Nokia N97, a solid upgrade from the N95

I’ve been playing with my new Nokia N97 and am so happy I stayed with Nokia and didn’t venture off to iPhone or Palm Pre land, or even N900. It’s an awesome device. I LOVE THIS PHONE!

I just upgraded to the v20 firmware. The phone came with v12. The only major visible improvement is kinetic scrolling. This may sound like a meaningless “for show” feature, but it really does make navigating easier and more fluid. Long press of keys to get alternate characters is nice.

I’m sure there are a lot of N95 owners, like me, wondering if they should get the N97, go with the non-touch N86, or just abandon an N-series for Appleland. Well, wonder no more. The N97 kicks all other phones’ rears. I’ll try to touch on a lot of the issues I was anticipating. Happily, for the most part, my fears ended up being unfounded.

I know there has been a lot of pooh poohing the touch interface with S60 5th edition, but, generally, I think they did a pretty good job. There are a few instances where it’s difficult to navigate through an older apps UI by touch, but in those few instances you can just flip out the keyboard and use the D pad old-school style. I suspect, apps will soon adopt a 5th-ed version as some have already done.

Unfounded Fears:

  • Resistive touch screen: It not as fluid as capacitive (iPhone), but OK.
  • Responsiveness: Reasonably responsive, but can get sluggish when you have a lot of apps running–maybe Apple is right ;-) Similar to N95 experience, however.
  • Keyboard: It is fine! The positioning of the spacebar is easy to get used to. Easy to type on.
  • D Pad vs (N97 Mini’s arrow keys): It works fine and I haven’t encountered any issues. Just use your thumbnail–as I did on N95. In fact, I’d say it’s easier to use than N95’s equivalent.
  • Virtual T9 keypad: Might be easier to use than the N95’s physical keypad which requires a much harder push
  • App compatibility: Most of the apps I used on N95 have a S60 5th ed. compatible version.
  • One-handed use: You can still use it comfortably with one hand. However, since it lacks many of the N95’s physical buttons, it usually takes several more “clicks” to accomplish some tasks.
  • Size: It’s fairly compact and not really that much larger than iPhone.
  • 3G with same SIM: It worked fine using SIM from non-3G N95. (I never notice that it actually said 3G on the SIM ;-)
  • Lens cover scratching: Doesn’t appear lens cover design is different than the one that can scratch the lens based on what I’ve seen on the Net. I suspect that the natural tendency to push down and slide may contribute to the problem, so I’m going to try to remember to slide it from the side with my fingernail. Based on this video, it doesn’t look too difficult to swap it out should I need to down the line.

Nice Surprises:

  • Charges through USB port. No more proprietary power connector.
  • Less camera shutter lag than N95
  • The msg reader app is very neat! It will read SMS messages out loud.
  • Telexy’s VPN app is very cool. I was able to transfer files from a Windows share on my home network over the Internet to my phone! Their Remote Desktop Client works too, but not sure how useful it is on the small screen.
  • Initially I really missed T9Nav. It’s an app that lets you quickly find anything on your phone. The developers say a 5th ed version is not due until March! However, I found that HandyShell from Epocware has a similar feature. The difference is that it is based on what you actually type and not T9 (i.e., phone keypad) input. Since the N97 has no physical phone keypad, it works well. Of course, this means you have to use the keyboard. There is also a built-in search app that will globally for things.
  • Opera Mini works wonderfully on N97. I still don’t like the way the built-in browser’s Back function always takes you to a list first.

Tips, Tricks and Stuff:

