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. πŸ™‚

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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ 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! πŸ™‚
  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. πŸ™‚ I would, however, gladly pay for a port of Astro File Manager Pro which was heaven to my fat fingers. πŸ™‚
  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. πŸ™‚

* – 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.

Software Update v.3.28 for the Nokia E71x and modest Improvements to Ovi Maps

So, after using the ATT Tilt phone for awhile (read less than 2 months), I went back to using the Nokia E71x phone. Why? For starters, I discovered that I did *not* become more productive primarily because of the slide-out keyboard which is a good idea in theory, but not in practice. Secondly, for whatever reason, there was NO way I could turn off the touchscreen option in the ATT Tilt phone when making a phone call so a lot of times, my phone calls ended rather abruptly because I’d accidentally hit the “End” button. *sigh*

Needless to say, I was very nervous about returning to the Symbian 60 platform. I remembered very clearly how much installing Ovi Maps was a PITA (pain in the ass), but I decided to brave the headwinds (so to speak). It is my pleasure to report that times have changed with the installation of Ovi Maps to this phone and I’d like to go over some improvements that I’ve experienced since the time I dumped the E71x for ATT Tilt and now.

A quick summary of this post:

  1. No need to go through all the drama of this post anymore. Using Ovi Suite and your USB cord, Ovi Maps 3.0 will install just fine on your phone.
  2. Firmware updates are out for the Nokia E71 and E71x phone. It’s version 3.28 for the Nokia E71x and I’ve installed it on my phone. It works fine, I haven’t noticed any major UI changes and sadly, GPS fixes are still just as slow. Sorry! I don’t have a data plan with ATT so don’t fret if you don’t have a data plan either.

e71x-updatedfirmware.png
e71xdeets.png

  • Previously, I used the Nokia PC Suite software for synchronizing, editing, saving my contacts/appointments/tasks, etc. It worked fine, but I remember reading online that Nokia was pushing the Ovi Suite as a more streamlined way doing the above tasks. So, I recently reinstalled Windows 7 on my laptop and instead of installing the Nokia PC Suite software, I installed the Nokia Ovi Suite software. One of the first things that it did was alert me that the software on my Nokia E71x was out-of-date. Whoa!! If you recall, the version shipped with the E71x is v. 3.27 and the Ovi Suite software told me there was v. 3.28 available to upgrade. Now, I’m not crazy, but the thought of doing firmware upgrades on my phone makes me queasy because so. many. things. can go wrong. Before I go on, I’d like to share my story of how I successfully installed this update:
    • First, find out what firmware version you are running because these instructions are for the E71x phones with version 3.27. If you are already syncing with the Ovi Suite software, then check the “Updates” tab and you’ll be told what software version your phone is running. Another way to find out what firmware version you’re running (in Windows 7) is to go to your “Devices and Printers” section and rightclick on the “E71x” device and check the properties tab which also tells you your IMEI number. You will have to have connected your E71x phone in either Mass Storage mode or Image transfer mode to get the E71x” device to show up which is different from the phone
    • Second, please plug your charger into your phone. This is a long-ish process and you don’t want to be running out of battery life or else you’ll end up with a nice coaster
    • Third (and possible most important) Please backup your phone. You can use the Ovi suite software to do this. If you haven’t connected your phone to your PC at all, then install the Ovi Suite software first and follow the instructions to connect your phone via USB. If you’ve already connected your phone to your PC and are using the Nokia PC Suite software, feel free to download the Ovi Suite software and completely uninstall the Nokia PC Suite software. Again, please make sure you have a backup of ALL your phone’s data using the Ovi Suite software. It creates a .nbu file holding the image of your phone’s files. In addition to backing up my phone, I usually export my contact and appointments from Microsoft Outlo0k 2007 just to be on the safe side.
    • Click on the “Updates” tab and you’ll be instructed not to panic if your Windows PC shows your phone connecting and disconnecting rapidly. At one point, the driver installation process appears to have stalled and I simply removed my battery, removed my charger, remove the USB cord and rebooted the phone. After, I put the phone back together (battery, charger and USB cord into the computer), I hit the “retry” button or whatever it instructs you to do after rebooting the phone. Whatever you do, don’t panic if you see an image like this:e71x-firmware.png
    • Long story short, if you feel the installation has stalled, remove the usb plug from your phone, remove battery and charger. Put those items back in and restart the installation.

    So once I updated my phone’s software, I rebooted the Nokia E71x and began the process of synchronizing my contacts/appointments/texts etc with Microsoft Outlook 2007. Here’s what my device manager says about the firmware update:

    Software version: V 03.28
    Software version date: 17-08-09
    Custom version: PI01.01
    Custom version date: 08-18-09
    Language set: 6000.01
    ModeL E71x
    Type: RM-462

    Overall, my return to the E71x hasn’t been too bad. I don’t miss accidentally hanging up calls as I did with the ATT Tilt phone which (shockingly) didn’t have an option to deactivate the touchscreen feature while in a call. Anyway, enjoy and feel free to browse my series of posts about the Nokia E71x through the “Nokia E71x” tag .

The Ovi Store is a hot mess, part three

So, I’m sure you all were on pins andΒ  needles in wanting to find out the end of my Ovi Store issues. Well, to cut a long story short, here’s what happened:

  1. I opened up a dispute with my bank even though I purchased the item using my VISA Debit card. I stress the VISA Debit card part because there is a little bit of a misconception that if you purchase items on the internet without a credit card, you may be SOL (s**t-out-of-luck) with regards to challenging suspicious charges, etc. In my case, I was able to successfully dispute the Ovi Store transaction. My bank’s policy was to place the funds in my account pending their investigation. In less than a week, they concluded their investigation and MY bank ended up refunding my account.
  2. The Ovi Store representatives NEVER called me back even after a supervisor “personally” assured me that my case would receive immediate attention. This issue really bothers me even though I’ve gotten my money back. How can you run a business in this fashion??
  3. For those seeking redress and need their money back from the money-grubbing hands of the Ovi Store, log into your bank’s website and check out the customer service section.
  4. For Wachovia, the link is: https://www.wachovia.com/customerforms. I simply sent a secure message via the website about the issue. In fact, they recommend you call to inquire or dispute a transaction. However, you also have the option of sending in a paper form as well. In any case, I’d recommend using a credit card for online purchases anyway over using a debit card that has your actual money in it.

I think I’m about done talking about the Ovi Store. In a nutshell, before you think about buying an app from the Ovi Store, visit Google, Bing or Ask! and search for the application you want. The odds are strongly in favor of that app being available on the developer(s)’s website or on Handango, Handmark, Penreader, etc. You get the picture. Cheers and I welcome any comments. πŸ™‚