Nokia CC-1020 Cyan Blue N9 Soft Cover

November 28, 2012

My N9 is slowly approaching the first full year of daily usage with me and I noticed that, since the N9 almost completely disappeared from the store shelves, their colorful soft covers have dropped their price, probably because at this point the stores want to get rid of the remaining stock.

You can still find them for sale in online retailers like Expansys for around €16 but I found one last cyan blue soft cover for sale in a local Nokia store for €13,90 and I couldn’t resist bring it home with me.

Inside the box, besides the soft cover, there’s just a short manual with pictures explaining how to put the cover on.

The pictures don’t make justice to how great the cover looks, probably because I used my iPad 2 camera to take them.

One can only notice that the phone is black because of the black microUSB door at the top and the black speaker at the bottom, otherwise the phone is completely covered in blue except, of course, the touchscreen.

The Nokia N9 soft covers don’t make the phone much thicker and allow the user to change the phone looks providing an extra protection against drops and wear.

Nokia N9 paid apps: GT Racing

November 7, 2012

As a car enthusiast I felt compelled, after playing the pre-installed Need For Speed Shift, to buy the other big racing title available for the N9 at the Ovi Store: GT Racing Motor Academy HD

Above you can watch a short video review about the game.

It cost me €3 and I must confess that until now, this is the only app I’m sort of having a weird case of “buyers remorse”. The graphics are good enough, there’s plenty of options, cars and game modes but the handling is, at least in comparison with the EA game, not very good and I’m not really enjoying it as I was expecting, so, if you’re not sure about if you should buy it or not, maybe you should save the money or wait until it’s cheaper before buying.

Nokia Country Variants

November 6, 2012

The PR1.3 firmware update for MeeGo Harmattan was originally launched this year in July 2nd.

Nokia published the following changelog:

  • Over 1000 quality improvements
  • Mail for Exchange (MfE) now supports client certificates
  • Localization improvements and support for new error codes with the Facebok app
  • Twitter API changes that reflect the back end infrastructure of Twitter
  • AccuWeather widget weather update fixed
  • VoIP calls now work via Skype/Gtalk when in flight mode and connected to WLAN
  • Changing the “week starts on” date within the calendar error now fixed
  • Network and connectivity improvements
  • Usability and performance improvements

Today, and despite the update having been announced officially on my country’s Nokia N9 support webpage as you can see above, more than four months since the PR1.3 original release, my Nokia N9 is yet to receive it, as you can also see in the screenshot below.

Since I bought the phone unlocked and paid full price at the retailer’s shop, I wondered why I had to wait this absurd amount of time to get this PR update that patches a huge amount of bugs.

Usually, there are two different situations regarding smartphone software updates:

  • You buy the phone to your operator, which usually means it’s carrier-locked, full of the operator’s additional software that most people don’t care about and the phone depends on the operator schedule to receive the firmware updates! The good thing about this is that the phone is usually subsidized by the operator and the customer ends up paying less for the same phone.
  • You buy your phone unlocked at some shop, not attached to some contract or anything, and you get the user experience the phone manufacturer intended when designing the phone.

Unfortunately Nokia, besides having unlocked generic phones (the so-called NDT versions) and the carrier-branded ones decided to create an additional third category:

  • The Country Variants: these are unlocked phones the consumer paid full price for and that may or may not come with some region-specific software pre-installed.

Although Nokia is apparently the only responsible for the approval of their software updates, they usually take much more time to release the updates compared to the generic NDT versions!

In fact, it’s common to see some carrier-locked devices, like Vodafone branded phones, get the PR updates before some Country Variants unlocked phones receive it!

With the N9, it’s even more strange the fact that some third-world countries (probably with residual sales) receive more support and faster firmware updates than some European countries like Portugal.

At this point one might argue: the easy solution is just to buy the NDT version instead of the Country Variant one!

The problem is that Nokia, in countries like Portugal, never released the NDT version of the phone, so you have one of two options:

  • Buy the carrier-locked phone and depend on the operator update schedule
  • Buy the Country Variant phone and wait forever to get the update when and if Nokia decides to release it

Either way you’ll end up waiting, unless you know what you’re doing and flash the phone with some Global firmware variant, voiding the warranty in the meantime.

Nokia should sort this out: avoid having several software variants for hundreds of different product codes for each phone model. At least unlocked devices sold on the same region should all get the same firmware updates at the same time.

Companies like Apple are able to deploy at the same time for everybody new OS versions for several different devices (iPads, iPhone, iPod Touch) of different generations, both carrier-locked and unlocked.

I really didn’t want to void my N9 warranty but for me the waiting is over: I’m going the Navifirm way and flash it with a generic global PR1.3 firmware! Damn You Nokia!

LG Optimus L3 E400 SunSpider and Quadrant benchmark

October 14, 2012

The Optimus L3 E400 is one of LG’s cheapest Android smartphones. Despite having been launched this year, the phone still runs the almost two years old 2.3 Gingerbread version of the Android mobile OS and LG apparently is not very interested in updating it to more current Android versions such as 4.0 ICS or 4.1 Jelly Bean.

