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Last Build Date: Thu, 29 Sep 2016 02:15:02 GMT

 



Where's the character? Fall in love, not into utility

Tue, 06 Sep 2016 06:47:00 GMT

As an industry watcher, the world of smartphones has never been more competitive or better value. It's also duller than ditchwater. And, apparently, growth has now stopped and sales are in decline... With IFA 2016 just over in Germany, where yet another batch of almost identical 5" touch slabs were announced, I'm tempted to suggest that now really is the time to look for character in our smartphones. Where are the USPs? Are they now relegated to older, almost retro, devices, while new products fall over themselves to stay anonymous?You'll have seen the tech news over the last year. Here's a typical (made up!) news post: Company ABC today is proud to announce two new phones, the XYZ Prime and the XYZ Prime Plus. With 5" and 5.5" 1080p touchscreens and Snapdragon 617 chipsets, these two new Android 6 smartphones wow with their metallic finish, 13MP HDR-capable cameras, 2GB RAM, and flexible storage, the second nanoSIM slot can double to accept microSD. It comes with a range of covers and comes in 'dark grey, silver and champagne gold'. Sound familiar? These devices will all look near identical too, touch slabs with iPhone-esque antenna lines, iPhone-esque curves and often with iPhone-esque UI nods too (Huawei/Honor even foregoes an app list/drawer). It's all a bit depressing. Not just for me or you, but for the industry as a whole - smartphones are now so similar that it makes very little difference which one you buy (away from the extreme bottom end) and the main differentiator is price, which doesn't bode well for anyone's profit margins. It also makes smartphones very hard to fall in love with. Yes, I know that's a strange statement to come out with, but I'm sure that everyone reading this has a favourite phone of days gone by, a phone which wasn't just a slice of high tech but seemed to have a character, a personality of its own. Something that you felt at one with, which you were happy to hold and cherish, more than a simple communications tool, a phone which fitted your needs better than anything else on the market? The motley selection above was gathered for a quick snap on the bed - I have something like 100 PDAs and smartphones from the last 25 years in my cupboards, but these will do to illustrate my point - there are some classics in the photo above. Let me pick out just a few which illustrate the 'character'/USP argument well: The Nokia N93 (top middle), with its 'TV mode', camcorder modes, flip phone modes, the N93 took lovely photos and video with stereo sound - too bad the actual smartphone experience was horribly crippled by the lack of RAM (a common Nokia trait, sadly). But nevertheless, every moment I picked up the N93 I had a sense of this being ultra-cool, of owning something exclusive, something special.   The Marshall London (just below the N93) retains one of my main SIMs to this day, even though it's patently outgunned by everything else from 2015 and 2016, because of the rubberised case, the stereo speakers with incredible fidelity and, yes, the Marshall logos - on the front, back, and even on the battery. It's just such a cool phone to own and use.  Any number of the Nokia QWERTY-keyboarded smartphones and communicators, but I'll pick out the Nokia E75 here (top right, in red!), the slide-out transformation from T9 candybar to QWERTY input was very well done and the keyboard surprisingly easy to type on - all in a very small physical form. As with most of the other phones here, it was also quite rare, so there was always the 'exclusivity' factor when typing on it in public!  The Nokia N82 (just below the E75, top right) - famously featured in the Stavros parodies (oh, go on, watch them in your lunch hour, you know you want to!) - the pinnacle, in 2007/2008 of phone imaging, thanks to a protected 5MP camera of high quality and a genuine Xenon flash. That the keypad was atrociously un-ergonomic perhaps only added to its quirky character. And if you could find it in black (much rarer) then it was just about the coolest phone on the planet. Unless you wanted one of thos[...]



InstaPro (Instagram) for Symbian gets huge updates

Mon, 05 Sep 2016 08:51:47 GMT

Born as 'Instagram' for Symbian (last covered here) and then presumably renamed to avoid legal action(!), InstaPro has had numerous updates in recent months, so here's a shout out to the latest version, v4.1.0, now available in the AppList stpre for Symbian.

I'd highlight that this is commercial software and that you'll need a license key before even starting it. And there's a slight barrier here in that you have to buy this license on the Web first. InstaPro helps with this by launching you into Web, but some have found that they needed to complete the (3 Euros) purchase on another device. Once you have your license key (a very 2006 way to do things!), you're good to go.

From the Store description:

  • All registration functions: Login & Register
  • Great browsing experience
  • Search users & locations and tags
  • Same interface with mobile for easy usage
  • Send & Get Direct Messages & Photos
  • Upload your photos with cool effects like gray or pop-art
  • See what are your following doing?
  • Accept & Deny follow requests
  • Follow your friends or verified users
  • Edit your profile informations including email confirmation.
  • Change or remove your profile photo
  • Connect your Facebook & Twitter account for sharing your photos on social networks.

And here's InstaPro in action, some promo screens:

(image) (image) (image)

Curiously, my own registration information from the original 'Instagram' version didn't seem acceptable, so data points welcome here. You might have to buy the app again?

Still, good to see someone still supporting this platform in 2016.

Hopefully the AppList Store is working out for you all. See here just in case you haven't already got this installed or if this is new to you. Also, if you have custom firmware installed, make sure you tick the option in settings to show 'unsigned' applications, you'll see extra applications!




