Mobile phones

Mobile phones and PDA's

Choosing for the Nokia N97


2009 is indeed without a doubt the year of the smartphone. From that viewpoint, I'm really an early adopter since I have a smartphone since 2007. In retrospect, my current Nokia N80 has been the most fun mobile device ever. It has consolidated my MP3 player, my GPS, my internet communications device, my PDA and of course my mobile. But technology moves forward. Initially, smartphones were designed with the business user in mind. But then came the iPhone; and changed all that. Big touchscreens for everyone (thank you Apple). My initial idea was to acquire a second-hand N96 device, and wait a year for Android to mature. But an idiot changed my plans, and I decided to wait for the next Nokia device, the N97.

The N97 is important : Nokia produces mobile phones for everyone, and controls 40% of the market. The N97 is their top line model, and therefore a direct competitor for the iPhone. Nokia has released the 5800 Expressmusic as their first touchscreen mobile, and it has been a smashing success. The N97 is Nokia's aim at a new N95 success story and their new flagship device. Nokia decided to continue with Symbian as the operating system for their smartphone line, with some additions for touchscreen support. They probably did this to provide a solid base and a broad range of applications for the N97. However, the result is S60v5, and has some strange and sometimes confusing behavior, like single/double tap in lists. I applaud the stability of the operating system, but I'm quite sure that the N97 will be my last Symbian powered mobile.

If you take a look at the competition, the Nokia N97 has some serious opponents. The iPhone off course, with its glorious eye candy, and many available applications. Whether you like it or not, the iPhone has become the mass standard for smartphones. Unfortunately, as with many Apple products, the hardware is pretty impressive, but the resulting functionalities are pretty limited. My new mobile must support a GPS (and I'm talking about voice guided satnav, Apple, not about a map software which pulls data from the internet), and that pretty much ruled out the iPhone.

Android is the new kid on the block, and a very interesting one. Crafted in the dungeons of Google, this open and attractive operating system is the new standard for HTC mobiles. Unfortunately, Android software still is limited (but growing with a fast pace), and it fell out the list of candidates for the same reason as Apple, because of the absence of GPS software.
The Palm Pre came late to my attention : it looks like Palm really took the good things from the iPhone and even went a step beyond that. This resulted in a gorgeous looking interface, which got quickly copied by HTC in their Sense UI interface for the Android.

In a next blog post, I'll explain my experiences of one week of playtime with the N97.

Enterprise mobile calendar


Mobile people as we are, we find ourselves pushing more and more functionality to our mobile phone. Take a look at my own Nokia N80 : it is my mobile, PDA, MP3 player, PIM and GPS (and probably some stuff I forget right now). As versatile my phone is, there is still one functionality I miss in it, and that is not the little device its fault : enterprise calendar. It's very handy when you decide to go to work later, that you know what meetings are planned that day. That way, you can give the people involved a notice you won't make it, or at least will show up later.

There are plenty applications around that do this trick for you, at least if you have the chance (?) of working with Outlook at work. At our place, we're the victim of the GUI nightmare called Lotus Notes. And there seems no application that does the syncing with Symbian, and if there is one, little chance I can get it installed on my desktop at work. So I needed an extra man in the middle, and that is Google Calendar.

CalSyncS60 is a Symbian application that syncs your Google calendar automagically with your Symbian one, either by 3G or by entering the hotspot of your choice. That leaves me only with the task of getting my Lotus calendar into Google. No chance with Domino 6.5 (the export function gives very weird results), but in later releases, this should be possible. There is ATM no option left but manually entering my enterprise calendar into Google calendar (I'm not a meeting animal, so this isn't such a daunting task anyway).

Cell phone radiation levels


According to the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, specific absorption rate (or SAR) is "a way of measuring the quantity of radiofrequency energy that is absorbed by the body." For a phone to pass FCC certification, that phone's maximum SAR level must be less than 1.6W/kg . In Europe, the level is capped at 2W/kg while Canada allows a maximum of 1.6W/kg.
CNet has a list of the radiation level of different phones, ordered by manufacturer. My Nokia N80 has a SAR value of 0.86, which leaves it around the middle average. Best (minimum) SAR values of current phones are around 0.16 W/kg.

My Location


The new version of Google Maps for Mobile phones now has primitive GPS capabilities : dubbed as My Location, GM uses cell tower identification to provide you with your approximate location information. 100% accuracy can not be guaranteed : Google ensures about a correct location with an uncertainty of 1 to 2 km, which is quite a lot.

I installed this on my Nokia N80, and it locates indeed my current position 1.6 km too far to the east. But it gives you a rough idea where you're located, and is a nice addition in the case you forgot your GPS receiver. Warning : not all phones are supported !

Tomtom navigator op de Nokia N80


Recentelijk heb ik Tomtom navigator geïnstalleerd op mijn Nokia N80 smartphone. Het was echter wachten op een Bluetooth GPS receiver en een Nokia N80 car holder vooraleer ik deze software deftig kon uittesten. Ik had al Tomtom op een PDA geïnstalleerd, en ik was benieuwd hoe Tomtom op de Nokia zich gedraagt tegenover een rasechte PDA. Hier het verdict :

- Tomtom werkt aardig en redelijk vlot; ik had al eens een route demo afgespeeld, en het viel me op dat als een richting wordt aangegeven, de schermupdate even blokkeert. Volgens wat ik op internet vind, zou dat aan een te traag micro SD kaartje liggen. Maar tijdens het rijden valt dit enorm mee.