  • Get the black version. The white keyboard on the white version has white keys and back-lighting can make the keys hard to see. Hopefully they will allow you to turn off the backlight manually in the future, which would fix the problem.
  • Watch the WiFi use since it can drain the battery quickly.
  • If you are used to the iPhone’s capacitive touch screen, the N97 requires a slightly harder press. If you don’t, you’ll find that it may interpret your touch as a click instead of a drag.
  • Beware of cases that have a magnetic clasp. I didn’t realize this and every time I would take it out of the case, the camera app would go on–even if it’s in standby! I believe it thinks I opened the lens cover. The N95 had a similar issue. I went to one of those Mobile accessories carts in the mall and tried a couple out. I found one that works. I is also magnetic, but for whatever reason it doesn’t set the camera off.
  • Leave the screen protector on! It’s always a pain to put on an aftermarket one and you never get all the bubbles out.
  • If you have to use the scrollbar on long lists, use your fingernail. If you use your finger, it tends to scroll a little as you lift your finger.
  • Speed dialing (aka 1-Touch or One Touch) doesn’t work if the number has parenthesis or dashes (spaces appear to be OK). Just take them out of any speed dialed number. If you don’t, you will get an “Invalid Phone Number” error message. This only affects speed dialing. If you select a number with parenthesis from your normal Contacts, it dials fine.
  • As I stated above, it may be best to slide the camera lens cover from the side using a fingernail instead of pressing on it and sliding. Should help to minimize risk of scratching.
  • It can get confusing when using the side unlock button because it doesn’t also make the display come on. It is best to turn autolock off (Menu > Settings > Phone > Phone mgmt > Auto. keyguard) Then, just use the side lock/unlock button to lock/unlock the keypad manually.
  • Set the Light time-out (Settings > Phone > Display > Light time-out) to as short a setting as tolerable to save battery life.
  • For Google Reader, MojoStudios appears to be on the verge of releasing a dedicated app. Can’t wait to try because the browsers don’t seem to format things perfectly. Even the Google Reader Widget For The N97 is just ok. Direct link to widget here.
  • I also have an iPod Touch 2nd gen which satisfies my iPhone lust. ‘Course, since I have an N97 I can use it as a WiFi hotspot to get Internet access :-) Also, I use my Touch to access my work Exchange email, calendar, etc. and use my phone for my personal equivalents. I like to keep them segregated.
  • Automatically scale an image before it gets uploaded Flickr. Go to Applications > Share online. Highlight Flickr and press Options. Choose Edit and then sSet Upload image size to medium.
  • Epocware makes a lot of…well..handy utilities. They are on the pricey side for S60 apps. Fortunately, I had a 30% off coupon, so I just popped for the Handy Tools Pack. Some apps I’ll never use, but in addition to HandyShell, I like HandySafePro for storing sensitive data and HandyProfiles which lets you automatically switch Profiles based on time and even location.
  • If when you press the Back button from the Music Player, it goes directly to the Standby screen, try this: Connect via USB cable and delete the following directories inside “private” on drives E and F: 101ffc31, 101ffca9, 10281e17. Do a refresh. Doesn’t seem to “stick”, however.

Email:

  • I’m using LonelyCatGames’ Profimail email client. It is arguably the best (only?) email client that supports HTML email. The build-in email client sux in a big way.
  • I’m also trying out the new Nokia Messaging. This *service* accesses your email on their server and then syncs it to your phone. This is a little unnerving because you have to give your email password to Nokia. That said, it is by far the best S60 email client I’ve used. HTML email looks beautiful! It features Blackberry style “push” email, so you get notified of new messages and they can be automatically downloaded. (Personally, I don’t like this for email.) They are rather vague about how much this service will eventually cost and honestly I’m not sure how much I would pay. Here’s the FAQ. One thing I do not like is the 10-folder limit which for any heavy gMail user is not nearly enough. Profimail has unlimited.
  • You could also use the GMail app from http://m.google.com instead of web-based client, but I’ve never liked this on a Nokia device.

C Drive Debacle:

  • The N97 has two storage drives, C and E. Free space on C is very important and there is not very much of it. However, Nokia has seen fit to store and have all kinds of things load on there and you will likely have problems very quickly.
  • It’s SO stupid when you consider that it’s got gigabytes of built-in storage on the E drive! I’m thinking this will be fixed with firmware, but it doesn’t look like it made it into v20.
  • I copied over unused files to my PC and deleted a bunch.
  • A great way to see which files are installed on C is to use the App Manager (Settings > Application mgr > Installed Apps). A list will all installed apps will appear with how much space they take up. If you don’t see the icon to the right, that means the app is installed on C. You can delete by selecting and then deleting from the Options menu. Make sure you have things backed up or can get the install files later if you need!
  • Also, go to the Ovi store and see which (free) apps are available there that are pre-installed. Uninstall them from the phone. Then, download and reinstall to the E: drive. Examples include Bloomberg, AccuWeather and AP News. This will free up several megabytes.
  • If you upgrade to v20, it really does free up more C space if you do a hard reset which wipes *everything* off your phone. To do this, on the keyboard just press caps shift, spacebar, delete, and then press the power on. Back up first and be prepared to reinstall all your apps.

