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Modified: 2011-09-07T15:25:05+01:00

 



Pimping the Nokia X6 - taking it well into 2011

2011-09-07T15:16:00+01:00

Here's how to get a Symbian smartphone that's useable and competitive, in terms of hardware and software, in 2011 for significantly under £100. Perhaps the last S60 5th Edition smartphone to receive the 'Pimping' treatment from me, the X6 still has lots to recommend it, with insanely good speakers, a capacitive touchscreen, bright display, long lived and replaceable battery and a decent 5 megapixel Carl Zeiss-lensed auto-focus camera, here with dual LED flash. You can now pick up the X6 second hand or in fire sales for less than £100, making it a real bargain. Here's how to pimp it for 2011.The story so far The X6 received numerous review parts here on AAS over the years, first by Ewan and then by me as the firmware matured and as a 16GB model followed the 32GB one. A year on again and we're awaiting what should be the last planned upgrade cycle for the X6, with latest versions of Nokia Maps, Web and more. Given that the X6 first appeared almost two years ago, it's great to see it still receiving love from Nokia's Symbian team. This feature centres around the 16GB model, which in this case I picked up on eBay for around £90 in mint condition: As with all other Nokia and Symbian phones (it seems), the X6 has a number of significant pros and cons: Pros Still a pretty phone (especially the white and blue version here) and nicely sized for everyday use Capacitive screen (unique in Nokia's S60 5th Edition range) fits in well with 2010/2011 expectations of screen responsiveness Glass screen is much harder wearing than the soft plastic of the resistive screens of other Nokia smartphones of the era Stereo loudspeakers are outstanding in volume and quality The internal system (C:) disk has an extra 256MB over those in the 5800, N97 and other smartphones of its era. As with the N97 mini, most people start off with just over 300MB free, making it far easier to stay abreast of updates and add-ons without running into memory trouble Camera is very good, with Carl Zeiss lens and a cut above nearly all 5mp-toting non-Symbian competitors; there's also a nice, two-stage shutter button Full support from Nokia in terms of Maps, Store and performance updates in firmware Physical Menu/Call/End buttons - these are becoming rarer and rarer in 2011 phones Cons The TFT screen washes out darkly in strong sunlight Build quality can be suspect, with paper thin back cover and dust ingress reported in some people's units (though not in the one featured here) Screen size, at 3.2", is small by 2011 standards, but pixel density ('sharpness') is, conversely, quite high S60 5th Edition has come on a lot, but there are still plenty of instances of 'scroll and select' behaviour (i.e. 'double tap') in the UI No text correction on the virtual qwerty keyboard in landscape mode No focussing in video capture mode and anything closer than a metre is very blurry No microUSB charging - it's 2mm only and the microUSB is just for data Capacity is limited by the internal 16GB chip - there's no expansion via microSD Bringing the X6 up to date There's quite a bit to do here, but for me at least this is the best bit - taking an older, unloved device and bringing it right up to date, with performance and functionality that you (or the original owner) never saw, back in the day. Latest firmware and clearing out It goes without saying that you'll need latest firmware on your X6. Version 32 firmware was released a few months ago for many X6 variants and it's a piece of cake to plug the device into Ovi Suite on a PC or use *#0000# on the dialler screen to update over the air. Or at least it should have been. For some reason, neither showed my eBay v20 firmware device any update love. The solution was to use the standalone Nokia Software Update utility (now renamed just 'Phone Update'), which seems to pluck firmwares out of the ether when Ovi Suite and OTA fail miserably. Definitely worth keeping to hand on a Windows computer for just this sort of occasion. Version 32 firmware was offered and quickly installed, bringing better performance all [...]



VLC Remote

2011-09-07T07:20:00+01:00

Video LAN Client, known as VLC, is the Swiss Army Knife of multimedia applications. Capable of playing just about anything, as well as streaming to other devices and transcoding, there’s little it can’t do. However, there are times when you don’t want to be glued to the keyboard while watching videos. That’s where VLC Remote for Symbian comes in. With this application, you can kick back and relax with Symbian in hand to take charge of your viewing experience. Read on to see how well it works.At a cursory glance, VLC looks very much like a WINAMP clone with it’s small default window and controls. This is because VLC does a good job of hiding its vast complexity. I’ve used it for years and I’ve still only scraped the surface of what it can do. One of the handy features of VLC is adding alternate user interfaces (UIs). One of which is a HTTP web based UI; in which it becomes a web server on your LAN. To activate this, click on the View menu, then go into the ‘Add Interface’ sub menu, and select ‘Web Interface’. You can verify that this has worked by going to the following address in a browser on the same computer: http://localhost:8080, you should see something like the screenshot below. VLC's web interface As long as your home router isn’t blocking the default (8080) port, you should then be able to control VLC from any other computer on your LAN by simply replacing “localhost” in the above URL with the IP address of the computer running VLC. I’m sure that our quick-thinking readers will already have realised this means that any smartphone can control VLC too, by just entering the right URL into the device’s browser. Indeed, this is the case - albeit not the best user experience in the world. This is where third party applications come in, for all mobile platforms. They handle the input and output of the web interface via a native UI, which in turn gives a much better user experience. Regular readers may find that the screenshots of Omed-Soft’s VLC Remote look somewhat similar to ToadFTP, also from Omed-Soft. This is because the same Faenza set of icons from the GNOME project have been used, to great effect. VLC Remote's main menu and connection selection screens The main menu of VLC Remote has links to the player screen, playlist editor, file browser, and settings, etc. VLC does have limited media library functionality, but it isn’t supported in VLC Remote. Therefore, choosing media must be done via the file browser. VLC presents your entire home folder structure to the web interface, which you can view through the file browser screen. Tapping a file immediately starts it playing on your desktop, and adds it to your playlist. Everytime a file is selected, it’s added to the playlist view. VLC Remote's file browser There are no long press options on files, to queue them up to a playlist, and multiple playlists are not available in the application. Given this limited functionality, the playlist view behaves more like  a ‘History’ view. When you switch to the player view, there are the usual controls you’d expect to find, like play/pause, shuffle and repeat. Swiping left to right allows you to move through the playlist that you’ve built up. There’s a progress bar too, which, when dragged, allows you to skip parts of the current file. This part of the UI is fine, apart from the volume control. The playback screen with volume buttons displayed and playback slider Volume controls are not immediately on view, they have to be exposed by tapping a button on the top row. Once shown, their small dimensions usually result in an accidental tap on the huge pause button. Even worse is the unnerving delay before the volume changes on the VLC computer. Disappointingly, the hardware volume keys are not supported either. Overall, the UI feels rather limited and the volume controls give a haphazard user experience. To be fair, I should make it clear that VLC Rem[...]