- Ik vreesde dat ik het touchscreen van mijn PDA zou missen, maar de N80 versie van Tomtom gebruikt het toestenbord van de gsm, en dit op een verrassend ergonomische wijze. Deze vorm van interactie werkt zeer snel, en uitstekend !

- Wat wel tegenvalt, is de grootte van het scherm. Ik vond de Nokia N80 altijd wat tegenvallen qua schermgrootte, alhoewel de uitstekende resolutie dit terug goedmaakt. Ik vermoed dat Nokia dit deed om het gewicht en de prijs van de smartphone te drukken, maar voor Tomtom is het scherm nipt. Je moet dus de gsm redelijk dicht bij je ogen plaatsen, wat dan ook weer vermoeiender werkt dan de normale afstand waarmee je een gewone GPS gebruikt. Ook een nadeel (van Tomtom dan weer), is dat die bij redelijk lage snelheid al vlug uitzoomt op de kaart, zeker bij 2D kaartweergave. Dat maakt het algemene overzicht op de kaart ook iets moeilijker.

Het algemene verdict : of de Nokia N80 mijn oude GPS gaat vervangen, is waarschijnlijk; nog even verder uittesten. Voor wie occassioneel Tomtom gebruikt, lijkt me de Nokia N80 een uitstekende keuze. Bovendien heb je je GPS altijd bij. Voor wie de GPS dagelijks nodig heeft, vrees ik dat de schermgrootte van de N80 een te belemmerende factor vormt.

VOIP on the Nokia n80


As the Nokia N80 has VOIP support, I was eager to test this out. So I first tried setting this up with Ekiga, but got stuck. Apparently, there are some problems using Ekiga with the N80, so I switched to Gizmo, which is included in the Download section on the phone. Gizmo is easy to setup : starting the program, it will fire up the WAP browser, redirecting you to the Gizmo website where you can create your account. Your internet telephone number will be assigned to you, along with a userid and password, which you can define then in the Gizmo plugin. After that, you can login on the Gizmo network, where you're available to internet calls.

I tried then to use Ekiga again, to see if I can make a PC-to-phone call. Create a new account in Ekiga with the following data :

Acc. Name: Gizmo
User: 123456789 (your SIP number assigned to your gizmo user)
Pass: yourpass
Auth. User: 123456789 (your SIP number again)
Time: 3600

Now to call any Gizmo user just use:
The sound isn't the same quality you get from a Gizmo client, but if that's due to a wrong setup in Ekiga, or an incompatibility between Ekiga and Gizmo, is yet unknown.

Of course, this is only regular telephony; if you want to make video calls over the internet, you better use some messenger software. But that's a test for later.

Nokia N80


Screw the iPhone ! I thought about waiting untill the device was available in Belgium, but
a. it will be insanely expensive
b. it will be sold out immediately

So I was looking around for a device that had some of the same functionalities. It had to replace my MP3 player too, contain a camera, and offer WiFi access. Enter the Nokia N80 Internet Edition, a smartphone featuring WiFi 802.11a/b/g, UMTS, SIP, uPnP, Bluetooth and infrared. How's that for connectivity ? Other features are FM radio, MP3 player and a 3 mp camera. With some luck it might even replace my GPS PDA. I'm using the device now for 3 days, and I'm impressed. The screen is of excellent quality and the WiFi browser (based on KHTML) is a bliss;

Only disadvantages that I see are :
a. slider is weak; sometimes the phone unslides while in my pocket or in its case. It would be nice if the back cover for the battery would be fitted more thightly, too.
b. the 720mAh battery could be better; I expect this to improve the next couple of days. Now I have to reload the battery every 1.5 days, but I used the phone *very* intensively the previous days.

Does anyone know a good Symbian software site ? The software stack seems smaller than for WinCE, and that one I even found small, certainly in comparison with PalmOS.

Panasonic VS6


I seem to have dropped my current mobile once too often : the reception contained way too much interference to understand the one calling me. So I decided it was time to look out for a new mobile. I almost bought the Nokia 6101 as it contained an FM radio, but the counter guys at Vandenborre were so unfriendly I decided to shop elsewhere.

The same evening I stumbled onto this (Dutch) review of the Panasonic VS6 on, and found it too good to be true : a clamshell phone with a 16 million color screen, a 2 megapixel camera and bluetooth support for a sub 200 Euro price was unbeatable in its category. Panasonic seems to be only available in the PhoneHouse, where they offered also a Bluetooth USB dongle for an outrageous price of 45 Euro, whereas you can find a 10 Euro specimen in every grocery shop.

The phone itself then : the screen just blows you away with its crispness and colour, and the pictures the 2mp camera takes are quite good of quality. The keypad layout could be a bit better (IMO only Nokia produces phones with nice large keypads), and the contact book can only store contacts attributes if you save them in the phone's memory instead of the SIM card, which is a bit sad.

I was a bit afraid for Bluetooth support under Debian, as gnome-bluetooth wasn't available in the default repository, but kdebluetooth is a nice solution also. Time to personalize the phone with some cool graphics and realtones !