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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Symbian^3 in-depth review

I decided to make an in depth review of Symbian^3 OS, and the people at WOMWorldNokia were kind enough to send me a Nokia C7 for that purpose. I've divided the review into many chapters, each dedicated to all important apps included in this new OS. First of all, I have to say that the first thing that comforted me was to see that Nokia has finally linked the entire suite of Ovi services into a single account that you can log into first time you boot the phone. Another plus is the single tap to open items in lists, grids and everywhere, a thing that S60v5 did not have, as well as long press for item specific options. The whole experience is more fluent than any Symbian before, and the interface is much more polished than ever. The kinetic scrolling works flawlessly all over the user interface, so the phone is very snappy. Support for themes is and will always be a big plus for Symbian, and S^3 makes no exception. Throughout the review you'll see many comparisons with the previous version of Symbian, S60v5 a.k.a. Symbian^1. That is because I do not want to make comparisons between S^3 and Android or iOS since they are conceptually different, and address different niches on the mobile market. So, on to the review.

The menu

Portrait viewLandscape view

The Symbian^3 menu uses the same layout as it's predecessor, which is a good thing and can be shown in a grid view of 3x4 or a list view. It also makes use of folder grouping with as many subfolders for a folder as you like. Of course you must be careful because too many subfolders may be a pain to manage.


First screenCenter screenLast screen

The Symbian^3 homescreen extends over 3 pages, but as we've seen on the X7(which has 4), more can be added, probably in future updates. The homescreen can host up to 6 widgets each, having 18 widgets in total. You can choose from the available widgets or download more from the Ovi store. I must note here that each RSS feed you've subscribed from your web browser, can be added as a stand alone widget, which is very helpful you're when watching multiple feeds at a time.

Homescreen optionsWidget catalogue

The widgets can be easily added by accessing the Edit homescreen from the Options menu, and you can move them around while editing the home screen. One thing I would have loved to have here, would be to be able to move widgets from one homescreen to another, but at the moment that's not possible. As on any other Symbian touch phone, there is a notification area on top of the homescreen where you can see your incoming items and connections and open their corresponding app with two taps. There is also a widget that can be added to your homescreen called Notifications that can do show you all your incoming items in one place, this is one of my favorite widgets. It shows missed calls, messages and calendar events. There is also a Social widget that is linked to the Social networking app preinstalled, but we'll cover that later. The Favorite contacts widget is also there and can host a bunch of contacts to access them more easily than having to open the Contacts app. You can see a person's social networking activity and quickly call them, message them, email them or chat with them. This is also one of my favorite widgets. There are also the calendar, WLAN, email, search, music player and many more widgets for you to fill your homescreen with.

The standby screen

When the phone is locked the screensaver kicks in showing you the time, date and events missed. I prefer to turn it off however to save battery life.

The unlock screen

The unlock screen appears when the phone is locked and you press the middle menu key, and shows you the time and your missed events, like emails, messages, calls and the upcoming calendar events. Because the test phone has a capacitive display the phone can be unlocked by pressing the "Unlock" button on the unlock screen, unlike the S60v5 where you had to swipe the screen or just use the lock/unlock knob on the side of the phone. Of course the phone can be locked using the knob too.

Task manager

For those of you who don't know, Symbian^3 supports true multitasking and it just got a new task manager, which displays a snapshot of each application that is running. You can easily close any of them using the big X button in the right corner. This is a huge improvement over the old version where you could only see an icon and had no idea what an application is actually doing.

Calling includes smart dial

DialerCall log

The call button on the homescreen leads to the dialer, which includes a T9 search ability, practically replacing the need for the Contacts app when you need to call someone. Just type in the name you're looking for and all matches appear in a scrollable list. A single tap on one of the matches automatically calls that person. The in-call screen includes the usual mute, end call, loudspeaker, and hold keys, and the proximity sensor locks the screen so you don't accidentally touch the screen while talking on the phone.