Life Journal

2011-09-07T05:00:00+01:00

Life Journal, from Neusoft Mobile, promises to be your mobile diary to record your experiences and help share them online. It's a great idea that's been tried by many apps and companies before, so have Neusoft managed to make Life Journal attractive and reliable enough to be part of my mobile life? Read on to find out.Anyone keeping a diary knows that unless you can commit to it 100% there's not much point in doing it. If you are going to capture things, capture them all. Unfortunately, that's not really possible with Life Journal.     The basis of every entry is a text note, which you can then attach elements to. These can be pictures, audio, locations or media files already on your phone (such as a really nice picture). I like that you can attach multiple items to these notes. However, it would be better if you could go back to edit them after having saved them to your timeline. There aren't a huge number of settings to change here, beyond a password for private entries and your Facebook credentials. There's nothing to change the behaviour of the application, where to look for media, the narrowing of the search function, etc. Worst of all, there's nothing to turn off the amazing nausea-inducing flipping transition between screens, as if it was spinning on a vertical axis. As a notepad application, the lack of editing means it's like writing in ink on paper. Which is an interesting choice, but not one that really works on a portable computer. Neither is it a logging application, you need to make a conscious decision to make an entry and to link any media. Once you've explored Life Journal, there's a moment of realisation - this is a very, very specific blogging application. It's a personal blog that is only on your device, with some ability to "share your experiences" by uploading some or all of the entries to Facebook. All of your data will be siloed into your phone. I couldn't find an export data option, so what happens when I switch phone next month? In a year? In three years?   Once upon a time, the Nokia Lifeblog app did all this for you by capturing everything on your phone (Don't forget Rseven either - Ed). It automatically archived texts, mails, pictures and videos. You could then upload to your favourite social network or blog of the time. (Flickr and Blogger were big in those days). But even with (some) money and (some) will from Nokia, Lifeblog withered. The PC application stopped getting updated, software updates meant the phone client just wasn't available on later handsets. And I have reluctantly had to stop using Lifeblog as it was intended. Life Journal, if you trust it, is an application that should last you years. But there is no guarantee that it's going to be usable in six months time on Belle devices, or when Facebook tweaks the API or forces all applications to use OAuth to login, as opposed to a simple password check (which Life Journal uses at the moment). Oh, and you need to keep all the media on your phone, which will cause issues a few months down the line if you are a heavy user. Recording your life on a smartphone is still a nice idea, but it needs buckets of confidence from the user, and a history and forward prospect of ongoing support. The user also needs the safety net of being able to export their data in a standard universal format. Life Journal doesn't convince me that it can offer that, so I'll have to pass on the main goal of the application. As a Facebook publishing client, it does do the job, but so do a number of applications that are more secure (such as using OAuth) and allow two way interaction with Facebook. Life Journal simply isn't doing it for me. -- Ewan Spence, September 2011.[...]



AAS Insight #182: Nokia Woof, Cuckoo, Stiletto and Blast

2011-09-06T15:56:00+01:00

In All About Symbian Insight 182, we start with the news of Tero Ojanpera's departure from Nokia and arrival at investment fund Vision+. The team then discuss patents, with mentions for Samsung and Mosaid. In a software round up, Steve talks about 3D World Gaze and Vlingo (voice recognition) going free, Rafe talks Qt SDK updates and David brings us the latest news of NuevaSync. Finally, the team offer some helpful suggestions for the naming of Nokia's new Windows Phone devices.

This podcast was recorded on Monday 5th September 2011.
   

In this podcast we cover:       




