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.