2014-01-06

Where do you go to from Symbian?

symbian_foundation_logo

The time has come to gradually switch.

Setting the stage

I already got fed up with the browser performance on Symbian, but when sites like gsmarena.com started acting up even in Opera Mini, I knew the time has come.
Then of course there’s the actual closing of Nokia Store which won’t receive application updates starting from 1st January 2014..

So what should you do? Go with Nokia, on Windows Phone? Go with the vast choice of hardware of Android? Or the vast store of Apple?

The contenders

We’ll, for me Apple doesn’t have an app for everything that I use. So it’s no question I’ll switch over to Mac/iOS.

Windows Phone seems pretty limited, though Nokia did try to add some Symbian-ish and N9-esques features to it. It’s also the only platform with a camera comparable with 808’s and with Xenon flash. But.. I already have a good camera, why buy a second one:D? Remember, ‘gradually’ switch..

The story is complicated with Android though. The platform looks more geek-friendly than the others. But I happen to have had about two years working with it professionally and I came to hate it and got bored with it. I even have a Nexus 7 that lags as hell after one year so I won’t put that boring, lagging (to me!) thing on the device I switch to!

Another thing about Android is that only high end phones matter, otherwise updates are inexistent and the performance is generally miserable. But high-ends come with 5 inch screens and they usually are more than 70mm in width.. The only Droid worth it for me would have been Xperia Z1 mini, but that isn’t out yet. and Z1’s Camera is not that impressive either.

Time is now to look at other, exotic, platforms.
Firefox OS comes with slow hardware. Tizen is still vaporware.

Then there’s Jolla!

Jolla just launched, with beta software, and it looks as a successor, in spirit at least, of Nokia’s N9’s swipe’n’linux combo.

Jolla

A New hope

Jolla looks like the exact territory I would like to explore next.
Is an open platform with root access out of the box just like Maemo / Meego Harmattan were, which allowed it to have a such tremendous community.
It is button-less, Swipe-enabled, just like the N9 of late Nokia.
It has better specs than N9 and the hope of expansibility at the horizon, through the Other Half.
Even better, it has support for Android applications through the Alien Dalvik VM!

This is when it clicked

So I was browsing a long thread on Maemo Talk forums, where early adopters which got their pre-ordered Jolla played with it, answered questions, complained about bugs – the usual discussions around a fresh product in beta. Most of the bugs were about the Android support and some people said that this was working better on BlackBerry‘s OS 10.

Then it dawned to me.. Could it be.. BB10 my next phone? So I quickly fired up the gsmarena review from the beginning of the year and my operator’s site to check the price on contract.

The compromise

 

So I got the Z10! what follows is probably a sort of buyer’s remorse description of the choice I made.

First is the price: the Z10 is from the beginning of 2013, while the Jolla phone is just out – which, coupled with the operator subsidizing made the Z10 almost free for my existing monthly subscription price.

Then the specs: while Jolla has a larger screen, it is also wider. Both have some dual-core Snapdragon inside, but Z10 has more RAM (2Gb).

And last but not least, while I was making this decision, Jolla was to be available ‘soon’ to the rest of the world, so I didn’t even know if this would be December, or March 2014..

So how’s the Blackberry OS 10 do you ask?

Short BB10/Z10 review

z10

The device is very swipey and fluid. I can easily hold it in hand (but I may have large hands), it’s just the size of an HTC One S for example, but with sharper corners. The screen is unfortunately backlit, but you can get the Z30 with AMOLED if size is not a problem for you.
It actually has some always-on clock available when charging in ‘night mode’, but the LCD makes it puke-y, compared with 808’s AMOLED sleeping screen..

The native applications are based on a QML 2.0 library named Cascades which itself includes some swipes: from top for settings, from left for app’s categories/sections..
It may be what Symbian Carla or Donna could have been if the bet on Qt would have been executed by Nokia..