Proporta BeachBuoy Waterproof Case

2011-09-06T09:55:00+01:00

It's a problem, to be sure. You're on holiday and you want to take your Nokia N8 or X7 or similar onto the beach. But, rightly, you're utterly paranoid about sand and splashed seawater ruining your expensive smartphone. Or perhaps you like hiking - or canoeing or any other outdoor pursuit that involved water in any quantity. What you need is this, the BeachBuoy Waterproof Case - I have to say that I'm enormously impressed.A small disclosure before I start: Proporta do help out with accessories, prizes and more, on my Phones Show Chat podcast, so I'm inclined to think well of the company. However, I'm objective and I've criticised some of their accessories just as hard as I'm praising this particular one. See the photos below for proof of the product in action! The story so far: I'd been nagging Proporta to send over a review sample of the BeachBuoy for years. Literally. Yet somehow one never turned up. It's possible that this was due to all existing units being 'out' with Proporta staff on the nearby beaches(!), but more likely it was because there was a big product revamp going on. And now it's here, with a "New, Improved" indicator on the BeachBuoy product web page. Apparently, it's made of a new and more durable material - I was genuinely impressed by the build quality. A stitched outer seam holds the transparent layers together, with a tough plastic welded seam all around the business area of the case. The open end (top) is handled through two 'ziplock' style press-seams, held under tension through the simple act of rolling the top up, fold by fold, and then using the strong velcro to hold the folds in place. As shown in the photo above, these basic steps are helpfully listed on the underside of the fold - just to make sure everyone gets the hang of it! Test one was fairly mild. Using my N8 in the BeachBuoy out in the UK summer (so that's pouring rain, as per usual): Surprisingly, touch response wasn't affected much - the wonders of capacitive touch technology? The plastic in use here is well specified, being thin enough for good visibility and easy device operation, while being tough enough to keep sand, dust, water and so on at bay. Proporta claim that the BeachBuoy is waterproof down to 5 metres of pressure and that it's IP57/IP58 approved, so clearly I needed to be a little more extreme. Not having a seaside to try it out at, I opted for dunking my N8 in a bath and basin of water (latter shown below). I held it underwater for a minute, swiping the touchscreen and starting a few apps - something which wouldn't have been possible on ruggedised phones like the Motorola DEFY, since capacitive screens don't work well when wet). I then extracted the BeachBuoy and finally, took out the N8. The device was dry as a bone. Held underwater... Interestingly, I said 'hold' above - the BeachBuoy has enough trapped air inside and there's enough buoyancy in the fold mechanism and materials that even with the weight of your device inside, the accessory should float - meaning that you can take it out on a boat trip and if the BeachBuoy does fall overboard then it'll sit there on the water with your precious smartphone, waiting for retrieval. Not that it should fall in the first place, as eyelets in all four corners with a supplied lanyard cord mean that you can hang it from your neck or rucksack as required. The eyelets are properly finished, as is the cord, with quick release/adjustment catches. Using a smartphone in situ is easier than you might think, even virtual qwerty text input works, though resorting to the T9 virtual keypad on the N8 produced slightly faster results because the target areas were larger. Audio output isn't significantly affected by the layers of plastic, though in the N8's case the flush speaker slot does mean that pressing plastic against this area blocks output, as indeed it would if resting on a sofa or bed. I was interested to test the N8's camera while in the BeachBuoy - it seems that, [...]



Nokia official Symbian Belle site, with videos

2011-09-05T15:59:50+01:00

As noted by Nokialino and others, Nokia has a page dedicated to the attractions of Symbian Belle, including a number of well done videos (one is embedded below). Each of the three new smartphones are featured in detail and there's even a shout out to the likes of the N8, C7 and E7 as being fully Symbian Belle compatible, with the update to come 'later'.

Update: This Nokia mini-site is not new. The page went live on August 24th, the day that Symbian Belle was announced, but it still represents a good summary of the latest software update for Symbian.

From the Nokia page:

"There are a host of exciting features packed into our hot new range of smartphones. Nokia 600, 700 and 701 offer something for everyone. But if you’d like to see which phone is best suited to you, take a look at our gallery of feature videos below."

Here's the best video, looking at Belle in overview:

 

src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/2l0AkY07PKs?rel=0" width="640" height="390" frameborder="0">




Magnify

2011-09-05T09:00:00+01:00

You've got to love lateral thinking when it comes to using smartphone hardware. In this case using the auto-focus optics in the Nokia N8 (and selected S60 5th Edition smartphones) to turn your smartphone into an intelligent magnifying glass. In use, it works surprisingly well and more than justifies its existence as a separate application. Read on for my review.A smartphone as a magnifying glass? Here's the use case. You have normal eyesight and are handed medication - and you can't read the tiny print on the bottle's back (e.g. see below). Or perhaps your eyesight isn't that good to start with and you want to read a magazine article in a small font or against a really ghastly background (publishers, you know who you are...) In each case, you need greater clarity, you need to get closer - and larger.   A common scenario - squinting at tiny print on a bottle or canister... Which is where Magnify comes in on the N8 - or any S60 5th Edition phones that can run Qt (so that's the N97 out then....!). The one big requirement, as you might imagine, is that the device has an auto-focus camera (as opposed to fixed focus, as on the 5230, or EDoF, as on most of the other Symbian^3 and Anna devices). The N8 is the big target device here, with perhaps the many with 5800s, N97 minis and X6s in the mix as well. NB. v1.0.3 was reviewed here - the current version in the Ovi Store is 1.0.1, I think. 1.0.3 is due out in the Store in a few days. Essentially, you start Magnify and (in v1.0.3 at least) it focusses and you're looking at hugely magnified text. Very easy. The built-in Camera application is limited in its degree of digital zoom (to stop users zooming in too far without realising the degree of 'damage' they're doing to their image), but here raw quality is less relevant than absolute zoom magnitude. With judicious taps on the '+' icon and an extra yap or two on the screen, you can magnify your chosen subject rather splendidly:     The toolbar also has a Camera icon, for capturing what's being shown - very useful, for later reference - images get saved into a separate 'Magnify' folder in 'Images' on your chosen disk drive, and at the resolution you choose:     Here's a typical captured image, from the medicine bottle above, click through to enlarge or download, to see the raw quality:     To give you an idea of the magnification ability, here's a book thumbnail from a magazine page - the small print was way beyond what my naked eyes could pick out, but Magnify came up trumps, even though I'm still not sure what the second word on the second line says [later: apparently it's 'Quirk'!]     The 'freezing' function, where you tap the screen to temporarily stop the action is useful in that you can line up the magnification, focus, freeze the action and then bring the phone up to your eyes for closer study, if necessary. Once you get the hang of juggling the focussing action and '+' and '-' icons, the utility's really very good and can bring up even the smallest print in far larger form. Magnify takes around five seconds to start and be ready for action, being written in Qt, but given the need to power up the camera electronics, even the native Symbian CameraPro N8 is only a second or so faster. Incidentally, CameraPro N8 also allows high levels of digital zoom and can, in theory, produce similar effects and results to Magnify, but the latter is far more centred on its one core function and is much convenient to use for this particular task. At £1.50, Magnify's within impulse purchase territory and I suggest would make a great little 'keep for when it's needed' utility for any N8, 5800, N97 mini or X6 users.  Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, 5 September 2011[...]



