Three months with a Droid

Just before Christmas I got a Motorola Milestone to replace my Nokia N95. At the time it was the latest and greatest Android device to be released in the UK, and it’s my first non-Nokia device in a decade.

All in all, it is not the step change I was hoping for in upgrading from a device I got in October 2007. The device itself looks unremarkable and rather like several touchscreen LG models. The hardware keyboard is very useful but the keys are virtually flush together, making it hard to get any kind of sense of whether you’re about to press the right letter or not (obviously it’s less of an issue after a bit of practice).

The camera is significantly worse than my N95 in both hardware and software (even accounting for the 24.5 day bug which my firmware has) – this is a real disappointment since the camera on my phone had become my main Flickr weapon since it worked well in most light conditions, had simple software and a great lens.

It doesn’t come with a podcatcher, which the nokia did, and the music player is extraordinarily basic (although it does seem to do most of the things I want).

On the other hand, having a large, hi-res, bright, touchscreen device is lovely. I’ve been lusting after my wife’s iPod Touch for the last year or so but hate iTunes and get frustrated at the Touch’s limitations so it’s been a blessed relief to finally get a device that feels more like a computer (yay for multitasking!). Of course, the Android Market is much smaller than the app store but the only place I’ve really noticed this is with games, and I’ll write another post about the Market later.

It’s pretty clear I was quite spoiled with the N95 in that it met all the hardware and software requirements I had, even though I didn’t realise I had them until I moved platform.

All this does lead me to wonder whether i’d have been better off with the Nokia N900 rather than the Milestone. In the short term I think the answer is no, especially since it runs Maemo rather than Symbian. I’m glad I have an Android device, even if, in the worst case, it’s just to get some experience of it; but in 15 months time I think there will have to be something special, in both hardware and software to keep me on Android.

Importing Nokia podcast subscriptions into Google Reader

Exporting the list of podcasts

  1. load the podcasting application, mark all items and hit “send -> bluetooth”. Contrary to what you might expect, this will send an OPML file listing your subscriptions to your PC

Edit the list ready for import

  1. Open your new Podcasting.opml file in a text editor
  2. Find/replace all instances of url= with xmlUrl=
  3. Immediately after the opening <body> tag put <outline title="podcasts" text="podcasts">
  4. Just before the closing </body> tag put </outline>
  5. (I also duplicated all the text=”blah” attributes with title=”blah” but I don’t know if this is actually necessary)

Import the list of podcasts

The Google Reader Import/Export page
The Google Reader Import/Export page
  1. load Google Reader
  2. Click “Settings” in the top right
  3. Go to the Import/Export tab
  4. Find your Podcasting.opml file and upload!

You should now find that you have a new folder called “podcasts” in your google reader containing all the podcasts from your Nokia device.

Even nicer – if you make the folder public (Settings -> Folders and Tags) you can import the OPML from Google Reader directly into other applications by giving the URL where USERID is the long number in the URL of the “view public page” link next to your public podcasts folder in Settings -> Folders and Tags.

Google Reader view public page section
Google Reader view public page section

Symbian to go open source

Nokia have said that once they own the controlling stake (or all) of Symbian, they’ll make it open source within two years under the Eclipse license (see the white paper for more details, PDF).

To my naive and shallow mind, this just leaves games consoles as the major consumer device which doesn’t have an open source operating system on at least one of the major competitors in the market.

N95 on v20 firmware

I think this is an excellent move by Nokia and I look forward to the reaction from the other companies in the mobile device market. It has always seemed insane to me that almost all of the handsets run different operating systems, built from the ground up by the same company that produces the device itself (there are some exceptions around Windows Mobile and UIQ). This seems to be compounded by the fact that almost all the phones on sale compete not on the features of the operating system but on the physical features of the device such as a better camera, GPS, USB connection, build quality, keypad layout and so on. As far as I can tell, the operating systems on all the phones are at a rough parity, and the only thing keeping people locked in to a single vendor is the migration tool that each vendor supplies for moving your data from your old device to your new device. Vendors may like to call this “loyalty”, but I’d really like to see what could happen to the market if customers were no longer locked in by an arbitrary upgrade process and the OS features were equal amongst all phones but they suddenly had to compete by innovation in both hardware and user interface to those features.

I can’t wait for mobile user interfaces to improve, at the moment the devices are massively powerful but we’re constantly hampered by how difficult they are to use (yes, I’m including the iPhone); I don’t think there’s another type of regular HCI that is quite so difficult as that of using a mobile phone.

There’s also now a pretty big question about what they’re going to do with the GNOME-based Maemo platform and UIQ. Maemo will presumably get retired off in favour of the Symbian Touch OS, and with 200 employees of UIQ being laid off, I think we can safely say that that will die too.

