Hi everyone! This is a place where I share my experiences with the devices I come across and use. Hopefully, you'll find the info here helpful in your search for geeky stuff...

Friday, December 14, 2007

The lean and mean series...

Nokia E series.

Feel disconnected when you read that? Feel like saying "they have lousy cameras"? Feel that they're too big?

I've recently been using the E51 and I find myself falling deeper in love with it each day. It's fast, it can do most things people need a phone to do and more, it's extremely well-made with no cheap feeling plastic bits on it, it's handsome, it's slim, it's perfectly sized, it's got one of the best hardware interfaces of any Symbian phone...etc.

The way I see it, this E51 is a very important phone. It bridges the gap between the different camps of Nokia mobile phone users. Firstly, its the size and form factor. It's a well-accepted and well-proven candy bar design. It's also very slim and pocketable, another nod by most users regardless of camp. It also has hands down the best-feeling alpha numeric keypad I have ever laid hands on.

Shallow it may be, but I think those factors alone will grab a lot of attention from many people on the market for a phone. Look at the E65 for example. I have some friends who bought one simply because of the form factor and how well-made it feels when compared to any phone on the market in that price range.

But is that all they're buying? They actually don't really care. They don't have push mail or VoIP setup on it. Nor do they even know they can do cool stuff like install google maps on it and look at aerial views of their own houses.

But I'll bet, once they use something else they're gonna miss it.

Yesterday, I decided to switch over to using my E90 which I have neglected for a while. As soon as I did, I was hit in the face with why I used it for months with pleasure despite its size.

It simply got the business done with minimal effort.

I hear some people saying "bah, whatever the E Series phone can do, the N series can do too". Well, true to a certain extent. They basically run the same Symbian S60 OS. But as they say, God is in the details.

The statement should be: "bah, whatever the N series can do, the E series can to too. But there are things that you can do on an E series that the N series can't".

The first thing that strikes you about an E series phone is how well-made it is. They feel solid. They are always made of high quality materials. It makes you feel good everytime you hold it, which is more than I can say for the other series of phones from Nokia. This alone may already make or break the deal for some people.

The next thing you will notice is extra buttons to get to most commonly used menus in a single step. I don't know about you, but this is a big deal to me. There are so many applications that I frequently use and having hardware buttons means more space for soft shortcuts for other applications. This is something I always long for on N series phones.

Then it's the user interface. Little details like email headers preview without launching the email application, extra options in the standby mode to further customise how you want your desktop to look like, excellent setup wizards, the most up to date cellular communication protocols, the high quality of text entry whether it's QWERTY or alpha numeric...

Running the Symbian S60 platform pretty much ensures a whole range of application available for the E series, much like the N series. Media capabilities are pretty up there too. Again, whatever the N series can do, so can the E.

If you're a mobile phone user who is not caught up with camera pixel count or playing Ngage games, I suggest you take a closer look at the E series. Although it's marketed as an "enterprise" range meant for business users, and its got serious software solutions to prove it, I think it's relevant to most mobile phone users. It would be a shame to skip over it as there is so much on offer...


Sunday, December 9, 2007

Made for the internet

The internet. Ahhhhh. What a marvel.

This ever changing entity has indeed changed the way we live. Want to buy a vintage microphone? Want to see/talk to someone thousands of miles away? Want some information on glass blowing techniques? Want an alternative view on your doctor's diagnosis? Want to know the meaning of life? Whatever it is, you can find it/do it over the internet.

These days, if a device doesn't have some form of efficient connection to the internet, it doesn't seem that it will have any credibility.

Many governments are setting up their countries to be wired to the internet. Take mine for example. Anyone and everyone is entitled to free wifi access to numerous hotspots all over the country.

"Wireless@SG is a wireless broadband programme developed by IDA as part of its Next Generation National Infocomm Infrastructure initiative. It will be run and developed in the next two years by three local wireless operators who will deploy a wireless broadband network in Singapore. Users can enjoy free, both in-door and outdoor seamless wireless broadband access with speeds of up to 512kbps at most public areas.

The targeted users of this wireless broadband network are broadly classified as "people on the move" - people who require wireless broadband access while away from their homes, schools and offices. These include students, tourists, business travellers and enterprise users such as insurance agents and real estate agents who use widely-available and wireless-enabled devices such as notebook PCs and PDAs. Once connected, users will be able to access all Internet-based services e.g. online gaming, web surfing, instant messaging, VoIP and email."