Facebook Sync and Contact Photo Sync

2011-09-05T06:00:00+01:00

Contact images are taken for granted these days, but it wasn’t that long ago that they were something of a luxury. Without automation, they can be a pain to set up, even Nokia Social doesn’t do that for us. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was something that would scan our social networks and match up images with our contacts? Well, we now have two applications to do just that. Read on to see how well Facebook Sync and Contact Photo Sync work.Facebook Sync (65%) (Version 0.092) The main screen of Facebook Sync gives you a list of all of your Facebook contacts. Any names that match people in your Symbian Contacts application are marked with an icon. Tapping a contact once selects it, a second tap displays its details. The whole user interface feels rather clunky. For example, given the ‘muscle memory’ we have from current Symbian applications, this (effective) double tap gesture feels counter intuitive. There isn’t any kinetic scrolling; instead, you have to drag a very narrow scroll bar. Everything works, but it all feels behind the times. Below the contacts list, there is a button to ‘Update Contacts’. This is the fun part of Facebook Sync. This triggers Facebook Sync to automatically update all of your matching contacts with their Facebook profile photos. Going into the application’s settings page reveals a drop-down list of options for when to update photos; never, only when local contact has no photo, or always.   Browsing contacts and their details Given that this profile photo scraping is Facebook Sync’s unique selling point, I’m glad to say that it works as well as I’d expect it to. There are certain ‘outlying’ cases where photos are in extreme landscape or portrait dimensions. Naturally, they have to be square, and this can lead to some faceless crops. Given that Facebook Sync is doing all the computation by itself without asking for input, one can’t really complain. The settings page is a tad confusing; there are tick boxes for birthdays and gender. Going by the application’s help page, those tick boxes are meant to determine whether or not the respective data is changed on your local address book. However, contact entries on Symbian don’t have a field for gender. Neither are birthday dates overwritten with data from Facebook. Chalk those two down as bugs!   Facebook Sync settings A final feature of Facebook Sync is the ability to download entire photo albums. Via the second of two tabs above the contacts list, one can browse for Facebook photo albums. Albums are grouped together by their owner, tapping a contact drops down a list of their albums. It isn’t possible to browse each photo; instead, the whole album is downloaded to the phone’s mass memory. Contact names and album names are mirrored in the directory structure when they are saved. Browsing photo albums Contact Photo Sync (77%) (Version 1.0.10) Contact Photo Sync is a much simpler application. It aims to do one thing, and do it well. That is, synchronise contact photos. Once logged in, the application gives you a simple choice - replace all matching contact photos, or skip the matching contacts who already have photos. Once you make your choice, the process starts.   Contact Photo Sync in action A dialog indicates that matching contacts are being searched for. Then you are treated to a slideshow of every contact photo as they’re downloaded. Finally, a progress bar indicates that the pictures are being saved into their respective contacts. Afterwards, the main screen shows a brief report, telling you how many contacts were updated. That’s all it does, which means it’s strikingly easy to use. It works just as expected, and seems to handle cropping extra wide or tall images slightly better than Facebook Sync. Conclusion Both [...]



Ming Zhu

2011-09-04T23:45:59+01:00

Imagine a world where you had to get to the exit. A world of squares in a grid. A world where you could never set foot on the grid but have to create safe havens by pushing over tower blocks. That's the world of Ming Zhu.

 (image) (image)  

That description sure makes Ming Zhu sound a bit like an arcade actioneer ready to happen, but what's on offer is a cerebral cross of puzzle and maze game. With no digital avatar, you control a flashing cursor on one of the squares with the goal of getting it to the exit square. The path, as hinted above, needs to be made before you can go anywhere. And you do that by pushing over tower blocks (by having your cursor on the numbered block and pushing in that direction).

The height of the tower blocks is represented by the number on the block - if it's a two, when you push it over it'll be two blocks long, and you can run along those squares. Hopefully, you're smart and make sure that when you push the block over, it touches another tower block you can push over. Chain enough of these together (and with no white space, you can't jump the void in this game) and you'll have a path to the exit square.

The idea that you can only move where you make a path leads to some inventive thinking as you try to solve the level beforehand, and then put it into practice. It's a similar way of playing that I saw in Escape (reviewed on AAS last week), but there's something more rewarding and honest in the design of Ming Zhu. One issue though (and us reviewers always tend to find one) is in the graphical presentation. I think Ming Zhu misses a trick by only having a cursor highlighting the square you occupy. A basic character could have done wonders here for the immersion into the video game. As it is, the world feels more like a table top game than an abstract puzzler.

While that is to the detriment of the game, it's not a huge loss, because this is a nice little thinker that appeals to me. The graphics are both clear and reflect the Far Eastern theme that subtly influences all the graphics through the game, and while (again, like Escape) I'd like to see more thought put into the controls, rather than having four big direction buttons propping up the screen, it feels right that you have direct "button" control over the game. A tilt control might have been too awkward in action.