I can hardly wait to see a better user interface on mobile phones, and I really hope that this is the kick up the bum the industry needs to see that we get it!

Upgrade Nokia N95 to v20 firmware

After waiting for ages, I have just upgraded my 3-branded N95 (3 are a UK provider) to an unbranded v20 firmware. I think this means I’ve lost some of the X-Series stuff that 3 bundled, but I never used any of it, so I don’t really care.

I also came very very close to bricking the phone a number of times, which will teach me not to try it at 2am without planning in advance. However, this is roughly the process I took. It’s not perfect, I probably do Very Bad Things, but I’m 95% satisfied with the outcome.

N95 on v20 firmware

The instructions I followed were these (there are even some screenshots, unlike this wodge of text), but they don’t apply perfectly to the v12 -> v20 upgrade, although I am going to quote something, as it applies here:

Before I continue: a disclaimer: this is not supported by Nokia or by your service provider. The following procedure is undertaken entirely at your own risk and I take no responsibility if your phone ends up as a rather expensive doorstop.

Some rules (the last one won’t make any sense yet):

  • Once you upgrade, you can not go back to an earlier firmware.
  • Backups made when running the old firmware (e.g. v12) can not be restored onto the same phone with newer firmware (e.g. v20) regardless of whether they were made using “Backup to memory card” or the PC Suite Content Copier, and trying may toast your phone
  • If you care about any of your data you will make a backup using the PC Suite immediately after installing the new firmware and returning the product code to its previous value

The steps:

  • Make sure your phone is fully charged or plugged in to the mains
  • Make a list of software you’ve installed on your phone in case you fry it
  • Sync all your calendar and contact information to Outlook or equivalent (I’m on Vista and selected something like “Windows Contacts and Windows Calendar” from the select box)
  • Run a PC Suite Content Copier backup of your messages and bookmarks – contrary to the rules above, I believe these *can* be restored successfully from a v12 firmware backup to a running v20 firmware
  • Remove memory card (just to speed up the process during the firmware upgrade)
  • Download Nemesis Service Suite
  • Extract existing product code and write it down
    • Load NSS
    • Click the magnifying glass in the top-right
    • Click the “Phone Info” tab
    • On the far right, click the “Read” button and note down your Product Code
  • Update product code to an unbranded version
    • Check the “Enable” box next to Product code
    • Enter your new product code (I used 0536062 which is the code for Euro-1)
    • Click the “Write” button
    • Click the “Read” button to make sure your product code was set correctly
    • Close NSS
  • Run PC Suite Software Update (this is the bit which will update your firmware), your phone may restart several times during this process
  • You are now on v20 firmware
  • Run Nemesis Service Suite and set the product code to the value you wrote down earlier
  • Run PC Suite Content Copier restore to put your messages and bookmarks back
  • Sync your phone to Outlook or whatever to get your contacts and calendar back

The next time you put your memory card in it will attempt to initialise any applications you might have installed on it. They won’t all work. You will probably end up with some weirdly named installer files like 0000ards.sis – you should be able to delete them using the Application Manager.

The outcome:

Your N95 now runs v20 firmware. The benefits are a much, much faster camera, faster GPS, assisted-GPS, better memory management, auto-lock when you close the slider, good integrated search of all your content, better podcast integration with the music player, music player resumes a track from the position when you exited it last, and probably lots more that I haven’t noticed yet.

Also, I obviously messed something up because my SMS were previously stored on my memory card, but they’re now on the phone memory, with no apparent way of moving them back (s60v3 no longer has the C:SystemMail which you used to be able to just copy to E:System). Also I lost my podcast subscriptions (although not the mp3s), so it’s lucky I blogged about them recently.

The danger:

If you get a “Phone startup failed – contact the retailer” message after doing a restore of any part of your data, all is not lost, it just means that you restored some data which is not compatible with this firmware (you have, however, probably lost that data forever). Do this:

  1. Turn the phone OFF
  2. Press the Green call answer button, the * button, and the ‘3’ button together.
  3. Whilst holding them, then press the power button, and keep holding the other 3 buttons.
  4. Wait till the phone reboots.

many thanks to Google and “floatlite” for that tidbit.

This was the first time I’d done a firmware upgrade on a phone. It did not go smoothly, and I wouldn’t expect it to go smoothly next time either. My best advice is to make sure that any critical data is backup up separately on your PC in a plain-text format if possible (not just via PC Suite backup – this is a black hole from which you cannot retrieve data whenever you like).

Nokia N95 assessment

Jabber on my N95

I got a first-generation Nokia N95 two months ago. The Gadget Show rated it better than the iPhone in pure functionality. Ben Ward (and his commenters) have had some really serious problems, so I thought I’d give a hopefully more balanced view.