Xenon pops up in the smartphone world again

Thu, 01 Sep 2016 08:17:48 GMT

Proper (Xenon) flash has been something of a major bullet point for many Symbian and Windows Phone users over the last decade. From Nokia N82 to N8 to 808 to Lumia 1020, Xenon is where it's at if you want super-crisp evening shots of people (think parties, receptions, and so on). And yet Xenon has been very rare in the smartphone world generally, i.e. away from classic Nokias. Yesterday at IFA 2016 in Germany though, Motorola announced a new 'Moto Mod' from camera specialists Hasselblad that includes a Xenon flash and transforms a brand new Moto Z phone into a DSLR of sorts. Yes, it's Android, but this tech development is very definitely a 'link of interest' here, I think. To scale, the Nokia 808 PureView, the Nokia Lumia 1020 and the Moto Z Play plus Hasselblad 'True Zoom' Moto Mod... From PhoneScoop's coverage: First, the True Zoom is not an independent camera. You cannot use it without a Z Droid; it has no battery of its own and needs power from the Z Play. That's kind of a bummer. The True Zoom completely covers the phone's camera, where other mods leave the camera exposed. That means when the True Zoom is attached to the Z Play, you're using the True Zoom and not the internal camera to take pictures. Ironically, the True Zoom is about the same size as an independent camera. It snaps onto the back of the Z Play like any other mod. It fits firmly and won't fall off, despite its weight. Yeah, this thing is heavy. I don't have an actual number, but the phone+camera is weighty — and bulky — as hell. In fact, the combo was too big for my jeans. The added physical controls might be worth the bulk. The Hasselblad has its own shutter button, zoom dial, and power button. Pressing the power button turns on the camera and wakes the Z Play. Alternately, you can wake the camera directly from the app or the writ-twisting gesture common to Motorola phones. I love having the zoom dial and two-stage shutter button to focus and snap the shutter. The True Zoom has its own 12-megapixel sensor and xenon flash. The flash is hella bright, and images are automatically stored in the phone, not somewhere in the camera. What are the benefits of this mod? There are several. First, 10x optical zoom. You get the benefit of glass to help in and in so doing retain all the pixels of the image. Second, optical image stabilization. This helps reduce shake. The flash is much brighter than any available on a smartphone. Last,it can capture images in RAW format, which aids in editing after the fact. Which all sounds interesting, with the caveat that the snapped-on Mod is pretty huge - think a Lumia 1020 with the official DSLR Grip clipped on. Plus, as you'll see from Michael Fisher's hands-on below, the True Zoom mod is also incredibly slow at focussing, almost unusably slow - probably a byproduct of having to use the phone's CPU to do most of the contrast-based auto-focus, I suspect, and this through a pogo-pin interface. Let's hope that software updates can improve things. See the last section of Michael's review here: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EI9dmj6eiVQ" width="853" height="480" frameborder="0"> It's all a tiny bit underwhelming, we wouldn't expect sub-Lumia 1020 focussing performance in 2016 tech. Even though Xenon fans will be waiting to see my own verdict on this when review loan hardware becomes available. PS. Here are the official specs of the Hasselblad True Zoom, is it wrong of me to say that I'd still much rather have a Lumia 1020, with much larger sensor, full OIS when shooting video? Dimensions 152.3 x 72.9 x 9.0 - 15.1 mm Weight 145g Sensor resolution 12MP Video resolution 1080p Full HD at 30fps Mics 2 Sensor type BSI CMOS Sensor size 1/2.3-inch Pixel size 1.55 um Aperture f3.5-6.5 Zoom 10x optical/4x digital Focal length 4.5-45 mm (25-250mm 35mm equivalent) Macro 5cm @1x - 1.5m @10x Flash Xenon flash Flash modes Auto, on, off Image stabilization Still: OIS Video: EIS ISO equivalent Auto, 100[...]



Flash back: 8 things the Lumia 950 and the Nokia N95 have in common

Tue, 16 Aug 2016 06:14:00 GMT

Now, go with me on this. I'm contending that the current Microsoft Lumia 950 and the 2006 Nokia N95 have a lot in common - more than you might think. It's just that there was something about the 950 in my hand as my main smartphone that reminded me of a feeling I'd not had for a decade. Then it hit me. Ten years ago I'd had the ground-breaking N95....I still have the presentation box for that first Nokia N95 (from WOM World, as it was then), with the slogan on the top 'There's a thing in this box. But it's not one thing, it's many.' The idea of the Nokia N95 was that it was the first  smartphone to really encompass all the emerging portable tech in one small gadget. High spec 1/2.5"-sensored 5MP camera, GPS, loud stereo speakers, and so on. Now, technology has moved on in the intervening decade and the N95's feature set is now commonplace - in fact, it's de rigeuer and exceeded in even budget phones in 2016. But the Lumia 950 gives me something of the same impresison. That of one smartphone that can do everything. OK, apart from most of the Google services. And Snapchat. And Pokemon Go. But again, bear with me.   Here then are the main factors that make the Lumia 950 remind me of that original N95, a tech classic in its own right. Might the list also cause you to re-examine the 950 in a new light? MaterialsBoth are unashamedly plastic. I know the current fashion is for aluminium, but plastic has its advantages too - it can be formed into any shape, it's cheaper, it absorbs impacts much better and it's fully transparent to radio signals, so that's better reception for GPS, cellular and Wi-fi and the possibility of Qi wireless charging.   FlexibilityNow, back in the day it taken for granted that every phone had a battery you could get at, replace, swap out, etc. Ditto a memory card that could be inserted and swapped. The iPhone, arriving shortly after the N95, changed the industry's thinking and now most smartphones arrive with a battery sealed inside and many also have non-expandable internal storage. Sadly. Like the N95, the Lumia 950 has a replaceable battery, plus you can put in as much storage as you like via microSD.   Best kept secretNow, I know what you're going to say - the Nokia N95 sold in the millions across the world. But only over a couple of years - it was very expensive for its day - and even then only as part of a very small smartphone scene (less than 20% of all phone sales were smartphones then). And if you cut out the majority of N95 owners who bought it because it was the new tech on the block then you're left with an enthusiast tech community of fans who knew the device was the pinnacle of convergence and used the heck out of it. Now with the Lumia 950 and Windows 10 Mobile, with seemingly miniscule (5% or so even in main markets) market and mind share, so again we have something in your hand that makes you stand out from the crowd, the populace with their mass of iPhones and Android devices.   Best camera phone in the worldIt really was. Back in the day - early 2007 - the Nokia N95's large 1/2.5" 5MP sensor ruled the imaging world. For phone-shot images, at least - we were still a long way from DSLR quality. The N95 was streets ahead of everything, I'd argue, with only a couple of souped up, imaging-centric feature phones as competition. And now in 2016 we have the Lumia 950 as - demonstrably - the best camera phone in the world, beating off the Samsung Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6s/SE.   Pricey at first but came down fast, similar at each stageThis is true of most new tech, but the Lumia 950 and Nokia N95 both typefied the trend, with prices that were arguably 25% too high at launch and then were down to the 'right' price around six months afterwards. And with monetary values which were nigh-on identical. Which means that the Lumia 950 can now be picked up for under £300 new and SIM-free.  Buggy and crippled but fixed up in software within six monthsYes[...]