 (image) (image)
Before and after, making a path to the exit.

Ming Zhu can start to feel familiar after just a few levels, and that might put some people off. After you play it for a while, one of the other flaws becomes clear - most levels only have one solution, and there are very few points where you have to decide to go one way or the other. Get your eye used to playing, and the complexity of the game takes a huge drop. That doesn't happen straight away, but when it does a lot of the appeal could be lost - that's certainly the case while I was playing.

Even then Ming Zhu is fun to play, becoming more like a solitaire game. It's recommended, but you have to be a real puzzle nut to actually enjoy it - have a look at the free trial before deciding yourself.

-- Ewan Spence, Sept 2011.




Vlingo Premium goes free - voice recognition and dictation

2011-09-03T12:27:31+01:00

Vlingo, the voice recognition system that has been bundled in limited form with most Nokia smartphones over the last few years, has finally gone completely free, with Vlingo Premium now available for all through the Ovi Store. The utility lets you call contacts, dictate messages, emails, notes and Facebook updates - and more. 

There has been a UI refresh too, as you might spot in the screenshot gallery below. Note that if you have Vlingo bundled in your device's firmware or default application set, the new free Vlingo Premium will show up as an 'Update' in the Ovi Store client and you can install over the top.

(image)  (image)  (image)  

(image)  (image)  (image)  

Voice recognition isn't quite as good as that in Google's Android OS, but it's good enough for simple messages (see the small error above). Note also that there's a homescreen 'Tap and Speak' widget, so that you're only a tap away from dictating at any point. Handy.

Get Vlingo as a free download from the Ovi Store.




N8 Photo Awards - July edition

2011-09-03T11:55:32+01:00

Another month, another set of stellar (or in this case, lunar) photos taken on the Nokia N8 and showcased by the Nokia Creative blog. It should be noted that some of these example photos are taken with the aid of external lenses (e.g. the telescope one of the moon), but even so, the N8 still has to grab the image itself. Comments welcome, feel free to link to your own N8 Flickr exploits...

(image)

From the post:

In the last few weeks many Nokia N8 owners have been able to upgrade their devices to Symbian Anna, the new version of the classic smartphone OS that brings a whole host of upgrades, along with some rather snazzy new icons! But Anna is not the end of the story for Symbian. Symbian Belle should be available to all N8 owners before the year is out.

Belle will bring further improvements to the camera app, but if you really can’t wait - and why should you! - you can grab a beta version of the new camera app from Nokia Beta LabsI’ll be focusing on the improvements that both Anna and the new beta camera app bring in a further post, but honestly, as the photos on this page prove, the N8 camera is already a world beater.




Guide to Getting the most out of your Symbian Device

2011-09-02T14:44:23+01:00

We've published our fair share of 'how to' articles here on AAS over the years, wo we can recognise a decent article when we see it. In this case it's the Mobile Tech Bishop's "Guide to Getting the most out of your Symbian Device", quoted below. In this feature he covers, expertly, device maintenance, PIM syncing, media transfer, data security, and much more. And it's all Anna-aware and up to date, with hyperlinks everywhere necessary. Nice job!

From the original article:

I sync contacts using the Sync utility, which utilizes the SymcML protocol, in S^3 devices located in Menu>Settings>Connectivity>Data Transfer. Unfortunately Google seem to have removed the setup instructions from their support site but SYmbian blogger Asri al-Baker put together an easy to follow guide over on his blog. What is nice now is that one sync profile can be automated, so I set mine to sync once a day, typically at midday just to ensure my contacts are always in sync.

Calendar is a little trickier. Google does not support SyncML but there are third party services that can tap into your Google account like Syncme.se (free and paid option) and GooSync (different levels of paid plans). Unfortunately, only one Sync profile can be automated so I found this useless for me. Instead I discovered a lovely service called GoogaSync. I’m using the trial at the moment and I’m so impressed I will cough up the funds to use it. At $14.99 it is steep but I will derive benefit so I’ll gladly put up the money.