The browser is also webkit based, but much more snappy than the Belle one (and even getting more html5test.com points than mobile Safari or Chrome!). Very few sites need user agent switching (actually only some smugmug.com hosted album needed that) but there’s a webview-based browser in the store with that option. The browser also features reading mode for text-full pages and private browsing, for when you need it.
Here’s the current score on compliance: http://html5test.com/compare/browser/bb-10.2.html

The email is.. well.. BlackBerry’s core business, works like a charm, with calendar and task synchronization.
The thing with BBOS 10 is that this is actually the first OS that is 100% usable without BES (Enterprise Services) or a Blackberry data plan (the OS 7 and the ones before were pretty much crippled without it). However, there are some drawbacks, if I understand correctly. An BB 7 or earlier device could have real push notifications sent through GSM towers (not through your data plan) for new mail or messages. A BBOS 10 device needs a BES10 server component and most enterprises don’t and won’t install that.
So basically this is a Blackberry device without the Blackberry powers I heard about, but more.. how can I put it.. I-phoney? (you know, when being all the time connected means ‘push notifications’ that somebody twisted the term.. and won the market:p)

Gradually switching

So here’s my plan to keep my beloved Nokia 808 Pureview for at least another one year:
Since there is not one phone that would fulfill my needs, I will use two phones.

The setup

I keep my Nokia 808 for telephony. And camera. And recordings. And offline maps.
(For emailing a photo, I snap the devices together.. you should see people’s face when I do that!)

I use the Z10 for email, facebook, twitter and general browsing.
(I may install some Android apps if the service is not meant for accessing through the browser (e.g. Flipboard was in the BB World store so why not))

What this means is that my 808 is back to 4-5-more days of battery life:D
But I do have to charge the Z10 nightly.

808 over Z10

808nokia03

Camera. With Xenon flash and large sensor.
Rich recording for concerts and gigs.
Buttons for telephony. Answer and reject.
Haptic feedback through all interface (Z10 doesn’t even have this for keyboard..)
Side unlock slider with flashlight.
Camera button.
ClearBlack AMOLED with Gorilla glass.
FM Radio with FM transmitter
Alarm rings even when powered off.

Mass-storage mode can boot your computer in Linux.
Maps. Offline.
Sleeping screen. All time.
Opera Mini (that I couldn’t run on Z10 from Android.. It’s the browser that counted 7 GB saved (1.6 from a total of 8.6) in one year of continuous Mini usage)
Homescreen widgets
Screen saver
Smart dialing

In common

NFC, Z10 can receive photos from 808, but also send (Android Beam doesn’t do the latter)
MicroSD card
MicroHDMI port
MicroSIM
Removable battery cover.
One has Miracast, the other Mirrorlink
Z10 headset works on 808 with answer button/dictaphone after plugging it through an OMTP/CTIA converter.
Notification light

True multi-tasking microkernel (QNX and Symbian)
Qt/QML development environment – I even saw CutePress and FastTube in the BB World. (Z10 still supports AS3 apps from Playbook days)
Landscape mode all-over (except for home screen)
Search available on all screens, searches through everything.
DLNA media sharing
Pull-down menu (more toggles coming in next BB 10.2 update)

Z10 over 808

No buttons. Swipe-up for multi-tasking.
Twice the screen resolution in both directions (1280 x 768)
LTE and faster 3.5G speeds
Bluetooth 4.0 LE
Camera: Closer macro shots, built-in HDR and Scalado’s “time warp” (now Nokia’s).
Hot-swappable MicroSD card
Gyroscope sensor.
Infrastructure Wifi Hotspot and 5Ghz Wifi (a/n).

Modern browser backed up by faster hardware (dual core, 2Gb RAM)
Full Flash Player 11.x in the browser.
A handful of more up-to-date apps (yes, BB World is not full with apps either)
Email with CalDAV/CardDAV support and (ahem) push notifications when always connected
Decent Facebook client out of the box (made by Blackberry, mind you)
Android 4.x support for when BB World fails.
Better keyboard (the screen is just as tall, but wider, at 4.2″ and 16:10 aspect ratio) with multiple input languages at once.