Malls, coffeeshops, bus stations... anywhere that people might be spending some time in, would be blanketed by free-for-all wifi internet hotspots. I'm typing this out at Starbucks at a neighbourhood mall with a Nokia N810 internet tablet and saving the draft remotely on this blogsite's server, so that I can continue writing this later at home or anywhere I can find an internet connection.

The Nokia N810 internet tablet. A child of the internet generation. This device was borne out of the need to be free from your desk, the need to be connected all the time. It does nothing but that. Its purpose is very pure. There's no built-in cellular connection at all.

So is it relevant? Especially when mobile phones these days can do pretty much the same. Apple saw this coming and produced their very first mobile phone embracing this vision. The iPod Touch is pretty much similar in concept.

Well, Nokia actually saw this coming too and pushed out 2 internet tablets before this, the N770 and the N800. Also not forgetting the numerous mobile phones that have wifi built-in. Yes, they had the vision. But Nokia being Nokia, their execution always leaves a bitter taste.

The current generation of their Symbian interface is clunky, "un"-elegant. Clicking and clicking and clicking on the edges of a square ring to achieve an action isn't what I'd describe as enjoyable.

And that's just the steps needed to get to a calculator and not even considering navigating around the internet and applications that are made to exploit the internet. Doing internet related stuff with a square ring and a button and a 2" screen is a royal pain in the butt.

Good thing the next generation of Nokia's interface for mobile devices finally embraces touch. Shall I say it? Like Apple.

Coming back to the N810 internet tablet, after having used it for 2 days, I'd say it suffers from middle child syndrome. It's good, but not great. It moves but not at blazing speeds. It's pleasant to use but can be better.

A big shot at Nokia, Anssi Vanjoki mentioned that the N810 represents the third of five steps in this made-for-the-internet product concept line that Nokia is going to be releasing over several years. Middle child.

The first internet tablet, the N770 launched in 2005, was like an experiment. It was targeted at "geeks", no, I'd reserve that term for people like myself. I'd say for people best described as "nerds". They choose the Linux platform for its ease and openess and to see if there was interest in the nerdy community. A very crucial step as these "nerds" are the people who would be developing stuff that make the device worth a squat. As expected, enthusiasts like myself, who don't know where to begin to make write our own applications, weren't too drawn to it.

Fortunately, the concept of an open source is fundamentally good. Like democracy. Apple also could not make people see otherwise and released their programming codes.

There was quite buzz within Linux communities. People started writing and porting applications and the number of useful things you can do with it grew and grew.

Encouraged by the response, Nokia launched the sequel, the N800, at the beginning of 2007. This time round, their target audience broadened. With a more polished interface, people like myself, whom I'd consider as "geeks", are within the reach of their casting net. Out of the box, you can do iPod-ish stuff. Listen to music , watch videos, extend your computer, surf the internet with a big screen..etc, except the memory capacity is limited to what's available and feasible.

The latest version of the lineup, the N810, has an even more polished user interface, despite having pretty similar hardware as the N800. Much like a hacked iPhone, there is quite a sizable number of FREE 3rd party applications available to make the internet tablet even more useful. Handily enough, the most common video/audio formats are playable on the N810. I can simply drag over whatever I want from my iPod library and it simply works.

The inclusion of a hardware keyboard, on top of touchscreen, makes this device actually usable for messaging or typing out a blog entry. Basically any kind of keyboard activity. If you bring your laptop everywhere for entertainment, media, web 2.0 usage, it is now feasible to leave it at home and bring the N810 instead. I've been doing that for the past few days and although the experience is not as good as a full sized laptop, I'd say it's acceptable for the size. My back certainly appreciates it.

Free applications like Pidgin consolidates all your messaging needs. You can talk to your friends on AIM, Gadu-Gadu, Google Talk, GroupWise, ICQ, IRC, MSN, MySpaceIM, QQ, Yahoo...etc within one screen. A Mozilla web browser with full Flash support and ensures most websites are rendered correctly. The built-in GPS receiver adds value to the device, although how well it actually works compared to a modern GPS device and how much it costs to make it a full-fledged navigation tool significantly brings back the balance.

