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.

Some problems you may run into with the Nokia E71x phone

Based on the scores of comments left on my series of Nokia E71x posts, there are people using this phone actively. I am no longer one of them. Reason: over 6 months ago, I cracked the screen (not the plastic covering, but what’s underneath said plastic covering). I’m now an active ATT Tilt user albeit with a ‘cooked’ ROM from XDA Developer’s forum). With that in mind, my instructions are 6 months old and your mileage may vary.

That said, I recently received correspondence from a commenter about a sound issue he had been having with his Nokia E71x device. Specifically, there was no sound in the Ovi Maps 3.0 application. Now, I’m not sure why this happens because the steps I’ve written about are exactly the steps I took for installing the Maps application on my device. However, please be aware that Nokia’s not necessarily supporting the E71x phone because it’s custom-made for ATT.

Update (06/10/2010): If you’re having trouble installing the Ovi Store App on your Nokia E71x phone, please visit this ATT wireless forum. Here’s a direct link to the Ovi Store app .sis file for downloading & installing to your phone. Thanks to BobE71x for bringing this to my attention!

In a nutshell, if you have no sound in the Ovi Maps 3.0 application on your Nokia E71x device & your maps version is v3.0 09wk03b02MW OpenGL LM MN, then, please go post-haste to these two websites:

  1. Visit this on the Nokia website about no sound in the Ovi Maps application. The instructions from the user, “Iktus”, were what this commenter followed to resolve his problem.
  2. If that doesn’t work, go to Spanish-language website (translated via Google Translate) by the user, “Tzar” who documents how he resolved the “no sound” issue on his N82 device.
  3. For other weird problems, feel free to comment or visit the same Spanish-language website (translated) for in-depth tutorials, etc.
  4. If you are unable to access the website for some reason, here’s a translated page of the website here:

One last thing:

  1. Please note that there is still NO free turn-by-turn navigation on the Nokia E71x device. My guess is because this device comes bundled with AT & T’s Navigator program so Nokia doesn’t want to compete with the cellphone provider. Only newer Nokia devices are getting the free goodies. Sorry.

Flashing your ATT Tilt with cooked ROMs

So, my love affair with the Nokia E71x phone has ended albeit rather prematurely and unexpectedly. An accidental blow to the screen of the E71x phone rendered the device unusable and I have had to awaken the ATT Tilt that I owned & didn’t really like. Windows Mobile 6.1 has some nice features (threaded SMSes is just one of them), but it was boring. I then decided that I had nothing to lose by checking out the XDA Developers website. The XDA Developers forum is “the largest Internet community of smartphone enthusiasts and developers for the Android and Windows Mobile platforms”. This is true.

What is also true is XDA Developers is where people go to get creative with the software/firmware that is shipped on their mobile devices. In my case, I went to XDA Developers because I wanted to see what other ROM alternatives were available for the my ATT Tilt (commonly called Kaiser). Again, I had nothing to lose in the sense that this was a secondhand phone purchased cheaply and if I ended up ‘bricking’ the phone, I would simply go out and get a cheap $30 phone. If I’d purchased this phone at full price (~$250), I’m pretty sure I would be even more hesitant to do a thing like messing with the ROM, etc. Nevertheless, I was determined to make sense of the instructions on flashing the ROM on my Tilt 8925. The next couple of paragraphs will talk about my experience using the XDA Developers’ site and how I’m now running a Windows Mobile 6.5 based ROM on my plain ole’ ATT Tilt. I won’t define all the terms I’m using, but as you read the XDA website, you’ll come to understand. As usual, your mileage may vary and I refuse to be held responsible for you not doing your homework!

