November 19, 2009

Buyer beware!

It's just struck me that I'm not having a lot of luck with orders placed over the internet right now. A few days ago, the order I placed for a backup phone went pear-shaped, and now the order for a memory card (placed elsewhere) has, too.

The phone I use most of the time is a Nokia 5800 XpressMusic. As its name suggests, it's designed for people to use as a music player as well as a phone (and many things besides), and I do like to carry music around with me. Lots of it. Right now, the 8 gigabyte memory card that came with the phone is as good as full, there's only about 150 megabytes of space left on it, so I want to get hold of a bigger capacity card that will still leave me room to take some photos and shoot video if the need arises.

The type of card that this phone uses, microSDHC, comes in various "classes" that have different maximum speeds. There are class 2, 4 and 6 cards, which have a maximum data throughput of 2, 4 and 6 megabytes per second respectively. A class 2 card is too slow for the amount of data stored on it when used in conjunction with my phone. I don't want to have to wait forever while the phone is storing a photo on the card or accessing applications, music playlists etc. that are stored on it, so I went out looking for a class 6 card, or a class 4 card at a pinch. I found this on amazon.co.uk, thought it would be just the ticket and ordered it.

The package arrived today. What was in it? A class 2 card with a part number other than the one that shows on the product's main page on the amazon.co.uk site. They advertised a class 4 card, billed me for a class 4 card, printed "Bytestor 16GB Micro SDHC Class 4 Memory Card" on the bill, and sent me a class 2 card.

Of course, the first thing I did was to log onto the site and check that I did indeed order the class 4 card and not the cheaper class 2 alternative, and I did get it right. I then started the refund procedure pointing out that what I ordered and paid for is not what I got.

Note that the page on amazon has changed since I received the order and informed them that what I received is not what was on the order. In fact it's a mess now because the title is still "Bytestor 16GB Micro SDHC Class 4 Memory Card", while further into the page it says "ByteStor 16GB Micro SDHC Class 2 (Micro Secure Digital High Capacity) Card", and further down still it says "Unformatted capacity of 8GB (1GB=1000MB)"...

Also, when I ordered mine, there was no mention of them being low on stock, but now it says "Currently unavailable. We don't know when or if this item will be back in stock."

It could well be genuine error on the part of amazon. I'm sure most people are not aware of what to look out for on memory cards (hence me posting this!). I can't help thinking that it was more likely to be a case of "no class 4 cards left? Let's shift the class 2 ones instead and hope nobody notices!"

Regardless of the explanation, I shouldn't have to be lumped with a slow memory card for which I paid the price of a faster one. If they're going to send out products with specifications lower than what's advertised, why don't they just send out 4GB cards and have done with it?

Buyer beware!

November 17, 2009

Some traders are, well.... Read on.

So, I see this great offer on the web for a Nokia 1661 phone on T-Mobile PAYG for £14.99 with free P&P. Sounds good, right? The phone works out at £9.99, which is not bad, even for a really basic phone like this one. I only want it to have minimal coverage in areas where there isn't O2 coverage, I'm not going to be using it as my main communications device.

I placed the order on Friday evening. Maybe I should've guessed something would go wrong since it was Friday 13th...

Fast forward to Monday 16th. I expected them to do something about the order that day and the order status to change from "being processed". Nothing did happen.

Earlier today, Tuesday 17th, I checked back on the website and saw that the order status was "cancelled".

What the.....? Why is this and why was I not informed? I called them to find out.

It turns out that the online store had run out of stock. Surprise surprise... Apparently, I could place the order by phone, but they would charge £3.99 for P&P, bringing the total price of the order up to £18.98.

I countered by saying that the website indicated that there would be no P&P. The person I spoke to replied "There are some terms & conditions". I countered again by saying that the website was explicit in saying that postage by Royal Mail was free of charge and that it was difficult to see how there was any wiggle room for terms and conditions. The salesperson then changed her story and claimed that P&P is not charged only if orders are placed on the website.

This all sounded rather fishy to me. It seems obvious that the cheap price on the website is simply bait to lure the punter in. It then becomes impossible to fulfill the order and the punter is encouraged to spend a bit more money than originally intended for the same thing.

The conclusion of this is very simple. Don't shop at chitter-chatter.co.uk!

October 19, 2009

What happened to manners?

You know, I don't mind it if someone calls me by mistake because they've dialled a wrong number. Anyone can make a mistake. What I don't like is when the person calling doesn't even acknowledge that mistake.

Very often when I get such a call, the person calling has the decency to say "Sorry, I must have dialled a wrong number." I'll always be polite in return. This afternoon, though, I received such a call and, instead of apologising, the person calling just let out a stream of obscenities and then hung up.

What had I done to deserve that?

Had that person not concealed their CLID I would have called back and demanded an apology.

Something is going very wrong in society.

October 18, 2009

V30.0.011 firmware for the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic

It's been out for something like two months already, so why the interest in it now?

The thing is, there was a major snafu at Nokia, which delayed firmware updates for S60v5 handsets such as this one and Nokia's flagship device, the N97, but only for unbranded handsets intended specifically for the UK market. Nokia has since admitted that they were the cause of the snafu that resulted in these excessive delays.

Applying the update and getting the full benefit of the improvements that it brings was a bit more of an epic adventure than it should have been. The features that are supposed to make updating the phone easy only half work in this instance and end up making things unnecessarily convoluted.

Not only that but V30 also includes some serious bugs that, in my opinion, mean that it's wiser to wait for V31 to be released instead of installing this version.

As soon as the update was released via FOTA (Firmware Over-The-Air, the phone itself downloads the update from Nokia and installs it) I installed it. I took the usual precaution of backing everything up to my memory card beforehand and then updated. The phone rebooted and everything was still intact as promised by UDP (User Data Preservation).

One of the major selling points of V30 is an indicator on the home screen of any new e-mails received. A bug in the new firmware (where have I heard this before?) prevents this feature from working until you perform a reset on the phone. I was somewhat unwilling to do that because of the risk of losing some commercial software I'd bought. Since acquiring this phone I've bought Adobe Reader LE from quickoffice.com and something from the OVI Store to export messages from the phone in order to archive them. I was expecting to lose this stuff and had to find out how to recover it.

Anyway, once I'd located sources for all the stuff I'd installed I did another full backup to the memory card, reset the phone with the usual *#7370# trick and supplied my security code. The phone went blank, rebooted and asked me for the usual stuff it asks for when it's new out of the box. So far so good.

The first thing I did after the phone rebooted was to restore the backup I'd just made. The next step was to reinstall all the stuff I'd lost by reformatting the phone. As it turns out, most of what I'd installed was still there! There are two possible reasons for this. Either the reset no longer does what it used to do and some software survives it, or that software was included in the backup (I did select "user files" in it) and reinstalled when I restored the backup. If the latter, why did it only preserve some software and not all of it? There was no clear pattern to what was preserved. Some Nokia software was preserved, some was not, some third party software was preserved, some not. Themes were not preserved.

Going through the settings, in particular security settings that were clobbered by the reset, I needed to input my security code. It was no longer accepted! Taking a guess at what had happened, I tried the default Nokia security code, which is "12345", and it worked! The reset also put the phone's security code back to the default "12345", which is not expected behaviour and is something that's never happened on any other S60 Nokia device I've used.

Having reinstalled everything that did go missing I went through the settings with a fine-tooth comb and got the phone set up as I used to have it, with the e-mail indicator on the home screen this time. I'm glad I decided to go through with the reset, painful as it was, because that e-mail indicator is a useful feature. It shows you at a glance how many unread e-mails you have, allows you to get straight into the e-mail account by tapping on it and lists details of the first two messages in the inbox. If you have multiple e-mail accounts set up on the phone, it will however only show details of one mailbox, not all of them, but you can choose which one to display on the home screen.