Juha Alakarhu: end of an era in imaging, but I'd argue that has also plateaued

Mon, 01 Aug 2016 17:32:29 GMT

Today marks the first for Juha Alakarhu back at Nokia, though this isn't quite as significant as it sounds, see my thoughts below. Of course, we're very happy that he's back in an imaging-related job and in his beloved Finland!

Juha was crucially instrumental in most of the Nokia imaging breakthroughs over the last decade, taking us from the days of 2MP fixed focus phone cameras right up to tens of Megapixels, advanced OIS and oversampling, through the Symbian era (including N8 and 808) and then Windows Phone (Lumia 920, 1020). Juha was taken on board to Microsoft as part of the Nokia Devices division take-over, but has now headed over to pastures new at... Nokia, though this time it's the Ozo professional 360 degree camera team.

Here's his tweet from earlier:

Congratulations to him on the new job, though contrary to the usual 'gloom and doom' reports around the web, his departure from Microsoft won't have any real impact, since the top end phone camera components available to all manufacturers are now very close to the best of Lumia.

In other words, Juha and his team advanced phone imaging enormously from about 2005 to 2015, but the latter has definitely plateaued in recent months - I still rate the Lumia 950 and 950 XL, in development from 2014 and released late 2015, as the best camera phones in the world, but the margins are now so small that you really have to look down at the pixel level to establish the margin of victory. So a no-name manufacturer in China can look at the possible components from the top camera factories and pluck out (say) a 16MP unit with 1/2.4" sensor, OIS and multi-LED flash, and get results not too far off what Juha's last babies under Microsoft could achieve, all at relatively minimal cost and without any real R&D.

Of course, there's more to imaging than just the hardware, and we've seen software algorithms and image processing make quite a difference - and it's also here where the 950 and 950 XL score. But, thanks mainly to Juha and team, the hardware's 'done', the software's 'done' and there's not really anywhere else to go in terms of consumer smartphone imaging. If the rumoured Microsoft 'Surface phone' (what I've referred to cheekily in the past as a 'Lumia 1060') uses the identical camera units to the 950 and 950 XL then this will already be eminently 'good enough'. And then some.

So hats off to Juha and his team and we genuinely wish them well in their efforts to advance imaging tech on new fronts - just don't get too depressed that your existing Lumia's imaging is suddenly second rate!




Why are we stuck at 75% (screen-to-body ratio)?

Thu, 21 Jul 2016 16:41:00 GMT

Despite the various pros and cons for 'touch' over the years, we're firmly in a mode in the tech world now where touch makes the most sense, in terms of text input, controls and general interaction. So why haven't we seen screen sizes increase to fill most of the front area of our phones? I examine the history of the form factor, in terms of screen-to-body ratio, and wonder whether we can't have our cake and eat it, in terms of phones that are manageable yet with monster displays...I'd like to start, as Jule Andrews once sang, "at the very beginning". In this case around the year 2000, when the first smartphones were starting to appear. I'll gloss over the Nokia Communicator line, since they were clamshell devices and once you introduce a hinge then all bets are off in terms of screen size analysis (the 2016 equivalent might be thinking about folding AMOLED screens, as rumoured in Samsung's line-ups). So, with a deep breath, and with a few notes and caveats: I can only fit a handful of example/classic devices on the chart because otherwise it would get far too busy I assume perfectly right angled device corners, i.e. a rectangular form factor, to simplify the maths (slightly - it still needs some trigonometry!) I also assume perfectly square pixel matrices, but this is pretty much a given as otherwise your images and content would be noticeably squished(!) I assume flat display fronts, something which you can't take for granted with the arrival of the Samsung 'edge' phones, whose display is genuinely wrapped around a little at the edges. So these end up with slightly higher ratios than for traditional flat-display phones, below. An obvious trend upwards, as you'd expect, as technology became ever smaller in terms of chipsets and components, while the cost of larger and higher resolution screens came down. There are some surprises along the way - who'd have thought that the screen-to-body ratio of the first smartphones was so low? 18% for the venerable Nokia 3650 (though its curved front rather messes up my rectangle-based maths, so take this with a pinch of salt)! At least the Sony Ericsson P800 and the Windows Mobile range led the way, with larger screens and relatively smaller bezels - though look at any of those early smartphones side on and you'd be AMAZED how thick they are. In 2016, if a phone is over 1cm thick it's pronounced as a 'brick' - smartphones in the early 2000s were regularly well over 2cm thick! The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 broke the 50% mark for the first time and clearly started something of a trend. Capacitive screens and who cares about the cost, etc... However, the cost came down quickly and the iPhone range got overtaken by first the flagships in the Android world: the Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 5, and Nexus 6 all spring to mind in terms of large screens and small bezels for their era. And secondly, every other mobile OS/variant, of which Windows 10 Mobile is probably the most notable, with the Lumia 950 XL having an insanely high ratio, bettered only by the (cheating slightly) Galaxy 'edge' series. But what's curious is how the trend has flattened out at about the 75% mark. Now, given my assumptions above, not least about a device having 90° corners - which would be very uncomfortable (though the Lumia 1520 had a good try at this), plus the compulsory earpiece speaker and top-of-phone sensors, it's evident that getting close to 100%, i.e. all-screen, is never going to be possible. But why can't it get close to 90%? The old excuses were that there had to be space for physical controls down the bottom, and that you had to have somewhere to grip the phone 'down there'. But I don't buy these excuses anymore - the Windows controls are all virtual, while I can't see anyone ever gripping their 'phablet' using the bottom centimetre of glass below the display - modern phones are all so big these days that it's about cradling them with fingers, wheth[...]