Conclusion

So this was my choice after taking a look at the devices available on the market, watching some prices and making some compromises in the way (and of course, applying some personal preconceptions and other criteria such as size).

It is not perfect, I would have loved to just upgrade to a Symbian 909 with Carla and waiting for an upgrade to Donna, but heck, I’m not that lucky.

How about you? Where do you go to from Symbian?

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2013-03-12

Symbian CardDAV prototype

Cards-256Here it is, without further ado: Cards 0.1
(Update 2013-03-29: I’m in the process of trying to get whitelisted to continue using this API with google, see this blog post)

(Update 2014-02-03: Since I failed adding OAuth and get DAV responses, here’s the source: https://github.com/b100dian/cards . In the other news, SyncML seems to still be working with settings like here).

What does it do? it connects to google and downloads vcards from there, then it presents them in a (sorted) list where you can select one to call or email. It doesn’t store them or sync them in any way.

This is proof-of-concept work, of course.

It’s based on Qt4.7.4 for Anna – is it working for you?

I don’t know if I will add more features to this, as my itch is scratched, but feel free to come up with suggestions!

Some things I learned along the way:

QML development is very nice, things evolved very fast and in a good way since the first time I took a look at Qt for Symbian (that was without QML or QtQuick).

The actual Digia Qt documentation is still up for the 4.7/4.8 Symbian parts and you still find Nokia forums with lots of info from people.

The actual coding of this went on for about a month, in 10 sessions of a couple of ours each:)I went from making the briefly reading the CardDAV rfc to coding the PROPFIND request in Qt C++, then started reading on how to set up QML and Qt together in the same project, then trying to fill a ListView with the card info and finally learning a bit about page navigation and adding a login page. The last bit was firing up Inkscape, watching a squircle tutorial and bam! I have an icon too.

Unfortunately for actually synchronizing the agenda or make a call without confirmation I need to write even more Qt C++ code:) Also, the PROPFIND request only returns the IDs of the cards, I had to download them one request at a time (altough in theory queries can be made was not able to get the cards in the first reply itself).

And all this was done on Linux! Thank you Nokia! (I actually had two QtCreators, one for simulator and one for building .sis files, since the remote compiler I used before was pulled out, then I figured how to configure the simulator to run in the second QtCreator)

What I didn’t do is I haven’t read about signing, UIDs, putting into store etc. Maybe I’ll figure this out later too.

2013-02-09

User Agent (instead of feature) detection

I previously stated on this blog, and in real life, that there are sites that don’t provide the best experience with my Symbian device just because they are using browser’s User Agent string instead of detecting capabilites.

Just for facts’ sake, the User Agent string of my Nokia Symbian phone’s browser is:

Mozilla/5.0 (Symbian/3; Series60/5.5 Nokia808PureView/113.010.1507; Profile/MIDP-2.1 Configuration/CLDC-1.1 ) 
AppleWebKit/535.1 (KHTML, like Gecko) NokiaBrowser/8.3.2.21 Mobile Safari/535.1

Apple’s iOS5’s is:

Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; CPU iPhone OS 5_0 like Mac OS X) 
AppleWebKit/534.46 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/5.1 Mobile/9A334 Safari/7534.48.3

and Apple’s iOS6’s is:

Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; CPU iPhone OS 6_0 like Mac OS X) 
AppleWebKit/536.26 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/6.0 Mobile/10A5376e Safari/8536.25>

First, the reason I listed al these is so that you can see that the webkit build used on Symbian FP2 is actually a version between iOS5 and iOS6’s webkit version. This actually corresponds to each OS’s release date, so no question marks here.

Now, to the more interesting subject of sites:

There is a common belief, along web programmers since the Netscape 4 vs Internet Explorer (4?) wars, that one should try to code a site with conditions on browser’s features, as opposed to conditionals on browser’s name.

Nowadays, this ‘feature detection’ is what allows you to browse your banks’ site with Chrome, IE, Firefox, Camino, Galeon, lynx – you name it. We have passed waaay ahead from the times when ‘Internet Explorer is required’ was shown on public sites.