As a low-cost offering, LG didn’t put in the L3 the latest and greatest hardware specs but bearing in mind this phone competes around the €100 price-point it can’t be expected to have much better specs than the ones it already has.

As usual, I’ve run the SunSpider javascript benchmark in the Android stock browser.

 

As expected, the result is nothing to be proud about at 4434.1 ms, worse than competitors like the previously tested Sony Ericsson Live with Walkman. Chrome would probably be faster, but unfortunately it isn’t available for the 2.3 Gingerbread version of Android which means the small LG can’t run it.

The Quadrant benchmark overall result is also average (1092 points). Considering the really low resolution of the screen at just 240×320 (~125 pixels per inch) I was expecting the Adreno 200 GPU to achieve better results.

In the end, performance isn’t just the selling point for this LG as other features (such as price, size or battery life) might have greater impact in the buying decision process.

 

Nokia BH-110 Bluetooth headset

September 29, 2012

I recently shopped around for a cheap Bluetooth headset and I found Vodafone sells the Nokia BH-110 for just €10 in exchange for some points of the customer loyalty program.

I’ve recorded a short unboxing video you can see below.

Besides having a neat price, the Nokia BH-110 is very easy to use, with a single button operation:

  • Short press lets the user accept or reject an incoming call
  • Long press (about 2 seconds) activates the phone’s voice dialing feature (if it has one!)
  • Very long press turns the device on or off and, of course, serves for pairing purposes

The microphone is very sensitive, which means that in silent places whispering a conversation is loud enough and in crowded places there’s no need to yell to make the message go through.

The earphone is just loud enough but the sound quality is not that impressive, but if you bear in mind the really low price point this model is sold at, it shouldn’t disappoint most customers.

The BH-110 packs inside a long-lasting battery that offers half a dozen hours of conversations and there’s also a small LED on top of the headset that blinks green or red to let the user know if it’s turning on or off, if there’s an incoming call, etc.

When you hear the low-battery warning, you can keep talking for around half an hour, give or take.

One last thing I have to mention is the fact that when receiving a call, you hear through the earpiece the good old Nokia tune: nice touch!

iOS 6 rant: YouTube and Maps

September 20, 2012

Previously I wrote a blog post about how Apple improved the browser performance on my iPad 2 with the new iOS 6.

Now that I’ve been using iOS 6 for almost a day I noticed two big drawbacks: YouTube and Maps!

Since the beginning of times Apple bundled with iOS a YouTube app. While it wasn’t the most advanced or feature complete YouTube app around (the Android version is arguably better), the app did the job well enough to be one of the most used apps by those who like to watch videos on the web.

Apparently the license to bundle the YouTube app with iOS ended and Apple didn’t care about renewing it or making sure Google had an iPad optimized YouTube app on the AppStore before getting rid of the current one.

There is an official YouTube app for free on the AppStore but it’s made for the iPhone and not for the iPad.

Meanwhile you’re supposed to use Safari to browse in the YouTube mobile website and it’s also possible to add the website bookmark directly to the home screen but it’s not the same as having a proper app! There’s also some third party YouTube apps available at the AppStore but then again the question remains: why take away a feature from iOS without offering a better replacement?

Unfortunately YouTube is just one of the problems with iOS 6 on the iPad: the new Maps app is also worse than the previous Google powered Maps app!

Above you can see the Google Maps app that was bundled with previous versions of iOS.

The maps data quality was pretty good and there was a feature that was much nicer to use on the iPad touchscreen than with the mouse of a desktop computer: Google’s StreetView!

The new Maps app from Apple is supposed to introduce a lot of new features:

  • Apple designed vector based maps
  • Turn-by-turn navigation with spoken directions
  • Real-time traffic information
  • Flyover for photo-realistic, interactive 3D views of major metro areas
  • Local search results with Yelp photos, ratings, reviews, and available deals
  • Siri integration for requesting directions and finding places along a route

The thing is:

  • Features like Siri integration or turn-by-turn navigation aren’t available in my WiFi iPad 2
  • Real-time traffic information doesn’t work in my country
  • The 3D maps feature isn’t available in Europe
  • Local search in my country is really much poorer compared to Google’s database of POI

And of course, with the new app I lost the Google StreetView feature shown in the picture above!

Below you can see Apple Maps at the exact same place of the previous screenshots.

Besides losing some Google-related features there’s one thing that puzzles me: Apple bought last year C3 Technologies from Nokia. This company is the one behind Apple Flyover / 3D Maps and was the one that made possible Nokia Maps 3D feature that’s still available at the Nokia Maps website.

If you try last year’s Nokia flagship, the N9, you can check the exact same place I’ve shown before with the Nokia Maps app and, as you can see below, there’s a 3D model of the stadium.

So my question is: why does Apple only have 3D maps in the USA? C3 Technologies had Europe 3D data when it was part of Nokia so it’s kind of weird not to have this feature enabled at least in the main European capitals.

There’s also one question left in my mind: what about StreetView? If Apple doesn’t want to borrow that feature from Google perhaps they should start recording street level footage of the main cities to compete with Google!

Nokia chose that path and the result is Nokia City Scene. Below there’s the Eiffel Tower:

If you compare with Apple Maps you can clearly see the difference.