15 Nokia N8s make up a Mobile Muster

Sun, 17 Jul 2016 20:53:00 GMT

Here's something interesting - and it features 15 Nokia N8s, would you believe... Artist Paul Sattress has assembled the discarded Symbian flagships from 2010 into an art installation, video shown below, part of the 'Mobile Muster' trade display, to be shown off on August 10th 2016.

From Paul:

I help those who help me be a public artist, and that is why this piece will appear at a trade show in the Mobile Muster stand. I was interviewed last year for Mobile Muster during National Recycling week.  This interview describes how I display and why. You can read it at http://exchange.telstra.com.au/2015/11/10/the-art-of-the-mobile-phone/ This Telstra blog post focused on another phone piece called 'The Waifs', by the way.

The video below is Paul's latest creation, months in the making, with special circuitry installed inside each N8 to allow the display to be driven in this way. Impressive, eh? Even if it's not really anything to do with Symbian....(!)

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/W_RUafRuAHc?rel=0" width="853" height="480" frameborder="0">




Whatsapp to stop working on Symbian at the end of 2016

Mon, 11 Jul 2016 10:46:10 GMT

Thanks to Lawrence W for the heads-up and photo below - it seems that Whatsapp, a faithful stalwart on Symbian for a decade, is to end support for the platform at the end of this year. One by one, modern services are ending support for Symbian - obviously by not coding for it anymore, but also - as in this case - by a physical break in service, probably because servers dedicated to handling Symbian-specific traffic are being reassigned or decommissioned.

Here's the message that Lawrence got:

(image)

Will this affect you? Do you still use Symbian for Whatsapp messaging? Comments welcome!




QDL, cuteTube and cuteRadio get updates, make sure you stay current

Tue, 07 Jun 2016 16:39:31 GMT

Big changes are afoot at long time Symbian stalwart developer Marxoft, with a brand new release of his Qt-based DownLoad manager (QDL), plus corresponding new versions of cuteTube and cuteRadio, see all the quotes and links below. Note that these new versions are newer than those in the AppList Store (which seems to have gone quiet).

From Stuart, regarding QDL:

QDL has now been updated to version 2.1.0, with an initial release for the Symbian platform. This is a major update with an entirely new codebase and improved plugin APIs, including support for plugins written in JavaScript aswell as Qt/C++ (I will hopefully document these soon). New features include global and download-specific custom commands (executed when the download is completed), and support for dynamic settings requests (such as an option to choose a video format or provide login credentials) from plugins when making download requests.

But what you really want to see are the new versions of his YouTube client and his Internet Radio app. So....

With regarding cuteTube:

cuteTube2 for Symbian has now been updated to version 0.2.8. This update fixes playback and download of some videos that had previously stopped working. However, due to a lack of support for SSL in the Symbian multimedia backend, videos that require SSL will remain unplayable unless downloaded first.

In addition to the playback/download fix, the update includes a small UI change to use the status bar for page titles, resulting in some extra space for content.

You can update to 0.2.8 by getting the SIS package from here.

And regarding cuteRadio:

cuteRadio for Symbian has now been updated to version 0.4.2. This is a minor update that includes a small UI change to use the status bar for page titles, resulting in some extra space for content.

You can update to 0.4.2 by choosing 'Update' within the application, or by getting the SIS package from here.

Great work from Stuart, they both seem to work perfectly - yes, even in 2016 - on Symbian Belle (Delight) here on my Nokia 808. Comments welcome regarding compatibility below!

I've been trying to establish why these updates don't appear in AppList, to no avail. Anyone know?