I had to redefine all my speed-dials since I didn't back up the phone's settings (doing so would have defeated the purpose of resetting it). The phone crashed and rebooted once when I defined the first one but didn't crash again subsequently.

After altering a contact, I used the OVI Sync service to ensure that my online contacts were up to date. However, after the sync was done, all the custom labels in my contacts were lost, as were some of the defaults. The defaults are a mechanism used to tell the phone which number or address to use by default if more than one can be used for the operation about to be performed. For example, if you want to send someone a text message and there's more than one number for that person, unless you tell the phone that one of those numbers is the default for text messages, you will be asked which one to use. The defaults for voice and video calls were preserved, as were those for e-mail. The defaults for SMS and MMS messages, on the other hand, were lost for some reason or other, and I had to go through my contacts redefining them.

Now that the update is complete and the phone set up as before, it's time to make a note of the improvements that I've noticed.

First of all, the unit seems more responsive. Text input when composing a message seems to be more snappy as does entering letters to search through the contacts choosing one to use as the recipient of the message. Switching from portrait mode to landscape mode and back seems faster and smoother than it was before. Entering and navigating the phone's menus seems fast enough, even with theme effects enabled. This is a definite improvement on V21.0.025.

WLAN connectivity seems more stable than previously. Once connected I'd never have problems with V21, but sometimes it wouldn't detect the WLAN at all and would fall back on the 3G packet data service instead. It's a good job I have the "unlimited web" bolt-on with my contract... Running V30 the phone seems to "see" the WLAN much more often and uses it rather than O2's service.

Power management seems to be improved hugely. It is now 72 hours since I last charged the battery and there are still 3 bars (out of 7) left on the gauge, which is not, however, linear, meaning that I'll probably have to charge up again today some time. That's still a massive improvement on battery life with V21.

A couple of niggling bugs seem to have been found and eradicated. Firstly, the "unread message" indicator. The menu key can be set to flash when any one or more of the following conditions is/are met: you have missed calls, you have unread SMS/MMS messages, you have unread e-mail. With V21, the indicator would sometimes still flash even if none of the conditions were met, especially after reading and then deleting new messages. This appears to have been fixed. Secondly, the battery gauge would indicate different numbers of bars remaining depending on what was displayed on-screen. This seems to have been fixed too.

The music player seems improved. The sound quality has been improved slightly, with less unnecessary emphasis put on the bass and better overall signal response (I suspect lower dynamics were being drowned out by the over-enthusiastic bass response and can now be heard). This all assumes, of course, that you've dumped the earbuds supplied by Nokia with the phone and that you're using something approaching good quality. I also suspect that Nokia know full well that this is what most people are doing and they decided to change the phone's frequency response to something more adapted to good quality earbuds.

A welcome surprise was to see an extra 9 megabytes or so of free space on my phone's C: drive (internal memory). There are now 64.5 MB free as opposed to the usual 55 MB or so that there used to be.

One thing I've not tried yet is the camera. There was room for improvement both for still images and for video footage. Maybe some progress has been made there, but for now I can't tell.

I'm sure there are other improvements in features that I rarely use. An unofficial changelog can be seen here. You'll not see an official changelog because Nokia considers them to be confidential information.

There are, however, several new bugs introduced into V30 that all seem to be related to the clock. Firstly, scheduled backups no longer work. All the phone's data can be backed up to a memory card for safekeeping and there is the possibility to have this backup occur automatically every day or every week. Even if the automatic backup is programmed, it does not occur. Secondly, the alarm clock is no good because it either doesn't go off at all or if it does, it goes off at the wrong time. Finally the timed profile feature no longer works as intended. It is possible to engage a new profile and have the phone revert to the original profile at a set time. This no longer happens. The phone remains in the set ptofile and does not revert to the original profile at the set time.

It was a bit of a struggle to get through the whole update process and I don't think it was worth it. The phone is snappier, I have more free space for applications, the music player has definitely been improved, some of the trivial yet a little annoying bugs of earlier versions appear to have been squashed, but new ones have been introduced, and they're not trivial. Even if you can update to V30 (although I suspect you have done already if you're not in the UK...) then I recommend that you do not. Wait vor V31. The update to V31 will soon be available both via FOTA and using NSU (Nokia Software Updater). Nokia's OVI Suite is now out of beta and should also be able to handle updating the 5800 XpressMusic.

October 15, 2009

What's this gadget?

It looks like I'm going to get myself one of these things within the next couple of weeks.

"What is it?", you may wonder. Even though it looks like one, it isn't a diary. I already have a smartphone that does everything I want of a diary and more besides, and I certainly don't want to have to cart yet another gadget around with me, expecially if I already have something that does the same thing. No, this is something that's commonly called an “eReader”. It is used to display books that are sold in electronic form, or “eBooks”.

Your next question is undoubtedly going to be "what's wrong with a normal book, one with pages that you can turn?". My answer to that is "absolutely nothing", I love the things. In fact it's precisely because I love books that I think I need to get this contraption.

The fact of the matter is that I've started reading again after a long period of comparative disinterest. I can think of 3 authors I enjoy reading who have written at least 2 books each that I've not yet read, plus a series of 5 or 6 books from one of them that I want to read. All in all there are about 25 or 30 books on my wishlist right now, and I'm getting through them at a rate of 3 or 4 a month. The problem that poses itself now is where to store the damn things. This house is already stuffed to the gills and there just isn't room for many, and yet I do like to keep them and sometimes read them again further down the line. For example, I've read “The Hobbit” and “The Lord Of The Rings” many times since childhood.

Reading books on a computer screen isn't an option for several reasons. Firstly, I like to hold the book in my hands. Using a computer pretty much rules that out. Secondly, I do most of my reading in bed at night, and I'm not taking a computer to bed with me. Finally, there's the quality of the screen. Even the most expensive and high-quality computer screen is going to be more of a strain to look at than something that's printed.

There is, however, a solution in the form of a dedicated, handheld device such as the Sony PRS-505 eReader pictured above. In length and width it is only slightly larger than your average paperback book. It is, however, less than a centimetre thick. It therefore takes up much less space than a real book. But it will also hold up to 150 or so complete books unless I stick a bog standard SD card in it, in which case it'll end up being able to store thousands of books. Do you see the advantage now? Think of a device about 1/2 the volume of a paperback book, think of a pile of 150 paperbacks, and then think of which you'd like to cram into your house and catalogue.

The tactile side of having something book-like is there, but what about the screen?

These eReaders use so-called “eInk” screens. They look a bit like paper, the black pixels are high contrast, and the screens have a higher resolution than LCD screens. They look very close to a printed page. Not only that but they are extremely economical energy-wise. eInk screens only use power to change what's on them. This means that you can basically display something on them, switch off the power, and they'll carry on displaying quasi-indefinitely. Most eReaders will allow you to flip something like 6000-7000 pages between pit-stops to charge the batteries.

The final argument in favour of an eReader is the fact that eBooks are usually a bit cheaper than their paper equivalents. The eReader will therefore pay for itself over time, although it can be argued that the convenience of having so much in so little space, especially when travelling, contributes more to the value of the eReader.

On the downside, not all publishers and authors allow their works to be published in electronic form for fear of digital piracy. If you search the internet you will indeed find plenty of places from where you can download software to defeat the copy protection on protected eBooks, so their fear is founded to a certain extent. Most publishers, however, take the (more sensible in my opinion) point of view that not everyone is going to resort to piracy, very few will in fact, and most will play according to the rules. Not all of the authors I enjoy subscribe to the latter point of view and I will have to carry on buying real books that they write.

