Hello and welcome everyone to the Nokia N8 Review Week here on Fone Arena! Each day of this week, one of our team members will cover one area of Nokia’s imaging flagship with all the do’s and dont’s. This should make for an exciting week and we’re all looking forward to that! Today is Friday, our names are Jon Choo and Gaurav Hasabnis, and we have joined hands to tell you about the Nokia N8 apps and what you can expect of it. Enjoy reading along and if you have any questions on that matter, leave a comment!
Nokia Video Player
Although you will feel it’s the same old Video Player in Symbian, in reality it’s a big change for Symbian 3. Gone is the limited codec support, and for the 1st time, a Nokia Symbian device has support for Divx, Xvid codecs. The list of supported codecs is as follows: H.264, MPEG-4, VC-1, Sorenson Spark VGA 15, Real video 10 QVGA 30 frames per second. For stream feeds: H.264, Flash Lite 4, Flash 10 for video, On2 VP6, Sorenson Spark. Till today, only the Samsung Omnia HD had such an extensive support. The Nokia N8, however, has one big addition apart from codec support, and it’s the HDMI output.
The interface is pretty neat and simple: nothing complicated about it. You will also feel familiar with it if you have been a Nokia user for a long time and more importantly a Nokia Symbian user. You will see the Captured Videos category, these are mainly videos captured by the Nokia N8. There is nice addition of You Tube Videos which are marked as favourite, as well as OVI Store Videos which are downloaded from the Store application.
This is something completely new for us and many Symbian users. Web TV is not a real time TV which is getting streamed over the Internet, but overall various videos which are recorded by the specific channel & provided to us to watch. We personally liked the Movie Teasers from Paramount Pictures where we get info on upcoming movies. Some of the screenshots below are from upcoming movies & some are already released, namely The Last Air Bender & The Shutter Island. What we noticed is that despite the fact that these videos are streamed online, the quality is pretty good. Also the sound quality is acceptable.
There are many more channels available on the OVI Store for download.
Nokia provides Quick Office 6.2.571 as bundled with the N8. Apart from reading Microsoft Office files such as Word, PowerPoint, Excel; it’s possible to create files but we need to purchase the license for that. Unlike Eseries handsets from Nokia, Nseries and the N8 do not come with full a licensed QuickOffice version preinstalled.
There is also an Adobe PDF viewer and as its name suggest, it can only read the PDF documents.
But frankly speaking, the office apps experience is not at all similar to the Android Office Apps like Think Free and even QuickOffice for Android. Even Adobe Reader for Android is much smoother to operate compared to its Symbian^3 counterpart.
There is also a Zip manager which does its work perfectly most of the time. However, sometimes password protected zip files do not get extracted properly. Also this manager cannot handle other types of files & extensions that are widely used for compression like TAR, RAR & various others. But for that there are dedicated applications available in the OVI Store.
There is also a built-in file manager which is one of the best across different platforms. It’s one of the strong holds of Symbian for many years. This file manager for N8 has one more feature addition called USB on-the-go support. You can just connect any flash drive (USB Pen Drive) to the additional USB to Micro USB adapter supplied in the box by Nokia and it’s done. You’ll then be able to easily read contents from a connected USB flash drive and even play the media files in it which are supported by the N8. Aside from a USB, it also reads card readers so you can read various kinds of memory cards. We also found that all those devices which are self-powered & support USB Mass Storage support can be attached to N8. Very few failed to get detected. Apart from that, we were not able to detect anything which is not in FAT32 format, like NTFS or different Linux file formats. One biggest drawback we found is that USB Flash drives bigger than 32GB can not be used with this feature. We don’t know why, but we feel it’s a drawback. Maybe Nokia will provide support in the future with firmware upgrades.
You will also notice a Backup option in the File Manager but there is nothing new here to mention. It’s the same backup tool that was also present in Symbian^1 & S60 3rd Edition FP2 & FP1.