Disappointments:

  • v20 firmwire:
    • got rid of Podcast-specific Recently Added list! WTF!
    • Back button on Media Player often goes back to Standby screen, not library. Look like a bug.
  • Battery gets eaten up real fast if you do a lot on the phone.
  • Uses micro-USB connector instead of more universal mini-USB.
  • I miss the many physical buttons on the N95, like pencil, C, top left and right, and multimedia.
  • Browser (including Opera Mini) doesn’t have the smooth experience of the iPod Touch/iPhone. Also, Google mobile sites don’t work as well.
  • Inconsistent use of single and double-tapping. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if something isn’t happening because of a lag or you need to click again. I suppose I may get used to it. If you think about it, Windows isn’t always consistent either. Sometimes it’s single click and sometimes it double.
  • Application UIs are not always touch or “finger friendly”
  • Letters on backlit keyboard can be hard to see if it’s not dark
  • Needs a better application launcher with more customizable spots.
  • Won’t pair with my work Bluetooth dongle, but I think it’s a Vista/Nokia issue. Works fine on XP machine at home.
  • Copy and Paste using keyboard is missing. Jeeze!!!

The Nokia N97 over the Palm Pre or iPhone

I had pretty much decided to go with the Palm Pre, but the more I read about the Nokia N97, I may just get that. Why?

  • Tethering over WiFi
  • Don’t have to switch to Sprint
  • 5MP camera with good lens

It won’t have the sexiness of the Pre, or the iPhone for that matter, but I’ve come to depend on WiFi tethering and using my phone as my only camera. Tethering over Bluetooth may be possible, but that’s pretty sucky if you’ve ever done it. My N95 does WiFi tethering using JoikuSpot and it’s just SO nice to be able to turn my phone into a WiFi hotspot whenever I want. The Pre’s and rumored upcoming iPhone’s 3MP camera offering just doesn’t cut it and I bet the lens will be crap.

So I guess I’ll have to hang onto my aging N95 for a bit longer. The N97 isn’t even out yet and I’ll have to wait even longer for a US version. Tethering my N95 to my 2nd gen 32GB iPod Touch makes things bearable, but an all-in-one device would be much simpler.

Still, I have limited will power and if  a new iPhone appears, particularly if it multitasks–my biggest gripe–I could be convinced.

UPDATES:
2009-04-11 – The N97’s resistive touchscreen (as opposed to a capacitive one, like the iPhone) might be a big negative for me. Some people that have actually seen it have been less than impressed. Guess I need to rethink.

2009-05-04 – This demo of the phone makes the screen interaction looks pretty nice. I might be back on the N97 bandwagon. This supposed to ship in July for $699. Here’s the official demo page and here’s the preorder page. I must say I’m pretty tempted to give them my creditcard number.

2009-05-08: I pre-ordered it using coupon code on here. Saved $175! Have no idea how long deal will last. Actually I think I missed out on at least $20…seems the discount was higher yesterday based on posts in this forum.

Slate tabletPC kicks Kindle’s rear

I’ve been seriously trying to decide between the Kindle and the Sony Reader, but I’ve just discovered that you can’t beat a slate-style tabletPC-I’ve got the Motion Computing LE1700.  Digital media consumers, like me, have long moved way beyond the one-dimensional black and white mediums and onto color-intensive things like magazines,  websites, etc. Even newspapers have embraced color. What would USA Today be without color.

This is why I see single-purpose devices like the Kindle and Sony Reader as great devices, but unnecessary in the grander/long-term scheme of things. Plus, they are relatively expensive. How much more use can you get out of a 32GB iPod Touch or netbook compared to a Kindle or Sony Reader?

More and more traditionally print publications are being offered in electronic versions, although you’d be often hard pressed to find them. I recently discovered the (well hidden) digital subscription to Maximum PC and LA Times, but PC Mag, being only offered in digital format, was not surprisingly easier to get. A digital version of PC World is also available, but at $19.97/yr, it’s a bit pricey. MaxPC and PC Mag are under $10/yr. PC Mag has a special 2-year subscriptions for $15!

Digital subscriptions are by no means limited to tech magazines either. Check out Zinio.com, the engine used by PC Mag, and you’ll probably be surprised at the strong catalog of offerings. Newsstand.com is also good. That’s where you’ll find a lot of the newspapers like the LA Times, NY Times, USA Today, etc.

I will fully admit that I envy the awesome ebook reader battery life and the crisp eInk display, but giving up a full PC experience is too much to ask. I was just relaxing reading an issue of PC Mag and decided to start blogging my experience. Try THAT on an eBook reader.

The big downside to electronic publications, as with any copyrighted electronic medium, is DRM. Zinio and Newsstand both rely on proprietary file formats. Sure you can download and archive them, but who knows when they will become obsolete.

In my opinion, however, do publications have that much value after a year or two? Maybe books do, but who really re-reads their books? Yeah, I now people like to save and collect their magazines and books into their own personal library, but how often do they look at them? How much is relegated to dusty cardboard boxes in the garage taking up valuable storage space? Now hopefully, electronic publishers will embrace and standardize on the ePub format, but I’m not holding my breath. For the most part, I think the usefulness of individual magazine and newspaper copies are transitory. Just re-buy them in the future if the desire arises.