As most of you know, I refuse to use Windows on my computers. Instead, I use GNU/Linux for various reasons. This does pose a minor problem for the copy protection used on most commercial eBooks: there is no Linux software to manage this copy protection, only Windows software. I do, however, have access to a laptop running Windows on which I can install the software required to “authorise” the eReader so that it will be able to read and display copy-protected content. From that point onwards I'll be able to use a piece of Linux software called Calibre to manage my eBooks, protected or otherwise, but Calibre will only be able to transfer protected eBooks to/from the eReader and not display them. This doesn't bother me in the least since I have no intention of using the computer to read my eBooks.

What if the eReader stops working? What happens to the dozens of books stored in it? Will they be lost? No. The eBooks that I buy will be backed up on computers in multiple locations before being installed in the eReader. For them to be lost completely, my home and two datacentres in the US would have to burn to the ground.

The PRS-505 is a model that's been discontinued by Sony, so why that one in particular? The reason why I want this one is because the two devices that "replace" it are nowhere near as good. Further up the scale there's the PRS-600, which is a touch-screen device. It has more storage space for eBooks than the 505 and it has the same 6" screen, but there's a touch-sensitive layer on top of it that renders the screen prone to glare in certain lighting conditions and generally less crisp. It does add a feature whereby you can make annotations on books you're reading. Fair enough, but that doesn't interest me, I just want to read the books. The other replacement is the PRS-300, which has no touch-sensitive layer, but the eInk screen is only 5" instead of 6". I think that's a bit small.

Anyway, stay tuned. Once I've got the contraption I'll provide a write-up.

September 22, 2009

Vindication!

Some of you may remember reading here and here about our adventures with British Gas. In a nutshell, we were conned into signing up with a so-called price protection scheme, which resulted in our monthly electricity bills going up from £29 to £67. So much for the protection... Anyway, after we got the Energy Ombudsman involved, the price went back down to £35, which is what we've been paying since December last year.

Having replaced the fridge/freezer, the old one being on its last legs and using up ridiculous amounts of power, our energy consumption came down quite significantly. Two days ago we received a quarterly statement from British Gas, on which we saw that we are almost £100 in credit after paying £35 per month for 9 months. In the light of this, our monthly payments have been put down to £22.

That's less than 1/3 of what we would have been paying had we not kicked up a fuss.

The moral of this story is that you should not let yourself be bullied around by your energy supplier. As a consumer, you have rights!

September 08, 2009

Update to the O2 saga

A couple of weeks ago I posted an article here bemoaning how little time it took O2 to mess things up with my account.

It now appears that paper billing is indeed activated on my account because on Wednesday 26th I did receive a paper bill from O2. It does, however, also appear that they're not billing me for this despite the clear indication that it would cost me an extra 97p per month.

For what it's worth, I never did receive that call that I was supposed to receive on the Wednesday, but I'm not too bothered about it since it was merely to confirm that I had received the bill in the post.

But it doesn't stop there. A few days later I received a duplicate of the same bill! OK, they're not going to bill me twice, but it certainly does demonstrate a lack of organisation. I suspect the person who was supposed to call me simply decided to send the duplicate bill regardless rather than "waste" time calling a customer who is evidently off his rocker.

We'll see what happens next time round. I should receive another bill (once only, hopefully) around September 26th.

Update 22/09/2009: I just received an e-mail bill. The paper billing for last month and this month appears on it.

September 02, 2009

When copyright protection defeats its own purpose...

Is it just me or do other people find this extremely annoying and patronising?

So, I go out and buy a legitimate DVD-Video from a legitimate store, get home, stick it in my DVD player and expect to be able to watch the film on the DVD.

Can I?

Hell, no!

I am now FORCED to sit through a video sequence telling me that piracy of DVD-Videos is illegal. I can't skip past it. I then have to sit through a slideshow of copyright notices and contact details for anti-piracy organisations in the UK. I can't skip past that either.

Has it not dawned on the people who design these damn stupid sequences that they're showing them to the wrong people? It's absolutely infuriating! I know that piracy is the source of all evil in this world, which is why I go out and buy legitimate discs. Anyone who buys a DVD on which that sequence appears has already done the right thing and doesn't need to be told.

Is it any wonder people make bootleg copies of videos if they otherwise have to sit through all that nonsense before they can actually see the programme they've paid to see?

Grr......


August 27, 2009

So far, so good...

I'd just like to reassure everyone that swine 'flu has not hit us.

We came to the conclusion that the woman Roy interviewed must have been mis-diagnosed and didn't have swine 'flu at all, just your usual seasonal 'flu. Nasty enough but not as nasty as it could have been. See here for the background to this.

Roy has been off all this week with 'flu-like symptoms. He's been to the doctors twice and was prescribed some wideband antibiotics today to ward off a chest infection.

As far as I'm concerned, I've caught whatever it was now, as was to be expected. Headaches, a sore throat, aches and pains and tiredness are what I have right now. It's unpleasant but nothing too bad, I'll live. Give me hot, fruity drinks and a box of strepsils and I'll be fine.

August 24, 2009

What are these people thinking?

The person with whom I share this place, Roy, is diabetic and asthmatic among other things. This means not only that he is extremely susceptible to infections, but also that he cannot take many forms of medication that we wouldn't think twice about because they create havoc with what he has to take for his asthma. Something that would merely be a mild cold for you or me can end up as a full-blown chest infection for him with all the consequences of time off work.

Roy is a civil servant with a public-facing job, which certainly exacerbates the risk of infection seeing so many members of the public every day from all walks of life, often in poor health.

Last week, he saw a woman who spent the whole interview not only being dense but also coughing and spluttering all over him. She then boldly declared that she had been diagnosed with swine 'flu and whipped out a prescription to back the claim up. She also claimed that she'd phoned before coming for the interview and that she'd been told by Roy's coworkers to come in anyway despite her medical condition.

What is wrong with these people? If you've been diagnosed with swine 'flu, you stay at home. You don't go to a location through which many members of the public pass every day, thus potentially spreading your infection to half the population of the town. Not only that, but I'm sure she was lying about being told to come in anyway. I don't think anyone at the office would have been stupid enough to consent to that. Either she didn't call at all or she lied about the answer she was given.

The fact is that Roy is now at home off work with some kind of infection. He called the NHS helpline earlier and it would appear that he is not exhibiting some of the key symptoms associated with swine 'flu, so we're off the hook from that point of view.

There is, however, a good chance that I'm going to catch whatever Roy has caught. I'm also supposed to be travelling southwards to meet up with family in 2-3 weeks from now. If I'm knocked down with something then there's a good chance I'll have to scrap those travel plans. Some of us have a conscience. I have no intention of putting members of my family at risk.

On the other hand, if I'm fit at that time then all will be well.


August 22, 2009

O2's first cock-up with me

Well, that didn't take them very long...

I've only been with O2 for two months and I've experienced their first cock-up today.

O2 don't send out paper bills unless you specifically ask (and pay) for it. I have no problem with that, trying to save the rainforests and all that, but I do (try to) run a business and I want to write the mobile phone off as a business expense. For that I need a paper bill.

So, on July 22nd I enquired about the possibility of receiving real bills. The next day I received an e-mail from a certain Ankit Dhir in Customer Services informing me that this could be added to my account for an extra 97p per month including VAT. I replied giving my agreement to the extra charge (I can write that off as well...) and received confirmation less than 8 hours later from a certain Vivek Sharma, also in Customer Services, confirming that this was added to my account.

