Moving from Symbian to Android; first impressions

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Last week I picked up an Android mobile phone.  With Nokia’s planned move to Windows Phone, I wanted to see what options are out there for something a little better software wise than Symbian until Nokia release their first Windows Phone.  For those interested, I personally don’t think it will be that long until we see something; internally Nokia had phones running Windows Phone available for staff to look at within days of the announcement, and although they may not be shipping large volumes until next year, I believe they will be announcing and planning to ship models this year.

So, after a few days with an Android device, what are my initial reactions? Actually, it’s some of the little things that have been built into Nokia hardware and Symbian software that I miss, like a hardware unlock switch on the side of the phone (especially useful when in the car).  Having said that, the Symbian default browser is rubbish compared to Android’s default.  In terms of applications, there seems to be multiple choices to achieve anything on Android, which although gives choice does seem to make it more difficult to choose a good product; some aren’t kept up to date, and, as with all mobile platforms, there are few that truly stand out.

We’ve covered a number of “stand out” Android apps over the years (see here for reviews of some), and these were some of the first to get installed, including purchasing some that I know will come in handy over time.

So, what have I missed; some apps such as Gravity and ViewRanger (I need to arrange to transfer the maps so this is just in the short term).  Equally, having many more options for widgets (of different sizes) on the homescreens is a pleasant change, plus access to apps where the developer hasn’t yet (or may never) release a Symbian app.  Also, as a heavy Google Calendar user, having my calendar updates available within minutes instead of hours is a pleasant change; in fact, I have some services that feed into additional Google Calendars which then appear on the phone; given it can take Google a few hours to update the calendar in the first place, it meant it could often take a couple of days to appear on my Symbian phone; reducing that time down to the same day is an impressive start.

Oh, and Ovi Maps. Offline maps, and more importantly, offline satnav means a lot to me, especially when we aren’t yet at a universal position with unlimited data rates, so I’ve missed this.  Strangely, I’ve also missed the other services built into the Ovi Maps client; Qype, TripAdvisor etc.; yes, I can install separate apps, but it did seem neat all wrapped into one application.  The traffic information was pretty good too, plus the walking mode, where it would vibrate just before reading out a new instruction (given you time to bring the phone close enough to your ear to hear it) was pretty useful too.

Having said that, on my phone, it was nigh on impossible to get both Ovi Maps and Gravity running together as both take a fair chunk of memory, so hopefully the new phone will make this easier.

Will I stay with Android, or move back to Symbian? I think I may well move my main phone number over to an Android phone, but I suspect I’ll still carry a Symbian phone with me for some while…

I’ll provide more details on my experiences soon, including long term usage of an Android tablet too!


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Ovi Maps updates

Friday, February 25th, 2011

There have been 3 key Ovi Maps updates in the last week and a bit, and I thought it was worth recapping on all of them.  Firstly, these only apply to the Touch devices, so although other devices such as the Nokia E71 still have free Ovi Maps, it’s not yet clear whether it will ever see these updates, which would be a shame if the elder devices were abandoned.

Many users have been using the v3.06 Beta that was available via Ovi Maps, and one feature this version added was the ability to check for, and update the mapping data directly from the phone.  Well, for those running this Beta, two weeks ago Nokia released updated maps.  Unfortunately some of us suffered crashes when trying to update, which left the phone without any mapping, and no ability to update to the latest maps.  This was resolved by using Ovi Suite on the PC to apply the “latest” maps (although this took you back to the Q4 2010 maps, which were released with the original v3.06 beta).  However, a little while later, Nokia resolved the issues, and it was possible to update to the Q1 2011 maps (either on the phone or via Ovi Suite).  I can’t say that there were any major updates in my local area, and in fact a major road project (the new A421 between Bedford and Milton Keynes) was missing from these February 2011 maps, despite the road opening in November 2010 (and Google Maps managing to get the new mapping available the same day the road opened).  Although I can understand minor road updates not making it into their database, one would have thought a key update like this would be there; let’s hope it’s there for the next map update.

Then, Nokia formally released the v3.06 Ovi Maps, which is now available in the Ovi Store.  Due to the way Nokia doesn’t really handle updates, it depends on the phone whether or not you will be notified that the update is available (phones that support applications within the Software Update application should see a notification, either on the phone or in Ovi Suite).  Other phones will have to go and pick up the update manually.  It’s worth noting that this version was slightly newer than the last beta, so it was still worth upgrading to.