The call log is available when pressing the green key when the phone is on standby unlocked and it is split into 3 tabs, missed calls, received calls and outgoing calls. It would have been nice however to have them all in one screen, maybe a fourth tab of the call log app. The logs are kept for maximum 30 days, not that you would need more than that.


Contacts listSearching contacts

The contacts app used to be one of the most used apps on S60v5, but now thanks to the smart dial it is no longer. Still, the contacts app has everything you may need from it. You can setup your own contact card, and add as many contacts as you want as favorites. The favorites can be added to the homescreen trough the Favorites widget. I really like the search feature, which shows you at first the the letters that are contained in any of your contacts, and narrows the letters down for potential matches as you type. The contacts app includes a grouping feature so you can group your contacts accordingly.

Contact detailsEdit contact

You can add a whole bunch of fields to any contact, add an image or set a ringtone for that contact. The contacts app has now social networking integration so you can see your contact's status straight from the contacts app. All contacts can have custom fields added to them as well as a photo for each one. You can create contact groups using the Groups tab of the Contacts app, and all these, including the photos will be synchronized with your Nokia Ovi account if you have Ovi Sync active.

Input method

Here's where Symbian^3 is missing out. The default input method for portrait is the old style alphanumeric keyboard, the full QWERTY keyboard appearing only when the phone is flipped in landscape mode. It's a shame really because there is enough space to have a full QWERTY on portrait mode, as you can see if you install and use Opera Mobile. The landscape QWERTY is pretty comfortable to use, but I prefer the Swype keyboard which can be downloaded from Nokia BetaLabs. I don't understand why they did not preinstall Swype with Symbian^3 though.

Social networking

The social networking application can connect you to various services, but I only used Facebook and Twitter, and I found the app pretty usable, despite the fact that it got a lot of negative reviews. It's faster than Snaptu, which is the only free alternative for Symbian. The app is linked to the Social widget on the homescreen and shows live updates of your Facebook friends or people you follow on Twitter. The app also includes support for media sharing allowing you to post photos shot with the phone on your social accounts. I was a little skeptical about this app, but I have to say it does the job it's supposed to do.


Month viewWeek viewDay view

The calendar application looks much more polished than the S60v5 one, but it is basically the same as seen on the Nokia X6. It has 4 views: Day view, Week view, Month view and ToDo view. You can easily add an event and set an alarm for it. The calendar app is automatically synchronized with the Ovi account, so migrating to another phone is painless. The calendar app is linked to the homescreen calendar widget that shows the upcoming events for the current day, as well as the next week.


Clock and alarmsWorld clock

The clock app also got a boost and now you can see your alarms on the same screen as the clock. You can add as many alarms as you like. Each alarm can be set o act only once, or can be repeated on a daily basis or only on work days. It also has a world clock tab, where you can setup as many cities around the world as you like.



In the messaging department Symbian^3 really shines. Nokia finally removed the mail client integration from the messaging app (didn't belong there in the first place) and they added Conversations which is a very nice feature, allowing you to view your SMS history with anyone as a chat dialog. Composing a new message is as easy as can be. You can easily add as many recipients as you wish by selecting them from your contacts checklist. You can also choose to send an SMS to an entire group. You get the usual Inbox, Sent, Drafts and Outbox folders, as you would expect, and you can create your own folders under the My Folders option, so you can freely move your messages around.

Email client

Emails by daysEmails list

The integrated email client is way better on S^3 than on previous Symbian versions. This time around we have an email client that supports full HTML emails, sorting, search emails and much more, and moves very fast too.

HTML emailMessage settings

The email viewer can expand and collapse headers information, can show or not the images by default. You can open links straight from the email client and as everywhere around the new Symbian, you can long press on an item for more options. In the settings dialog you can setup your mail client to download images automatically, and to sort them, or better said group them or not by days. The each email account can be show on the homescreen in a widget that shows the name of the email account and the last two incoming emails.