Over the next month I checked my account periodically to see if there was any mention of this. There was none. I didn't let it bother me too much and supposed that it would appear on August 22nd (ie. today), when the next bill was due to be sent out.

Fast-forward to today, and I receive the next bill by e-mail. There is no extra charge for the paper bill. So, that's another £20 I won't be able to write off as an expense. It's not much, okay, but it's the principle. I got on the horn to Customer Services at O2, which to their credit is apparently somewhere in the UK and not in India, and spoke to a helpful lady with a strong Birmingham accent. She confirmed that the request was recorded but hadn't made it to my account settings a far as she could see.

Anyway, she's going to give me a call on Wednesday to see if a paper bill does turn up. If it doesn't she'll have one sent out anyway. If it does, then I'll probably have to pay for that next month.

The problem will be solved and it's not that important in the grand scheme of things. It's just annoying that something so simple could go wrong like that.

August 21, 2009

York

Another quick blog entry today to mention something I've not had time to mention until now.

Earlier this month, Roy and I went on a day trip to York. The most convenient way to get almost from our doorstep to the city gates at York was via coach, so we set off at about 9am on the 8th, 2 weeks ago tomorrow. The coach took about 2½-3 hours to get there. Being the tech addict that I am I had to go with a heavy-duty battery in the phone so that I could listen to music most of the way while following our progress on its GPS without the battery running low before we even got there. I wanted to be able to take plenty of photos once there too.

Anyway, the first port of call when arriving at York was obviously York Minster. It's a truly impressive building. Construction of it as we know it today commenced around 1080 when Thomas of Bayeux became Archbishop. It was built on the site of the Minster originally built in haste out of wood for the baptism of the Saxon King, Edward of Northumbria, on Easter Sunday 627. So, while the building that we can see today has "only" been around for about 900 years, the site itself has been a Minster for nearly 14 centuries. More information about York Minster on the official website.

Unfortunately, they charge £6 to get into the Minster itself, or £8 should you want to look at the basement or the tower as well. While I understand the need to fund the upkeep of the building, I do think that they're asking quite a bit.

Food was next on the agenda. We didn't have our obbligato fish and chips the day before because Roy knows a place in York where you can get very good stuff. So, here's a tip: if you're in York, make a point of ducking into the Petergate Fisheries. It'll cost you about £7 per head but you get a soft drink and a round of bread and butter thrown in. It's not bad value for money in a place where nothing comes cheap. To be honest, York is a bit of a tourist trap.

After lunch we had a wander round the city and a friend of mine who's been before recommended we pay "Shambles" a visit. Shambles is certainly the oldest street in York and one of the oldest in the country. It is sort of contemporary with the Minster since it's mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. Nothing's straight in that street. The buildings often lean outwards and almost touch at the top in some cases. More information about Shambles is available here.

From there we went to the other main attraction that I wanted to see. The National Railway Museum. Given the size of the exhibits, there was much walking involved in order to cover the 300 years of railway history ranging from the Rocket to the Bullet via the Mallard and the Eurostar. I took plenty of photos while there, this one of yours truly propping up the Duchess of Hamilton is far from the only one.

Come late afternoon we walked back to the city centre, ate a vastly overpriced sandwich (2 slices of bread with a slice of cooked beef and some red onion between them for £4.25? Get real!) and made our way back to the coach park just outside the city walls.

We left just before 6pm and got home about 8pm. The return trip was quicker because there was much less traffic on the roads. Needless to say we were both shattered after 6 hours of traipsing around York and 5 hours spent on a coach.

The sum total of photos I took are available on my share.ovi.com page.

August 19, 2009

Twittering away...

Just to see what it's all about I decided to sign up for a twitter account today.

So, here I am following the tweets of a couple of friends in Paris who are currently on holiday in the States, a wine-related contact in Glasgow, and someone whose wit I appreciate, Stephen Fry.

It was also a bit of an exercise to see what software was available to access twitter from my mobile phone. I ended up settling with TweetS60.

Anyway, if anyone is remotely interested in following my tweets, you can do so from http://twitter.com/grshorwich.

UPDATE: As of 22/10/2009 I'm using a different piece of software called Gravity.

July 07, 2009

Change of alliegance...

Goodbye T-Mobile, hello O2.

I know I was very pleased with the service I was getting from T-Mobile, but there are a few things that had started annoying me somewhat and the quality of service has dropped considerably over the past few months. Not to mention that T-Mobile UK is about to be on the menu with other UK mobile network operators gearing up for a feeding frenzy.

In short, it was time to jump ship.

Having recently managed to get a wireless network adapter to work with my laptop, the ability to use my phone as a modem has become far less of a requirement than it was. I do still require "unlimited" internet usage on the handset itself. I also use messaging fairly intensively, but don't make very many calls. I therefore need a plan with plenty of bundled messages, unlimited internet access but not much in the way of bundled minutes.

Having shopped around it became obvious that there were only two serious candidates, and they were T-Mobile and O2. Trouble is, I was already with T-Mobile and dissatisfied with the service. Let me elaborate on that point.

T-Mobile have a great network with extensive 3G and 3.5G coverage. Unfortunately, they must be rapidly approaching their contention level because the data connection is, to all intents and purposes, useless. Even if you have a full 3.5G signal and your phone is indicating that you're connected, no data actually flows sometimes. Or if it does flow, it's slower than if you force your phone into GSM mode and use a GPRS connection. Sometimes it'll work at high speed (up to maybe 500 or 600 kbps - nothing like the 3.6 mbps that the phone can handle, let alone the 4 or 5 mbps that T-Mobile advertise) but only for 40-60 seconds. Then it'll cut out for up to 30 seconds and then resume as before. Lather, rinse and repeat. This makes it essentially useless for streaming even audio data from internet-based radio stations. Forget about streaming video.

Then there's the issue of picture messaging. While there are no problems sending MMS messages to users on any UK network, I happen to have many contacts (not least of whom my father) living in continental Europe, mostly in France. Now, cross-network MMS isn't as straightforward as you'd think. The sending and receiving networks have to sign agreements and get their protocols matched up before it'll work. Until recently, T-Mobile had no such agreements with any of the three networks in France. They do now have agreements with SFR, but that doesn't help me for most of my contacts, who are on Orange France. If a T-Mobile UK user sends an Orange France user an MMS, all the recipient will receive is a text message (in English) with a link to a page on T-Mobile's site and a password that will enable the user, provided they can read English and can guess that they're supposed to enter their mobile phone number in international format, to view the MMS online.

I've called T-Mobile repeatedly about this situation and have been spun various stories. The first time I was told that they knew about it and that I should check back regularly since new foreign networks were added regularly to the list of those able to recieve MMS messages from T-Mobile UK users. The second time I was told that roaming agreements were in place and that it should work (how stupid do they think I am?). The final time was when I was giving the reasons why I was leaving T-Mobile UK and the person I spoke to agreed that the roaming agreements story was just that, a complete cock and bull story, and nothing else.

As of this month I am using O2's "Simplicity 20" plan. It's a one-month rolling contract that costs £20/month and gives me a monthly allowance of 600 minutes, 1200 texts (or 300 MMS messages as each one counts as 4 texts) and pseudo-unlimited data. Pseudo-unlimited because you can't use it for VoIP and they get a bit antsy if you use more than a gigabyte a month.

I can now send MMS messages to friends in France and elsewhere in Europe, and they receive what I sent them, not a text message in a language they don't understand giving them directions to a very unintuitive online service. I can also listen to internet-based radio stations without the sound stopping for 30 seconds every minute or so.