However, yesterday, Nokia went one stage further and released another Ovi Maps v3.06 beta version.  This version is still newer than the Ovi Store version, and adds the ability to use the CheckIn facility to checkin to both FourSquare and Qype locations.  Bringing support for FourSquare makes a lot of sense, and seems to work pretty well in the testing I’ve managed so far.

So, if you have a Touch Symbian device, it’s well worth looking at all of these updates; a combination of application and mapping data updates continue to make Nokia stand out from the crowd with their free SatNav application, but there’s a risk the Nokia-owned Navteq mapping data is falling behind TeleAtlas (and hence Google Maps) in terms of quality of the UK major road network.


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mobbler updated and in Ovi Store

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

mobbler, the Symbian Last.FM client, has been updated, and is also now available in the Ovi Store.  Due to a limitation in the Symbian Signed process, the version number has now been moved up to v2.1.  The full feature changelog is:

  • Fix for radio on Nokia N8/Symbian^3
  • Subscriber-only radio
  • Share on Twitter
  • Signup
  • Biography
  • Local events based on cell ID
  • Better lyrics display
  • Username limit increased from 15 -> 32 chars
  • Better equaliser support
  • Japanese, Korean, Portuguese and Ukrainian added and other languages updated
  • Old scrobbles warning
  • Play Mix Radio station
  • Play Last.fm group radio station
  • Play a custom lastfm:// radio station
  • Removed discontinued Loved Tracks and Playlists radio station
  • 20 volume steps where available (Symbian^3)
  • Display subscriber’s prestigious black icon
  • Rejigged the Start a station menu

For anyone who tried out the Beta which came out last November, then this latest version is very similar, but worth upgrading to.


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Nokia release Ovi Maps 3.06 updated beta

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Another update to the v3.06 Ovi Maps beta has been released by Nokia Beta Labs, and although it features a few new features, the key one must be that it’s now (finally) possible to download whole countries directly on your phone (although you’ll need a Wi-Fi connection).  However, this isn’t perfect, when I tried it, it kept given a “Map download failed” error after about 187Mb through the 216Mb UK download, which resulted in me having to use the PC after all.  When you first install the v3.06 beta, it will wipe your existing maps, as it needs a v3.06+ specific map data downloaded.  Once you have done this one though, subsequent betas (and hopefully the final released version) will be able to use the maps already downloaded.

Having the facility to download directly on the phone, plus having a “check for map updates” option on the phone itself is very useful, and a good move (and something a lot of people have been asking Nokia for).

The other features of this beta include:

  • New! Download street maps directly to your device! A new feature called “Update” on the main menu which allows you download Street Maps directly (via WiFi) to your phone without a PC! Please note that phones without WiFi (e.g. Nokia 5230) will not work.
  • New! My Position and Search are now integrated (now called Map). When accessed, it will show your last map view
  • New! Back button in Favourites
  • New! Long tap functionality to delete & rename collections & routes
  • New! Pop up for first time use – to inform user to download new map data (when upgrading 3.04 > 3.06 for the first time)
  • New! Improved behaviours of transit lines settings in map toolbox (no more grey out)
  • New! Compass calibration hint
  • New! Refreshed place details information view
  • Pinch to zoom interaction (Only available on Symbian^3 devices)
  • Visually refreshed main menu and icons,
  • New maps with public transport lines (as a new map layer) for subways, trams and trains in 80+ cities around the world. Just click the map toolbox icon and select Transit lines,
  • Improved search experience – find places and addresses around you – or anywhere in the world – fast and easily. Browse places or enter a keyword in the search box. Now with suggestions and “did you mean?” functionality,
  • New place pages with description, reviews, pictures and places nearby. Interact with places in a whole new way – you can check in, contact, navigate, save, rate, share, report or see place on the map,
  • Share a place – send a place to your friends via SMS or Email. The SMS contains the address and a link to the place page with description, ratings, contact, URL and a mini map. The link opens up on the mobile browser (also on non-Nokia devices),
  • Check in – keep your friends up-to-date with where you are and what you’re up to. Check in to places and share it with your friends on Facebook and many more social networks. See places you’ve been to in your check in history,
  • New Drive assistance mode with live traffic flow – after clicking Drive, you’re instantly in drive assistance mode with live traffic flow and more. Once you start moving, get safety camera alerts and speed limit warnings,
  • More folder with many rich content services relevant to your location. Personalise your Ovi Maps by selecting the services you’d like to keep on your main menu for instant access.
  • Traffic flow: In Drive mode, a number of improvements to the traffic flow colour scheme and layout.