However, the same does not apply to mobile site, it seems. It may be the case that the mobile devices’ features cannot be detected in a simple manner, so there sure is some browser User Agent string sniffing around.

As a proof, I happen to have a browser named ‘AnyBrowser’ installed on my Symbian, which’s unique selling point was that it surfs the web under an Android browser User Agent string. Other than that, is a simple QWebkit webview, with a location bar, history, tiling & scrolling and other browser chrome (It was an early 0.4.x version and I don’t find it anymore, so excuse me if you cannot repeat my experiment).

So, browsing the web, with the same webkit component (as shipped by the Qt project), under different names – here are the results:

Picasa Web

On Symbian browser vs Symbian AnyBrowser: by default, you are not even presented with a whimsy 360p image

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Facebook login

On Symbian browser vs Symbian AnyBrowser: seems to only be CSS until..

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Facebook timeline

On Symbian browser vs Symbian AnyBrowser: Is this actually the same site?

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Google Mail

On Symbian browser vs Symbian AnyBrowser: Again, google is by far the worst offender

(Picture got removed for privacy reasons, will update it). Actually, forget about it! AnyBrowser can show Google Maps, while the Symbian stock browser only gets redirected away!

Scr000039scr000055

Engadget

On Symbian browser vs Symbian AnyBrowser: notice the use of custom fonts

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Microsoft

On Symbian browser vs Symbian AnyBrowser: search and some asset dimensions are better, but not a whole new site

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So really, I cannot stress this more:

All mobile platforms (except Windows) have a webkit build. Differentiating between them when doing a website is like differentiating between Mozilla and Firefox!

The worst offender, is, again, google, followed by facebook. – at least in my examples. Google does not even have APIs for its services (think about dropping exchange support for gmail/calendar, then no API for google plus) or if they have, they are not as popular as they think since nobody does 3rd party apps using google services (and lives on).

Facebook at least has 3rd party applications, so it is useful on Symbian.

update with diclaimer: I am not claiming that those sites work perfectly with just switching the user agent string to an Android one – some testing still needs to be conducted by the site’s owner. But that’s the problem, they don’t do this and preffer to hardcode for a subset of webkit engines which may have – as it’s the case with Apple and Google – some vendor specific features.

2013-02-03

Public Transportation comes to Bucharest

First of all, let me acknowledge that Public Transport from the Nokia Maps Suite has been available for some time now.

Also, since about 5 years it was possible for me to already look like a native when walking in new cities, using Nokia Maps’ ‘walk’ mode. That thing worked pretty well by putting my N85 in my pocket after inspecting the overall route, and then turning left and right at each new vibration. (As a rant, today’s phone don’t have that kind of powerful vibrator to actually use buzz-guided walk navigation from your pocket, you would still have to hold your hand on the phone in your jacket..)

Adding public transportation to beeps-and-buzzes guided walk means that you look even more like a native when you’re not staring at maps when at subway or in stations for surface transport.

Now this is the new support for Bucharest I was talking about:

image

If you’ve already been to Bucharest – or you’re living there, for that matter – probably there is no surprise for you that the support is not quite one of the top: there is estimated journey time (with data from Metrorex and RATB – no ‘Cora’ or ‘Real’ supermarket buses:P) but no actual schedules.

This is not a flaw with the application however. There are no real schedules in reality either. Or if they are, they are not respected, partly due to the kind of traffic we get but mostly for unknown reasons.

Now for planning a journey: I set the starting location as … ‘My location’ and the destination the workplace, so I could get the commute time.

It gives me two options: either take the subway, or mix the subway with terrestrial (tramway) transport.  Both of the options are correctly accompanied by some walk needed to get to it and then to get to the final destination.

What’s interesting is that there’s no walk in the alternative route between the subway and the tramway, which actually corresponds to the reality (the stations are in the same place as much as the subway vs. surface allows).

It says ~50 minutes for the first option, which roughly corresponds to what I have witnessed.

Now on to selecting the first options, we have the three segments detailed in a vertical fashion: 12 mins walk, 26 mins subway, 12 mins walk (left picture).

