Gaming and Apps on the Nokia N8

I’ve been an Android user (running Cyanogenmod, a custom Android software solution) using the G1 since July 2010. The G1 is pretty old in internet-years (Fall of 2008) and seems under-powered as compared with smartphones of 2010. As I’ve grown accustomed to the idea of “Doing More” with my cellphone and as I try to transition to carrying less devices with me, I have grown tired of the G1 and its weak hardware underpinnings; It’s so bad that Angry Birds won’t even run on the G1. 🙂

As my post about choosing the Nokia N8 details, I did my research and pulled the plug on getting a Nokia N8. Even as I still have reservations about (i)Whether Nokia will decide to release an different N-series model instead of fixing current software problems with the Nokia N8 and the future of “Symbian” and where Nokia is going with Symbian/Meego, I still think the Nokia N8 shines when it comes to games and apps made specifically for it! My smartphone experience has been sadly limited to underpowered devices like the ATT Tilt running a custom Windows Mobile ROM and the Google G1 running a custom mod. So, in comparison to those devices, the N8 feels like a speed demon.

Without rehashing the reasons for picking the N8, this post will attempt to give:

  1. an overview of games I like on the N8
  2. what apps that developers should be looking to port or create as Nokia plows on with Symbian.
  3. and apps that make sticking with the N8 worth my while.

Gaming on the Nokia N8

In the few days I’ve had my Nokia N8, I purchased 4 games for it. There are several games in the Ovi Store, but the only ones worth mentioning are mostly the Racing apps, Angry Birds and most games by Gameloft. The others “look” shoddy*. Thankfully, the few games I’ve paid for have left me thoroughly impressed with how the Nokia N8 handles the games and multi-tasking. After a temporary return to my antique G1, I’ve come to miss my N8 quite badly. Below are the games I purchased and some commentary about them.

  1. Hero of Sparta HD: I particularly like this game because there’s lots of slashing and jumping to be done. The on-screen controls feel like you’re handling a joystick (sez a less-than-parttime gamer) and the graphics are gorgeous on the N8’s screen. I haven’t even gotten past the first level, but I would definitely recommend this as a must-have gaming app and cheap at $2.99. Buy.
  2. James Cameron’s Avatar HD: I haven’t even seen the Avatar movie, but I decided to take a leap of faith by buying this game. I didn’t get past the first level because I was disappointed with the graphics which were frankly disappointing. However, this review on TalkAndroid talks about the “amazing 3D graphics”. The game looks like one of those 2D side-scrolling games on the Nokia N8 and the controls aren’t precise. I would request a refund, but for $2.99, not worth the time. For now, Don’t buy.
  3. Angry Birds: iOS device owners pretty much made this game a mega-monster hit. So much so that there’s apparently a line of “Angry Birds”- based plush toys in the works! So, when I got it, I had some high expectations. Turns out it’s a deceptively simple game and quite addictive. It’s definitely one of the must-have gaming apps and it’s hours of idle fun. 🙂 A hearty Buy.
  4. GT Racing: Motor Academy HD: I suck at driving in real life. This hasn’t changed with the game. Easily hours of fun and a must-have gaming app. Of course, the N8 handles the game like a champ, but the download is hefty at ~ 150mbs. I particularly like this game because for a cellphone game, it’s ridiculously packed with options. Read this review on AllAboutSymbian and the reviewer goes into nitpicky detail about the tracks & modeling. 🙂 It’s also made by Gameloft which is a company I trust to make great games. I’ve bought several games from them before when I had an old (and still kicking) Nokia 6 phone so I am partial to games by Gameloft. In a nutshell, Buy.

Apps for the N8 – Wishlist

At this point, I don’t think the Nokia N8 has any “signature apps” for it yet which is a shame.
by Jane@janetalkstech

In the US, a plausible explanation for lack of these so-called “killer apps” is Nokia’s mobile Operating Systems are perceived as second-class citizens when it comes to smartphones. Accordingly, the rate of Symbian adoption (by developers) is relatively slower than the current rush of developers to Android or iOS. Handwringing aside, here are a few Android apps I miss & accordingly, would love to see ported for the Symbian ^3 ecosystem. Please note that for some apps, I am specifically referring to Symbian ^3 because there are quite a few apps for the older Symbian devices so this list isn’t a knock on the entire Symbian environment. For older Symbian apps, look no further than my Nokia E71x tags.)