(The items marked New! are new in this update; the others were available in earlier v3.06 beta versions)

I like the new facilities, and the way the menus are being rearranged, and this bodes well for the final release.  One word of warning; one of the known issues is that occasionally it will keep the GPS subsystem open (with the eventual battery drain); when I’ve seen this, I’ve found starting Ovi Maps back up and shutting it down again seems to have fixed, but it’s something to watch out for.  I also really like hitting the Drive option and being able to see my location on the map with traffic updates immediately available even without a destination set; this is another key feature for me, as I often want to use my phone’s SatNav simply for traffic without a route calculated.

Although the Share (location) option now supports a whole range of social networking sites, I would still love to see sites such as BrightKite and FourSquare integrated directly into the interface, but hopefully that will come in time.


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Nokia Situations

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

I installed this to my phone the other day, and it’s already proving very useful.  Yes, there have been third party programs for doing things like changing profiles on a timed basis, and yes, apps that can make changes to the device based on the location (cell ID or GPS) have been around for a while, but getting them all built into a single app, and for free too makes Nokia Situations well worth a look.  The only downside I can see is that you can only specify one situation for each profile (of course, you can add new profiles to creates secondary situations), whereas many of the third party apps separate out the events from the profile, allowing more than one event apply to a particular profile.

However, it’s a good start, and given there are no ads, and no costs involved, it seems like it’ll stay on my phone, if only to set it to Silent overnight.


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Nokia announce Nokia Situations

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Although not as full featured as Tasker or Locale (both for Android devices), Nokia Situations enhances the built in Profile management with the ability to create custom profiles, and choose when these profiles are selected.  The screenshot above shows some of the range of options you can use to trigger the change in profile, and I’m especially pleased to see Network support, and not just GPS location, allowing location based changes without needing the phone to constantly use drain the battery by keeping the GPS running.

Although currently a Nokia Beta Labs product, it’s likely we will see this either integrated into future devices, or the app being made available in the Ovi Store to allow a wider coverage.

Nokia have also created 4 versions of this, which is also good to see.  Firstly, there’s the Symbian^3 version (Nokia N8), an S60 5th Edition for phones with homescreen widgets (Nokia N97, Nokia N97 Mini, Nokia C6-00), remaining S60 5th Edition phones (such as the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic), and even a S60 3rd Edition FP2 (Nokia E72, Nokia E5); it’s good that Nokia are remembering they are still releasing new phones with S60 3rd Edition installed.

If you are interested in this application, head over to Nokia Beta Labs for more information.


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Map updates; who is cheaper?

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Garmin announced this week they are reducing the price of their map updates, and in the same week, TomTom announced that their latest map updates had been released, so who is actually cheaper; TomTom or Garmin?

Of course, the two companies charge differently, which makes it difficult to make a straight comparison, so let’s look at the options:

TomTom:

  • TomTom Map Update Service: £19.80 for 1 year (4 quarterly updates)

Garmin:

  • Garmin nuMaps Onetime: costs up to £49.99 (but covers the whole of Europe)
  • Garmin nuMaps Lifetime: £74.99 for the lifetime of the SatNav (under your ownership)

So, although TomTom appears to be cheaper, if you were to own the same SatNav unit for more than 4 years, then the Garmin lifetime option seems cheaper (and offers better value within 2 years compared to buying individually).  The key thing is that both companies offer services that allow you to keep your SatNav up to date with quarterly updates, covering the new roads as they release them into their maps.

Of course, let’s not discount other options; Nokia provide free map updates (although I never feel they are quarterly) for their Ovi Maps, which is free for many phones.  Of course, other mobile phones have SatNav options too, although it’s more difficult to confirm the price of map updates for them.

Prices are based on viewing both companies websites (and marketing material), and although we believe these prices are accurate, they may not apply to your SatNav, or may change over time.  Also, the TomTom prices do not appear to apply to all devices, and especially not their mobile phone / PDA products.