The only downside to O2's SMS service is an apparent unreliability and clogging up of the pipelines. I have a friend on the "3" network who sometimes receives my messages many hours after I've sent them, usually if I send another message later, at which point both arrive at the same time. There's no point asking O2 about it since they're a mobile network operator who, by definition, must be infallible. The fault has to lie with "3"... I'm hoping this will sort itself out in time.

On the whole, though, I'm pleased with the service. I'm getting more for my money than I was with T-Mobile, the services being sold to me actually work (except for the delayed SMS problem but that should put itself right in time anyway), I'm paying just over half of what I was handing over to T-Mobile every month, and I'm free to jump networks whenever I want if someone else starts offering a more attractive plan.

Update 22/08/2009: The delayed SMS thing still hasn't sorted itself out but it doesn't matter now anyway. The friend in question is fed up with the braindead customer (dis)service at "3" and moving to Virgin Mobile. After a few tests carried out yesterday we know that there are no problems communicating by SMS between O2 and Virgin. His number should be ported on Monday some time.

April 20, 2009

Review of the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic

Presentation



The Nokia 5800 XpressMusic is a classic candybar design phone declined in three colours: red, blue and silver/gray. The blue and silver/gray versions are harder to come by and although Nokia charges the same for all three colours, some retailers charge a premium for these two because of their rarity.

From a technical point of view, we're dealing with a straighforward quad-band GSM phone with 3.5G HSDPA at 3.6 megabits/sec (HSUPA would have been nice but I suppose you can't have everything). 3G operates at 900/2100 MHz for the "international" version and at 850/1900 MHz for the "NAM" (North American) version. Everything you'd expect is there: bluetooth and USB 2.0 connectivity, internet connectivity over (HS)CSD, (E)GPRS, UMTS or a built-in 802.11b/g WiFi adapter, 3.1MP camera with dual-LED flash, music player, video player and a feature-rich application set.

The 5800XM had a few teething problems when it was released, much like any new phone model. The two shells of the body casing are not as securely fastened at the top-right corner as they are elsewhere. This means that there's a small gap between them through which, if it is wide enough, light has been known to escape when the backlight is illuminated. Latter models would appear to have reduced the problem and it hardly shows on my phone.

Secondly, the first batches of phones were assembled with earpieces that developed faults after some time. The more people used their phones, the shorter the time. It turns out that the contacts on the earpieces would develop a form of corrosion, which explains why the audio level would fluctuate if you tapped the end of the phone. The corrosion made faulty contacts. The problem has since been identified and the supplier of earpieces changed. Phones manufactured as from February 2009 are assembled with the new, fault-free earpieces.

Next, repeated activation of the camera and viewing of video content would make the video subsystem go dead. The camera would apparently just give out a black picture and there would be no picture in video files. If the phone was allowed to cool, the picture would come back, leading us to believe that this was a hardware fault due to insufficient cooling of a chip somewhere in the phone. Once again, reports of this fault seem to have died down on the Nokia Support Discussions forums, leading me to believe that the fault has been addressed.

Finally, until version 20.0.012 of the phone's firmware (the software embedded in the phone that makes everything work – dial *#0000# to find out which version you're running) there was no way for the user to reset the phone. Models with keypads can be reset by pressing the "3", "*" and green "call" buttons while switching the phone on. The 5800XM, being a touch phone, obviously has no "3" or "*" buttons, so that puts the kibosh on that method. There is a way round it now, though. The buttons to press while powering up are the green "call" button, the red "end" button and the "camera" button on the right hand side of the phone. This has proven necessary because some themes written for S60v5 have been known to make the phone unstable and even prevent it from starting properly. If the theme was installed in the phone's internal memory instead of on the memory card there was no way of recovering from this situation and the phone had to be taken to a Nokia Care Point to be reset.

So far, there's nothing groundbreaking about this phone. What does set it apart from other Nokia models is that it is based on Symbian OS 9.4 and the S60 5th Edition interface, which is a touch-screen interface, and its nHD (360x640 16:9 aspect ratio) LCD screen. Although this phone is being labelled Nokia's first touch-screen phone, there was a previous model that didn't know the success that the 5800XM is enjoying today. The 7710, which was released in 2004, was only sold in limited amounts in few countries, and it was a huge brick anyway. In that respect, the 5800XM certainly is the first touch-screen phone from Nokia to be this popular, having sold around 2.6 million since its launch according to a release from Nokia.

Box contents

Other than the phone itself, the battery and the mains charger, you get an 8 gigabyte microSDHC memory card, a condensed manual (a full manual can be downloaded from Nokia's site), software for MS-Windows (XP with SP2 and later), a hard case, a CA-101 microUSB cable, a CA-75 TV-Out cable, a lanyard with a plectrum of the same colour as the phone, a small stand to support the phone on a flat surface, and a spare stylus in case you lose or break the one already fitted in the back casing of the phone. Since this is touted as a music phone, there's also a set of HS-45 earbuds and an AD-54 remote control with pause/play, stop, forward and rewind functions as well as a lock switch, a button to take incoming calls and a microphone that you can speak into, thus making it unnecessary even to touch the phone for basic use.

The spare stylus was thoughtful. What could have been more thoughtful is an in-car charger as supplied with the N96 and bundled by some operators with other Nseries phones. To be honest, the 5800XM is much the same as an Nseries device in all but name. It has the same feature set...

The hard case will certainly protect the phone from objects likely to scratch it in your pocket such as keys, change etc. but it is a bit of a tight fit. A friend's 5800XM was even scratched by the case itself over time, so if you're not careful it will actually defeat its purpose.

The lanyard and plectrum are a must-have accessory. The touch screen is more sensitive to scratching than you'd think (I've scratched mine twice already with my fingernails in just over a week) and the plectrum's edges are smooth, as is the point of the stylus. Too much use of the stylus could make it work loose from its home in the rear casing of the phone, and it's also easy to apply too much pressure.

Start-up and first impressions

The phone starts up with a reassuring buzz when you press the power button for a couple of seconds. Thereafter it takes about 20 seconds for the phone to request the PIN number for your SIM. This is a lot faster than other phones that I've owned like the N73 and N96.

Unlike earlier models, you can't bypass the "handshake" animation by pressing a key, but you can silence it the same way as with previous editions of S60, by ensuring that warning tones are switched off in the profile that's active when the phone is switched on.

The phone sits well in the hand. The proportions are practical and the weight is small enough for the phone not to be a burden, and high enough for the phone not to feel flimsy. Other than the few actual buttons on the phone there are no moving parts to work loose and the build appears solid (no creaky case like the N96 for example).

The only physical buttons on the front of the phone are the call make and break buttons and the menu button between them. When the backlight is illuminated they are backlit in green red and white respectively, but black otherwise, which is rather stylish. Just above the top-right corner of the screen is the "XpressMusic" logo which, when tapped, brings down a menu of 5 media-related applications: music player, gallery, share online, video centre and web browser.

On the left of the phone are the slots for the SIM card and the microSD memory card. Inserting the SIM card is easy enough. In order to remove it you have to switch the phone off, remove the back casing and the battery, and push the SIM card out with the stylus. It's a little inconvenient but not too problematic given that the SIM card is probably the part that you swap out the least frequently anyway.

The microUSB port, 3.5mm AV connector, charger port and power switch are all on the top of the phone while the volume/zoom rocker switch, keypad lock slider and camera button are on the right.

The phone can be used one-handed easily enough, although the placing of the keypad lock is such that it is easier to use with the phone in your left hand than in your right hand – it is a bit too low for the right thumb to get a grip on it.