Unfortunately this does not take into account the time for the actual train to get into station, as stated above, because no one really knows.

Now, if you click each of the segments, you get even more usefulness: starting with the subway trip, you get the list of stations you are reaching in your way from Nicolae Grigorescu to Lujerului (taking the train in Preciziei direction).

(see right image)

If however you click one of the ‘walk’ segments, you get the beeps-and-buzzes walk mode navigation mentioned above from your current position to the next station in your trip.


And of course, if you haven’t been living under a rock for the last 5 or so years, you get the option of voice-guided navigation on every Nokia phone since 2007 (for free since 2009) if you would ever choose to commute by using a car.

In this case, using a car gives you a ~40 minutes estimation if you take traffic into account (Traffic however is the next thing I wish Nokia should make available for Bucharest).

Not pictured in the below image, but these are 13 kms.

So yeah, can’t wait to see how this goes when you’re actually in a foreign country and an unknown city! (Altough I can now still test it in Bucharest since it has become available, because for other destinations I could’ve aready tested if I were visiting, y’know).

What can I say? Keep the updates coming, Nokia!

2013-01-15

The 808 is back with a new capacitor

Thanks to this AAS post, I went well informed at Nokia Care (Romania), but they promptly confirmed they had the issue in the database so I should just leave the phone for the 15 days.

After missing my Xenon flash exactly through the holidays, using an iPhone as a dumbphone throughout, trying Skype’s ‘Own number’ on a tablet, the 808 is back and looks like it’s fixed!

The test in my case was reading news while commuting by subway, and there was always a hang, now for about 5 days nothing was wrong!

I encourage every 808 owner out there to take his phone to Nokia Care, because shortly you will feel the need to install a custom firmware, since the updates will be slowed down.. :D

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2013-01-02

Ubuntu on phones uses QML

Isn’t this Qt? Ubuntu mobile is based on QML, which means that you can use your Symbian Qt development skills on it! Wish I had some:)

QML is another markup-esque, this time in the form of JSON, way of describing GUIs, in the line of Adobe’s Flex (MXML), Microsoft’s WPF/Silverlight/WinRT (XAML) and maybe most similar to JavaFX’s curly braces.GNU and Linux

Its interactivity is controlled by Javascript, in its V8 incarnation. I wonder, does QML under Symbian runs the same V8 engine? Maybe they should have used it for the platform browser too, given that it’s the slowest part and doesn’t match competition these days.

Oh well. I hope to see many more Joola/Sailfish, Ubuntu, Boot2Gecko, Meego/Maemo, Tizen or any free phones in 2013!
(I came to this conclusion, that If I ever drop my current preference of having a phone-tailored OS, it will be for an non-Java free-as-in-freedom phone.)

Until then, I still have time to enjoy my 808:)

2012-12-22

Apple: Dozens of missing apps

I am currently using a micro-SIM iPhone while waiting for my Symbian smartphone to get out of service.
So I thought to use this occasion to compare the two, from a ‘what I miss on the Apple phone’ perspective.

The Nokia Store has ‘only’ 120 kiloapps and Apple’s AppStore has over 1 million. However, I still find the Nokia device more useful, and have had some frustration with the Apple already.

I try to explain this difference of features trough a list of ‘included’ Symbian stuff, that the Apple phone either

  • needs an application for (which oversizes the store with 10x variants) or
  • cannot fix through an app

This list also has hardware features that I love to use, exactly to show that “there’s an app for this included on Symbian” is also about features un-fixable by an app.

Continue reading

2012-10-31

Upgrading from C7 to 808

One and a half year later, the C7 i had replaced my n85 with received a strong signal of ‘last OS update’ from Nokia/Accenture. That would be Belle Refresh.

I very very much wanted to try the new staggered keyboard of Belle FP2 (altough I knew Swype would not be available for some time), and of course, I wanted an autofocus camera. With big sensor, this time. So I took the 808.

This is a very less disruptive upgrade from the previous one, with 808 only adding: great camera sensor with Xenon flash, HDMI out, ClearBlack coating (on non-Pentile AMOLED screen, 4 inches of it) and of course upgraded software.