  1. Catch notes (nee 3banana Notes):- In one of my posts about my frequently used Android apps, Catch notes was at the top of my list. The beautiful user interface coupled with the fact that I would simply re-use my Google account to sync created notes and easy-peasy tagging interface make this app a pleasure to use. I might have to start a letter-writing campaign to implore the developers behind Catch.com to consider Qt, which is one of the platforms for creating apps for Symbian devices.
  2. E-book reader:- The Nokia N8 comes with Adobe Reader LE 2.5 (courtesy of QuickOffice), but it’s quite uncomfortable to use in reading an entire to use it to read an entire book. There are a *lot* of ebook readers on the Android Market which are well-done. Sadly, I can’t say the same for the Ovi Store. One service (Wattpad) cropped up during my online search but the app was practically useless on the N8. So, if FBreader, which was my e-book reader of choice on Android, is available for the Nokia N8 (or Symbian ^3 devices), I’ll be one happy gal. 🙂 Sidenote: FBreader is available for a certain class of Maemo devices.
  3. Screen Capture on Symbian: On my Android phone, I wasn’t a fan of any of the screen capture apps so I resorted to an alternative i.e. using the Android SDK. So far, the only real contender for screen capture on the Nokia N8 is “Best Screen Snap“; I’m not a huge fan. It doesn’t help that there are few physical buttons on the N8 that I can assign as my screen snap button. For instance, my N8’s camera button is taken i.e. 1 press starts up the camera app and a long press focuses. Pressing the “menu” button takes you to the home screen and a ‘long’ press brings up running applications. That said, the solution I came up with was to delay the screen capture by 10 seconds while I brought up the application that needed the screen captured. The other option I’ve tried is the Remote Professional app by MobileWays.de. I got turned off by the UI and it felt sluggish so I didn’t want to plunk down $34.95 for something that I didn’t like. So, my next assignment is to figure out how to create screenshots using the development tools for Symbian. Wish me luck! 🙂
  4. Medical software: Having a background in Biology means I’ve got a soft spot for reading about chemicals and biology. In the Android/iPhone/Windows Mobile ecosystem, there’s no shortage of these kinds of apps. These apps (actually useful ones) are noticeably absent from the Ovi Store and particularly in these early days of Symbian ^3 devices. I’d like to see an app like Epocrates (which I used on my Android phone) or even any of Skyscape‘s offerings on the Nokia N8.
  5. Google Voice integration: Often, I make calls internationally with Google Voice. With Android, calling internationally is as simple as installing the Google Voice app and setting it to ask me whether or not I wanted to use Google Voice to place calls. With the N8, there isn’t an official app for that yet and I have to do the old fashioned “call-a-number-enter-pin-and-dial-a-number” dance. Update: If you’re using an older S60 device, you might be in luck! There’s an experimental Google Voice for S60 app by BDC software!
  6. Barcode Scanning Apps: I’d love to see either ShopSavvy or Barcode Scanner on the Ovi Store. The only comparable barcode scanner app in the Ovi Store is that by UpCode and after 1 day, I uninstalled it. Basically, it hasn’t had any UI improvements to it since I used it on the Nokia E71x.

The Highlights of Apps Available for the N8

There are some bright spots in the selection of apps available/useful on the N8 in spite of the glaring absence of the apps listed above. While it’s telling that most of the “apps” I write of are built in to the Nokia N8 device, I suspect Nokia chose to be pragmatic about the availability of these apps by developers or 3rd parties and hoping for a developer to pick up the slack. In my opinion, this inclusion of these Nokia-brewed apps helped get the Nokia N8 to a strong start and hopefully, raise the bar for apps in the Ovi Store. Another school of thought has it that the Symbian framework required programming in the lower level languages which sucked royally for developers. So with the promotion of the Qt framework, Nokia hopes to attract fresh blood i.e. more developers for Symbian. Finally, the applications below are biased towards tools that can be used without a data plan as I still don’t care to get gouged by getting a data plan.

  1. GPS: Free offline maps and free turn-by-turn navigation by Ovi Maps is incredibly helpful for people like me who don’t have data plans. The maps aren’t preloaded, but all you need to do is fire up Ovi Suite and install the maps and/or voices you need. There’s no need for Google maps, in my estimation on the N8. For runners or physical fitness enthusiasts, there’s the excellent Endomondo app on the Ovi Store. Also, the awesome GPSed app is available for the N8! All you need to do to get the GPSed app is:
    • visit wap.gpsed.com on your N8’s mobile browser.
    • Download and install the .jar file on your phone.
    • Run after installation.
    • Caution: There are some formatting issues when you enter GPSed’s “options” menu.

    I look forward to more useful apps tapping into the N8’s GPS capabilities like the Compass app from Catch.com (*hint* *hint*) which I used quite often on my G1.

