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Old 10-22-2007, 02:35 PM
5000+ Posts? I Should OWN This Site!
Join Date: Jun 2007
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Default First thoughts of the Nokia N95 & Iíll, in the future, publish a lot of Symbian info

Now that the HTC folks have announced they will not release the HTC Omni in the next three months, that is, there is no real successor of the HTC Universal (my current workhorse and main Pocket PC) and, frankly, none of the current Pocket PCís (or Smartphones) appeal to me (I already have several previous-generation PPCís and SPís and the current HTC models donít offer significantly more than, say, my Universal or Vox), but Iím (still) severely addicted to electronic toys & gadgets like smart phones, Iíve decided to get the Nokia N95. After all, I needed a new toy (Yes, itís certainly HTC to blame for my decision Ė why on earth did they have left us high and dry on the upgrade path?)

I received it about a week ago and now I understand why a lot of, otherwise, Windows Mobile freaks (for example, the folks over at MobilitySite) publish so many news items / articles on it. Despite it being over half a year old, the Nokia folks have managed to pack in a lot of functionality into this phone. Frankly, my HTC Vox (s710) MS Smartphone (which was released about the same time as the N95), hardware-wise, seems still to be in the stone ages compared to this beauty (much heavier, much worse camera, no GPS, no 3G (let alone 3.5G), no 3D hardware acceleration, no TV out, no FM radio, impossible to set the brightness level (the Vox is far too bright in a completely dark room), no call recording / answering machine support etc.) Ė except for, of course, the QWERTY keyboard.

Unfortunately, there are some problems with the N95. The battery life is pretty bad, for one. While, sometimes, I only charge my TI OMAP-based (and, therefore, non-3G) phones (OK, I donít use them much for for example Web browsing and such Ė I mostly use my Universal for that because of the VGA screen) once a week, the N95 requires far more frequent recharges Ė at least a daily one.

The size of the RAM memory is another question. While the 22-23M RAM available after boot is enough for a LOT of things under Windows Mobile, multitasking in Symbian seems to be much more memory-hungry, particularly if you use the built-in, indeed excellent Web browser. If you open some (not very big) no more than two or three pages in the factory browser, the background tasks (for example, media player) inevitably shut down. In addition (still speaking of the browser), you canít keep more than 3-4 pages in memory; they will need to be reloaded if you go back to them. Even the pretty much memory-hungry Internet Explorer Mobile behaves better and uses less memory on Windows Mobile, let alone other browsers (for example, the at least twice more memory-friendly Opera Mobile; and I havenít even mentioned Opera Mini, which has at least two orders of magnitude less memory usage). Fortunately, both Opera Mobile 8.65 and Opera Mini work in a far more memory-friendly way. That is, if you do plan to multitask (a lot), never ever think of getting the N95.

Speaking of the built-in browser, it indeed rocks. Itís using a narrow character set like Thunderhawk and is really able to crunch a lot of text into the visible screen estate without the need for horizontal scrolling. Also, as opposed to almost all Windows Mobile browsers (except for the slow & memory hog Minimo, the, currently, unavailable NetFront, the still slow and buggy jb5 and the unofficial and the somewhat outdated (no full page view), Russian Opera Mini 2 Mod), it allows for in-page text searching Ė a feature REALLY missing from mainstream Windows Mobile(-compliant), recommended browsers (Opera Mobile, IEM and the official version of Opera Mini). Also, it has really good standards compliance. While the results it presented in the Acid2 (CSS2) test were a bit worse than those of Opera Mobile or Minimo, it, otherwise, turned out to be pretty cool Ė for example, it has passed all my AJAX (and also the CSS1) tests.