483598_493833280656393_2013402534_n[3]In summary, here’s what’s lost when upgrading:

– 2mm charging

– separate power button

– pocketability

2011-06-11

Ditching the n85 for a touch-only C7?

There, I did it. Or at least I try to.

I went to my network provider and exercised my “right” to have two more years of overpriced SMS-es, calls and kilobytes at the cost of choosing a phone with a lower price. And I went for C7.

Now, the reason I chose the C7 was to try to start the transition from non-touch to touch-only, and I reckon’d that I would still need the Answer and Reject buttons. I chose Symbian^3 over not having an OS at all, because all the Androids out there thought that having a Search or a Back button at the bottom of their screen was more important for a phone..

Now, what does C7 holds above the n85? Other than being touch-enabled (and D-pad disabled)? It has a GPU indeed and a digital Compass – both being missed on the n85 alright. It has Gorilla glass. (n86 later had a toughened screen and digital compass, but that was less than two years ago so I missed it). Can you imagine? C7 is like a n85 without a keyboard!

What follows is a rant of a n85 user that didn’t go for the E7 because: it missed the answer/reject keys, didn’t had the microSD slot, nor the FM transmitter, neither for the E6 that didn’t have an FM transmitter either, nor did it have a dedicated camera button. So I am stuck with C7, which is also the most cost effective.

The transition from n85 to C7 would look like the transition from MS-DOS to Windows, only without a keyboard.

I myself am a keyboard guy, when using computers. I prefer Alt-Space + E + P instead of reaching the mouse for right-clicking – when pasting in the Windows cmd.exe. I guess other people use the mouse heavily, but also the keyboard.

Now imagine Windows without a keyboard, – that is, with a mouse-enabled (touch-enabled) keyboard. And you want to get shit done!

That is how I feel about touch only. Even on n85, I was able to pair a bluetooth mouse to play Quake – just like in the good old MS-DOS days, when you had to add it to Config.sys or Autoexec.bat etc.

Proof of concept: for running a known installed application (let’s say Shazam), on n85 I typed 742-down-down-enter from the vHome screen, because it has smart-“dialing” for apps too. On C7, I need to either have a shortcut on my screen (not scalable wrt no. of apps) or manually flip through the Applications folder (menu, applications, flip-flip-click).

Other complaints: Zooming in Opera Mini/Mobile is just ‘5’ on n85, while on C7 is double-tap (or pinch zooming) – unless you don’t hit a link – , while scrolling is: D-pad on n85 (2/8 for PgUp/PgDn), and kinetic scrolling – sideways activated – on C7. I don’t know if you get this but: on n85 you move around faster and you don’t hide site content behind your finger, while on C7 you may accidentally click something, you may not read good enough when scrolling the text because your finger is there, you may scroll sideways while at it…!

Oh, and speaking of Google: neither the digital compass nor the multitouch is useful in Google Maps, or Street View. They have their platform to care about now… what’s next, disabling POP3..?

483598_493833280656393_2013402534_n[1]

In summary, here’s what’s lost when upgrading:

– keyboard

– autofocus

– hot-swappable microSD

 

2011-02-20

My first Symbian application: the missing Chronometer/Timer

After not being that impressed with Qt on S60 3rd edition (the non-touch Nokia GUI) and the QtCreator on Linux, things went only uphill.

A new version of QtCreator enabled me to develop for Qt 4.7.1 / QtMobility 1.1  which includes the Feedback API and.. voila! there goes my missing timer app: ChronoTimer is created

But since Qt 4.7.1 and QtMobility aren’t shipped for my n85 and no smart installer can be built by the Remote Compiler, I have to put them here too for you to download them. So, without further introduction:

Qt 4.7.1 installer (12MB)

Qt Mobility 1.1 (2MB)

ChronoTimer (12KB – Yup… static linking would have been nice…)

And now screenshots from the S^1 Simulator (it seems to be working on all Qt Simulator’s platforms):

Chronometer

Timer