Video sound capture tested: 808/1020/950/Marshall

Fri, 13 May 2016 08:29:00 GMT

One of the requests in the comments recently was to test audio capture when shooting videos. And, as it happens, I'd been thinking about doing this for a while anyway. So I headed out with six smartphones and tried to shoot video and audio in as controlled conditions as possible: in a quiet garden, by a windy, noisy road, and in a rock-level music setting. That should be enough to set the best from the rest, I thought... Here are the six smartphones I took with me: Nokia 808 PureView Lumia 1020 (running Windows Phone 8.1) Lumia 950 (running Windows 10 Mobile 10586.xxx) Lumia 950 XL (running Windows 10 Mobile 14xxx, i.e. Redstone) Marshall London (Android 5.1) Lumia 930 (running Windows 10 Mobile 14xxx, i.e. Redstone, but the slow ring) The inclusion of the Marshall London was because it claims stereo MEMS microphones, just like the best Lumias, i.e. is 'gig ready'. We'll see. And the order of the devices above was messed up slightly by me (ahem) forgetting to shoot with it at first. Oh well. Yes, there are a hundred other devices and OS combinations I could have tried, but these are only data points at the end of the day. What I was particularly interested in was how the various generations of Nokia/Lumia fared against each other - and also whether that Marshall phone could come close. My test video/audio settings were: sitting in my summerhouse, looking out on a quiet garden - listening for birdsong and, well, silence - is there too much hiss from the phone's audio capture system? by a breezy, fairly noisy road - here looking at how well the microphones in the phones resist/cancel out wind noise, mainly. in a gig situation (ok, a jam night), testing how well the phone's microphones stand up to rock decibels! And it was loud - very loud, I was sitting right in front of the PA and drum kit and my ears are still ringing 12 hours later! I then compiled the footage from all the smartphones into a montage, with comments below on how the various smartphones did. Bear in mind that the video below is hosted on YouTube, and so some of the service's compression will have been used, though I wouldn't expect that to affect audio much. Note also that the video side of things is deliberately only at 720p - I wasn't testing the picture side of things at all, so I kept things quick and light. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/mv_0D_UXcRU" width="853" height="480"> Here's my assessment of how each smartphone did on the audio front. Note that this would be the point in a cross-device video capture comparison where I point out that the 'gig' bit is a non-starter for most smartphones because they simply can't cope with the volume - yet every phone here coped well, thanks to Nokia and then Microsoft (and Marshall's) use of MEMS high amplitude microphones. Amazing. Anyway, on with the verdicts: Nokia 808 PureView: decently low noise during video capture (and lowish frequency) - it's why I use it to film my Phones Show to this day; good wind resistance when shooting outdoors; exemplary gig recording at the loudest levels - the audio this produces would pass for a professional live album soundtrack.   Nokia Lumia 1020: slightly louder background noise and higher pitched (and so more noticeable); microphones pick up more wind noise, but not showstoppingly so; excellent gig recording, if not quite up to the 808's level of dynamics and crispness.  Microsoft Lumia 950: horrible left channel clicking artefacts are evident - I've been reporting these to Microsoft for months - it's definitely a software thing. I'm guessing an issue in the firmware; greater susceptibility to wind noise, not helped by the mike seal issues, plus note that audio from my voice was quiet because only the rear-facing microphones are used in video capture at the moment - again a software [...]



Xenon or triple LED? Investigating camera phone flash capabilities

Wed, 27 Apr 2016 12:42:00 GMT

One of the most popular sub-topics in my features on camera-toting smartphones is low light and night time capabilities. Now, partly this is about arty shots of sunsets, churches and fountains, but more usually in the real world this is about friends and family in living rooms, pubs and events. Which usually means relying on your smartphone camera's flash. With LED flash now coming in 'triple' form and with many differences in processing capabilities under the hood, I thought some tests were in order. Will Xenon, the original winning tech, still come out on top? Some of the camera phone (flashes) tested! Of course, testing this without exposing real world friends and family is going to be tricky, and I can't rely on a pet since they never do remotely the same thing twice. So I reverted to the original best test of camera flash capabilities: a spinning fan in a dim environment. It's not a perfect simulation of snapping humans in low light but it should give us some interesting data points and insights. Here there are contender smartphones and cameras I used. I may add to this table in the coming weeks, depending on the other hardware arriving for review:   Flash tech Lights Stabilisation? Nokia 808 Xenon 1 none Lumia 1020 Xenon 1 OIS Lumia 950 LED 3 OIS Lumia 930 LED 2 OIS Lumia 640 LED 1 none Google Nexus 5 LED 1 OIS Google Nexus 6 LED 2 OIS Google Nexus 6P LED 2 none Apple iPhone 6 LED 2 none Apple iPhone 4s LED 1 none Xenon flashes should light my subject more fully and much faster, of course, with typical Xenon flash pulses lasting as short as 10 microseconds, which is why I love quoting the example of 'freezing' people dancing at a party or club. But there are other factors at play - larger apertures let in more light on the newer phones, meaning that shutter times for LED-lit shots can be shorter, plus the use of triple LED again adds less need for a long exposure (and thus a blurry subject). And then there's post processing, now very practical with such powerful modern chipsets in smartphones - so known colour balance issues can be corrected, noise reduced, details sharpened, and so on. Usually with good effect. So, my test shot then. A spinning fan, about 1.5 metre away (typical of many people/evening/candid shots), moving from side to side but caught head-on at each point in its cycle, against a white background, with just a 60W overhead ceiling light on and providing ambient lighting. I tried the shot several times, handheld, with each of the test smartphones and discarded any that looked like they were sub-standard - the crops here are the best the phone cameras could do. Here's the overall scene, (as shot by the Nokia 808 PureView and brightened slightly for this overview shot): And here are central crops, scaled appropriately (though not massively) so that the field of view is similar in each case. I'm marking each phone camera here on illumination, motion freezing (i.e. lack of blur in the fan blades and, in extreme cases, the fan body itself), and shutter lag (the shutter icon was tapped as the fan passed the central position in each case, but with flash turned on some of the phones acquired a definite 'lag' before the shot was taken: Nokia 808 PureView: Not bad, though ultimately darker than we're used to in these days of large apertures and OIS ('turning night into day'!) Perfectly frozen though, the 808 went with a shutter speed of 1/50s (aperture is fixed at f/2.4) but with the very bright Xenon flash nearly all the detail was captured in well under a microsecond. And there was instant capture, no lag at all. Illumination:  7/10; Motion freezing:  10/10; Shutter lag:  10/10. Total=  27/30 Nokia Lumia [...]



FileNotes debuts on Symbian, a slick text and notes editor

Mon, 18 Apr 2016 07:04:54 GMT

Described as a "FileNotes is a lean text editor for Symbian that provides convenient access to the files you need to keep on hand", this is brand new in the Symbian AppStore client today. Of special note is full physical QWERTY support, i.e for the Nokia E6 and E7.