With that in mind, I’ve had a mobile phone for the last ten years and my favourites have all been Nokias which means that I’m very, very familiar with the Symbian OS. Thanks to JimH I was on the Early Access trial of Python for S60. All of this serves to show that I like to think I’m balanced but I’m probably not 🙂

Executive summary: The Nokia N95 is a great phone, but terribly terribly slow. If you get one, buy the newer Nokia N95 8GB which has a bigger screen, better battery life and obviously more memory.

I’ve now upgraded the firmware and the whole device is much, much snappier, including the previously ponderous camera

The good

The integrated WiFi means that I now use the podcasting support above texting, phonecalls, calendaring and taking photos. But it’s a poorly integrated application; for example the bundled WebKit-based browser supports RSS subscriptions but this list is separate from your podcast subscriptions and items are not interchangeable. This means it is very difficult to browse to a site which provides podcasts and then subscribe in a suitable application (the best route seems to be copy and paste of the URL). You can at least import and subscribe to an OPML file so you’re best off maintaining the list online somewhere, perhaps using something like and an rss2opml converter.

The TV-out is great and actually useful given the native mp4 support and free xvid player available.

Running Apache on your mobile phone is super-cool and would open some interesting possibilities if it didn’t murder your battery life.

Python support is good and getting better all the time. Most of the phone’s functions are available to scripts, making it quite straightforward to hack your phone, provided you can set up a decent develop/deploy/test cycle

My 3-branded X-Series N95 came with Skype and MS Live Messenger and a simple menu layout.

If you hurled it at someone hard enough, you could probably kill them.

The 5MP camera with Carl Zeiss lens is amazing but…

The bad

The 5MP camera with Carl Zeiss lens is amazing but slow beyond belief and pushes it very almost beyond utility.

As with most Nokia phones in the past five years they seem to have too many hardware designers. As Russ says, the dual-direction slide is a gimmick and the media buttons should be elsewhere. They would have had room for them if they hadn’t had so many redundant buttons on the existing design. When the slide is open for normal use and including the keypad, there are twenty-nine buttons available. Twenty-nine! I never even use one of the largest two (about which Russ says The “media key” is stupid and the media menu is stupid)! I say this every time, but Nokia need to drastically rethink their button strategy.

Connecting the phone to your PC via mini-USB does not charge it.

Some of Ben’s other criticisms are valid:

  • the “notes” app can’t be synced. The phone comes with no other text viewer or editor.
  • changing between profile and landscape views aren’t accelerometer based, despite there being one
  • the gallery application is a step backwards from the previous version found on devices like the 6630 (presumably because of the increased size per photo)

The indifferent

The GPS has been variable for me. Sometimes I get a fix within 30 seconds, othertimes it takes up to five minutes, which is clearly useless. Nevertheless, as a first-generation device with this functionality it makes a good first pass with excellent application support where the location will default back to that of the cell ID you’re connected to.

The iPhone has quite good overall usability, most other phones suck at usability and I’ve certainly got used to it.

Other criticisms seem to be unfounded:

  • text recipients can be chosen by typing their name in, you don’t have to browse
  • I can’t find a place outside of third-party apps where the number pad can’t be used for navigation
  • Each entry in the missed call list has an option “use number” which appears to reflect the number which called
  • the battery life is more or less what I’d expect from a handheld device running bluetooth, GPS, Wifi a digital camera and a phone.

There is a brand-new firmware release out today which claims to solve a number of these problems, but it requires you to completely wipe the internal memory and reinstall all your apps and reconfigure your phone. As one of the commenters on the AllAboutSymbian article says Imagine having to do a complete re-install every time Microsoft released a Service Pack. Eugh.

What my phone can’t do

As I’m frequently reminded by calls asking me to take up a “special offer” the 18 month contract with Orange for my Nokia 6630 expired some time ago so I’ve been trying to work out if I really want a new phone or whether I should just reduce my monthly phone bill by a factor of ten by going pay-as-you-go.

So, things my phone doesn’t do (or do well):

  • only 1.3MP camera
  • calendar can only set repeating reminders for all days, not just workdays
  • can’t search my sms inbox (about 1200 messages) at all – would like to be able to search by author, content, dates etc.
  • doesn’t have a standard headphone socket, so never use the MP3 functionality

Some things which I can do:

  • use Google Maps Mobile
  • use Google Mail Mobile
  • “surf” the web
  • connect to IM
  • play MP3 and OGG files
  • sync with Google Calendar
  • write and run Python programs
  • play Frozen Bubble

the can’t-dos are all reasonably irritating but I’ve not seen a handset other than the N95 (which is only available at extortionate rates, say £700/$1400 a year) which can do what I can do now plus the rest so pay-as-you-go looks like the future.