Nokia updates Qt SDK and introduces Qt Creator 2.3

2011-09-02T09:34:43+01:00

Qt developers have a lot of new tools to explore and play with over the weekend, as Nokia has announced a major update to the Qt SDK. The headline change is the introduction of Qt Creator v2.3 (full details on Creator 2.3 can be found here), other changes include Qt 4.7.4, a new UI and features in Qt Simulator, updates to the notifications API, and the various components for running Qt apps on Symbian, MeeGo and the desktop. Existing Qt developers can update from within the SDK application folder, otherwise the links are in the Qt Labs.Nokia has highlighted the following changes in the Qt Labs blog: Qt Creator 2.3: Plenty of small improvements to improve the basic developer experience. For more information, read the release blog. Qt Simulator 1.2: in addition to a significant UI facelift, Qt Simulator 1.2 is introducing several new features: sensor simulation, simulation of NFC tags as well as gesture simulation. Notifications API 1.1 is introducing QML bindings and quality improvements. Qt 4.7.4 for desktop app developers. MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan beta: This version of the Harmattan target is built on the same software image that was used in the version released in June so does not introduce new features, but is required to be updated in order to continue developing MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan apps. Update to Symbian Complementary Package: important CODA update to expand the support also to the latest Symbian Belle devices. Note that the apps created with the beta level new target for Symbian Belle devices can not yet be submitted to the Ovi Store. Update to Qt Quick Components for Symbian is not introducing functional changes. Qt powered devices have a huge footprint in Nokia's line-up, and while some might look at Windows Phone and wonder if Qt has had its day, the tens of millions of devices out there right now which support Qt make it a viable developer platform. Those devices aren't going away over the next year or so. An interesting part of the Qt Simulator 1.2 update post talks about how Nokia has implemented the simulation of multi-touch input on non-touch enabled platforms, e.g. mouse driven desktops: But as Multi-touch screens are not widespread yet there was the need to add another possibility to trigger multiple touch point actions in Qt Simulator. Therefore you can now change Qt Simulator’s “mouse input mode”. By default it behaves just like mouse input but you can change to “pinch”, “pan” and “swipe” mode to simulate these gestures. Additionally you can use Qt Simulator’s script engine to add more complex gestures. These gestures can be triggered when Qt Simulator is in “custom gesture” mode Qt Creator 2.3.0 has seen numerous improvements. For example, there is now support for building Qt applications for generic Linux platforms, and debugging has now been implemented for Symbian and Meego Harmattan 1.2: Coding style options for C++ have been vastly improved and can be defined globally and on a per project basis. Also see the blog post.  Profiling has moved to its own “Analyze” mode, and additionally supports profiling QML applications and profiling with Valgrind’s Callgrind.  Support for “generic remote Linux devices” has been added. You define your connection for a “Linux Device” in the preferences, and add corresponding deploy and run configurations to your project’s run settings, and there you go. You’ll have to make sure that you use a suitable toolchain for building your project yourself though.  Debugging and profiling Qt Quick applications now works for  Symbian and Meego 1.2 Harmatt[...]



Metronome(s)

2011-09-01T15:16:00+01:00

Five reviews in one, I look at the range of metronomes currently offered in the Ovi Store. For the budding musician, an accurate metronome can be a vital tool and it's one less gadget to forget if the function's built into your smartphone. Here then are reviews of Metronome, KopKop Metronome, Professional Metronome, Metronome Touch and METRONOMi. Between them, can they keep your strummings, pluckings and blowing in perfect time? Maybe. Just maybe.A metronome, of course, is a tool to help you keep time when playing an instrument. You set the BPM (Beats Per Minute) and you're away - at its simplest level, with audio and (hopefully, given that you'll be making a lot of noise yourself too!) visual clues. A few extra bells and whistles do help, too as we'll see below. In each case, click on the application heading to go to the appropriate page in the Ovi Store, noting that not all apps below are available for all phones and that scores are shown here in-line, in the titles, rather than in a single box above. _______________ METRONOMi - 45%    This is bare bones metronomy, all you get is a 'nudge bar' to adjust the BPM and a choice of 3/4 or 4/4 (to determine where you'd like the 'accented' beat). A tap on 'On/Off' and you're away, with a little beep-ding-ding-ding sound to give you time. The nudge bar is superbly done as a control - it's very sensitive and intuitive. Unfortunately, the application isn't very usable overall because of other issues. There's no visual indication of the beat; even on maximum volume it's really not very loud; the screen dims in the usual Symbian way and you then can't even see the application UI anymore; and other system tasks like checking email interupt the regular beat in any case. ___________ Metronome Touch - 40% Interestingly, there's an attempt here to recreate the look and feel of a traditional weight-based metronome, in which you slide the weight up and down to change the characteristics of the sprung mechanism:      Changing the BPM is done by using touch to drag the virtual weight up and down, with the lit panel showing the current tempo selected. Unfortunately, this control is as badly done as the nudge control above was well done - in this case, it's complete luck as to whether you get the tempo you were going for and adjusting BPM is a frustrating experience. And even then you're limited to the multiples of 4, 6 and 8 shown, there's no finer control available. Once underway, there's a nice satisfying metronome sound effect, along with an animation of the metronome arm swinging backwards and forwards - which would be great if the arm was synchronised to the beat, as a visual clue as to the beat. Alas, it's not - the animation is purely eye candy, completely foiling the point of the otherwise interesting UI. Finally, Metronome Touch fails completely by switching off as soon as the phone's keylock cuts in - leaving you high and dry a minute into your first piece. Shame. _____________ Metronome - 25% The idea here is to recreate a modern electronic gadget. I just wish it was as reliable...   Metronome, the most simply named app here, fails at just about every level. And I mean every level. For starters, it can't keep time. Which is a basic failing in a metronome - the beat varies and rises and falls in tempo - I've tried to create my own apps like this in the past and have hit similar timing hurdles - so I recognise it's not trivial to keep the beat solid on a multitasking smartphone - but other apps here have managed it, so.... In addition, the tempo always starts at a ridiculous 200, there's no visual indication (despite the virtual LEDs) and the app stops sounding when the screen goes of[...]