The A2DP support, while it certainly had no quality problems with any stereo headphones (as opposed to the Microsoft BT stack on Windows Mobile) Iíve ever tested it with, has severe AVRCP problems with the Plantronics Pulsar stereo headphones: you canít just restart playing a title from the 590A. This seems to be an issue with Nokiaís A2DP-enabled products in general: the 5300 also had, albeit different, AVRCP issues with my Plantronics 590A (but, of course, not with Nokiaís own headphones). That is, itís still pretty sad to see neither the MS BT stack-based Windows Mobile (sometimes severe sound quality problems) nor the Nokia / Symbian platform (AVRCP problems and, after a while, drop-outs) support Plantronicsí products well.

The (stereo) speakers are of very good quality and are VERY loud. Much better than on my HTC Wizard, HTC Universal, HTC Vox, Oxygen, x51v and even the Fujitsu-Siemens Pocket Loox 718 / 720, which, so far, had the best, loudest speaker.

The (Java) MIDlet support is excellent (much better than under Windows Mobile) and is hardware 3D accelerated. While thereíre few real MIDlets making use of the hardware 3D acceleration support, itís still nice to have a device around that does support MIDlet acceleration. (More on this in my forthcoming MIDlet Bible.)

As far as the generic (non-A2DP) Bluetooth support is concerned, it, unfortunately, lacks advanced features; for example, it doesnít support BT PAN at all (not that the MS BT stack would on Windows Mobile Ė actually, it was only some weeks ago that one-direction (PAN server) support was, finally, added by some XDA-Dev hackers). It canít use other computers in DUN mode and, as it seems, it canít connect them via a wireless serial connection either. Note that I had no file exchange problems with neither Widcomm- nor MS BT stack-based Pocket PCís, which is certainly good news if you take into account that this isnít necessarily the case, not even on the Windows Mobile platform.

Wi-Fi-wise, p2p connections work, should you really need something like BT PAN. Otherwise, it isnít as good, compatibility-wise, as that of Windows Mobile. Iíve encountered far more situations where it either didnít connect or just disconnected after 10-20 seconds than with my Vox (the Vox having the best Wi-Fi support so far). The rumored 2.x ROM update, which should be released next month, is stated to fix this problem.

The camera Ė particularly when taken into account itís a phone camera Ė is very good, particularly when used as a video camera. I especially like the fact that, in video mode, it uses the really advanced and great H-264 (a.k.a. MPEG-4) coding, as opposed to the M-JPEG most even high-end (Canon's expensive SD/IXUS range etc.) point-and-shoot digital cameras. For example, even the latest Canon 870 IS camera (the one Iíll purchase as it has far better optics than its predecessor and has wide angle Ė see the just-published DPReview HERE) burns around 1.7MB every second at the best quality setting (640x480 / 30fps). The N95 burns about 20 Mbytes every minute Ė that is, about five times less than M-JPEG encoders Ė using the same VGA resolution and 30 fps, with compression artifacts not really visible during regular playback. Another comparison: low-end digicameras like the HP R717 burn 13 Mbyte a minute with QVGA (320*240), 30 fps, pretty low-quality videos. The lack of stereo (or even better) microphones is really a shame, though (not that any point-and-shoot, "real" digicams had stereo mikes Ė you need to use a ďrealĒ videocamera for that).

The screen is equally bad outdoors and/or in direct sunlight than those of the current Windows Mobile phones. Quite a letdown after the bright, old 176*208 Nokia screens like that of the Nokia N-Gage, which were perfectly visible / usable outdoors and even in direct sunlight. Instead of pumping out 16 million colors, Nokia should pay attention to making their screens more usable outdoors. Fortunately, the AllAboutSymbian folks declared this problem has also been fixed in the successor, the N95 8GB.

Fortunately, the screen doesnít have polarization problems in Landscape, unlike many Pocket PCís (all Casio transmissive color screens; the Dell Axim x50v / x51v etc.). This, and the fact that the minimal backlight level you can set is pretty low make the N95 a great bedtime device Ė very few gadgets are better in these two respects (the HP iPAQ hx4700 being one of them Ė it has even lower minimal backlight level and the same lack of polarization issues in Landscape).