Web browser

Web browserWebpage options

The web browser unfortunately is not such a big improvement over the S60v5, the new browser, or should I say the old browser revamped, has got flash support and now includes pinch zoom, which works decent enough under most circumstances, as long as those circumstances do not include flash or lots of images or gif animations. I found the browser to be quite unresponsive at times, which gave me the impression that the phone is struggling. But let's not lose any time over the browser which will be replaced by Nokia with a brand new one in the near future. This one has the same basic functions as the S60v5 one.

Web page and Web search

Tabbed browsing is still nowhere to be seen, and opening links in new window is not possible unless the link itself does not have the target attribute. Those are some of the reasons I still prefer Opera Mobile(even if it lacks flash support). I occasionally encountered pages that even after they finished loading, I could not see anything on the screen, a little pinch zoom however revealed the entire website. This is the case with gsmarena.com for example. The page was eventually rendered, but only after a few seconds.


Photo galleryShare photoSend photo

Symbian^3 got a serious boost in the photo gallery department. The gallery is faster than ever, and detects any new pictures you may copy to your mass storage. The gallery loads the thumbnails in a heartbeat. The image viewer has pinch zoom and the side swipe brings you to the next or previews photo instantly. The gallery app is really among the best in the business as it is now. You have the options to view the entire gallery as a slideshow, or select multiple images and create a slideshow. The image specific options are shown when you long press a thumbnail. This kind of behavior is encountered all over the user interface with Symbian^3. The gallery has options for sharing the current photo or a list of selected photos trough your social networking accounts, and send the photos via MMS, email or Bluetooth.

Photo editor

Image editorEditing options

The photo editor is allows you to do some basic editing to your photos. Rotating, resizing and cropping, as well as adding effects, frames, text, or drawings to your photo. You also have red eye reduction and photo tuning like color saturation, brightness and contrast as more advanced effects. Bottom line is that you can do a lot with this app while you’re on the move.

Music player

Artists and albumsSong listNow playing

The music player is very well organized. You can see your tracks by Artists and albums, Song title or Genre. If you flip the phone when you're using the Artists and albums view, you get to enjoy the cover flow feature of the music player. You can see it demoed in the next video.

The music player has an equaliser with a good range of settings for musical styles. If you think that the volume is not enough for you, just head to the music player's settings and enable the Loudness option. In the settings you can also set the balance or left-to-right or enable the Stereo widening option. You can also enable the FM transmitter from here and share what you're playing with any FM radio you may have around.

Videos and TV

The video player supports DivX out of the box which is a gold mine, because nowadays there aren't too mobile OS's that include native support for such a wide range of video formats. Video playback is very smooth and it worked with everything I threw at it. The video files you have on your phone are shown in both Videos and Photos applications. The Videos application however shows a more detailed view of the videos including. The video department also includes a link to the YouTube website(unfortunately no native YouTube app yet), CNN videos, National Geographics(which is extremely well done) and Movie Teasers. Some of them include a homescreen widget too.

Video editor

StoryboardSlide show

The video editor has two modes, create videos using your videoclips and photos, or create a slideshow from photos only. In the slideshow mode, you can select from a wide variety of slideshow transition effects and then add the photos you want in the slideshow. You can also add background music and text overlay to the slideshow. In the video creation mode, you must firest select the clips you want included in the storyboard and then get to editing. You can move clips around by dragging them. Here too you can add background music, text overlay, and you can clip parts of movie to include it in your storyboard. This app certainly provides more than I expected. Here’s a short clip.

Ovi store

Ovi storeCategoriesSearch

Ovi store has got a big boost too, spawning now categories and subcategories like Applications - Business. The application is now smoother and faster than ever. The My stuff is now practically integrated everywhere which is a good thing, and you have much more options to help you out. It really feels like a mobile store now.