Escape

2011-09-01T11:58:31+01:00

Zen-like puzzles? Chill out? Casual and fun? Yes, the flavour text for Escape certainly appeals to me. The game itself does deliver, but with a few quirks and one gotcha in the game design. I wouldn't say it's zen, but it's certainly a relaxing and slow paced little number that I'm enjoying.    The goal in each level is simple, you need to remove all the little circles on the ground... by stepping on them. Do that, jump to the next one, and that disappears. Plan your route to hit all the circles, one clear screen, and birds will suddenly appear, and the next level will be near. Okay you only have the four cardinal directions (up, down, left and right), and it's more about careful planning than zen-like 'just go with the flow', but there's no time limit, no enemy creatures, no pressure, just the puzzle. So the moment before you start moving, when you start to plan the level, and  work out how to connect all the dots with a single line of movement (after turning the corners, you understand) is the Zen moment before the action starts. There is one quirk here that has caught me out a few times and I don't understand the rationale. You can't do a 180 degree turn. So if you press "up" to get to a circle, you have to leave that space with an "up, left or right", you can't backtrack with a "down". Why, I don't know, but if there are three circles in a line left on a level, and you've landed on the middle one, you're out of luck. There's no jump forward and then a chance to shimmy back to get the last one. The other thing that upsets me is the rhythm of the game. Because your character moves at a constant speed, but the distance between circles is variable, I can't build up a constant move - beat - move - beat - move pattern while playing. Given the idea of everything being mapped out first, it feels strange to have to stop and look to the screen to check when you can move again. It just upsets the calm nature of Escape.     Beyond that, I can live with the on screen controls that seem to be lifted from an early nineties "how to program a touch screen PDA" book (although it would have been nice if the E7 cursor keys had worked as well). Really, we're resorting to huge buttons on the bottom of the screen instead of invisible on screen areas, tilt sensors, or even a sliding finger to identify a direction? There are a lot of options that AMA could have gone with, and I fear they've gone with an option that kills any aesthetic. However. while a second pass over the code to make it look more like a Symbian application with a consistent UI is almost demanded, it's not enough to stop me enjoying this game. Long and deep, but in short bursts, there are more than enough levels here to keep you playing for as long as you want (welcome to a world of endless levels and multiple levels of complexity), it's smart and makes you think, and while it can take you out of the mood, it does go some way to the Zen it promises. It's far away from perfection, but the rough edges don't hide the charm. -- Ewan Spence, Sept 2011.[...]



Nokia 3D World Gaze

2011-08-31T18:48:00+01:00

Still, technically, in 'beta', and strictly for the graphics-accelerated Symbian^3 phones, Nokia 3D World Gaze is now mature enough to stand review - it's an augmented reality application with a difference, drawing on Panoramio, Wikinews and GeoNames public data sources to produce a genuinely unique view of our world. In terms of geospatial awareness (i.e. knowing where you are and what's immediately around you) it's totally the wrong tool - but for a beautiful, quirky and interesting look at the planet we live on, it can't be beaten.I initially reported briefly on 3D World Gaze back in July, but we now have a more mature, more rounded application and one that's well worth walking through and summarising. Nokia still classes this application as "Experimental (Prototype that may change or disappear after the trial period)", but I for one think this should be 'graduated' into a Nokia Store freebie (along the same lines as Nokia Internet Radio and many others). Note that the Beta Labs page only talks about the E7 and N8, but I can't see why it wouldn't work on the C7, C6-01 and X7 too.... Comments welcome!   From intro screens to animations to interface, 3D World Gaze is a world apart (pun intended) from much of Nokia's software output - this is truly polished software and enough to impress even iOS and Android users, I suspect. As with other augmented reality applications, the use of the digital compass will need five seconds of phone waving if you want to make sure that you're looking in the right direction within the application. If you've used the compass recently (say in Maps) then you can in theory skip this step:     I loved the presentation at each stage, with introductory prompts to lead new users through functionality and with a prominent Help option:     As the screen above shows, the idea is to present an augmented reality view on the physical planet Earth above, below, to the left and right of you, drawing on Internet data sources Panoramio, Wikinews, Wikipedia and GeoNames to position photos, news items, reference tags and cities (respectively) in roughly the right physical place in 3D space. Here's the basic cities view: (and yes, it's a little surreal seeing Slough mentioned along with Moscow, etc!)     Note the side icon interface. Down the left are toggles for the various labels/data sources: Panoramio, Wikinews, Wikipedia and GeoNames. Just flick them on and off as you prefer. All the while, appropriate entries from each are presented in real time as you twist around and move up and down. Here are a selection of presented Panoramio thumbnails:     Tapping a thumbnail brings it up in larger form for admiring, for moving your 3D 'viewpoint' to its location or, perhaps most usefully, for bringing up the source image in context in Web:     From Web, as shown above, you can bookmark the page or even save the image to a local disk on your phone. Neatly done. Panoramio was definitely my favourite data source from those presented in 3D World Gaze. The combination of the thumbnails plus the application's own real-time shaded globe affects was mesmerising:     You can combine the left hand side feeds in the main view, as needed. Below, I've got all but Panoramio turned on. The right hand side icons are, respectively, to Search for a name, to bring up an extra options menu (Calibrate, cloud effects, go to my location, etc.), to disable compass response (so that you can spin the globe manually using touch), and to jump to a birds eye view in the clouds. Not shown here but nicely done are left and right swipes from each screen si[...]



Interviewing Harald Meyer

2011-08-31T13:02:30+01:00

Over at Nokia Conversations, I've been moonlighting in helping create their Appstravaganza series of developer interviews. In this case, chatting to Harald Meyer, of CameraPro and PhoneTorch fame... What makes Harald tick and what development tips does he have for others?

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From the interview:

"Updates are distributed to a group of five to ten beta testers and selected CameraPro users, who continuously send me feedback. But most feedback comes directly from the user community and includes (mostly) small feature requests. All bug reports and feature requests are managed in a simple list, which I try to keep as short as possible. In rare cases (especially in the early days of CameraPro) I also provide individuals with updates with fixes for urgent problems."




Writing applications with a split screen keyboard

2011-08-31T13:00:00+01:00

One of the aesthetic updates of Symbian Anna was its split-screen keyboard. Symbian users would finally be able to see what they were typing in context, rather than having a full screen editor cover up the whole screen. However, third party developers wanting to use this new feature have found the information to be rather scattered. Fortunately, Talv Bansal, developer of applications like SymFTP and SymPaper, has gathered together the information and code for developers to follow. Read on for a summary and links.