  2. Photo Editing: The built-in photo editor on the Nokia N8 is pretty awesome. It completely removes the need for Picsay Pro which I used on Android. Granted, the photo editor for the N8 isn’t the most user friendly, but I got what I needed done with it! Seriously, check out this video about the photo editor’s features!
  3. Dictionary: I’ve always had a dictionary app installed on phones I’ve had. With Android, I used the great ColorDict app. Thankfully, with the N8, it comes preinstalled with a dictionary! One annoyance with this built-in dictionary app for the N8 is how it nags you to download dictionaries in other languages. I eventually caved in and got dictionaries for other languages. The process for getting these other dictionaries is pretty painless as the mobile dictionary app takes you directly to the download website which is on Nokia’s website. So, the next time you search for a word’s meaning, you’ll get a translation of that word in the language of your choice! Pretty neat!
  4. Video Editor for Nokia N8: Most of the video I make are created on the computer, but the Nokia N8 has seriously encouraged to consider making more videos. Besides the high quality of the videos, there is an included video editor which, for symbian veterans, is pretty easy to use. After a slightly learning hump, I couldn’t wait to start making short videos. Again, my point with this feature is that you could easily spend more money for an extra app, but Nokia’s wisely provided this neat capability for free and it does serve to help differentiate the N8 from the current crop of devices.
  5. File Manager: With the N8, I find the included file manager quite adequate. With the E71x, ATT preloaded the poor phone that nearly every gadget site recommended owners of the E71x to de-crapify their phone using a file manager called X-plore. This time, I purchased an unlocked N8 phone which pretty much means the N8 is free of carrier cruft. I have no need to go messing with the operating system files, but if there is a need for that, I’ve found that the X-plore app (which I’ve used for the Nokia E71x) is now available for the N8! Be warned: X-plore still as unpretty as ever, but it does the job. 🙂 I would, however, gladly pay for a port of Astro File Manager Pro which was heaven to my fat fingers. 🙂
  6. Swype: After failing to get Swype installed on my G1, using Swype on the N8 was pretty mindblowing. If you aren’t familiar with the hype, Swype is a method of text-entry on keyboards which lets you enter text ‘swiping’ from letter to letter and it smartly inputs what you had in mind! With the N8, it only works in Landscape Orientation, but it’s pretty magical in action.

On that note, I’m looking forward to getting my N8 back! I started having power management problems that Nokia currently acknowledges and requested an exchange from Amazon. The process was requesting an exchange was seamless and Amazon is sending the gadget via UPS and 2-day air! Speaking of shipping, I was quite peeved that Amazon sent the first Nokia N8 via USPS. Why?

  1. I got home to this over pricey device sitting outside the gates to my apartment. Clearly, the package was larger than the standard mailbox size for an apartment which Amazon knows I live in.
  2. Surely, it’s not too much to ask to be warned that my order “with standard shipping, my order might not fit into the mailbox and there’s a risk of being left outside.” Phrased that way, I think I would willing “upgrade” to shipping via UPS (edit: maybe I shouldn’t rejoice just yet) or something else! Amazon should be able to tell if there’s a risk that one’s order won’t fit into the regwhich packages in orders will fit into publicly available mailbox sizes for housing categories like apartments. I’m just thankful my neighborhood is relatively safe, but I would’ve been pissed if I’d had to eat the cost of a stolen shipment.

If you’ve made it this far, congrats! Feel free to draw any grammatical or logical errors to my attention. I’m trying to become better at this blogging ‘thing’ so bear with me. 🙂

* – My first visceral reaction to seeing screenshots of the games, reading reviews and just overall explanations of what the games do. I like a little more meat to my games, but for disclosure, I admit to not having downloaded/used these apps.

Ovi Store Failure, part deux

On the 28th of July, 2009, I made the mistake of purchasing an application (if you must know, it was the JoikuSpot Premium app) from the Ovi Store. My download of the app got interrupted and they made the dumb decision of not having your purchased apps available for re-download. I contacted them to get access and when I sensed that the process was going to be long and painful, I went ahead to purchase the same item from the Joiku Shop. Satisfied that I had fulfilled my craving for the JoikuSpot app (which sadly turned out to not be for me anyway), I decided to request a refund from Nokia/Ovi Store. You can track my posts on the Ovi Store mess through my “Ovi Store Sucks” or “Ovi Store Fail” tags.