From the AppStore description:

  • Immediate note taking: starts with focus on last opened file.
  • Direct Save/Quit button.
  • Data are saved as standard plain text files (unlike the native 'Notes' application).
  • Volume keys modify font size.
  • Toolbar: wrap, arrows to help positioning the cursor precisely, delete left/right, select word/line/all, copy/cut/paste, keyboard on/off, indent, insert bullet. Long press buttons for additional behavior.
  • Gesture: swipe two fingers over the toolbar to undo/redo.
  • Rotation sensor: tilt the phone to switch backspace between 'left' and 'right' direction. While virtual keyboard is opened this will move the cursor.
  • Home-screen widget to show text excerpt and provide shortcut.
  • Menu > History for quick reopening.
  • Menu > E-mail to send current file or selection.
  • Menu > Options to customize ergonomics, style-sheet and widget display.
  • Virtual keyboard: choose between standard layout and former 'Anna' style.
  • Compatible with E6 physical keyboard and Ctrl shortcuts: C, V, X, A, Z, Y, S (save), O (open), N (new), Q (close), E (e-mail), T (indent with tabulation), W (toggle wrap), H (history), R (reload)

Some screenshots of this in use:

(image) (image)

The full text editing interface, very slick and programmed using the Qt libraries; (right) plenty to fiddle with in the settings

(image) (image)

More settings, this time looking at the supplied homescreen widget, able to show the first part of an opened text file, for quick reference and access...

You can grab FileNotes here in the AppStore.

Hopefully the AppList Store is working out for you all. See here just in case you haven't already got this installed or if this is new to you. Also, if you have custom firmware installed, make sure you tick the option in settings to show 'unsigned' applications, you'll see extra applications!




ProfiMail goes freeware

Fri, 25 Mar 2016 07:18:15 GMT

Admittedly a little late in the day, but welcome nevertheless, the antidote to Symbian/Nokia Mail hassles, ProfiMail, is now freeware, should anyone still need a very functional (though quirky) email client for a Symbian or S60 phone of any vintage. There's a new binary from a couple of days ago and I've been tipped that it's fully working without payment.

Here's the blurb from the ProfiMail page:

  • Automatic synchronization of messages with the mail server
  • IMAP folders
  • Attachments - view, save, send
  • HTML messages with images and hyperlinks
  • Built-in File Explorer
  • Push email - instant notification about new messages (using IMAP IDLE)
  • Address book
  • Signatures
  • Support for POP3 / IMAP / SMTP mail servers
  • Writing mails using T9 dictionary (if available on phone)
  • Multiple email accounts
  • Rules and filters allowing selective message download
  • Opens and browses ZIP archives
  • Support for various character encoding - Western, Cyrillic, Central European, and more
  • Build-in image viewer for JPG, PNG and other popular formats
  • Text viewer for standard text, HTML and Word documents
  • Optimized for GPRS - get headers first, then download message bodies which you really want to see
  • Access Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo mail, and other webmail accounts’ via POP3 or IMAP support
  • Scheduled message download
  • Sound notifications

Interestingly, ProfiMail isn't yet in AppList for Symbian, though I'd hope the developer considers allowing this, since it would be a very high profile addition!

Note that the app still displays a 'demo' notice when installed - I think this is just cosmetic though. Data points welcome!




2012 vs 2016: Nokia 808 PureView versus Samsung Galaxy S7 edge

Fri, 18 Mar 2016 17:37:24 GMT

Having shot a whole batch of test photos/scenes for AAWP, I couldn't resist including the venerable Nokia 808 PureView in the mix - I thought it would be interesting to see the imaging progress made by other manufacturers in the four years since the 808 was first announced.I should note, by the way, that the Lumia 950 and 1020 saw off the Galaxy S7 (edge), so the Samsung was coming in off a bit of a beating... Happily, the Nokia 808 is very happy shooting in 8MP in one of its 'Creative' modes, so I was able to match the output resolution pretty well with the S7 edge's, making direct comparisons easier. Following the same pattern as the AAWP feature and using my original Lumia 1020 images for overview/reference... As usual, my tests span a wide variety of subjects, distances and light levels, trying to really exercise the range of these devices. And as usual, click any 1:1 image crop in order to download the original JPG, e.g. for your own analysis. Plus I'm scoring each image/crop out of 10 as we go along, in order to arrive at a definitive winner. Test no. 1: Into hazy sun, landscape  A regular subject of mine, the Herald at my local aviation museum, here shot into hazy sun to see how the phone cameras would cope. Here's the overall scene (as shot by the 1020): And here are crops/links from, in order, the Nokia 808 PureView and the Samsung Galaxy S7: The images here do a good job of showing off the various imaging priorities, at least in terms of algorithms. The Nokia 808 PureView photo is very natural and realistic, while the S7 (edge) adds large amounts of sharpening - the aim for the latter is to look good on the phone screen, to the user, whereas the 808's shot looked dull on its own screen yet superior here on the level playing field of a web page. Scores: Nokia 808: 10 pts, Galaxy S7: 7 pts Test no. 2: Blue sky, natural detail Always a test of how good a smartphone camera's algorithms REALLY are, looking at the incredible textures and fragile detail in nature, here set against a pure blue sky. Here's the overall scene (as shot by the 1020): And here are crops/links from, in order, the Nokia 808 PureView and the Samsung Galaxy S7: The differences in algorithms are just as pronounced as for the plane example. Here you can see the effect of the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge's sharpening on a subject which has fine detail. When you look closely, the effect is really, really ugly. In contrast, the Nokia 808, even at pixel level, feels almost like you're looking through a window at reality. Scores: Nokia 808: 10 pts, Galaxy S7: 6 pts Test no. 3: Sunny macro A tiny, delicate flower, lit by the sun, very tricky to get the focussing right - the 808 was hardest because of the larger optics. Here's the overall scene (as shot by the 1020): Here are the crops from, in order, the Nokia 808 PureView and the Samsung Galaxy S7: The 808 had to be backed away and PureView zoom used before I was finally able to lock focus, this is the Nokia 808's bête noire - and although it looks OK on the phone screen, you can see from the crop here that the focus still isn't perfect and that the white petals are over-exposed. The S7 took a couple of tries to get focus, but the result is outstanding. Perhaps over-sharpened still, but the subject needs it in this case, I'd argue. Scores: Nokia 808: 5 pts, Galaxy S7: 9 pts Test no. 4: Tricky macro, dew on spider's web Really, really hard to get focus on the delicate web and not on the background. Here's the overall scene (as shot by the 1020): And here are crops/links from, in order, the Nokia 808 PureView and the Samsung Galaxy S7: There's a certain artistic beauty to the Nokia 808's photo, but it's clear that [...]



