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 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 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 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 (*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.

I chose the Nokia N8

So, I was in the market for a video/mp3 player and ended up with the Nokia N8 device.
Nokia N8 First Time Turned On
I bought a Zune, but for the fact that the Zune HD I got had a bad screen flicker issue, I would’ve ended my search for a multimedia device. I had the Zune HD for less than 14 hrs before I returned it to Amazon. Obviously, I’m not a software dev so I don’t know if this was a software/hardware issue. However, I went to Mother Google only to find out that this has been a longstanding issue so I’ll wait for the next iteration of the Zune HD device. 🙂

In the meantime, I got seduced by the allure of having a device that could do “it all”. I was torn between the Nokia N900 and Nokia N8. The price and internal memory (32gb on the N900 vs 16gb on the N8) were in the N900’s favor, but after reading the brutal reviews on Amazon & doing some research on the N900/Maemo future, I decided to bet on the Nokia N8.

I had considered the current King of Android Phones: Samsung Galaxy S (dubbed “Samsung Captivate” if you’re on AT&T), but the price of an unlocked one was a little more than I could stomach. Random aside: I was a little turned off by the obvious similarity to the iPhone that the Samsung Galaxy S. 🙂 Anyway, without further ado, here are some things I’m loving with the Nokia N8 and why I went with this device (against all the “rules” about never buying version 1.0 of any device):

Why I love the Nokia N8

  1. Takes 12 megapixel (mp) pictures: The fineprint with this is that even though the images are 12 megapixels, the image quality is not near my 12 mp Nikon D90; nor is it meant to be. For a cellphone, it’s damned good and I’m already taking pictures way more than I did with my ancient G1 running Froyo. That said, Nokia actually commissioned the creation of a movie filmed entirely with the Nokia N8! Warning: *don’t* import pictures using the “import videos/pictures” dialog because you might accidentally import & delete images for your Ovi Maps application.
  2. Has integrated GPS and an A-GPS receiver with free-forever turn-by-turn navigation in Ovi Maps. With the Android and iPhone, I would have purchased software for this functionality which means a yearly subscription.
  3. Has HDMI-out which means I can simply connect my HDMI cord (which I have) to my external monitor (which I have) to view my pictures/video or other items in HD glory. I did this with HP 2159m monitor and it works as advertised i.e. plug and play! Video playback works beautifully and this is definitely one of *the* features of the N8. If you don’t want to pony up cash for the $34.95 app by which lets you capture screenshots remotely, your best option is simply hook your phone up to your TV! 😛 I’ve got the pics to prove it too. If I ever have to do presentations, all I need to do is:
    1. load up my .ppt/.pdf/.txt (viewable with Quickoffice which is preloaded on the N8)
    2. Use the provided mini-HDMI connector to connect your N8 to the HDMI cord which you should then connect to the device (TV or monitor) that you need to project.
    3. Control the show with your fingers.

    Nokia N8 HDMI-Out Demo
    Nokia N8 HDMI-Out Demonstration

  4. Comes with 16gb of internal memory which give you enough room to download maps for the Ovi Maps application and load up on videos. If you need more, get a microSD card.
  5. Nokia gets an A for packaging.
    I love how clearly everything in the box is labeled and the fact that Nokia didn’t nickle-and-dime its users by making us buy an extra accessory. They put protective coverings (thin plastic film) on the main phone screen and the camera on the back of the phone. Even though the main phone screen and camera are protected by the much talked about “Gorilla glass” (video), I’m keeping the protective covering on and on the lookout for a case to keep my phone in. I was initially worried that I wouldn’t be able to do all the functions that the Nokia N8 is capable of doing without buying an adapter here or a cord there.
    Nokia N8 Packaging
    Nokia N8 Gorilla Glass
    Included Accessories for Nokia N8

    Here are the included accessories for the Nokia N8:

    1. the mini-HDMI adapter for connecting your phone to your TV. YAY!
    2. the USB on-the-go adapter which will let you connect an external USB device presumably a flash drive) to your N8 and view or browse the files! YAY!!
    3. stereo earphones were included (duh). The included earphones are awesome and a little too good at keeping me insulated from the world.
    4. wall charger (duh)
    5. cord to connect the N8 to your computer for transferring files/videos/music etc. The N8 comes with a common mini-USB outlet.
    6. Everything you need to tap into this phone’s awesomeness is either on the phone or provided as an accessory!
  6. I *heart* USB On-the-go. Dead simple to use. I attached my 8gb usb stick and opening files took about 1 – 2 seconds. Not a big deal. Going back to the whole presentation scenario, if you don’t have a laptop with you, you can simply plug up your USB stick to the N8 and using the mini-HDMI connector to present on the monitor! 😛
  7. Sound on the N8 is awesome. I’m not an audiophile, but even I ‘heard’ the difference and how ‘clear’ my music/video is. Whether it’s audio recording or listening to music, the sound stays true.
  8. Bluetooth 3.0: This means the Nokia N8 can work with various bluetooth devices at the same time AND increased data transfer speeds. I’ve experienced faster transfer speeds, but I haven’t performed any “scientific tests”. Playing my music over the Bluetooth connection was smooth and high fidelity. 🙂

Ways Nokia Screwed Up The Nokia N8

With the good stuff out of the way, here are my biggest gripes with the Nokia N8:

  1. The Ovi Store. I *can’t* believe Nokia is still struggling with creating a simple marketplace for Apps! For starters, attempting to purchase a simple item, say Angry Birds, from the store is impossible with my credit card. The apparent and only option for purchasing apps from the Ovi Store is to have your ATT phone account billed!! So, yeah. I haven’t been able to buy any paid apps from the Ovi Store yet. *sigh* I’m not kidding: I had to remove my AT&T SIM card in order to ‘trick’ the N8 into letting me pay with a credit card. See this Nokia forum post for more.
  2. The lack of QWERTY input on the N8 is inconvenient and leads to a lot of tap-tap-tapping. The ‘good’ thing is apps like Opera Mobile and Gravity have control over the type of keyboard that can be brought up in *those* applications. Granted, the N8 has some wasted real estate that they could’ve used to increase the N8’s resolution and in turn, add the QWERTY keyboard. Nevertheless, I wasn’t as turned off as the Nokia N8 reviews I’d read only made me believe I would be.
  3. The Font. Nokia, how painful would it be to commission a custom font for your latest wannabe-iPhone-killer? Really? It makes this pricey phone look like a relic from the Nokia E-series. Again, it’s not a dealbreaker for me. I’ve lived with worse devices and part of me suspects that I’ve come to expect less-than-perfect devices as a way of life. Still, Nokia has driven off some of who would’ve given the N8 a second look with their stinginess.
  4. Wi-Fi vs. MediaNet : WiFi works as advertised, but the N8 really bets that you have a data plan and like with the E71x, I’m having to dig into the Connection/Networking settings to make sure “Easy WLAN” is the default. Not a huge problem, but it’s just one that should be taken care of when you first get the phone in order to avoid “access denied” or “connection failed” messages if you don’t have a Data Plan and are using the N8
  5. Camera menus: In Portrait orientation, some Camera menus are still in Landscape orientation. This means you have to use 2 hands to take the phone. Not a dealbreaker for me, but people who don’t want any fuss would have easily skipped over this phone. It’s nothing a software update won’t fix, but it shouldn’t have been there in the first place. For a “camera phone”, you’d think such a “bug” couldn’t have snuck in there. Besides, for all the hype about it being a 12 mp cameraphone and having Xenon flash, most of my pictures have been taken *without* the flash because it’s a little too intense.
  6. Default Browser Woes: So, there is a setting in the N8 that allows you to set *your* default application to open things like photos or accessing the internet. I downloaded and use Opera Mobile. However, for some reason, the N8 didn’t get the memo that Opera Mobile is my browser of choice. It’s quite irritating enough because opening links from applications in the N8 simply takes me to the crappy browser bundled with the N8. *sigh* Talk about death by a thousand cuts.
  7. A little less clicking and a little more finesse. Nokia isn’t known for sexy user interfaces like Apple. I knew this especially as I’ve owned a Nokia phone, the Nokia E71x, before. However, to see this carried over into an otherwise fully-loaded device like this is a little disappointing and quite frankly, unimaginative. This recent Engadget article interviewed an SVP from Nokia and I have *some* hope that there will be some improvements. With the N8, there are some user interface issues that are hard to ignore.
  8. Call Buttons. Nokia made a curious decision to not have dedicated “Call” or “End” buttons where the “Call” symbol is the ‘Green phone icon’ and the “End” symbol is the “Red Phone icon”. All my phones have had this button so I’m retraining myself to use the “Call” menu which Nokia placed on the bottom right. Furthermore, my previous phones would typically bring up a list of previously dialed numbers whereas Nokia decided to display the Dialer and included an extra step to see your previously dialed numbers. It’s not a dealbreaker, but then again, quite annoying.
  9. The Nokia N8 feels like a utility belt. It is a kickass phone, but the software ‘wrapper’ is lacking. I like the 3 “homescreens” idea, but I got a little concerned when I couldn’t find an easy way to get to “Settings”. Now, *that* would’ve been a dealbreaker but for the fact that I figured out you had to do the following to get to your settings:
    • Tap the “Menu” and tap on “Edit Homescreen”
    • I got rid of the topApps and Social Screen widgets. To get a Widgets filled with App shortcuts, you need to select “Shortcuts” and this will bring up a widget with 4 slots for app shortcuts. These slots may already be pre-filled, but all you need to do to edit the widget is:
    • Tap on the Widget and a little box will pop up with two options: “Settings” and “Remove”. Click on “Settings” and you’ll have the opportunity to add App shortcuts or Bookmarks to your widget.
  10. When using the “Option” menu, clicking away from the resulting pop-up box does NOT close the pop-up box. You have to click “Cancel’ to exit from the “Option” menu box. Again, a click could’ve been saved here by making the Options box go away if I clicked anywhere BUT the Options box. I’m ‘retraining’ myself again, but it’s a little annoying.
  11. Possible Quality Assurance issue? This is probably just me listening to the internet people again. 🙂 iPhones are made in China so I think my N8 will be fine. However, enterprising eBay sellers are seizing on this perception of Made-in-China products as sub-standard and now selling Nokia N8 devices made in Finland as “originals”. I got one of the “Made From China” devices (purchased from Amazon) and my N8 feels just ‘fine’. However, I’ll be keeping a very close eye on the N8 for any ‘issues’. 🙂
    Nokia N8 Made in China
  12. Overall, the Nokia N8 is filled with these little annoyances that reduce the experience. Couple that with the confusion about where Nokia intends to focus its efforts i.e. Maemo/Meego/Symbian. One of my big pet peeves with device manufacturers of today is that they don’t improve on products. In my limited experience, they (meaning cellphone manufacturers) simply flood the market with various devices instead of picking (or creating) a flagship tool and improving on it!

    Apple has this mindset of creating/inventing beautiful devices and this is why they’re laughing all the way to the bank. With Apple, I can only buy 1 phone: the iPhone. Google attempted this with their release of the Nexus One and they lost their nerve because their money maker is search.

    Jane (@janetalkstech). 🙂

    My concern with the Nokia N8 is that it would soon be forgotten, but it appears that Nokia ‘promises’ to keep up with updates that will significantly enhance the phone’s functionality and not just security updates. The money quote is in this Engadget article:

    You can buy a Nokia smartphone confident that any improvements introduced later to the Symbian platform, such as the user interface, can be made available to download on your device as well. No need to wait for Symbian^4 – the improvements we were planning for Symbian^4 will be introduced as and when they become available. In fact, we will no longer be talking about Symbian^3 or Symbian^4 at all – it will be one constantly evolving and constantly improving platform.

I’ll end this article for now with my raw impressions after using the Nokia N8 for less than 48hrs.

My set of photographs (Nokia N8 Photo Gallery) related to this blog post are on Flickr.