The Nokia N8 comes with Ovi Music Unlimited in many countries including India. It’s a DRM-protected content service. We can download songs directly from the Application which is bundled in the N8 as well as download songs from the Web browser on a computer or OVI Music Player and then sync them to the device. Songs will get stored by default to the 16GB mass storage. We tried to move downloaded songs from mass storage to the memory card and we failed: it’s probably due to the nature of the DRM-protected content. Hence, the 16GB of mass storage will be definitely small given the nature of the unlimited music for a year service.
FM Stereo Radio with RDS
The N8’s FM radio is very similar to Symbain^1 devices like Nokia N97, N97mini, 5800XM, X6. It’s neat & clean. It has full RDS support and that works pretty well. Audio quality is surprisingly very good with proper depth & fidelity and also pretty loud. There is Automatic Scanning for alternative frequency. This is a great feature for global travelers: if you travel, the N8 should be able to take care of auto-switching to the frequencies of your selected radio station. The RDS is the best part of N8 radio app. The radio station name gets displayed with nice effects across the whole screen, while the rest of the RDS readings are displayed in nicely legible text on a line at the bottom.
Photo & Video Editor
The built in photo editor has drastically improved over its predecessors. Now there are many new features including the addition of various effects, frames and even smileys. It allows one to add text, clip art, and emoticons, apply various effects, change the size of the pictures and photographs. It looks interesting.
The video editor lets you add subtitles and special effects, combine several clips, insert photos or create slideshows from selected pictures. It is really a nice piece of software that is powerful enough for one not to use a desktop computer for the basic needs. Nokia has given many features in it & for on-the-go editing it’s always handy.
For more details on these two options, please refer to our multimedia review yesterday.
Nokia Here & Now
It’s a nice application that works perfectly. The main function of this application is to give you information about happenings around you. For example, when we reviewed this application we were in Mumbai and it showed us all information like movies running in nearby cinema halls, nearby restaurants, also various events happening around our location. This application uses GPS & AGPS data to give you perfect info next to you at any particular time. It also shows the weather. It’s a really handy application, however it’s not written in QT or C++, rather it’s a Web Runtime app so it opens the built-in web browser within.
This application is very similar to Symbian^1 devices. It searches the query fired by the user across the device. The major drawback is that it’s painfully slow.
Until I got the N8, I’ve never used the Ovi Store to search and download applications. It wasn’t because there were no apps on it. No, it was because it was a pain and terrible experience to use. It was easily the most broken application to ever grace my old E55 – it wouldn’t even install the new version, so I couldn’t use it even if I wanted to. How Nokia can get something as important as an app store broken is beyond me.
The new Ovi Store aims to fix that. First, the UI has been refreshed to make it easier for the user to navigate and more importantly – buy apps. It still suffers from some UI quirks – for example why isn’t the search field permanently available?
Free content is available in over 190 countries whereas credit card billing is available in over 170 countries. In addition to those, as of the end of October 2010, 99 operators in 29 countries support integrated mobile billing with Ovi Store. (Source)
At Nokia World, I witnessed Nokia’s new CEO Stephen Elop stressing the importance of developers. Nokia gave massive amounts of cheques and hundreds of N8 devices to aspiring developers. There was a sign that Nokia is finally beginning to understand the reality – that former customers are flocking to Apple and Android because of the App Store and Android Market.
Still, Nokia could do a lot better to ship the N8 with a built-in Ovi Store rather than a link to download it!
I am not sure of the numbers, but there are a couple of thousands of applications on the Ovi Store. Many are bound to be utterly useless, or merely bookmarks or glorified RSS readers. But deep inside are a handful of gems.
Gravity for example remains the best twitter client on the Symbian platform – but not cheap at £8. Tweets60 is an adequate free alternative, though no where as good as Gravity. That’s before you consider the many free alternatives on other platforms that work just as well if not better.
The hugely addictive Angry Birds is available in two versions – the free Lite version with limited levels and the full version with 105 levels and that costs £3 in UK money. £3 may sound like a lot when compared to the iPhone version (59p), but is still cheap enough compared to console PSP and DS games.