Gaming-wise (letís not forget: the N95 will be compatible with all N-Gage platform games from next month, meaning a lot of high-quality games), the hardware has both pros and cons. First, the pro: it has is excellent 3D accelerator and, again, itís officially part of the new N-Gage platform. Then, the cons: it has pretty bad controls. Even worse, Iíd say, than on most Pocket PCís (OK, I admit the Pocket Loox 720, the HP iPAQ 2210, 38xx, 39xx, 5450 and 5550 are even worse, D-pad-wise). The sole reason for this is as follows:
  1. itís very easy for your thumb to accidentally press the two Menu buttons, located to the left / right of the D-pad. There isnít anything worse than accidentally pressing them during playing a game. Fortunately, games, in general, pause themselves in these cases, so, you can still return to playing them.
  2. if you prefer playing in Landscape (fortunately, the built-in games all support this orientation; so do some MIDlets), the multimedia buttons on the left wonít be of real help: they are very hard to press. According to the latest reviews, the latter problem, to some extent, have been fixed in the N95 8GB.
  3. the Action button isnít very easy to press either.

I canít comment on the phone part (particularly recording phone calls and/or using answering machines Ė the biggest problem with most Windows Mobile phones) as yet as Iím still awaiting T-Mobile UKís official unlock code so that I can use the phone outside of the UK. This is why Iíll only elaborate on the data capabilities later; most importantly, how the HSDPA support really fares, compared to my Windows Mobile devices. And, of course, Iíll also comment on the call recording capabilities.

All in all, so far, the N95 has turned out to be a VERY positive surprise and, if it records my phone calls without problems, Iíll give my HTC Oxygen to my wife and promote the N95 to be my main phone.

BTW, All About Symbian has just published a quick review of the Nokia N95 8GB, the enhanced version of the N95, which will hit the shelves REALLY soon - certainly worth reading.

Finally, an important announcement

Iíll continue publishing a LOT of information on the N95, particularly software-wise (the above is almost exclusively hardware-related) Ė that is, Symbian-related stuff. That is, in my future roundups, Iíll also elaborate on the comparable / related Symbian s60 products as well, starting with my MIDlet Bible, which will be published, hopefully, tomorrow. Note that the charts (main chart; 3D games Compatibily Chart and JBenchmark Chart) of it already have excessive information on the MIDlet support of Symbian. This will help
  1. both Windows Mobile and Symbian software developers in learning how the software titles on the other platform behave, what functionality has been implemented etc. Currently, my full software roundups and Bibles are, for Windows Mobile developers, probably the number one source of information on what they should implement / work further on (at least this is what Iíve been told by most Windows Mobile top developers and I, knowing the detail of the information contained in these articles, I donít think theyíre just flattering me ). Adding multiplatform coverage will further help developers on adding features they may have not been aware of because they may not have the necessary means / time to know what a completely different, alternative mobile platform offers. This applies to developers of both platforms, of course.
  2. originally Symbian (or, WM) users learning the new / other platform and finding software titles that offer the same (or similar) functionalities they got used to on their old (other) platform
  3. users that have devices from both platforms will find these tests useful. As has already pointed out, the N95 beats most (if not all) Windows Mobile devices in many respects Ė and, of course, vice versa (for example, the GPS locking speed of natively SiRFIII-based devices, the AVRCP compliance with my Plantronics 590A A2DP headphones or the, in general, better software availability on Windows Mobile); hence, I think in the future the N95 will be always in one of my pockets (along with some of my Pocket PCís and MS Smartphones, of course). This will greatly help them in deciding what platform / device to use for a given task.