Talv explains in his blog post that getting the split screen keyboard to work in Symbian is a multi-step problem. The first hurdle is actually triggering Qt to launch the keyboard, and then the application has to detect that this has happened and alter its layout where appropriate.

  • Open a split entry keyboard
  • Detect the keyboard being opened
  • Move / resize elements on the app to ensure the text elements are visible
  • Detect keyboard closing
  • Put elements back to their original state


According to Talv, writing a split screen keyboard enabled Symbian application requires a mixture of Qt and Symbian C++ code. His post provides all the code for the appriopriate C++ header files, as well as links to relevant information.

There is a twist in the plot though …

Ohhhh and one other thing to mention, if the user is using predictive entry on their phone with the split keyboard then it will almost most definitely crash, this can be fixed by adding the following capability to the pro file, it will require your app to be signed though:

SwEvent

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You can read Talv’s blog post in full by clicking here.

 

David Gilson for All About Symbian, 31st August 2011.




Monetising your applications: Part three - Supporting your apps with adverts

2011-08-31T09:16:55+01:00

Continuing our look at making money from developing applications for Symbian, the third part of our series (supported by inneractive, and following up from parts one and two) takes a look at using in-app advertising. From the decision to use advertising and the choices to make at the design process, to choosing an advertising partner to get the best potential income, the rise of in-app advertising makes this a powerful choice to monetise your hard work. Monetising apps This content series is supported by inneractive.  What is supported content? Right then, if you can remember the three basic choices of who pays for applications (the user buys, the developer gives up time, or a third party pays for access), it’s time to look at the third option, which is proving to be very attractive for some developers... having a third party pay to get access to the eyes of the users. Advertising. Specifically in-app advertising, with banners to click on during the use of an application, with targeted offers and services to those using it or playing the game. Couple that with sensors such as GPS and you can have some accurate delivery stats for advertisers to work with. You could easily argue that in-app advertising has become the go-to method for developers to open an income stream, as opposed to pushing for the purchase and direct payment options we’ve looked at previously. However, even if that were true, it is not the only answer. The smart developer will think about all their options while they design their applications to make the best use of the tools on offer, and many mix and match, with a “Lite” application also carrying some advertising that is removed or suppressed when you buy the full version. This is an approach that reaches the best of both worlds, capturing the people who expect their applications to be free at the point of download but still providing a small income stream, to join the income from purchases. So let’s turn to one of the providers of in-app advertising, inneractive, who are supporting this content series. As a cross-platform solution with a large number of partners in advertising network and agency circles, it’s well placed to illustrate the benefits. The first thing to realise is that in-app advertising has progressed beyond a few people trying out some ideas. Most of the major developers in the mobile space have seriously explored in-app advertising. We’ve mentioned previously Rovio with its Android version of Angry Birds being exclusively ad-driven for revenue; but other big names, such as Firemint, have apps that rely on advertising too. Part of that reliance on an ad network is knowing that everything coming up on the screen is worth something - it’s all well and good having a banner space, but if your network can’t provide a solid advert to put in there, any click is wasted. The “fill rate”, how many external ads are shown, can be a key consideration in the choice of network. “...If we are talking about averages, we generally see a global fill rate of over 95%,” Hilell Fuld, Head of Marketing at inneractive tells me, “and our fill rate is revenue-generating ads only and no ads promoting ourselves.” As inneractive works with a number of advertising networks, they have a much larger pool of adverts that they can serve to applications and users of the services. It’s not just a matter of having a space in your application to show some ads. You can’t expect people to click just because they like you. Like the bala[...]



SPB Shell 3D is the ultimate homescreen replacement for Symbian^3?

2011-08-31T08:17:58+01:00

SPB, one of the leading Symbian application houses, just released SPB Shell 3D for the graphically-accelerated Symbian^3 smartphones, and it has to be seen to be believed - I suggest you watch the embedded video below. It's similar to HTC Sense 3 on Android, but with an extra 3D twist and is either a graphical and usability triumph or a triumph of eye candy over common sense - but at least users can make their own mind up - it's pricey, but there's a 30 day no quibble refund if you don't like it.

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From the press release:

The SPB Mobile Shell for Symbian – predecessor of the newly released SPB Shell 3D – achieved the number one best selling position world-wide and has been recognized by the number of prestigious awards such as Nokia Calling All innovators.

SPB Shell 3D for Symbian is an innovative solution that brings user interface to a new level and transforms the whole Home Screen into a 3D space. Initially released for Android it became the revenue-generating hit on the Android Market with 750 000 USD earned within 3 weeks. Now it is Symbian users' turn to experience how SPB Shell 3D can improve the look and feel of their smartphones with astonishing 3D visual effects and highly responsive and natural UI.

With the new SPB Shell 3D Symbian users will get into the rich and engaging 3D environment with impressive 3D animation. Slick, intuitive and fast UI will make the navigation simple to allow Symbian users fully enjoy their familiar devices with the brand new features. Smart folders will help to organize the Home Screen in the most convenient way and get access to the most important apps in one click. Fast switching between screens will make the device manipulation much more effective.

The product page is the best place to buy SPB Shell 3D as you then qualify for the 30 day money back guarantee etc. Note that the E6, with its differently sized homescreen, isn't supported.

The launch video does a great job of showing off everything SPB Shell 3D can do:

src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/W_bKq9jl3OE?rel=0" width="640" height="390" frameborder="0">

Comments welcome. Has SPB just created the interface that takes Symbian to the next level? Or is it just all too much?

Steve Litchfield, AAS