  1. For flashing your ROM, the first thing you want to do read this thread for getting a good overview of how to use the website, read the Kaiser FAQ and then, read the F.A.Q to understand what you are getting into. Just read it, digest the information and don’t start installing stuff just yet. Read & re-read worst case scenarios; Read the troubleshooting F.A.Q and decide if you are willing to live with bugs on your phone, constant tweaking, an unstable ROM or a bricked Tilt.
  2. Next, browse the Kaiser Cooked ROMs wiki to see the plethora of ROMs available. Read the threads on whatever ROM you have decided on and take notes of version numbers of items like the recommended HardSPL and the recommended Radios for that particular cooked ROM. Read the F.A.Q.s for the ROM you have settled on and make note of any special issues particular to that ROM. PS: I made a newbie mistake here by not reading the F.A.Q.s for the ROM I went with and discovered certain issues after the fact. Read on. 🙂
  3. Then, head over to the F.A.Q. for newbies and read it. If you can recite the steps you need to flash a basic ROM, you are making good progress and possible ready. Make sure your phone is fully charged and that you have downloaded all the necessary files.
  4. What does “downloading necessary files” entail? If you read the F.A.Q. for newbies, you would know. In a nutshell, HardSPL, ROM and/or Radio. It all depends on what instructions come with the ROM you desire so desperately. :P. In my case, I decided on the ROM by twopumpchump (the ROM chef) called TPC Elite ROM v11 Mega which is a Windows Mobile 6.5-based ROM. I made sure I had that ROM downloaded.
  5. However, it’s all easier said that done. I confess that I did things a bit differently that caused some problems later on. My ROM recommended a different HardSPL than was listed in the newbie FAQ (HardSPL 3.29 in the newbie FAQ vs. HardSPL 3.34 for the TPC Elite ROM v11 Mega) and it also recommended a different radio BUT my first flashing worked! I followed the newbie FAQ’s instructions to the letter and it worked, but I wasn’t entirely happy because my device was sluggish. From reading several threads, I knew that there were fixes I needed to apply like the Tilt keyboard fix for ATT Tilts that were flashed with cooked ROMs based on the HTC ROM, etc. Not using the recommended Radio can cause sound and camera issues although these items were working ‘fine’. Not one to leave things alone, I decided to ‘upgrade’ the HardSPL from the flashed v.3.29 to v. 3.34 and ‘upgrade’ the radio to the recommended radio for the TPC Elite ROM v11 Mega. Things went a bit hairy from then on.
  6. Again, I followed the instructions for upgrading the HardSPL from the newbie FAQ, but in retrospect, it didn’t work, but I didn’t realize it at the time. Then, I upgraded the radio by following the instructions from the newbie FAQ and that went smoothly. I decided to confirm the changes and checked my SPL version after upgrading my radio and saw that the HardSPL was still on version 3.29. So, I attempted to re-do the upgrade to HardSPL 3.34 and I got the dreaded R/G/B Screen (you’ll see the startup screen and the letters (R G B with some numbers), but the screen doesn’t progress beyond that). I didn’t attempt to hard reset the phone and soft-resetting the phone did nothing. This meant that my phone was on the verge of becoming a pretty brick. This is the thread for solving your-phone-being-stuck-at-bootloader issues. I didn’t start throwing the kitchen sink at my phone. Without panicking, I read the entire thread and found that one comment in particular stood out to me because it was the simplest and most relevant for my phone’s issues. My phone was booting up (yay), didn’t boot into the OS (boo), didn’t boot straight into the bootloader tricolor screen (yay!) and I could see the RGB letters with the numbers (yay!!). The solution was simple:
  7. It was the post by the member called -888- and the instructions were simple:
    • Disconnect the phone from the computer or charger
    • Go into bootloader mode (camera button + reset with stylus)
    • It will show the tricolor+white screen, SPL version on the top and “Serial” at the bottom.
    • Plug in your USB cable.
    • If the “Serial” will change into “USB” at the bottom, you are most likely ready to fix the problem. When I saw this change, I knew everything was going to be alright.
    • You are now ready to flash your device with the previous ROM or if you changed your mind, a newer ROM or if you’re tired of the uncertainty, the stock ROM. 😛
    • Follow the instructions for flashing the ROM on your device and you’re home free!

Some notes after flashing and now playing with my TPC Elite ROM v11 Mega (I’m very specific about the ROM I’m using because as you’ll see, there are a LOT of ROMs out there):

  1. I would recommend you pick a stable or popular ROM like the Windows Mobile 6.1-based ROM (Sleuth v3.0) or select from the TPC series. The idea is to pick a ROM that has a healthy community and a place you can start troubleshooting from like a FAQ.
  2. I would recommend you pick a Lite ROM because those come with the least amount of utilities/tools ‘cooked’ into the ROM. That way, you are free to install and uninstall things as you like. Picking a ROM with all sorts of bells and whistles is nice until you are tired of the apps and want them gone. The solution to being able to tinker with a fully-loaded ROM is ROMs that are UC-capable i.e customizable by the user. It sounds a bit technical and I’m sure I’ll delve into it at some point, but for now, I’m recovering from the near-death experience of flashing my Tilt, nearly bricking it and recovering. lol.
  3. When going through the initial set-up, don’t setup your PIN right away. The issue I faced might be specific only to my WinMo 6.5-based ROM after I installed a CAB that reverted the new honeycomb-style menu of WinMo 6.5 to the old WinMo 6.1 menu. I was unable to turn off this PIN lock feature afterward and uninstalling the CAB file didn’t NOT remove the old WinMo 6.1 menu so this goes on to my next tip:
  4. Be careful of CAB files you install that change things around like the CAB file I installed in TPC Elite ROM v11 Mega which changed the QuickMenu layout from the honeycomb-style introduced in Windows Mobile 6.5 to the old layout in Windows Mobile 6/6.1. I was unable to find the Setting for controlling the PIN lock and discovered that I was unable to revert back to the honeycomb style by simply uninstalling the CAB file. So, I solved the issue by hard-resetting my phone and skipping the PIN part.
  5. A lot of the downloads are from sites like RapidShare, MediaFire, 4Shared, etc. They have download-number limits so plan accordingly and don’t go download-crazy. 🙂
  6. Learn how to hard-reset, soft-reset, get into the bootloader, use Windows Mobile Device Center options, etc.
  7. Make sure your Antivirus software and firewall is temporarily turned off during the ROM Flashing. Don’t run programs on the computer or accidentally disconnect the phone. You don’t want a pretty brick, do ya? 🙂

Overall, I’d say the process was nerve-wracking but doable. I’ve never flashed a ROM before until 2 days ago. If I could do it, you’re more than capable. The awesome thing I’m finding out is that once you’ve flashed your device ONCE, all you need to do to get another ROM flavor on your device is follow the flashing procedure for ROMs! As I write, I have moved away from the TPC Elite ROM v11 Mega to a stripped down ROM based on Windows Mobile 6.5. The more I use Windows Mobile 6.5, the more I think it’s not so bad. 🙂

Here is the current ROM of the month: ahmedfikry’s light ROM v23549 and it’s fast & responsive. You may have to go through a couple of ROMs to find that sweet spot i.e. the right balance of included/baked apps vs speed & performance of the OS. Right now, I’m absolutely glad I made the decision to flash my ATT Tilt’s ROM. Flashing your ROM is a great way to breathe new life into a device you’ve become bored with. Enjoy and I look forward to reading your comments!