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Old 10-27-2007, 08:55 PM
5000+ Posts? I Should OWN This Site!
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 5,067

UPDATE (10/28/2007):
  • As promised, I've started publishing (comparative) info on Symbian / the N95. The first article, the MIDlet Bible, has already been published. I'll pblish an article on the just-released, EXCELLENT Opera Mini 4 beta 3 tomorrow and will publish the long-awaited Multimedia Bible next week. Both with extensive Symbian-related remarks.
  • I'd like to thank "Beck" from the sprites & bites blog. In addition to sending me the phone even by her leaving without a single mobile phone for one and half a day, she was really helpful in receiving an official T-Mo UK unlock code for the device and sold the phone really cheap - she didn't try to rip me off in any way. That is, a big THANKS to her, and, if you, sometime, would trade with her, I can assure you she's 100% reliable and is an excellent seller.

    Thanks again for the N95, which, otherwise, I couldn't have afforded (at its recent street price) because, after all, I've only bought it to have another toy I sometimes write about, not a(nother) Windows Mobile device I constantly use.

    Finally, don't forget to check out her above-linked blog if you're interested in desktop console gaming (currently, it officially discusses the MS Xbox 360, the Nintendo Wii and the PS3) and her occasional mobility-related posts.
  • Iíve continued playing with the phone. First, some short remarks and, then, I discuss call recording.
  1. The memory problem IS an issue and makes (occasional) running of the built-in browser a pain in even if you only want to see one page. For example, its memory requirements very often result in the application the browser was invoked shut down. This is really a pain if you, for example, clicked a HTML attachment in Messaging or a download link in Opera Mini. Then, there wonít be anything you can return to after having finished reading the HTML mail or downloading the file. Therefore, the built-in browser, no matter how great it is, is pretty much useless (but not on S60 3rd ed. Devices with substantially more free RAM like the N95-3 or the N95 8GB.)
  2. The battery life turned out to be much better than I thought at first. If you donít actively browse the Net use Wi-Fi etc. all the time and arenít in a 3G area, you may end up having to recharge the device ďonlyĒ every second day. Yeah, still much worse than the battery life of the HTC Wizard or any other TI OMAP-based Windows Mobile device, I know.
  3. Compared to the HTC Universal Pocket PC, it has a little bit more tolerance to really low-level signals. When the Universal displays around one bar signal level, GPRS is sure to be interrupted. Not so with the N95, it was able to pretty surely

    Unfortunately, the same canít be stated about its being able to use 3(.5)G (UMTS / HSDPA). In that (at least in using 3G), the Universal seems to be better Ė it is clearly more sensitive. (Itís another question the Universal canít make a usable connection with one UMTS bar visible. Itíll constantly switch between the two (GPRS and UMTS) modes, rendering Net access (and sometimes the entire handheld) almost useless Ė an inherent problem with Windows Mobile, unless you manually disable all kind of 3G support.

    That is, if you plan to use your handset exactly at the boundary of 3+G UMTS (HSDPA) and pre-3G (GPRS. EDGE) coverage areas, there might be better handsets out there than the N95.
  4. Bluetooth Dial-Up Networking is implemented REALLY cleverly and in a much more superior way than under Windows Mobile because it allows accessing the Net on the N95 while another client is actively using it as a modem. This really rocks. See THIS for more info on Windows Mobileís (clearly inferior) approach.
Finally, the question of call (auto)recording Ė compared to Windows Mobile: In this area, the N95 is orders of magnitude better than most (but not all!) Windows Mobile handsets because 1, it does allow for recording the other party 2, while it does beep every 15 seconds (as opposed to what the manual states, that is, 5 seconds), this is only heard by the local party, not the remote one. The remote party doesnít hear a thing Ė not even the initial beep about 2 seconds after starting the recording. This also means you do NOT need to use any beep filter applications (BeepOff, which, currently, doesnít have an S60 3rd-compatible version AFAIK or the beep filter function of Ultimate Voice Recorder itself) and you can even use the built-in Recorder app (in the Office suite) to (manually) record your conversations. No beeps will be heard on the other end of the line.

Iíve played a lot with the call recording facilities and thoroughly tested the already-mentioned built-in Recorder app (which needs to be manually started and lacks memory-saving output formats), VITO AudioNotes for Nokia S60 3rd ed 1.31 and the well-known Ultimate Voice Recorder (UVR) 4.01.