Maps and navigation

MenuMap view

The maps application is the usual Ovi maps, which is pretty good, and gives you the ability to download maps when using WiFi and using them offline for navigation. It also offers current weather conditions for your location and a short forecast, and you can check the conditions on your destination too. The Events function shows you Events near your location, but for my city there were only Movies available. I guess in bigger cities there would also be more than that. Ovi maps also integrates Lonely Planet country guide which can be useful if you are touring. The HRS hotels provides information about nearby hotels and you can book a room right from Ovi maps. Ovi maps also provides integration with Trip advisor which can recommend you places where you can stay, eat or just visit. You can share your location with your friends, center in on your position or search objectives on the maps.

File manager

File managerBrowsing mass memory

As usual any Symbian device comes with an integrated file manager, that allows you to easily do file operations around your system. This is one of the Symbian’s strongest points because there are not many phones out there that have a good file manager, not even smartphones, and this one is state of the art. You can sort files, move them around, order them, pretty much whatever you can do with a decent desktop file manager, keeping the proportions of course.


NotesEditing note

The notes application has not received any boost, but what can you improve on a notes taking app? Maybe categories support and a homescreen widget would have been nice, or a new type of note like a checklist. Of maybe a brand new checklist application would have been nice in this department.

Ovi sync

Ovi sync works as usual, synchronizing the Contacts, Calendar and Notes data with Ovi, which can prove very useful when you lose your phone or switch to another phone. The synchronization only requires an Ovi account, and can be set to synchronize itself with Ovi manually, daily, weekly and so on, as well as whenever the data changes.

Search application

SearchSearch input

The search application can search your phone and internet for a keyword and give you the results grouped by categories, in one place. The search application is connected to the Search homescreen widget. One thing I like about this app is that when you tap the field to search, it does not go into the default alphanumeric input methot, but uses splitscreen alphanumeric keyboard instead. That makes me wonder why didn’t Nokia use this method as default?


The settings application can be a bit confusing for someone who did not have anything to do with Symbian before. It is not very intuitive but with if you dig in a little, you'll discover it brings customization to a whole new level. You can edit profiles, visual themes, phone settings, calling options, manage applications and connectivity. For a profile, you can set the usual options, like ringtones, vibration and many more options. The theme customization includes changing the visual themes, the screensaver, and the call image. If you want to change the background of your homescreen, you can do so for each of the 3 homescreens using the Options button. The application manager allows you to setup additional options like internet access point, and other security options for applications that support that, and also uninstall unwanted apps. The calling options include the usual Calling options, Speed dial, Call mailbox, Call divert and Call barring options. You can enable things such as on-call details, summary after all and many more. The Connectivity covers the Network settings, WLAN settings and scanning, Bluetooth, Data transfer which includes Ovi Sync to synchronize your Contacts, Calendar and Notes with the Ovi services, Video sharing and FM transmitter settings. The Application settings allows you to set default applications for photos, music, videos and web pages, setup your SMS messaging options, video streaming options, call log settings, voice recorder settings, camera, search and calendar. If you find too many options it confusing, just use the Settings wizard to get some help.

Phone switch

The phone switch application is something that loyal Nokia followers know best. Whenever you buy a new Nokia phone, you can activate this application and synchronize your new Nokia phone with your old one in a matter of minutes. The synchronization includes the usual Contacts, Calendar, Settings, Notes and your Media too.


The only thing I still hate about Symbian is that the Bluetooth options are still hidden away under the Settings - Connectivity options, and are very hard to find and use when for example someone is trying to send you a business card.

All in all, this new Symbian version is a big step forward for Nokia, and minding that they promised to update S^3 user interface to what was planned for S^4, it becomes and attractive OS. Even developers have new tools, like Qt and WRT to easily create apps from scratch (that was infernal on the old Symbian SDK). WRT works way faster than it does in Symbian^1 and Qt applications take almost no time to load compared to S60v5 phones where you can take a cafe break until Wellness Diary loads.