The touch screen itself is pretty responsive and the phone has quite a "snappy" feel about it provided theme effects are switched off. They do tend to slow menu transitions down for no reason other than eye-candy and, although the clock speed of the processor in this phone is higher than in the N96, for example, there is only one processor instead of two.

There are four different input methods on this phone as opposed to the usual single input method on most phones. The touch screen can be configured as an alphanumeric input like a classic mobile phone's keypad, a full-screen QWERTY keypad, a mini-QWERTY keypad that uses much less screen real-estate but really requires use of the stylus, or handwriting and OCR (also requiring the stylus). Note that the full-screen keyboard reconfigures itself according to the input language. For example, it switches to a QWERTZU keyboard if the language selected is German, or AZERTY if French is selected.


Ring tones and message notification tones are loud enough and there's a reasonable range of them to choose from. When watching video content or listening to music through the speakers, they are loud enough but the quality, as expected, does leave to be desired. This is a phone after all, not a portable stereo system, so it should come as no surprise that there is no bass and precious little mid-range. The 5800XM comes into its own when you use a set of earphones. More about the music player later.

In its default setup, the phone vibrates for a fraction of a second whenever an area of the screen is pressed. This serves as feedback that you've pressed the screen correctly. However, after a few minutes of using the phone you'll have learned how to judge the pressure required and will probably want to turn this feature off to save battery life. This and keypad tones can be switched off in your profile settings. Note that the setting is independent in each profile – you'll have to make the adjustment in each profile you use.

Speaking of battery life, it is vastly improved in the 5800XM compared to other recent models. For one thing, the battery here is a 1320mAh BL-5J battery, which represents nearly a 40% increase in capacity over the BL-5F used in the N95 and N96. Not only that, but improvements in the technology used in the phone mean that it uses less power than earlier models anyway. Larger battery, less hungry phone, therefore longer battery life.

A tool you can use to view and record the power consumption of your phone in real time is Nokia Energy Profiler.

Audio quality during voice calls is very good. The sound in the earpiece seems a bit richer than with many phones. This is particularly noticeable when using a 3G network where the sound is transmitted in much better quality than with a GSM call. The phone being 111 mm (4.37") long, the mic is close enough to the mouth for voice to be picked up without too much background noise.

The GSM/UMTS antenna is located in the bottom of the phone, near the mic, ie. as far away from your head as they can put it, which means that you won't be frying your brains while making long calls.

The built-in accelerometer makes the phone aware of whether it's in portrait or landscape orientation. This enables the phone to draw the various menus and input screens accordingly. The home screen, however, is always in portrait mode and the full-screen QWERTY keyboard in landscape mode regardless of the phone's orientation.

Standby screen

There are three models of standby screen available. The selection is in the settings under Personal / Home screen / Home screen theme.

Firstly there is the usual "Shortcuts bar" scheme which allows you to put shortcuts to 4 frequently used applications on your home screen. This is similar to the "Active Standby" of Nseries and Eseries devices in its design. It can also show you upcoming calendar events, the status of the music player and FM radio, and the search tool that allows you to search through your phone's content (messages, notes, contacts etc.) for information.

Then there's the "Contacts bar" scheme, which allows you to put up to 4 of your contacts onto the home screen in order to have voice and messaging functions for these 4 contacts easily to hand.

Finally, there's the "Basic" scheme with nothing but the clock and other usual things up the top of the screen. There are no shortcuts on-screen, everything has to be accessed via the menu.

People who use their phones to keep in close contact with a limited number of people will find the "Contacts bar" most useful. I use mine a lot more for data (internet access, e-mail etc.) and therefore find the "Shortcuts bar" most useful. Those not yet fully at ease with a smartphone will probably feel most at home with the "Basic" scheme, progressing to either of the other two as their confidence builds.

USB connectivity

The 5800XM comes with a CA-101 USB cable. Unlike some phones (more and more in fact), the 5800XM does not draw power in order to charge its battery through its microUSB connector. You can, however, use a CA-100 adapter that connects a free USB port to the 2mm charging connector (but it does require a second USB port as well as the one used for data transfer), or you can use a CA-126 charging and data cable that plugs into a single USB port on one end and has both a 2mm charging plug and the microUSB connector on the other end, thus allowing you to transfer data and charge the phone at the same time using only one USB port.

There are four different connection modes.

"PC Suite" mode is used for most things. You can transfer data to/from the phone's central memory or the memory card, synchronize your contacts, calendar events, messages and notes using PC Suite or OVI Suite, and update your phone's firmware using Nokia Software Updater. This mode is also used for the phone to act as a broadband modem giving you Internet connectivity on your laptop, for example, while on the move. Always check with your mobile network operator about tariffs and what you can and can't do with the connection established this way (many operators forbid the use of their services for VoIP Internet telephony for example).

Connecting the phone in "Mass storage" mode makes it behave like a USB pen-drive. Exclusive control of the memory card is given to the host computer and it appears as a removable drive in Windows' "My Computer". No additional software is needed for this since the phone observes industry standard "usb-storage" protocols. It can be used in this way to transfer music and videos to the phone and photos and videos shot with the phone onto your computer with any operating system that observes these protocols (Windows ME and later, Linux kernel 2.4 and later, Free/Open/NetBSD, Solaris, MacOSX and many more).

"Image transfer" mode is used to connect the phone to a PictBridge-compatible device such as a printer. It allows you to organise photos on a sheet and print them directly on a printer without the need for a computer.

Finally, "Media transfer" mode allows you to transfer music to the phone and incorporate it into the phone's library in one operation. Using the "Mass storage" method of copying music over requires an extra step for the music to appear in the music library and it also requires that identification tags be embedded in the music files so that the phone knows who the artist is, what the song's title is etc.

Bluetooth connectivity

Provided your computer has a bluetooth adapter, you can also exchange data with the phone over a wireless connection. All the functions described above except the "removable drive" thing and updating the phone's firmware, both of which rely on particularities of USB connectivity, can be done with this type of connection.

Bluetooth is also used for connecting the phone to a wireless earpiece or for streaming music to a stereo headset or an in-car hifi system that's bluetooth-enabled. It can also be used to connect to a car kit for hands-free calling. Note that a wireless earpiece or a car kit is a legal requirement in the UK. You can be fined on the spot for using your phone by holding it to your ear while driving since both your hands should be on the steering wheel at all times.

Music

The music player blew me away. It is every bit as good as the one in the N96, if not better since at least one bug has been eradicated since that version. The phone no longer forgets that the "loudness" audio corrector is switched on when playback stops.

It plays back all the best-known codecs including AAC, eAAC+, MP3, WMA, AMR and a few others. However, a bug in the AAC/eAAC+ decoder means that whenever the player is about to play back such a file, you hear a snippet of it played back before the beginning of the piece of music. This does not occur with MP3 files, for example.

You'll want to lose the earbuds that come with the phone and invest in some decent noise-isolating earbuds at the very least. You might even want to go that extra mile and splash out on noice-cancelling earphones once you've heard what this phone can do. There's practically no noise (hiss). This is a vast improvement over the N95, for example.

Nokia have yet to master gapless playback. If you're listening to a live album, for example, where there is no break between tracks, the Nokia music player will stop after playing one track and pause for a fraction of a second before playing back the next track. It is slightly annoying that something so obvious and so simple to implement should still be absent from a phone being sold as a music phone...