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Have you tried TrueCaller; what did you think?

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

I was browsing the Ovi Store the other day, and I came across an app called TrueCaller.  Having investigated a little, it appears the app has a lot of functionality in common with Socially App, in that it can present Social Networking updates when an incoming call comes into your phone (it “only” supports Facebook and LinkedIN, unlike Socially App which also supports Twitter), and it has some similar call blocking options.  However, that’s not the main purpose of TrueCaller.  If the phone number is not known (ie not stored in your local Contacts), it will head off to the Internet to find out more about the number and present it to you.

In many countries, they use publicly available reverse lookup services to tie the number (often supported landlines only) to a name, and that’s quite impressive.  In the UK they are honest enough to admit that there are no such services (preventing by various laws), and hence there is no automatic service they can deploy, so instead they will at least provide you a rough location based on the STD code (again something I’ve seen Socially App do too).

However, they are slowly rolling out updated clients with support for a function called CalledID+ (currently available for Windows Mobile, iPhone, Symbian and Android, with BlackBerry coming soon).  This takes things to another level, and will crowd source the caller ID service, and allows your phone to access TrueCaller’s central database of people’s addressbooks to see if anyone else recognises the phone number.  Although each person has to select to Opt-In to this facility, I wonder how many of the 500,000 TrueCaller users have done so…

This sounds a very powerful and useful system to have, yet equally there are privacy alarm bells going off in my head that make me wonder whether my own phone numbers are already on this system, and I wonder whether that information is 100% accurate.

What do you think? Have you used TrueCaller? Did you share your addressbook with others? How accurate have you found the crowd sourced data in the UK?  Let us know by leaving us a comment…


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Pixelpipe release new Symbian version

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Pixelpipe have updated their Send & Share application to v1.02.  This new version adds:

  • You can now select service(s) for upload from a GUI with the new ‘Destinations’ field in advance of upload
  • New enhanced UI for handsets with Qt installed
  • Ability to specify a reduction value for resolution of photos from 100-25% under Pixelpipe/Options/Settings/Image Resolution
  • Single service upload plug-ins for over 25 services. These plug-ins are currently in beta & simply allow you to select the service for upload by name from the Send menu.

The screenshot above shows the difference between a “normal” handset, and a newer handset with the Qt support installed.  This I have to say, makes the application look and feel much nicer, and it’s nice to see Pixelpipe embedding everything into a single application install that can provide the best UI as available to the user.  It should be pointed out that Send & Share needs a minimum of S60 3rd Edition FP2, which rules out many popular Nokia phones such as the Nokia E71; however, for the majority of phones launched in the last year or two, this version will work fine.  For those elder handsets, Pixelpipe are still supporting their Share Online method.

This new version is available direct from Pixelpipe (here), and should soon be available in the Ovi Store.

Update: It’s now available in the Ovi Store.


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Nokia launches DAB Headset

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Here’s something that you don’t see everyday; we’re getting used to phones coming with FM radios (and needing to use the wired headset to provide the antenna), but Nokia has gone a stage further and created a portable DAB headset.  Now, we’ve covered many DAB radios here at UK Gadgeteer, including portable ones, but being able to utilise the device for battery etc. seems an interesting option.

You’ll need one of the new Symbian^3 handsets (Nokia N8, Nokia C7) and it also needs to support USB On The Go to allow the device to be powered by the phone. “The adapter works automatically when you plug it into the micro-USB port on the N8 and comes with ergonomic, in-ear headphones – it can also be used with your own headphones provided they have a 3.5mm jack. The device also offers call-handling, channel and volume controls. The adapter weighs 30.5g and measures 55 x 23 x 14.5mm.

Radio software on your mobile device allows you to choose and save stations, shows artist and track information and will show pictures when offered by the broadcaster. Using a feature called Smart Tuning, it automatically chooses the clearest reception in cases where your chosen station exists on alternative frequencies. The software will either be included on your mobile device or be downloadable from Ovi Store and the device’s support pages.”

It’s good to see Nokia bringing devices like this out, although given the general problems with FM and DAB radio reception in the UK, you’ll need to make sure the places you want to use this are strong DAB signal areas before spending the £40-£45 the device will cost when it is released in the next few months.


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