Random thoughts on the nokia 5800

In phones, tech on January 21, 2009 at 10:54 pm

I’ve had the nokia 5800 for about a month now.  I picked up a blue variant for $350 from nokia’s Chicago flagship store as soon as they became available. Unlike my experience with the N95, the 5800 did not blow me away when I first opened the box. Despite being 100% that I was getting rid of the N95 since I don’t see the point of having multiple extra smart phones at one time, my feelings for the 5800 were mostly muted. Until I installed google maps on it. I know, it sounds wierd, but seeing street view on that screen, as well as the buttery smooth navigation was enough to make me fall in love with the phone. We’ve maintained a great relationship since then, hence why this blog has been so neglected despite the official opensuse 11.1 release.

The phone delivers in many ways. Being an old hand at S60, I’m not complaining that the interface was not drastically altered. While I’m a huge fan of complete rewrites from the ground up, the linux community’s ongoing divide over kde4 provides a very valuable and slightly disturbing insight into people’s dislike for significant change. Anyway, I won’t bother going into a review of the phone. Rather, I will present a few random things that either bug me or that I’m really thrilled about.

1. Lack of applications. This is a huge bummer. S60 has accumulated tens or even hundred of thousands of applications over its lengthy lifetime. Many of those applications will install and a few will even open on the 5800. However, most of the apps don’t respond to touch and since the phone lacks a keypad, using the apps is practically impossible. Nokia thoughfully provided a(n admittedly oversized and clunky) virtual keypad for java applications. For native symbian apps, however, the user is SOL if the software wasn’t written to respond to touch. Some software companies are slowly getting around to recompiling their software for S60 v5, but the vast majority of S60 v3 software remains useless to 5800 owners. If even the software division at nokia hasn’t bothered to tweak many of their apps for the 5800, why should third party devs be bothered? Conversation? Sports tracker? Don’t even get me started.

2. As a result of gripe #1, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time trying various applications looking for decent apps that work with the 5800. Being a huge fan of mobireader and reading documents on my phone in general, adobe reader and mobireader were some of the first apps I tried. Both opened, but failed miserably in the touch department. None of the other ebook readers worked either, so I eventually returned to mobireader with the intention of using the menu to navigate around the ebook. In the process, I discovered that the volume keys on the phone can be used to skip to the next page. Needless to say, I was beyond thrilled. Makes me wonder what other S60 v3 apps are programmed to use the volume keys….

3. The built in email client blows for imap. While I’m on that topic, it desperately needs an overhaul. I absolutely love the fact that the client will display html email in the browser. My issue with it is the inability to download anything other than headers when imap is setup. Seriously, if someone took the time to add automatic configuration for gmail accounts, surely that someone could have implemented the same code that allows pop3 setup to download full emails for imap. Most S60 v3 email clients don’t work on the 5800. I’ve tried a number of them so far and the only one I found that works well is emoze. It doesn’t do html emails, but emails are cleaned up very nicely, no matter the original format, unlike the built in client.

4. The SIP client has been taken out. Yeah this happened with FP2 phones, but I never owned one of the feature pack 2 phones, so was only moderately pissed till now. Of all the brain dead things nokia could have done, this is one of the  worst. Not upgrading ancient and nearly useless apps like the IM or email clients are forgiveable considering time constraints and stuff. Completely removing  a feature that put S60 head and shoulder above the pack is just rediculous. With the lack of software for the 5800, those of us that depended on that built in SIP client are basically left hanging. This really makes me mad.

5. Now that I’m writing about it, I realize that there’s nothing on the 5800 that I’m particularly thrilled about. Most of the features are things I have come to expect from symbian, or really any phone I own. While it’s good that it has GPS, wifi, a camera decent enough to be caught dead with, a browser that finally displays geico’s website (yay), sweet speakers, a nice, large and very responsive screen, etc etc, a bunch of other phones have those features as well. So why did I buy this phone, rather than any one of the others out there? Looking around at the phones that have been released since the original N95, in my failed bid to find something better, it struck me that mobile phone innovation has reached a plateau and nothing with the impact of the N95 will appear for a while.

Look at the samsung innov8 for example. The most capable phone out there right now and what does it have over the N95? A minor upgrade here. A touch up there. Nothing that would give any mobile phone afficionado wet dreams, nothing innov8tiv. The 5800 certainly doesn’t claim to be about innovation. It’s not. It is about branching into a new field, a new form factor, a new way of doing things. I gripe because I know nokia can and will do better given time. I gripe because I can’t shake the feeling the 5800 was rushed out the door as nokia attempted to come to terms with being blindsided by apple. I gripe because I fear that the N97’s impending release will give S60 developers more reason to procrastinate on recompiling their apps for the touch interface (the N97 has a keypad, which makes it a lot less dependent on the touch screen).

6. There are many little thoughful things on the 5800 that I have come to depend on. The large screen and accompanying touch interface. The android-information-bar-esque implementation that allows me to jump to active applications that display an icon/notification at the top with one touch. Example, if I get a message, email or im (slick works really well), I can tap the notification icon at the top to pull up the app.  While multitasking in a phone call, I can return to the phone screen anytime by tapping the phone icon at the top. I love the screen lock switch, the way the phone feels in my hand, the little breathing light when there is a notification, the fact that I can use gps on a long trip without worrying about a dead battery, the floating and transparent menus that appear while looking at a picture or watching a video respectively. Things like that. Individually, they are not exceptional, but combined, they make the experience very worth my while. Because of that, I say kudos to the overworked nokia software developers that made the phone a reality. Hats off to you guys and gals. Now get back to work and fix up the damn browser and clean up that buggy full screen keyboard while you’re at it!