The N8 comes with two free games to highlight its graphical prowess – Need for Speed: Shift HD (81MB) and Galaxy on Fire (16MB). Both of these can be downloaded from the Ovi Store and both showcase the N8’s 3D capability – unfortunately both aren’t that good. Gameplay suffers hugely due to the lack of hardware buttons. To me, the lack of precision offered by touch screen and accelerometer controls isn’t worth the effort.
The Ovi Store is improving. The speed of downloads and ability to pause and continue a download is a major plus. I commented last week on twitter that I wished Ovi Store would be as good as the new Windows Phone 7 Marketplace. Now having used the new Ovi Store, I find that while the Marketplace is still prettier, the new Ovi Store is just as quick and as easy to use.
The biggest issue with the Ovi Store is the appalling availability of even new applications for the N8/Symbian^3 platform. For example why isn’t Skype compatible with the N8? And isn’t Orange Wednesdays coded in Qt? Why isn’t it deployed on the Ovi Store? Nokia makes a big fuss about Qt allowing developers to code once and deploy across major mobile devices – but clearly this isn’t happening. It may not be the Nokia’s fault on which platforms the developers chooses to deploy on – but it is their job to convince them.
About six months ago Nokia unshackled Ovi Maps and made the previously paid for navigation feature free for all their modern smartphones with a built-in GPS receiver, including naturally the N8. It is now available in 76 countries in over 40 languages. It features a brilliant offline feature that allows users to freely download maps from 180 countries through a desktop client, thus saving on data costs.
Ovi Maps has a pretty good user interface. Starting it up, the user will be brought to the console filled with grids of icons where most of the features are available just one touch away. Most of the features here are standard offerings in a GPS-navigation software.
With Ovi Maps Nokia has integrated their previous separate ‘Here and Now’ widget into the application. There are a couple of widgets here: Weather, Events, Qype etc. I find the service to be rather useful, and a huge improvement from when I last used it – for example Events now suggests the nearer Vue Watford, rather than the previous versions when it suggested Cineworld Luton, a good 9.5 miles away from St Albans where I live. The Premium guides are available through Lonely Planet and ViaMichelin though they do seem to have more cities oriented. Not surprisingly, don’t expect to find plenty of good suggestions in smaller towns like where I live. I find that the listings are reassuringly based on quality, particularly those by ViaMichelin. You certainly won’t find McDonalds being listed under any of the premium guides!
The search engine has been simplified dramatically. A search field exists for both addresses (including support for full seven characters UK postcodes) and POIs, with no separate fields. Some people have complained to me in the past about this, but I’ve found it to be easy to use. The lack of separate fields did not prevent the search engine from accurately searching addresses or POIs, at least in my experience.
The rest of Ovi Maps works as it should. Users can adjust the route calculating algorithm with options like avoiding the motorway, tunnel, ferry, toll road, unpaved road and trains. Similarly, it can also suggest routes optimized for pedestrians. Route suggestions seem to be fairly good, though this is merely based on my personal experience and opinion, and seems to be a bit better than Google Maps, at least in areas I’ve tested. Obviously your mileage may vary and this depends on the quality of mapping in different areas. It does lack Google’s unique public transit feature.Although Google Maps might consume more data and is less accurate , it’s easy to use and you can find the distance between your position and destination without having to step into navigation mode.
Like other popular SatNav products (such as TomTom), you can change the screen to ‘night’ mode which works better on the eyes. GPS lock is almost instantaneous if A-GPS is activated. It takes about a minute or so to gain a fix from a cold start.
The Ovi Store experience is much better than the previous Touchscreen phones from Nokia but still needs to catch up with the competition.We are aware that the N8 is the first phone to run on Symbian^3 and we have to wait for a while to see the progress in the apps front. Ovi Maps is a great application but needs minor enhancements to be perfect.To wrap it up, the N8 is not a phone you would buy for the apps but a phone which has apps too !
Do come back tomorrow for part 6 of our N8 Review week.