All About Symbian - Nokia (S60) and Sony Ericsson (UIQ) smartphones unwrapped

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Old 20-02-2009, 09:13 PM
Menneisyys Menneisyys is offline
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MWC: Symbian report: Nokia N97, Samsung Omnia HD, Sony Idou etc.

Let’s take a look at how one of the competing operating systems, Symbian, fares. As you may recall, I use the Nokia N95 as my main phone because of the
• (comparatively) high-quality camera (no Windows Mobile or BlackBerry phones can match it, let alone the, in this respect, even worse iPhone 3G),
• call recording (no such thing on most WinMo phones and all BlackBerries/iPhone models),
• native support for HE-AACv2, the best audio format (no such thing on Windows Mobile without severe problems and drawbacks) and A2DP (nothing like this on the iPhone) and
• the quality stereo speakers especially well suited to listening to music – in a wonderfully wide(ned) stereo.

Fortunately, the Symbian folks have come out with some very nice, new products certainly worth taking a look at if you need a phone (even a secondary one – just like with me, who I prefer gaming / browsing the Web on my iPhone 3G and doing the e-mail stuff on my BlackBerry 8800). In these areas, Symbian certainly excels and well worth considering if you’re fed up with for example the mediocre camera quality HTC’s handsets have. (Speaking of HTC and Windows Mobile, they have just announced they aren’t even trying to replace digital cameras. No comment…)

Note that I only discuss the latest handhelds, not for example the new, announced games for the platform. You might want to take a look at All About Symbian and Symbian-Freak for more info on this. In this article, I mostly speak about my experience with the new handsets, along with my own shots of them.

Nokia


(Nokia’s booth)

N97 – the forthcoming flagship model

The model gathering the most interest at Nokia’s booth was the recently announced N97. I had the chance of playing with it a bit.

While it could indeed be better (for example, 3D acceleration and/or stereo speakers and/or DVB-T/H), I pretty much liked what I saw. Being a pre-production unit, the device I played with wasn’t the fastest.

Unfortunately, it seems the Web browser is (almost?) the same as in Nokia’s previous models. Nokia S60 Web was indeed great about two and a half-three years ago, when the first E-series devices with it (and, later, the N95) were released, but now, it seems to be heavily outdated. My biggest grief was the lack of dynamic text reflowing (something the latest Opera Mobile builds are capable of at any zoom level) when zooming in. The Nokia rep at the booth tried to come up with a pretty bad explanation of trying to stick to the desktop view. This, to a certain degree, is understandable on a (comparatively) high-resolution screen the N97 has; nevertheless, I still lack the ability of Opera Mobile of full text reflowing at any, arbitrary zoom level.



The camera seems to be the same as in the N95 (with a sliding lens cover), which is good news, particularly given that most other handsets (except for some models like Samsung’s Omnia HD and Nokia’s own N86) still have much inferior ones.

Gamers will definitely like the fact that Nokia will also make the N97 N-Gage-compliant – at least this is what I’ve been told by the rep. I’ve found the D-pad next to the QWERTY keyboard pretty gaming-friendly. Note that, as the D-pad is only accessible with the N97 open, you can kiss portrait-mode, one-handed gaming a good-bye. Hope the control methods the games implement will take advantage of the larger keyboard keys (like the space key) located far away from the D-pad to let for controlling games easily, without cramped hands.

Too bad the device doesn’t have 3D hardware acceleration.

The sliding (hinge) mechanism seemed to be sufficiently stable. No wobbling. The two (closed and open) states are both stable and the spring-loaded mechanism greatly helps in the transition between them – that is,
1. don’t expect anything like the HTC Wizard’s spring-less mechanism requiring the same force to switch during the entire transition
2. when closed, it seemed to be much more stable. When operating in single-handled mode, the fingers don’t accidentally cause the upper part of the bezel to wobble and sometimes even start opening the QWERTY – unlike with, say, the HTC Vox (s710), where this problem is so acute that a lot of people prefer keeping their handset always in their left hand in order to avoid this problem.