Iíve created a chart of these apps:

Youíre supposed to directly compare the contents of this chart to that of my Windows Mobile VITO AudioNotes review. Note that, in the meantime, Resco Audio Recorder has also received MS Smartphone support. A quick, textual comparison & explanation follows:

Records to the card: of course, all of them do. In here, Iíve listed the directories they record to. As can clearly be seen, VITO AudioNotes uses exactly the same directory structure than under Windows Mobile, clearly separating incoming and outgoing calls. This is certainly good news Ė as weíll later see, the other two solutions donít store the direction of the call.

Format: in here, Iíve listed the output file format. As can clearly be seen, the built-in Recorder produces very large (one megabyte / minute) files unless you do know the call will take less than a minute OR are ready to always begin a new recording when the first times out; in this case, you can also use the most memory-effective MMS (physically, AMR) output format. The two other apps are far better in this respect, particularly UVR, which also allows for recording directly into AMR, unlike VITOís app.

Distinction between incoming and outgoing calls?: as has already been mentioned, only VITOís app supports this. However, I still donít consider this to be a stumbling block with UVR as itís, in general, very easy to decide who was the caller, particularly if you follow my advice below on trying to defer speaking with some 1-2 seconds.

Boot-time loading?: on Windows Mobile, both Resco and VITO automatically start themselves. With PMRecorder, you can easily do the same by creating a shortcut to its main EXE file (and, then, just minimizing PMRecorderís main window upon restarting your handset). On Symbian S60 3rd ed, only UVR is able to auto-start itself, VITO isnít. That is, you will always need to start the latter manually.

Shut down by the OS?: as with Windows Mobile, Symbian also shuts down background tasks when the memory starts to run out. This happens on the memory-constrained N95(-1) (NOT the 128M RAM-equipped N95-3 or the N95 8GB!) a lot of times.

Under previous S60 editions, there were call recorder apps that registered themselves (and, therefore, run) as services, not as high-level applications prone to be shut down. UVR has also followed this line. Unfortunately, thatís no longer the case Ė UVR will be shut down on the N95 too pretty early. Fortunately, this can be very easily spotted if you let it display its icon at the bottom of the screen Ė if itís hidden, then, you know it needs to be restarted.

VITOís app, on the other hand, was a VERY nice surprise: it isnít shut down and keeps recording flawlessly. Iíve done some VERY serious tests mass program starting tests, spanning some 15-20 minutes, to be absolutely sure this is the case. VITO was never shut down. That is, if you donít want to continuously restart UVR, go for VITO Ė it will surely be in the memory, ready for recording. A big thumbs up for the VITO folks!

Caller ID (or, if it lacks, phone number, including the case of unknown other parties) in the filename?: a decent call recorder app (as all the three recommended Windows Mobile call recorders) should make a Contacts database lookup, based on the caller / calleeís phone number, in order to insert her or his name in the file name, instead of the phone number. Both specialized apps support this.

Results of problematic chars in the contact name?: just like on Windows Mobile, Symbian apps refuse to record calls where the other party can be found in your local Contacts database and her or his name contain invalid characters like slashes (/).

As can clearly be seen, neither UVR nor VITOís app knows how to deal with these cases Ė they simply wonít record anything. With UVR, this is particularly painful, as it DOES show itís recording the conversation.

Results of beep elimination?: UVR (as opposed to the, in this regard, weaker VITO app) offers beep elimination, which is highly useful on (some) other models, where the other party does hear the beeps denoting being recorded. As, on the N95, beeps arenít transmitted to the other party, the need for such an app isnít so important on the N95. Therefore, you can safely turn off UVRís beep elimination functionality (set Options / Settings / Warning beep to On; itís Off by default) if you can put up with the beeps every 15 seconds. Note that I didnít find this necessary: while some people complain of UVRís beep elimination making the conversations a little bit stutter upon beeps, I havenít run into this situation on the N95. Both parties were absolutely OK and pause-less with beep elimination on; so was the recording.