Tiny Planets comes to Symbian

Wed, 24 Feb 2016 14:10:46 GMT

Tiny Planets is a popular application for Windows Phone which has now been backported to Symbian - it takes a photo and wraps it around a single point, creating, as the name suggests, tiny planets, themed around your original image.

From the AppList entry:

Easily convert your photos into Tiny Planets using a wide range of tools provided into this application.

Notes:

  • Tiny Planet is tested and optimised for original Symbian Anna, Nokia Belle ReFresh/Belle FP1/Belle FP2 FW.
  • The program will probably work on different CFWs, included deep modded CFWs like "Delight".
  • But there is no guarantee that all functions will work properly on that type of deep modded FWs.
  • Note, If you have CFW with renamed or replaced original Symbian Anna, Nokia Belle "Gallery" folder, better use Self-Signed version.
  • Otherwise you will be not able to open images via app's bottom bar "Gallery" icon, you will get black screen in Unsigned version. To open images in that case, you need to open them via program "Menu" by choosing "Open Image" or install Self-Signed version.
  • Tiny Planet was originally developed for FP2 devices, because they have more RAM, so it operate faster and smoother on them.
  • But Refresh devices are also ok to use it. Tiny Planet can convert and save 5-9MP (and smaller) images quite fast.
  • It also can process and save 10-15MP images, but in this case program needs more time, about few mins.
  • As about 16-60MP and bigger images, they can be viewed and edited in Tiny Planet, but due limitations of HW can't be saved.

Some screens of Tiny Planets in action:

(image) (image)

Hopefully the AppList Store is working out for you all. See here just in case you haven't already got this installed or if this is new to you. Also, if you have custom firmware installed, make sure you tick the option in settings to show 'unsigned' applications, you'll see extra applications!




Four years on from that MWC announcement!

Sun, 21 Feb 2016 13:56:48 GMT

Guest writer Stuart Cutts writes: Mobile World Congress 2016 is now here and, as usual, Rafe will be treading mile upon mile of the show floor to get an insight into the latest and greatest in the smartphone world. A number of 'special' announcements – be it from LG, Samsung and others, will be making the MWC headlines. But for many Symbian and camera phone enthusiasts it will take something very special to get close to the announcement that happened 4 years ago – of the Nokia 808 Pureview. Not just 41 megapixels, not just that huge sensor, but the last device for Symbian which, at the time, was everything and more I wanted in a smartphone. For some then the 808 is still be used in 2016, testament to the many qualities of the device.

Stuart carries on: Many of us will remember the announcement, the interviews with Damian Dinning and the demonstrations. Wanting to see all three colours, then waiting for availability and wondering if the device could be as good as it looked.

While we are on memory lane, this is how AAS reported the day and Rafe and Steve also discussed MWC 2012 in Podcast 205.

What are your memories of the announcement, the device and the 808?! As always comments and memories welcomed!

Stuart Cutts

(image)




DxOMark? We need a real world 'Mark' for smartphone photography - ...