For now, it is a niche product. People who do not carry a laptop everywhere certainly outnumber the people who do. I think a big part of why this is so is not because most people don't want to carry a laptop with them. They actually want to, but it's just too much of a hassle. This is where internet tablets like the N810 shine. They provide decent internet experience without the need for a set of decent muscles to carry a laptop around.

The internet will only strengthen its hold on people's lives. There is no other way about it. And devices like this will be needed to meet this demand. You can already see that it will be a matter of time before they slap on a cell phone module into this thing. Dare I say it again? Like Apple.

Bigger devices with bigger screens will become more common and accepted as the need to create/share/consume content and communicating with a bigger audience becomes commonplace.

Like their ad says:

"A little hush please. The next episode is about to begin"

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Touch is good...

About time.

Nokia has finally realised that touch IS good. So good that it might even be better than click-click-click-click. So good that it might even be "THE FUTURE" (like Christopher Loyd in Back To The Future).

There are quite a number of videos posted on youtube showing Finnish people speaking Finnish English, which is inherently less cool than the American version, extolling the virtues of "touch". Quite a different stance from before.

A few examples:

Inherently less cool. Hmmm. Can that phrase perhaps be used to describe Nokia?

Why is it that Nokia's implementation of youtube on their N Series phones is at best, "limiting"?

Why is it that Nokia, being the largest mobile phone manufacturer in the world, couldn't have had the foresight of seeing the value of a touch interface and make a phone to show it before Apple launched their iPhone?

I've read so many people defending non-touch devices in various corners of cyberworld . I often wonder if these people are really from cyber space. Don't get me wrong. I do appreciate click-click-click-clicking to get to the icon, then click-click-click-clicking to get to the sub-menu that you want, then click again to do what you want. But how can that be better than having all the menus laid out and touching, or more like poking, it once and it's done?

Ideally, THE phone should have a tactile input interface and touchscreen at the same time, kinda like the N810 internet tablet (I'll be getting one tomorrow!! YAY!). Apple chose to eliminate that for the sake of vanity. But who can blame them? Just look at the thing.

Of course, the vibrate-slightly-each-time-you-touch feature of future S60 or non S60 devices helps to overcome the non-tactile nature of devices with only a screen. It HELPS, but a hardware keyboard is indeed hard to replace.

Having said that, I for one, would be able to accept the compromise if it makes the device gorgeous. Yes, I bought an iPhone.

There is a doodling software for the iPhone called "Sketch" and is one of the earliest implementations of this new generation concept of how a phone can interact with you. You draw on the screen of the iPhone and if you think it's rubbish and want to erase it, shake the iPhone hard a few times and it will give a short vibrate to tell you that the screen has been erased.

Watching the videos above, listening to Nokia say that they see value in things like flipping the phone upside down to silence it, I am greatly encouraged to look forward.

Can you smell scenes from sci-fi movies?

I was a big fan of the Palm interface. I've had every Treo since before they were even called Treos. Remember the Visorphone, anyone? Yeah it sucked of course. But Palm had the right idea from the start.

Poke and it's done. Intuitive. No need to relearn anything. Minimal lag.

Apple's philosophy is pretty much the same. It just works. Use a Palm Treo and an Apple iPhone side by side, and you will see how similar in concept they are.

Ok, before you start jumping on my case about what you cannot do on an iPhone or Palm Treo, or the deficiencies of their platforms, it's not the point of this article.

My beef is with Nokia taking so long to see this coming and pursuing it. How much resources could they have channeled to the development of the S60 touch earlier on instead of playing it safe and coming up with things like the N81 or N76? Nokia should be leading visionaries (and in some sense, they are with content sharing) in making mobile devices and not seemingly jumping on the bandwagon after known visionaries (Apple) have pushed out a great idea.

I'm not the only one who noticed. Listen to the very first question in the Q&A session in the first video about "copying" the iPhone. The response by the elderly Nokia big wig even admits to perhaps "copying" Apple's interface "with pride".

It's not likely that Apple mobile phones will ever be functionally as capable as Nokia ones. But now, it is actually feasible that Nokia mobile phones will be as nice to use, and maybe even as good looking as Apple ones.

So Nokia, being inherently uncool, should see a difference in terms of perception by consumers, with their next generation of phones. I foresee this revolution will elevate Nokia's coolness level. To maybe even close to Apple's coolness level, something that Nokia needs.

Too bad about the Finnish English accent though...

I've been waiting for more than 10 years for touching to be good. Finally, the time has come...