How to: Pimp the Nokia Belle homescreen system

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Nokia Belle brought with it a massive change in the look of Symbian, and introduced much less constrained widgets to fill even more homescreens than before. The built-in widgets are not the limit of its flexibility though. There are many applications that can greatly add to the functionality of the Nokia Belle homescreen. In this guide, I take a look at how you can extend the widget set to make the most of your brand new Nokia Belle homescreens.

Favourite Apps for Belle

Nokia Store ­– £1.00

This application has been available since before the release of Symbian Anna, and it has been recently updated for Nokia Belle.

Rafe reviewed the original version and had this to say:

Favourite Apps, essentially a power user version of the standard Shortcuts widget, goes some way to solving this compromise.  It extends the number of shortcuts available by adding a drop down element to the widget. When not in use, it looks like a standard Shortcuts widget; the first three icons are standard shortcuts, but the fourth provides access to a drop down box containing an additional twelve shortcuts.

For the true app power user, the Favourite Apps widget can be used multiple times; with each instance having a different set of shortcuts.

Using this widget (see screenshot below) removes the tap and drop convenience introduced in Nokia Belle though. Applications are added to this widget via menus and lists, just as in Symbian Anna. This is a much less user friendly way of setting up favourites, but shouldn’t faze power users.


BizCalendar Widgets

Nokia Store: Widget 1/3 (Free), Widget 2/3 (Free), Widget 3/3 (£1.00).

I reviewed BizCalendar last year, and rated it as a credible replacement to the built-in Calendar. Since then, not only has the core application come a long way, but the three accompanying widgets can be downloaded from the Nokia Store, for extending the range of events displayed on your homescreen. While BizCalendar itself is not yet available for Belle, its widgets are fully compatible.

If you depended on the Calendar widget of Symbian Anna to show your next few appointments, you’ll have been disappointed by the new Belle calendar widget that only shows one line of text. Each BizCalendar widget can show up to five lines of text (see screenshot below), which gives a maximum of fifteen appointments and To-Do’s – which is more than enough for anyone!


Battery Monitor 2.2

Nokia Store – Free.

Battery Monitor isn’t new, but did receive a significant update last year – being written in Qt has made sure that it’s compatible with Nokia Belle. The battery indicator of Nokia Belle doesn’t update as often as it should, and so Battery Monitor is a better way to accurately track your remaining battery life.

The widget constantly alternates between a set of remaining time estimates for various types of use, such as web browsing, call time, and stand-by time.

As described in our news story:

Functional improvements for Nokia Battery Monitor 2.0

  • Estimates for any application. Several estimates can now be selected to be scrolled in the home screen widget. Estimates can in fact be shown for any application installed on the device, even for the Battery Monitor itself. You can customise the application used for each estimate via a long press.
  • A rough estimate of the standby usage time (no active usage, only background apps and services) has been included. The difference between 3G and 2G talk time is also shown, in percentages, based on real measurements from the device.
  • Time elapsed from the last charging is shown.
  • Battery health analysis. The maximum capacity of batteries will degrade over their lifetime. As this happens gradually over hundreds of charging/discharging cycles, it is not easy for the end user to notice this degradation, but Battery Monitor will now analyse the battery capacity during charging cycles and notify the user when a replacement is recommended.
  • Power saving features. There's a new page, currently providing a quick and easy access to the Power Saving Mode and power critical display settings (display brightness and display timeout). Power saving mode can be set to activate automatically on battery level specified by the user.
  • Battery saving tips. There's a useful scrollable panel providing tips on how the end user can save power and improve battery life with their own actions. Many of these are common sense (turning down display brightness, reducing email check frequency, disabling WLAN scanning, etc - there's an All About Symbian tutorial on all this coming up shortly), but it's nice to have them all collected in one place.
  • Application level energy monitoring. The Statistics page has been completely redesigned - you can now see the energy consumption history per application. Daily, weekly and all time top 8 lists of the most energy hungry applications are shown. Importantly, background energy consumption is also shown in the list. This includes all consumption when the device screen saver is active, for example cellular modem, Bluetooth and WLAN standby, always online email and social networking services.

Left: Favourite Apps for Belle closed at the bottom.
Right: Favourite Apps for Belle opened.
Both: BizCalendar widget and Battery Monitor.

Lock Screen

Nokia Store – £1.50

Lock Screen is a highly configurable screen saver replacement. It can present all sorts of notifications with just a press of the menu key, without unlocking the phone. If you were disappointed with the lack of email notifications on the Belle lock screen, you’ll still be disappointed here. Even though email is an option, notifications do not appear – implying a gap or incompatibility in the Belle API.

Lock Screen (screenshot below, right) also adds a large battery indicator, and a slide to unlock gesture. The best part is that it shows the next five calendar entries – that alone makes it worthwhile to install if you wanted more from the Nokia Belle Calendar widget.


Bookmark Widgets

Nokia Store­ ­– £1.00

This application automatically scans your Web bookmarks and adds them to your widget list. They come in two sizes: 4x3 and 8x6. The 4x3 widgets takes up an eighth of a homescreen each, and the 8x6 takes a full half. The widgets’ appearance is a thumbnail preview of the page they link to. If you read Steve’s article on “There’s a bookmark for that”, you’ll know how many apps are missing from Symbian which can be substituted by mobile websites; e.g. eBay. Therefore, Bookmark Widgets make an excellent way to add web-apps to your homescreen.

Left: Bookmarks Widget
Right: Lock Screen

Homescreen Note

Nokia Store – Free.

This is another Anna style widget which serves as a simple Post-It note (screenshot below). Tapping it gives you a plain text box in which to enter notes to yourself that will be shown in the widget. Homescreen Note only shows three lines of text, but that should be enough for quick and ephemeral reminders.


Dual Homescreens Widget

Nokia Store – £1.00

This widget is ideal for those who cannot have too many homescreens, because it doubles whatever you’re using. Nokia Belle is limited to six homescreens, but Dual Homescreens creates a parallel set. You have to use the application’s widget as a gateway into your extra set of homescreens, rather than swiping through both sets in a continuous row.

Note that Dual Homescreens breaks older widgets like BizCalendar and HS Note. They’ll need to reload, and in some cases a reboot of the device is required to force them to load.

Left: Homescreen Note and Dual Homescreens Widget (See "Primary").
Right: Nokia Belle contacts widgets

Don’t forget Belle’s widgets

Nokia Belle comes with a great set of widgets in its own right. In addition to the old favourite contacts carousel, larger widgets can be added for individual contacts. They make for a much more personal experience, and almost feels like (dare I say) adding a Live Tile for a contact in Windows Phone 7. Also, the Music player widget has received a makeover, making it more attractive than any of the Android music widgets I’ve used. Mail is far more functional than before, with a half-screen scrolling widget.


One more thing

There is a lot you can do with Nokia Belle, with both the built-in and third party widgets. However, don’t feel pressured into using every homescreen and every widget. Try to make the simplest configuration that works for you without anything superfluous to clutter your device and drain battery power!

David Gilson, 20th February 2012.