If you transfer music to the phone using the "Nokia Music" application on your PC with the phone connected in "Media transfer" mode then the music library on the phone is updated automatically while music is being transferred. If, on the other hand, you use the phone in "Mass storage" mode and copy your music files over that way then your files will need to have their identification embedded in them somehow. The easiest way is to use ID3v2 tags in MP3 files. Once the music is copied over, you tell the music player to update its library manually. When it does that, it scans the memory for new music files that weren't there last time you did this and adds the identification embedded in them to its database. It also removes from its database details about files that are no longer stored in the phone.

Whichever way you used to identify the music tracks and transfer them, they're sorted by artist, album, composer and genre. Playlists can be made and it is also possible to change the order in which songs appear in playlists by dragging them up or down the list. One advantage of a touch-screen interface...

As well as the loudness control mentioned earlier, there is a stereo widening feature, an 8-band graphic equalizer (with several editable presets and the ability to add more) and the usual track shuffle and repeat features.

There is also an FM receiver with RDS. As is the case with almost all phones that have an FM receiver, the headset's wire serves as the FM antenna. A wired headset therefore has to be connected for the receiver to work, which also means that you cannot use a bluetooth headset to listen to the radio.

Phones with a built-in FM antenna are beginning to appear.

Camera

As can be seen from this photo, the camera is not the sharpest available but it is perfectly acceptable for spur-of-the-moment snapshots. If you really want something high-resolution and sharp then you probably shouldn't be using a cameraphone in the first place. Unlike Nseries devices, this phone only has a 3.1 megapixel camera. 5 megapixel cameras and above (the N86 8MP, as its name suggests, will have an 8 megapixel camera) are the exclusive domain of Nseries devices.

You have the choice of three different resolutions: 640x480, 1600x1200 and 2048x1536. On V20 firmware, you can use information coming from the built-in GPS receiver to "geotag" (or "location tag" as Nokia calls it) photos you've taken. With this, your position when you took the photo is recorded in the image and can be used by image sharing sites to display a small map of the area where the photo was taken (like here) alongside the photo itself or to display a cloud of photos over a map.

The usual flash control functions are there (auto, force on, force off, anti red-eye) as are the usual scene type controls and effects (black and white, invert, sepia). The built-in image editor also allows you to perform a few basic operations (cropping, resampling, adding clip-art and text etc.).

The accelerometer also serves in still camera mode to rotate the picture captured so that landscape mode and portrait mode pictures come out as expected.

This phone will also shoot video at various qualities ranging from 176x144 low quality for sharing via MMS to 640x480 at 30 frames per second. One thing I liked straight away was the 640x352 widescreen video format!

At 176x144 quality, you get h264 video and AMR audio in a 3GP container. For the other qualities you get MPEG4 video and AAC audio in an MP4 container.

Video can also be location-tagged, and the LEDs normally used for the flash can be used as a torch to illuminate the subject being videoed.

Nokia has its own media sharing site at share.ovi.com. Your captured images and videos can be uploaded directly from your phone without the need for a computer. More about "OVI" later.

The built-in photo browser allows you to access all the pictures and videos on your phone and manage them by tagging them and adding them to albums that you can create. From this application you can invoke the image editor and also send objects by e-mail or MMS, or have them sent to another device by bluetooth. There's also an experimental picture browser developed by Nokia that's better at presenting pictures and even includes face recognition. It is available here.

Messaging

With its multiple input methods, this is an area where the 5800XM excels. Text input is now so easy. Predictive input is there with dictionaries for each of the languages supported by the phone, although auto-completion of words like in Sony-Ericsson and Motorola phones at least is not.

Like in S60v3FP2 devices such as the N96 and N85, there is only one "New Message" option. The default is a text message, but the messaging application changes the message type to a multimedia message automatically if something is entered into the "Subject:" field of the message or if you add content other than text (a photo or a small video file, for example).

The 5800XM supports the new extended MMS specification where messages can be up to 600KB in size as opposed to 300KB for classic MMS messages. Obviously, your network has to support this as do the recipient's network and handset.

E-mail is also supported. Text is sent as plain text rather than HTML (HTML in e-mail is an abomination and is partly responsible for the plague of spam and malware that e-mail is in general nowadays) and encoded as UTF-8. Files can be attached.
Both POP3 and IMAP4 protocols are supported, with ot without SSL encryption. SMTP can be authenticated with various methods.

Useful functions in the e-mail client are the addition of a signature and the "send copy to self" function.

When replying to an e-mail, however, the client gets things a little mixed up. The text of the message you're replying to is not quoted and is placed after your signature when it should be quoted correctly (a ">" and a space in the left margin of each line), any signature sent to you discarded and the quoted text placed before your signature. Nor does the mail client include References: or In-Reply-To: headers in replies to received mail. The guys who developed this mail client need to find out how e-mails are constructed before attempting to write software to do that.

Web browser

The built-in web browser in this phone is based on the Apple WebKit engine and therefore has, among other features, a full AJAX-enabled JavaScript engine with an Adobe Flash Lite 3.0 plugin. Other than the screen's size and resolution that are obviously far below the level of desktop and laptop computers and the fact that the "machine" running it is a bit slower, there's little to tell this browser apart from its desktop cousins from the point of view of sites that are supported. There's even full support of alphablended PNG files (unlike MSIE on Windows, which still relies on a kludge involving DirectX and an ActiveX control).

If the text is too small then double-tap on the screen and you'll invoke a zoom. You can press and drag the contents of the screen around... The usage of the browser is pretty intuitive. With full-screen, landscape mode activated, this browser is really quite usable – far more so than browsers on keypad-driven phones.

You can control whether it remembers form and password data, cookies, and whether it should download all content, just images (but not Flash content) or neither in order to keep bandwidth usage down to a minimum.

One feature I miss from the S60v3 browser was the prompt to delete the browser cache automatically when you close the browser down after viewing content on a secure page. You have to think to do this yourself now.

GPS and navigation

The GPS receiver in this phone is sensitive, fast to acquire a fix and accurate. The GPS in my N96 could not get a fix where I am sitting (on a sofa maybe 9' or 10' away from the window) but the 5800XM can, and it is accurate.

Of course, the GPS on its own isn't much good. It'll tell you where you are, but that's all. It won't tell you where you are in relation to other things and it won't tell you how to get to wherever you want to go. That's where navigation software comes in.

The UK SIM-free model I have comes with a 90-day licence for navigation in the UK using Nokia Maps. Tell Nokia Maps where you want to go from and where you want to go to, and you will be given turn-by-turn vocal directions just like you would from any in-car navigation system.

Alternatively, you can use Google Maps, which is entirely free to use for non-commercial purposes, but you don't get turn-by-turn vocal directions.

PDA functions

This phone is not a PDA by any stretch of the imagination, but it does include several features of a PDA that make life easier.

To start with, there's a "notes" application, which as its name suggests, allows you to jot down notes for future reference.

Then there's the "Contacts" application. All mobile phones have a simple address book at least. The Contacts application here is more than an address book in that multiple phone numbers and e-mail addresses can be stored against each contact as well as a photo and a note. Default numbers can also be set up so that you're not asked which number to use each time you want to send someone a message or call them. Contacts can also be sorted into groups to which you can address group messages and to which you can assign a particular ringtone. Caller groups are also used by profiles (see further on).

The mainstay of the phone's PDA functions is the calendar. You can set meetings, memos, anniversaries and To-Do notes. If your home screen is set to "Shortcuts bar" and if the calendar is enabled in its settings (only V20.0.012 and later, you get everything on display with V11.0.009 and earlier) then these events will appear on-screen provided they're less than a week off. Or sort of, anyway. If the next event is under a week off then you'll just see "Next cal. entry dd/mm" or "Next cal. entry tomorrow". If the next entry is tomorrow then it will be displayed as well. If there's a forthcoming event due today then it will be displayed as-is without the "Next cal. entry" line. Meetings that are "over" are removed from the home screen when they expire. Calendar events can be set with or without an audible reminder.