Why S60 does not need an apps store

In phones on November 28, 2008 at 5:33 pm

Let’s face it, app stores for mobiles are all the rave now. Ever since the underground iphone hackers group introduced users to the age old linux method of sticking packages in a common repository, everyone and their cat think it’s the coolest thing since sliced bread. Infact, I was struck by how many tmobile G1 reviews made it a point to mention the sparse app store after the phone officially launched. Eh, sounds like a case of the fuzzies where the jphone is concerned, considering the iphone didn’t launch with an app store.

Before I get too off topic. let’s take a look at why nokia and or symbian will most likely not be jumping on the app store wagon anytime soon. I’m convinced that our favorite Finnish company will not be offering an app store in the near future because, well, they already have one. Anyone that has used an S60 device has probably come across the Download! app. So, the app is a sorry excuse for an app store, what with the nearly useless selection and the slow updates. However, within the Download! application is buried an interface to shop handango as well as other stores that sell S60 apps/games.

The apps don’t just display a mobile version of the respective site, rather they contain all the necessary features that will enable a user to purchase the software directly from their phone. Essentially, they operate the same way the iphone and android app stores do, except none of them are controlled by nokia or symbian.  Users want convenience. If they can access most available software from one or two locations, they won’t want to go anywhere else. Handango is one of the (if not THE) largest software distributor for mobile phones right now because of that.

It makes little sense for nokia to spend money on developing the software as well as all the backend stuff for a service that’s already offered by several companies. It makes sense for apple and google to offer app stores because their mobile operating systems were still in their infancy. Launching android with an app store means that 3rd party software distributors will not take to offering android apps. With the no 3rd party native software model adopted by apple when they released the iphone, there were no official native 3rd party apps for the phone until the app store was announced. With the timing of the app stores for these two young operating systems, most of the software created for them will aggregate on the respective app store.

On the other hand, other smart phone OSes are mature and entrenched enough to have millions of apps already developed over their lifetimes and distributed in a myriad of ways. If microsoft, rim, nokia or palm were to release their own app store, they would be contenders in an already saturated market. Of course, if all smart phone manufacturers came up with their own app stores, the highly profitable field of mobile software sales would be wiped off the radar. We probably don’t want that either.

As much as I would love to have the equivalent of the linux package manager on my phone, I won’t be holding my breath.

Swfdec: Flash on linux the opensource way

In linux, opensuse on November 4, 2008 at 1:38 am

As webmasters increasingly pollute the web with their poorly thought out nightmarish flash creations, having a flash plugin has become a necessity to get the full web experience. Indeed, flash is so ubiquitous nowadays that it’s practically impossible to browse the web for more than 5 minutes without running into a website where it is utilized… and over-utilized at that. The flash monopoly had gotten so bad that microsoft came out with silverlight in an attempt to cash into some of that market, but that’s a story for another day and time.

As far back as I can remember, the only viable method for viewing flash content on the web has been the proprietary adobe flash plugin. Adobe has been kind enough to release working versions for linux distributions over the years. I’ve seen many complaints about the linux versions being buggy, but I’ve never really had any issues with them. The biggest downside in my experience has been that adobe has been so stuck in 2003 that they have never gotten around to releasing a 64 bit version of their flash player. Sure, as of last year, nsplugin wrapper had matured enough that native 64 plugins were no longer needed for many of the popular browser plugins that only come in 32 bit versions and opensuse’s implementation of the wrapper made using those plugins as easy as simply installing the 32 bit version of the package to be wrapped. However, opensource is all about choice and nowadays, a couple of open flash players are giving adobe a good run for their money.

The GNU swf player, gnash, is one such contender. The app improves in leaps and bounds each time I try it, but in my most recent trial, gnash’s performance lagged behind swfdec (pronounced swiffdec). As a result, I’ll be discussing swfdec today. I was so impressed by the plugin that I’ve been using it ever since I installed opensuse 11.1 beta 1 over a month ago.

The latest release of swfdec is version 0.82. It appears to support all flash 8 and prior features. Don’t dismiss it yet, it also supports some flash 9 and 10 features, though as far as I can tell, not all. It does include the embedded links implemented in flash 10, for those that like to clicky when getting their daily dose of googtube.


I’ve tested it with reuters, youtube (naturally), megavideo, google video, blip…. can’t think of any other video sites at the moment, but suffice it to say that more often than not, I have no problems with viewing embedded flash content. I have had issues with some youtube videos. I suspect the videos were encoded with h263, but I didn’t bother checking. Of course, not all flash sites display, but the sites I had the biggest problem with are sites that search for the installed flash version and display an error message when either flash 9 or 10 is not found. Veoh, for example, is a pain in the ass to use. I can play linked veoh videos, but go to the site directly and the videos don’t play. Silliness. Same thing happens on my phone, so I’m not too surprised.

Swfdec uses the gstreamer codecs, so to get the best functionality, gstreamer bad and ugly codecs must be installed. Swfdec’s signature calling card has always been the giant grey play image superimposed over all flash content.


The user has to click on the image to play the embedded content. Total control is nice and all, but it gets a bit cumbersome after a while. Thankfully, with the more recent versions of swfdec, the user only needs to right click to select the option to have flash content either play automatically, play based on the last selected option for the site or never play without manual input. (If you were wondering, it plays last fm videos, but is unable to connect to the last fm player).

My only complaint about swfdec is that it sucks up my cpu each time a page that uses the plugin is active. Doesn’t matter if the video or whatever is actually playing or stopped – cpu usage stays at or near 100% as long as the window is up (it drops to about 40% if a flash video is paused, but is around 80% when the video is stopped). It’s pretty much as bad as adobe’s flash player in that respect. I can live with that though.

So dear readers, go forth and enjoy your embedded pr0n with the full power of open source.