(Compared to the iPhone when opened. As can be seen, it’s a bit – but not much! – longer than the iPhone. Note that I’ve left my iPhone in its case, which added a bit to its (apparent) length and width. It was a bit thicker too – pretty understandable for a slider.)

As far as S60 5th ed (the operating system running on the N97) is concerned, it does have some shortcomings needing some rework. For example, in the mailer application, the only way to quickly scroll the messages is using the vertical scrollbar in the middle of the screen: you can’t just scroll the list of messages in the iPhone way of scrolling.

Not being a 3D (and, for that matter, 2D) accelerated phone means there were no cool transitions either. As both the other, just announced devices (the E75 and the N86) both have some kind of quick fade in/out application switching transitions (don’t expect anything like on the iPhone, though), I think the same will also be implemented when the N97 finally hits the shelves (around this June).

Finally, it’s pretty hard to say what people the N97 really targets. It’s much more a business model than any of the previous N-series handsets. Gamers and lovers of multimedia, on the other hand, won’t be fully satisfied because of the lack of the 3D acceleration and stereo speakers; two things that made the N95 a must buy (and the latter also makes the Samsung Omnia HD a very tempting device).

  #2  
Old 20-02-2009, 09:14 PM
Menneisyys Menneisyys is offline
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Nokia E75

The just-launched E75 is a QWERTY slider as opposed to all the previous, popular E-series devices (note that the E63 and the E71 are still current models; that is, Nokia hasn’t given up on the highly successful Blackberry-alike QWERTY line). Some shots:






This is one of Nokia’s models that are compatible with their DVB-H Bluetooth transcoder, which was showcased this year too.

The DVB-H Bluetooth transcoder

As with last year, no one could provide me any information on exactly which models the transcoder is and will be compatible with. I assume it’s only the (outdated and slow) N71 (as was last year) and the E75 – and nothing else. There are no plans of making it compatible with DVB-T either. Sure I know Nokia is probably the biggest driving force behind DVB-H and (also) providing DVB-T would result in decreasing the pressure on both traditional broadcasting companies and mobile phone operators to implement DVB-H as everyone would just stick with DVB-T, even with the traditional disadvantages of it (considerably lower battery life). However, now that DVB-H is still supported in very few countries (even in Finland, the home country of Nokia, only about 40% of the total population is covered, while the coverage of DVB-T is 100%) and there doesn’t seem to be a breakthrough in the near future, I do think Nokia could also come out with a DVB-T transmitter to please existing customers and to draw new ones to the platform. Why, you may ask? Don’t forget no such transcoders exist for Windows Mobile and it has only been recently that PacketVideo announced the same for the iPhone. And, the case is the same of the DVB-H equivalent in the U.S. and some other countries, MediaFLO – it’s only Qualcomm that offers a chipset (and a reference design) compatible with real smartphone OS’es (I don’t talk about feature phones, the ones that currently are only compatible with MediaFLO). Nevertheless, according to the Qualcomm reps I’ve talked to at MWC, there still isn’t any real manufacturer using the MediaFLO chipset to build a transcoder usable with the iPhone, Windows Mobile or any other smartphone OS. This means you’ll need to wait for at least half a year for such things to become existing. Until then, you will need to rely on traditional, IP-based (non-broadcast) transmissions, which can be pretty pricey if you don’t have an unlimited data plan and, of course, don’t cover all the DVB-T/H (Europe etc.), MediaFLO / ATSC (U.S.) etc. broadcasts available at your area. After all, some TV companies are pretty reluctant to provide a live Internet stream of their programs (they prefer broadcasting them instead); and, if they do, you still need an extensive data plan to watch them. If your operating system is compatible, that is – WMV, the most widely used format used for Internet streaming, isn’t at all supported in most popular Symbian E/N-series devices (I only know of the “flop” N96 as capable of playing them) and, before of PacketVideo’s announcement, on the iPhone.

This (the lack of DVB-T and much wider device support) is certainly bad news; I really hope Nokia acts very soon and.

New A2DP headphones

The Nokia folks have also come out with a new pair of A2DP in-ear headphones, the BH-214. I haven’t tested its audio quality and compatibility (my very thorough tests – see THIS – require at least a day of testing – this was simply impossible at MWC) – I’ll try to do this as soon as possible.