So, this basically serves as a kind of electronic diary.

One feature I miss from older S40 phones is the "birthday reminder". You could set up a special case of anniversary including the person's year of birth. When the reminder is due, it also announces the person's age. The workaround is to set up an anniversary to remind you of something like "John Smith 1967". From that you can infer that the person was born in 1967 and thus calculate their age yourself when their birthday comes round.

Personalisation

Most phones nowadays allow the user to install what's known as "themes", which alter the colours and graphics used by the phone to display various elements such as scroll bars, popup dialogue windows and buttons. These themes, just like any other software, can be installed either in the phone's central memory (limited to about 65MB) or on the memory card inserted into the phone. S60v5 is no exception, and more and more themes designed specifically for the 5800XM (and the soon to be released N97) are appearing. Unfortunately, bugs in early firmware versions mean that the phone will sometimes lock up depending on the theme being used. If the theme in question is in the phone's memory then the only way to recover the phone is to reset it completely and wipe all the third-party themes and software installed, not to mention the user's contacts and messages (if they're stored in the phone's memory – they can be stored on the memory card), and calendar events. The phone is wiped clean. The only way to achieve this was to take the phone to a Nokia Care Point until firmware V20.0.012 was released. The user can now reset the phone themselves if need be. However, this is no longer necessary anyway if the offending theme is installed on the memory card. All you have to do is remove the card, start the phone up normally, select the default theme, insert the memory card again and uninstall the theme in the normal manner using the application manager (found under "Settings").

For this reason, it is recommended to install themes onto the memory card.

If the only thing you want to change is the picture displayed on the home screen then you can simply use an image as a wallpaper. If the image you want to use is the same size as the screen, 360x640 pixels, then it will cover the screen entirely, unlike earlier editions of S60 where a bar at the top of the screen would still be filled with the default wallpaper of the active theme. S60v5 offers a much "cleaner" way to alter the phone's appearance in that respect.

Profiles are also a large part of the personalisation process. Settings that define the ringtone your phone will emit when there's an inbound call, how loud it will ring, what notification it'll give you when there's an inbound message, how it should give you feedback when you press something, and what contact group(s) the phone should ring for, are all grouped together in what's known as a "Profile".

Profiles can be selected directly by tapping on the date at the top of the screen (or on the name of the currently active profile if a profile other than "General" is active) and selecting the desired profile by tapping on it.

Profiles can be selected, edited or set as a timed profile by going into Settings / Personal / Profiles. A timed profile is a useful feature re-introduced into S60 as of the 3rd Edition with Feature Pack 2. It is in the older S40 interface but disappeared with the introduction of S60.

When you set a timed profile, you tell the phone when you want it to end. At that time, the phone reverts automatically to the original profile. This is a useful feature in that I have a profile I called "Night", which includes a quieter ringtone, makes no sound when a message arrives and only lets the phone ring for a set group of contacts. I set the timed profile at night and make the phone revert to "General" profile in the morning. With the N95 (S60 3rd Edition with Feature Pack 1) I would sometimes forget to switch back to "General" profile in the morning and end up missing calls from people (clients mainly) that I would like to speak with but not at night!

Peripheral services

OVI is Nokia's portal to its online services ("ovi" means "door" in Finnish). By signing up for an account on ovi.com and registering your phone with the site, you're gaining access to, among others, the following services:

- share.ovi.com: upload your photos and videos and organise them online so that you can share all of them or groups of them (in albums) with other people.

- OVI sync: keep your calendar events, notes and contacts up to date and synchronise them between the site and your phone. Entering large numbers of contacts may be easier using your desktop or laptop computer, and then all you have to do is sync the phone and they're all transferred to it. It is also a safeguard against data loss.

Conclusion

In conclusion I'd say that this phone is one of the easiest phones to use that I've ever owned. Its crisp, high-resolution display and the touch screen interface also make it one of the most "fun" phones I've ever used. Compared to earlier models such as the N82 in particular, or even the N95, this phone is a little bit of a disappointment in the camera department. I knew it wasn't going to be as good as those phones, but it still wasn't really up to my lowered expectations, at least not as far as still shots are concerned. It did, however, exceed my expectations in the video department. The image quality of footage shot by the 5800XM is very acceptable, and it plays back video extremely smoothly. Far better than the N96 ever has.

The killer app for this phone – if you live in the UK and have access to a WiFi network, that is – has to be the BBC iPlayer. Point your mobile browser to http://bbc.co.uk/iplayer and allow yourself to be guided by on-screen directions. The 3.2" widescreen display makes for a pleasant viewing experience.

Two features that are new to S60v5 and that I really find useful are message grouping and scheduled backups.

If message grouping is activated then, rather than showing you a raw list of messages in your inbox and sent items, these messages are grouped into virtual folders, one for each day of the current week (starting on the day of the week defined as the start of the week in your calendar settings), one for messages sent or received during the previous week, and one for earlier messages. This way, if you want to make some room and delete messages two weeks old and older, you can simply wait until the last day of the week acording to your calendar settings and then go into the messaging inbox, select the "Older" virtual folder and then "Options", "Mark/unmark", "Mark". This marks all the messages in that "Older" virtual folder and you can subsequently delete all of them in one go with "Options", "Delete". Above all, it makes for a display that's far less cluttered with old messages.

It has been possible to back up the contents of the phone's memory (messages, contacts, notes and calendar events, user files, settings, Internet bookmarks) onto a memory card since the initial release of S60v3 at least. The way to access that backup feature has changed over time but since S60v3/FP2 it has been accessible through the file manager, and S60v5 is no exception. What changed in S60v5 is the possibility to schedule a backup automatically either once a day or once a week. No more forgetting to do a backup. If you do something to crash the phone then you'll not lose more than a day's or week's data depending on how frequently you set the backup to occur. Not only that, but the scheduling is managed efficiently. If the phone is connected to a computer in "Mass storage" mode when the backup is scheduled to take place, the phone will not be able to perform the backup because the computer will have exclusive control of the memory card. Instead of deciding to skip the backup in this case, the phone waits for the phone to be disconnected from the computer and starts the backup there and then.

Now, the phone supports SyncML profiles allowing the user to synchronize the phone with a remote service (such as OVI sync). This is a useful feature since it provides, among other things, another backup facility. However, it would have been great had Nokia thought this all the way through and also provided a system to schedule regular automatic synchronizations.

If there were areas where I'd like to see improvements, they would be:

- Sort out the stability issues with themes. Right now it's not really "safe" to install them.

- Provide updates for this phone over the air rather than using Nokia Software Updater. NSU runs only on MS-Windows and can therefore only be as reliable as that O/S, which doesn't inspire confidence. All the updates of my N96 were provided OTA so why can't it be done for this phone?

- Sort out the build and get rid of that gap in the case.

- Improve the image processing algorithms used by the camera software and produce sharper images with better colour balance.

On the whole, though, I find this phone to be a very positive experience. I do not regret at all buying it and would recommend it to friends.


Thanks to Psychomania for some of the pieces of information here :)

April 14, 2009

Coming soon: review of the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic

Having recently bought a Nokia 5800 XpressMusic phone to replace the N96, I will shortly be reviewing the former giving you my opinion (for what it's worth) on the phone's features, design and above all the new S60 5th Edition touch interface.

Suffice it to say for now that I'm very pleased with this device and have no intention of switching back to the N96.

Stay tuned for more in due course...



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