I hope Apple sort this out soon rather than late because currently in Europe they are lagging behind the competition in location-related apps and services.

iOS 6 SunSpider benchmark

September 19, 2012

Apple released new hardware such as the new iPhone 5 and the new iPod Touch, but for current customers there’s also some goodies: the new version of iOS is now available for the older generations of the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

One thing that always impresses me is the download of the update itself: despite millions of people all around the world receiving their iOS update at the same time, my fiber optics connection bandwidth was maxed out downloading the update in a couple of minutes from the Apple servers.

After installing the iOS 6 update on my iPad 2, I ran the SunSpider javascript benchmark in order to look for performance improvements over the previous version of iOS.

As you can see above, Safari completed the benchmark in just 1417.2 ms which, compared to the iOS 5.1 result at around 1800 ms is a huge improvement over the previous iOS version: now that’s just amazing!

iOS 6 might not bring many new features compared to the previous versions, but Apple seems to be unstoppable perfecting the current ones: the browser javascript performance has improved over and over in each version and that is what keep Apple users happy with their devices.

When most competing products usually have a decrease in performance after major software updates (e.g.: Sony Ericsson Android ICS update), Apple just keeps improving the older products performance in each software update until every last bit of performance is extracted from the hardware!

My thoughts about the new iPhone 5

September 12, 2012

Apple just announced the new iPhone!

While it is, as expected, a great device, I believe it lacks some new killer feature:

  • When the original iPhone was launched, everybody was amazed with the touchscreen-only design, with a capacitive multitouch display and a smooth OS
  • The iPhone 3G came with the AppStore, and everybody was impressed with how much useful and cool apps one can run on a phone
  • Then the iPhone 3GS brought an entire new CPU with much faster speed and important missing features like copy and paste or MMS support
  • The iPhone 4 was all about the display: the high resolution Retina was awesome!
  • The iPhone 4S, much like the 3GS, just improved over the previous version but nevertheless brought Siri, the first really useful voice assistant

Now we have the iPhone 5: it’s better than the previous iPhone but appears to not have one single new feature that I haven’t seen before on competitor’s phones!

I was hoping for a “one more thing” moment where they would present something like:

  • NFC
  • Wireless charging
  • A new touchscreen that can be operated with mittens or gloves

But all of this was presented last week by Nokia, not Apple! And it used to be Apple to come up with some truly amazing new tricks!

Panorama photos or being able to take a snap while recording a movie is not innovation: it’s just something that the competition has been doing for quite a while (e.g.: Galaxy S3)…

In the end, and despite all the above, the iPhone 5 will be a huge success! People will line up at the stores and buy the iPhone, no matter the price, no matter the innovative features it doesn’t have. And buyers will be happy with it because it happens to be a great phone, it’s just not a revolutionary one!

Chrome vs stock Android Browser

September 7, 2012

Since I’ve recently installed Android ICS on the Sony Ericsson Live with Walkman, I’ve been able to install the Google Chrome mobile web browser that’s available in the Google Play store.

Chrome brought the fast V8 javascript engine to the Android platform, so it’s supposed to be much faster handling benchmarks like the SunSpider test.

As I wrote in the previous blog post, the Android ICS stock browser did it in 3099.8 ms, which was an improvement over the Gingerbread stock browser.

I’ve now run the same benchmark in Chrome.

As you can see above the test was completed in 2886.9 ms. Although there’s a definite improvement over the stock browser, the 200 ms advantage is not as big as I thought it would be.

I believe Chrome will eventually replace the current browser and become the default one in future versions of Android.

Sony Ericsson Live with Walkman performance with Android ICS

August 30, 2012

Sony Ericsson promised that all the 2011 Xperia line along with the Live with Walkman model would get updated to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

They took their time and the carriers also took an extra time before releasing the firmware to the carrier-locked devices. Recently I was finally able to go through the ICS update process with the Live with Walkman I’ve posted a short hands-on a while ago.

The update process is pretty straight forward as long as you know how to use a computer, since Sony Ericsson (now only Sony without the Ericsson part) demands the user to connect the phone to the PC Companion Windows software or to the Bridge for Mac app in order to get Android 4.0. Apparently the update it too big to be handled as a simple OTA (over the air) update!

Sony also warns on their website that Android 4.0 is heavier than the older 2.x versions and that might have a negative impact on how the smartphone performs.

I’ve installed the official Android 4.0.4 update and ran the Quadrant benchmark to check if the update had any impact on the performance figures.

The score is, as the manufacturer warned, lower than before: 1381 is indeed not as good as the score Android Gingerbread achieved, around eighteen hundred points.

I’ve run the test twice to see if there was any improvement in the second run but, as you can see below, it just got a little bit worst, achieving 1362 points: disappointing!

I also ran the SunSpider web-browser javascript benchmark and fortunately, unlike the Quadrand score, the results improved as you can see below.

Now the test is completed in 3099.8 ms which is better than the old result (3342.7 ms)!

Overall, and despite the bugs and the performance hit, I do recommend updating because newer apps require Android 4.0 ICS to run, like Google’s own Chrome web browser!


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