For portability, I’ll rely on my iPod Touch and N95. Both support eReader ebooks. Guess I could even stoop to a good old fashion paperback. The battery lasts forever, but no built-in backlight…oh the Kindle doesn’t have that either  ;-)

T9 Nav is an awesome S60 shortcut/app launcher for N95

I absolutely love little utilities that make life a little easier and Nuance’s T9 Nav is exactly that. It basically puts nearly everything on your N95 just a few keypresses away. No more hunting through menus to find the application, contact, appointment, etc. you are looking for.

When you first start T9 Nav up, it goes through your phone and creates an index of media, music, calendar, messages, bookmarks, and applications. (I turn off media, music and messages in the options because they tend to clutter the results, but that’s just my preference.)

Once the indexing is done all you do is type what you are looking for T9 style at the Standby screen. So, let’s say you were looking for a plummer. You would type 7582 (aka p, l, u, m) A list would pop up with anything on your phone that has something corresponding to the T9 7852. You can type more numbers to further narrow the results.

A small icon appears on the left to let you know if the entry is a contact, application, bookmark, etc. You can also cycle through tabs where each type of item is grouped together on one tab.

It’s sound like a really crazy way to get at things, but it is very effective and fast. If I’m trying to remember when my haircut appointment is I start typing 4247 and up it pops. If I want the Podcast app, I type 763 and, boom, it’s there. You get the picture. Often, it only takes about 3 characters to narrow it down to where what you want is near the top of the list.

T9 Nav is highly recommended. The cost is 17 euros or about US$22 and is available through the Nokia Software Marketplace. Somehow I got a 15% discount for registering on the site, so I got a slight discount.

UPDATE:
Apparently, T9 Nav can cause your battery to drain more rapidly. According to the techsupport:

We’ve found that sometimes T9 Nav interacts badly with applications that make frequent changes such as RSS readers or mail sync programs. They cause T9 Nav to re-index because of the updates they make to the file system. If this is applicable, then you may consider disabling another applications and seeing if it continues to happen. Depending on what the interaction problem is and which application combination is causing the issue, we may be able to suggest a work-around.

I can’t really figure out what app I’m running that would be causing this. Hopefully, they can figure out some type of workaround. My suggestion was to have a maximum update interval, like don’t update more then once a hour.

Palm Pre, my next phone? Maybe.

I was thinking about replacing my aging Nokia N95-1 this year, with the N97 being a strong candidate. However, the Palm Pre may have debuted at the top of my list. I have resisted the Apple iPhone temptation due to it’s closed architecture and lack of certain features (e.g., multitasking and cut&paste). Still, I do have a 2nd gen Touch, which when tethered via WiFi gives me the best of both worlds.

Even saying this, I’ll probably need to see certain apps on the Pre before I pull the trigger. I’m also not too crazy about moving to Sprint. Anyways, here are the N95 apps I rely on and what I’ll need to see on the Pre before I move on:

  • Podcast player. The passive bookmarking is essential!
  • Google Maps. Traffic info is a must.
  • JoikuSpot. This cool app turns my N95 into a mobile WiFi hotspot. Great for connecting a laptop or my Touch to the Internet.
  • SymSMB. Allows me to browse and manage my phone files wirelessly from my PC.
  • SymSync. Automatically and wirelessly syncs folders between my phone and PC. This app is incredible! I use it to sync my pdocasts which I process though a speed up utility which makes them playback faster, but with no change in tone (i.e., it doesn’t sound like the Chipmonks.)
  • HandySafe. Basically, this is just a app that allows me to securely store private info.
  • Google Sync. Right now I use the GooSync service to sync my phone with Google Contacts and Calendar

I suppose there is no real reason I need to ditch my N95 although Edge is becoming annoying. It’s 5MP camera is stellar. The Pre’s 3MP would be a step down. Hmmmm. Besides the N97, there is always the N96 I guess.

Copy files over WiFi automatically on N95

I often use SymSMB from Telexy to connect my N95 to my PC and move files back and forth. It like my N95 was just a normal USB drive except no wires. Well, they just released SymSync and  basically what it does is automatically transfer files from/to your N95 (or other S60 device). It’s got a cool setting that only does it when its charging.

I like to process my podcast MP3s before I listen to them (I speed them up) so I can’t use the N95’s built-in Podcasting app, as cool as that is. With SymSync, my N95 automatically grabs all of the processed podcasts when I charge it at night. Unbelievably nifty app and its only $11!

Here’s the link: http://www.symvpn.com/Products/ProductInfo.aspx?Name=SymSync&ProductId=15