Wed, 27 Jan 2016 20:00:00 GMT

Ah yes, the professionally-rated best camera phones of the world. In this case, DxOMark calling the shots. Here's a quiz: what have the still cameras in the Nexus 6P, Xperia Z3+, iPhone 6s, Blackberry Priv and Nexus 6 got in common, as tested by DxOMark? Answer, they're all way ahead of the Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 1020 for still photography. Eh? What? I contend that DxOMark's testing is rooted in cloud-cuckoo-land and that a new 'realMark' is needed. (© Steve Litchfield, 2016!)DxOMark is pretty well respected, due to the care they take in analysing still and video photography. But they're treating phone cameras like DSLRs and, as such, aren't testing all the use cases and modes that people encounter out in the real world. My evidence for this? Here are the top 18 smartphone cameras, as ranked by DxOMark for still photography: Sony Xperia Z5 - 88% Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ - 87% Samsung Galaxy Note 5 - 87% Nexus 6P - 86% LG G4 - 86% iPhone 6s Plus - 84% Samsung Galaxy Note 4 - 84% Sony Xperia Z3+ - 84% iPhone 6s - 83% Droid Turbo 2 - 84% Motorola Moto X Style - 83% Blackberry Priv - 82% Google Nexus 6 - 81% Nokia 808 - 81% OnePlus 2 - 80% HTC One A9 - 80% Samsung Galaxy S5 - 80% Nokia Lumia 1020 - 79% At which point, if you've been around the world of Symbian or Windows Phone - or Nokia, generally - for a while, your jaw will drop and your opinion of DxOMark will drop faster. Now, I should state that I too have tested most of the above smartphones and there are some cracking cameras in that bunch. And some middling units too. Yet most are much higher in the rankings than the two monster PureView devices from Nokia. How is this possible? Because DxOMark is only testing a small part of a camera's functions and performance. Part of DxOMark's testing rig... Specifically, here's what's wrong with the methodology and ratings (in my opinion): Test photos are taken while tripod-mounted - obviously 99.9999% of real world photos by real users are taken handheld. I can appreciate why a tripod is used - to eliminate variation in hand wobble between devices, but it unfairly disadvantages all the phones with OIS (optical image stabilisation) - in this case the Lumia 1020's stabilisation works rather well and yet the OIS isn't used at all in testing.   Flash isn't reported on in the scores. I appreciate that flash-lit shots (e.g. of pets, people) are rarely ideal and/or realistic, and that photo purists (like the DxOMark folks) avoid using flash wherever possible, but to not rate flash at all puts the two smartphone cameras with 'proper' (Xenon) flash at a huge disadvantage.    Zooming isn't tested at all. I appreciate that this is because every phone other than the Nokia pair here can't really zoom at all, so DxOMark is using dumbed down expectations. But completely ignoring one of the core selling points of the 808 and 1020 is very disappointing.  All tests are done with initial phone firmware - there's no concept at DxOMark in going back after a major OS/application update and checking out improved image capture. The 808 had this nailed at the outset, but the Lumia 1020 took a good year for its imaging performance to be best optimised. But none of this mattered, because all DxOMark seem to care about is rankings based on each phone's initial firmware. Probably because of the workload involved in re-doing testing, but not really fair to any phone whose camera stumbles out of the blocks but then improves markedly. To use an analogy, if these were car tests, it would be pitching a Ford Fiesta against a Ferrari but[...]



Getting sync, flashing, modem working under Windows 10

Wed, 30 Dec 2015 13:19:16 GMT

If, like me, you just use 'USB'/'Mass Storage' mode to hook up your Symbian smartphone to Windows 10 then you'll have no issues - just drag and drop as usual. However, it seems that there's more of an issue if you require sync features such as Nokia Suite/PC Suite/Outlook/Thunderbird, or if you need to flash on new custom firmware or use the smartphone as a modem. Fear not though, because the guys behind the Delight CFW are on the case, with a helpful set of notes linked below.

Fabian, from the Delight team, says:

The old Nokia drivers are made for XP, Vista and 7 and not compatible with Windows 8 or Windows 10, the driver signature isn't valid/compatible anymore. It also seems that Nokia didn't use proper/offical APIs back in the day.

However, Huawai uses the same common/BB5 APIs and their drivers are compatible with our devices and with Windows 10.

So the workaround seems to be (somewhat bizarrely) to use Huawei's drivers to let Symbian smartphones still sync!

To read what to do if you need to access a Symbian^3-era device through syncing or flashing tech, see this useful (if brief) post over at the Delight blog.




The Nokia Wi-fi connectivity test server now offline [Update: all now fixed!]

Sun, 13 Dec 2015 09:54:22 GMT

If you've seen the odd error message recently on a Symbian smartphone, at least when using it on Wi-fi, it's because Nokia's longstanding  server is now offline, the latest in a long line of Symbian support resources to disappear under Microsoft's ownership of Nokia's Devices division. The good news is that Wifi connectivity does work on the whole still, albeit without automatic connection. [Update] The URL has now been restored - presumably with Nokia's cooperation, so you can relax again!

Here's the original story:


(image) (image)

Head into Settings/Connectivity and you'll probably see the error messages against your known wi-fi networks. All this really means is that Symbian OS was unable to 'phone home', since home was repossessed a couple of years ago. So don't panic too much. (right) Typical errors in applications are email failures, but manually connecting up and hitting refresh normally does the trick. All a bit of a pain though!

(image) (image)

The web (here in Web and Opera) will still be fine too, ditto all other Internet applications, provided you make sure you're hooked up to Wi-fi first (and never mind the 'Limited Connectivity' message).




Symbian over the air and Nokia Suite updates officially terminated

Fri, 04 Dec 2015 11:50:14 GMT

Unsurprisingly, the end of Symbian as a viable smartphone platform just got even closer, with Microsoft (Symbian's new owners after the Nokia Devices buy-out) shutting down all the servers handling Over The Air and Nokia Suite firmware updates. In theory this will happen at the end of this year, but some readers are reporting that it's all shut down already. Not that any of this will stop real Symbian hard core users, mind you, since the Delight custom firmware images are still available, as are SIS installation files for many third party applications. But, bit by bit, it's getting harder and harder to stay on Symbian without an excessive amount of work.

Here's the very brief Microsoft statement:

Software update service discontinuation for Nokia Belle and Symbian phones

Software update service for all the Nokia Belle and Symbian phones will be discontinued at the end of December 2015. The phones will no longer be able to receive Over-The-Air (OTA) software updates or software updates via Nokia Suite.

Given how long it's been since every other Nokia-provided service for Symbian was shut down, it's a miracle that all this was still working at all up until now. There's certainly no love for Symbian within Microsoft and all the Symbian enthusiasts within Nokia moved on to other companies before Microsoft took over.

The reality of smartphone use in 2016 is that it's not enough to be a great 'converged' device anymore - there's an expectation of being able to hook up, to share, to connect, and all of this requires support from the various online services. Which is where Symbian has fallen down, mainly because of the abandoning by Nokia of development of the OS.

PS. Although I'm posting the odd story to AAS and still own my own (bought) white (and Delighted) Nokia 808 PureView, it's only really a reference and play device these days. With the arrival of the Windows 10 Mobile-powered Lumia 950, we now have imaging that exceeds the 808 for everything except extreme zoom and Xenon use cases, along with better specifications and performance in every single regard.