Enhanced Linux Kernel in installed apps list
This is not an application per se, but an update to the brain and guts of your Maemo 5 device. So this is like a service pack to Windows, just with about 10 times deeper repercussions. Although it has a scary name, I've never had this act up on me not once. When installing, simply grab the "Enhanced Linux Kernel for powert users (Settings)" package. This will install everything automatically. After it has installed, close all programs, power down your device, wait a moment and fire it up again. After this all changed will be applied.

Overclocking

The single feature why I always end up installing this modification, is because I'm so accustomed to overclocking my device. Below you will see a screenshot of me overclocking my N900, but I'll leave a vital piece of information out, so that you will have to hit the Talk.Maemo.org forums to find the missing piece and read everything there's to know about the dangers of overcloking. ;)

These are all the steps you must do to overclock your device.

Other reasons for installing this modified Kernel is the Mobile Hotspot feature.



3.) Calendar Home Widget replacement


Do you see it? It's in this picture!


The Calendar Home Widget is a replacement for the calendar widget that ships with Maemo 5. The core features for me are:
- Tapping on the widget results in "Month" view as default (you can alter the default view)
- It shows upcoming events' dates.
- Few other customisations are possible also.
- Constant support and updates from the developer!


4.) 2G/3G connection applet


Choose between using the 2G, 3G or Dual mdoe
This app lets you decide which cellular network of your operator your phone connects to. By default, your device will have Dual mode enabled. This means, that your device will always strive towards being connected to the 3G network, which allows faster mobile data transfer. Using the 3G network drains your battery faster, and usually isn't as readily available as the 2G network. 3G will drain your battery most when you're using it to surf, and when the reception is low. The 2G cellular network drains less battery, as it is more readily available, but 2G surfing speeds are drastically lower.

Here's a video courtesy of MyNokiaBlog showing off this app:



If you're interested in saving battery by monitoring which network you connect to, check out AutoDisconnect.


Entertainment apps

Now to the fun stuff.

1.) CuteTube
The creme de la creme of all and any Youtube applications on any platform.
CuteTube's developer describes cuteTube as a "feature-rich YouTube client". This is an understatement. CuteTube is a combination of a functional and neat UI, combined with the technical excellence that lies in the form of code under the surface. This here is one truly powerful Youtube application:
- View Youtube videos in higher resolution than in the browser
- All functions and features from using the www.youtube.com webUI are present in this app
- Share videos on Facebook, Twitter, or just copy the URL into the clipboard.
- Constant support and updates from developer, PLUS there's a totally new and improved version coming, that will be able to run on the upcoming MeeGo platform.


Notice "Video playback quality", the default in Youtube for the N900 is 240p (480p here)


How CuteTube shows search results.


One click away from playing the video.


Just some of the functions you can do with the videos.



2.) Frogatto & Friends platform jumper game

Frogatto & Friends is maybe the nicest looking platform jumper I've seen in a couple of years on any platform. Its a huge download however, because of the music and sounds involved. It's well worth it though:


Frogatto exploring the outside world


Frogatto raiding a house (no he's actually one of the good guys)



 3.) Khweeteur twitter client




Khweeteur is a minimalistic and light Twitter app, that advertises itself by having your timeline and mentions in the same view. So there's no awkward jumping from one view to another or toggling things visible and invisible. The UI is totally clutter free, and looks like it might as well ship with Maemo. Khweeteur fashionably supports Location and notifications, and it will even make "Bit.ly" links of any long links you might tweet about.

There's almost no learning curve to learning this program.

Khweeteur is reliable and constantly developed. If you run into any troubles, you can tweet @Khertan for help. He is the developer.

If you wanna find me, just message @creip!


So that's it folks, my best of the best -list. Programs I simply cannot do without.

Please understand that any problems you might encounter using these apps I probably can't help you with. Your best bet is to read the thread or project pages for answers.

Enjoy!

- Chris 2011