Nokia N86



Nokia’s just-launched N86 sports an 8-Mpixel camera (along with some other goodies like an OLED screen). It’s, as with most (more) recent N8x/N9x-series phones, a dual slider. No matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t allowed to transfer the test shots I’ve taken to my notebook for a more thorough comparison with the image quality of the N95. I have been continuously referred to the “official” demo photos on Nokia’s pages. Of course, this wasn’t sufficient for me – I would have preferred some real comparisons to see whether for example the low-light performance has indeed been improved (as was explained by the Nokia rep I talked to).

Note that the Mobile-Review folks managed to loan a review device and did publish a preview the Mobile-Review review with several (MWC) photos of their own. In general, these are pretty good. There are only two images that shows severe problems because of the limited dynamic range: burnt-in highlights (click the images for the original):




However, some other shots of the same scenery don’t show the same burnt-in highlights:



Also worth checking out is the second image. It shows very strong sharpening (look at the wall in the top left corner or the contours of box’s wood strips / staves). The same kind of sharpening can also be visible in THIS (otherwise, excellent) shot. Here, also take a look at the contours of the upper part of the black shoe in the center right of the shot – they are equally bad. Unfortunately, Nokia’s image processing algorithm has always suffered from oversharpening, resulting in artifacts like this.

In addition, if you look at the image sizes (900…1000 kbyes), you’ll understand some comparatively heavy JPEG image compression is taking place. The situation is exactly the same on the Nokia N95, where the heavy JPEG compression makes the images a little blocky (particularly visible if you take shots of, say, newspaper pages). I really, repeat, REALLY hope Nokia starts to offer a way of setting the compression level –over-compressing JPEG’s can certainly result in considerably bad image quality. (Of course, it’s still way ahead of what Windows Mobile devices or the iPhone are capable of, but still – this could be fixed by a very simple, additional menu item for controlling the JPEG compression quality.)

Also note that, in addition to the over-sharpening, (at least some of) the images also show low-resolution, washed-out low-contrast textures; that is, image smudging. This is quite visible in how the wood strips / staves are reproduced; I bet the situation would be the same with low-contrast greenish areas like a bunch of leaves of a tree. If you take into account that (over)sharpening is needed to “fix” the issues introduced by image smudging, which, in turn, is applied to “remove” noise, then, you’ll understand why there are issues like this with the N86.
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Old 20-02-2009, 09:16 PM
Menneisyys Menneisyys is offline
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Samsung Omnia HD

One of the biggest announcement (and demo) of the show was that of the Samsung Omnia HD: a brand new, touchscreen- and S60 5th ed-based, heavily enhanced version of the former, WQVGA Windows Mobile device. It sports a high-resolution, 640*360 (that is, 16:9) AMOLED screen. It being based on OLED also means really vivid colors and much better viewing range than with traditional TFT.


(Samsung’s booth. Just like with the previous year, most people were not permitted to take photos of anything; hence the lack of anything except for this shot.)

This device is what the true successor of the Nokia N95 should have been: better camera (at least when it comes to video recording: 720p as opposed to the VGA-only N95; note that it “only” records at 24 fps and not 30), much better and higher-resolution screen etc., while keeping one of the greatest features of the N95: the stereo speakers. (Which, again, were dropped for the N97.) What is more, the Samsung rep stated the speakers use some kind of a stereo widening. I couldn’t listen to the stereo 3D space at MWC; I can only hope it indeed can match the quality of the N95. The Mobile-Review folks stated the speakers are very loud, which is very promising – I REALLY hope they can even outperform those of the N95.

Note that it’s not only the 24 fps recording speed that is a bit problematic with the new device, but also the battery life while recording videos: according to the Mobile-Review article, HD video recording chews through the battery in about half an hour (!!!), which is plain unacceptable (for comparison: the Nokia N95 is capable of recording video at VGA and 30fps for a lot more time – I’d say well above one hour. The Canon PowerShot SD950 IS, with enabled LCD and using the 1024*768 at 15 fps mode, can record for about 40-50 minutes. I really hope this will be fixed in the final, production version. Incidentally, the same review also states the battery only lasts about a day under casual use, which is, well, far from perfect. Again, this has been measured on a pre-production unit.