Here is the full history of my contact with the Ovi Store:

  1. I communicated with their representatives via email at first when all I wanted was to re-download my application. See my first Ovi Store related post regarding the specifics of that conversation and how that went.
  2. Next, I contacted the Ovi Store via phone at least 3 times and each of those three times, my request for a refund was “escalated” to the Ovi Store Special Response Team. Each of those times I called, I was promised a callback in 24 – 48 hrs and I never received a callback. Each time, I had to initiate a call whereupon their response each time was to escalate the issue to the Ovi Store Special Response Team which is apparently unreachable by phone. I would like to take this opportunity to issue a $25 bounty (payable to whomever wins via Paypal) for anyone who can provide me with a working number for the Ovi Store Special Response Team. This fee will be payable upon my successful communication with the Ovi Store Special Response Team representatives. Note, I’m half-joking, but half-serious. If this transaction is illegal where you are, then you are out of the running. 😀
  3. My last phone communication with the Ovi Store was last week when I called and in a fury, demanded to speak with a real supervisor this time. This supervisor promised yet again that he would personally ensure that the matter was escalated yet again to the special Ovi Store Special Response Team. They actually gave me a number to fax my purchase details to and I absolutely balked at that because:
    1. I don’t have access to a fax machine.
    2. Is Nokia serious about needing everyone who wants a refund to FAX their purchase to a number? How 1990s is that?
    3. Has Nokia heard of identity theft? There is no way in hell I am going to fax my personal details to a number I have no idea about who it belongs to nor am I particularly inclined to trust that the Nokia folk aren’t blowing smoke up my arse.
  4. Of course and just as I had suspected, I still hadn’t received a call from the Ovi Store Special Response Team (OSSRT) and I decided to dispute the transaction with my bank. I made the mistake of using my VISA Debit card to make the purchase, but all is not lost as I took the following precautions:
    1. Allowed the Ovi Store time to resolve the issue. Again, see my first post for specifics.
    2. Have recordings of my conversations with the Ovi Store representatives on all occasions. If you don’t have a call recording application on your phone, I highly recommend you get one. I am currently using Best CallRecorder which I love because I can create rules as to which calls to not record i.e. conversations with my husband, etc. lol. The downside to Best CallRecorder is an annoying beep which, thankfully, doesn’t transfer to the actual recording.
    3. Followed procedures contained in their terms of service (Ovi Store Terms of Service) and followed the instructions I was given each time I spoke with the Ovi Store representatives. To make sure things haven’t changed suddenly, here is my capture of the Ovi Store Terms of Service document as of August 18, 2009 here.
    4. The particular issue that pertains to me are the sections highlighted. If you purchase an item from the Ovi Store, please memories this section (“Cancellations and Refunds”). To save you time, the relevant sections are: “You agree to the electronic delivery of Content being initiated concurrently with the placement of your order. You will not be able to cancel your order once it has been processed, and acknowledge that the nature of the Content is such that it cannot be returned. In the event that after your purchase you discover and promptly inform Nokia that (a) the Content license you have purchased is faulty; (b) the Content Nokia delivers to you does not match the description of the Content you ordered via the Ovi Store; or (c) technical problems delayed or prevented delivery of your Content, your sole and exclusive remedy with respect to such Content will be either replacement of such Content, or refund of the purchase price paid for such Content, as determined by Nokia. Otherwise, no refunds are available. If you encounter any of the above issues, please contact Nokia Customer Support at http://www.ovi.com/services/support/care. In the event Nokia opts to provide you with a refund, Nokia will attempt to process the refund within thirty (30) days. Please note that Nokia may not be able to process your customer support request if you are unable to provide your Transaction ID, which is provided to you by Nokia following your Content license purchase from the Ovi Store; provided you have supplied Nokia with a valid e-mail address at the time of purchase. Nokia may only process refunds for Content where the total price is above the monetary limit stipulated in applicable local legislation.”
    5. Thank heavens I also twittered about my frustrations because that will serve as further proof of the timeline and such.
  5. To cut this long story short, I contacted my bank today to dispute the transaction. I did this in good faith and maybe my bank will be able to get in touch with a person from the *gasp* Ovi Store Special Response Team or OSSRT. </end sarcasm>

Once again, the Ovi Store is a cautionary tale for all who are ga-ga about Nokia’s web store. It is nothing to write home about so do yourself a favor and purchase directly from the developers. I have since received a refund from the Joiku Shop in less than 2 weeks after letting them know that the application was not working as it should on my device. They didn’t ask for stupid stuff like my IMEI number yet again because guess what? They actually use the receipt numbers they issue as a means of tracking!! Who knew that things like receipt/order numbers served a purpose. Nokia would do well to take a leaf from the Joiku Shop’s playbook or hell, Handango’s!! At least, Handango keeps you in the know about the procedures and I got to know the representative! *sigh*

The dark side of the Ovi Store

Cue dark, foreboding music. When I heard that Nokia was starting their App store named the Ovi Store, I was happy. I’d read about their roll-out issues on Techmeme and I just waited for the day I could use the store. I mean, I’d already fallen in love with Ovi Sync even though it still thinks it hasn’t synced with my phone yet (I’ve synced several times). I love the free Ovi Services like Ovi Mail, Ovi Share, et cetera. How could I not love the Ovi Store? Because they fail woefully at a crucial element of online sales which is customer service.