Visual feedback when (in)active?: UVR displays an icon at the bottom of the screen (this can be disabled); VITO doesnít. With UVR, this is of particular importance because youíll see at once if UVR gets shut down.

Lagging at start: along with the following, this row explains whether the recording starts at once, or, there is some kind of a lag, making the first (few) seconds unrecorded. While VITOís app excels at this (no lagging at all), UVR has lost this test: it starts recording some 1.5-2.5 seconds after the call has been answered.

Note that you canít fix this problem with URL by, for example, making it record to the internal memory (as opposed to the card) or disabling the beep elimination functionality.

Cutting at end: the situation is the reverse when the opposite case (ďdoes the recorder app finish recording prematurely; that is, (long) before the call is hung?Ē). VITOís app, unfortunately, doesnít record the last 1.5 - 2 seconds. Make sure you keep this in mind when you want to be absolutely sure everything is recorded Ė try to insert a pause if you are to hang up the call and not the other party!

Other goodies: just like the built-in Recording, UVR is also able to password protect recordings and is able to do some similar niceties. VITOís only real advantage is its ability to append a new recording to existing ones (both MP3ís and WAVís). Of course, I havenít listed essential functionality like playing back recordings.

Verdict: if you do need call recording, N95 supports it almost flawlessly. As neither UVR nor VITO AudioNotes are perfect, you will want to carefully compare their (dis)advantages and your needs to pick the one that better suits your needs.
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Old 10-28-2007, 03:03 PM
5000+ Posts? I Should OWN This Site!
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 5,067

(Also cross-posting this disclaimer as a collection of answers to the questions Iíve received on different forums.)

UPDATE / DISCLAIMER (10/28/2007): Some people have misunderstood the meaning of these articles (see for example XDA-Developers, HowardForums, MoDaCo).

Note that I'm only comparing the two platforms and NOT telling anyone to get an N95. I'm not a Nokia fanboy - if you want to see how real Nokia fanboys write and what kinds of reviews(?) they publish, look at some Symbian sites (no names mentioned ). No offense towards the reviewers of these sites, of course. If you know theyíre, along with their verdicts and comparisons to other platforms, heavily biased, youíll find their articles worth checking out. Otherwise, prefer reading my articles and direct OS comparisons and donít let fanboys misinform you.

My reviews are to the point and do emphasize the problems with both platforms (as opposed to those of some Symbian pages), Symbian and Windows Mobile alike. As Iím, I think I can state this without being laughed at (after all, I have everything a decent WM guy should have: an MS MVP, the Nominations Manager at Smartphone & PPCMag etc.), one of the guys that knows the most about Windows Mobile (programming-wise too), I think Iím able to objectively compare operating systems.

An answer to another common question (some people thought Iíve purchased the Nokia to be a successor of my Universal): I've bought the handset NOT to be an upgrade from the Universal (itíd be pretty hard for a QVGA device to be an upgrade from a VGA one, wouldnít be?), but from the HTC s310 (Oxygen) Smartphone, which I've bought in order to be able to record all my phone calls. (Phone call recoding is very important for me so that I can put them in my diary. It's great fun to listen to 20-30-year-old phone calls. That is, for phoning, I don't buy anything that isn't call recording-capable - this is why I've bought an, otherwise, very incapable phone (HTC s310) to be my current main phone.) As an s310 replacement, the N95 REALLY excels and offers WAY more in every respect (except for battery life and size).

I've only bought the N95 because Omni wasn't announced / released, I wanted to some new toy I can play with and I had some money to burn (that is, to get some new gadgets to play with). In addition, "beck" sold it to me quite cheap (along with the official T-Mo UK unlock code) - so, my desire for new toys was fulfilled That is, I haven't meant at all "the N95 is better than the Universal in every respect" - again, we're comparing apples and oranges.

I also recommend my remarks & comments HERE in the Comments section.
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