Also note that, while the lens is recessed, there is still no lens protector, which is definitely a minus.

According to the Samsung rep I talked to, the Omnia HD supports not only 720p (that is, 1280*720) video recording, but also playback. I’m not sure whether this also means H.264 playback. The rep stated the Omnia HD has a dedicated video decoder circuitry but was a bit unsure about H.264 720p playback. Frankly, I don’t believe it is capable of flawless, stuttering-free H.264 playback (that would be quite a feat, even when done in hardware); hope I turn out to be wrong.

Visitors to the Samsung booth, unlike with Nokia, weren’t allowed to take the Omnia HD into their hands. This, unfortunately, also means I wasn’t able to give its Web browser (which was stated to be something like Safari on the iPhone) a quick try to find out whether it’s any good. I really hope it’s considerably better than Nokia’s now-outdated S60 Web.

There will surely be no Omnia HD with Windows Mobile, which is definitely bad news for WinMo users. Nevertheless, Samsung will definitely come out with Windows Mobile handsets in the future. It’s still not known what they will be like. I really hope they come out with a matching model (OLED screen, stereo speakers with clever widening algorithms, 720p recording / hardware playback, high-quality camera, call recording just like on the Samsung Omia) so that Windows Mobile users can also have a real multimedia / camera / for people that do need call recording, phoning device – something HTC has always been refusing to deliver (and for which the Toshiba TG01 isn’t the best choice either – again, it has no stereo speakers, no 3.5mm jack, no hardware acceleration, no call recording and no high-quality camera).

Make sure you check out the Mobile-Review review HERE. It has tons of comparative shots (even against the iPod Touch / iPhone screen) showing how much better AMOLED screens render colors.

Sony-Ericsson Idou





Sony-Ericsson’s Idou is also pretty promising. It’s a Wi-Fi, GPS-enabled phone with a 12 Mpixel camera, Xenon flash (also sporting a lens protector slider) and a (comparatively) high-resolution (640*360; that is, 16:9) screen. See THIS for the official video (the page didn’t work under Opera 10 & Windows 7 – had to use IE to play back the clip).

Other articles

Yet Another Demo Video The Nokia N97 In All Its Glory! (just the official demo from Nokia; nothing closer shown)
Sony Ericsson Idou!??? Highend Symbian Devices With 12.1 MP Cam?! (some additional pics of the Idou)
Productivity comes first: New Eseries devices optimized for efficiency (E55, E75)
Samsung Omnia HD [i8910]: Samsung Unveils Its First S60 Touch Device!
ZEISS CAMERA STORY: Lights... camera... mobile... Nokia N86
Official Samsung Press Release: OMNIAHD Dazzles with Its HD Brilliance
Nokia E75 Gets Unboxed, Handled And Explained (with some videos)
Samsung Omnia HD Gets Reviewed! Eldar's In-Depth Preview Available In English! - links to the mobile-review.com review.
MWC 2009: First Day Summary: Nokia Puts Enhanced Internet Experiences - And Efficiency At The Heart Of New Solutions (a compilation of other news sources)
LG Unveils KT770: Attractive WQVGA 5 MPX Symbian S60 Slider! (as this phone does not have any really outstanding features, I decided not to elaborate on it)
Capture Your Life In More Detail With The Nokia N86 8MP (only the press release)
Nokia N86 Hands On, Promo and Designer Interview Video (better than the previous article; still no comparative shots)
Nokia N86 Eldar's Hands On: Tons Of Live Shots, Camera and Video Samples! - links to the Mobile-Review review.
MWC 2009: Nokia Round-Up
Rafe on the Nokia N86 8MP
Samsung Omnia HD launches - note that the data sheet in this review states the HD has a 1500 mAh battery. The Mobile-Review folks stated they couldn’t determine its capacity.
MWC: The E75 finally official
(Note that the last three articles also have dedicated threads; they are worth checking out.)
 

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idou, mwc, n97, nokia, omnia, report, samsung, sony, symbian

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