You see, on a whim, I purchased the Joiku Premium application from the Ovi Store (07/28/2009) and during the processing of downloading the application I had just paid for, I lost my internet connection, Murphy happened and I needed to restart my phone. I wasn’t too worried at the time because I assumed that because Nokia went to all this trouble to create Ovi accounts that they would somehow link the Ovi Store purchases to your Ovi account. Makes sense, right? Wrong. I sent the first email to the Ovi Support personnel on the 29th of July, 2009.

Here’s what I wrote:

I bought the Joiku Premium app from the Ovi Store and during the download, I lost my wifi connection. I would like to re-download the application again and I cannot file a link on my “My Stuff” page to download the JoikuSpot Premium application. You can verify my purchase of the item by checking my receipt number: XXXXXXXXXXX

The first response I received was asking for all sorts of phone identification material from me that I did not deem pertinent to the issue ESPECIALLY as I had provided my receipt number to them. For clarification, he wanted the following details:

  1. Name
  2. User Name
  3. Email
  4. Cell phone number
  5. Country where I am located
  6. Country where the app is being used
  7. Model number
  8. IMEI
  9. Service Provider
  10. License code if available
  11. Software version of the phone
  12. Language used for the application
  13. Date of purchase
  14. Name of the application
  15. How do you connect to the internet? (3G, GPRS, WLAN)

Also, the first responder wanted this information in order to send an SMS to my phone and I was not too happy at the thought of incurring yet more data charges from AT & T. Why? Because my bill was ~ $270 due to an error that has since been rectified. At the time, I was operating under the suspicion that my bill was going to be ridiculous. Anyhow, I replied to him:

I’m about tired of incurring SMS charges for verifying things so I would rather not receive an SMS to download the application. Surely, you can either email me a link that expires or something. Just to clarify, I am NOT disputing that I purchased the application. I want to re-download the application because I was unsuccessful downloading the application. I believe the verification information you need from me is my order number which I have provided below in my previous email to you. I would like to see this simple issue resolved. I don’t feel secure putting my personal information via email so if I could receive a number to speak directly customer service representative, I’d would be very much obliged to provide the information requested. Again, my order number is: #XXXXXXXXXXX

At this point, all I wanted was to re-download the application, but the Ovi Store representative would not budge and he referred me to call the Ovi Support personnel via phone which I did. Cue pain, angst and suffering. For the record, his response to me was:

I understand your concerns in regard to providing the required information to resolving this issue. Jane, I understand that you do not want to incur SMS charge; however, Ovi Store is based on connecting to the Internet and receiving applicaitons via SMS. The link cannot be send to you via e-mail. It has to be sent to your phone. If you would like to speak to someone in regard to this issue, please feel free to contact us via phone.

It has been over 9 days since this issue began and I have yet to speak with the Ovi Special Response Team who is supposedly in charge of matters that get escalated. As I began to sense that I would get nowhere with the Ovi Store support folk, I decided to go ahead and purchase the JoikuSpot Premium application directly from the Joiku Shop! Then, I called the Ovi Store personnel again and told them that “I didn’t care to re-download the application. Can I have my money back, pretty please?” It didn’t make a difference to them. The Ovi store is simply dreadful in matters of customer service, in my experience. I have called the Ovi Store 3 times since July and they succeeded in getting my personal information. They have thrice promised to call me back within a certain time frame and each time, I had to initiate a call to check on the status of things. So, in a brief and ugly summary, STAY. AWAY. FROM. THE. OVI. STORE if you anticipate that there might be issues once money has exchanged hands because as you can see, they are not too concerned about refunding your money or making it easy to re-download apps that you have purchased.
Seriously. Merely reading a post on ZDNET by Matthew Miller about how Ovi Store reps. told him that an app which turned out to be incompatible with his Nokia E71x was essentially told that he was shit out of luck (SOL). It makes my blood boil that they are THAT desperate for money that they would stoop to such lows. Oy. If this post stops even 1 person from purchasing an app that’s easily available elsewhere, I’ll drink a glass of wine tonight. 😀 Oh, and you can track my posts on the Ovi Store Failure through my “Ovi Store Sucks” or “Ovi Store Fail” tag.