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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mapstronaut Nokia N8 goes up in the air

And the day finally came. The day of the flight lesson. The last part of the Mapstronaut competition prize. I went to the airfield now knowing what to expect. Three weeks ago I would have said I never flew before. But this.... this was going to be special. With a trembling heart, I stepped on the green grass we were going to take off from. And there I saw it. The FK9. This thing was about to give me a serious adrenaline rush. Headache. Dizziness. I loved it.

I managed to film the entire takeoff, but even with the N8's video stabilization, the airfield was pretty bumpy and the video shows it. First of all I want to share some pictures:

It was an amazing experience. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I strongly recommend everyone, if you have the opportunity, do it! Don't hesitate!

My instructor was an ex-military pilot, so he had a lot of tricks up he's sleeve. I flew the plane myself half the time, and he would take over when I got tired. And I did get tired, I was gripping the stick like my life depended on it. And I guess it actually did.

And here are the videos.

The takeoff

The Jiu river

The instructor showed me a house where a friend of him lived, and we said hello to the guy :) We circled his house a little and he did some crazy maneuvers which I absolutely loved :)

Saying hello with the airplane


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Nokia 603 review - A pleasant surprise #NokiaTSN

A while back I received a Nokia 603 from the folks at Nokia Connects as part of their latest Try Something New contest. Since I had the Lumia 800 review in the works, the 603 review got sidetracked, but here it is today.

Spec sheet

GPU 2D/3D graphics HW accelerator with OpenVG1.1 and OpenGL ES 2.0
Storage 2GB
Micro-SD up to 32GB
Primary 5MP 2592х1944 pixels, full focus(EDoF), LED flash
Front facing No
Video HD 720p@30FPS
Size 3.5 inch
Resolution 640x360px
Technology LCD ClearBlack
Endurance Scratch resistant glass
Multitouch Two point
WLAN Yes, b/g/n
Network GSM, 3G
Bluetooth 2.1 A2DP
Sensors Accelerometer, proximity, compass
Radio Stereo FM with RDS
GPS Yes, with A-GPS support

The box

The box contains the usual wired headsets, Nokia USB charger, a Micro-USB data cable and the phone's battery. As part of the trial the #NokiaTSN box had a Nokia Luna too, as you can see in the pictures above, but keep in mind that if you purchase yourself a 603, you won't get a free Luna.


The bump in specs is obvious for the new generation of Symbian devices. The 512MB or RAM and 1GHz CPU makes the 603 run Symbian like never before. Not to mention the GPU was also upgraded.

The internal storage is 2GB which cannot be compared with the N8's 16GB or the C7's 8GB, but I have to say that it can fit all the games and apps you can think of. You will have to buy a SD card for music and pictures though. I recommend you set you camera to store photos and videos on the SD card and set you Nokia Store to install apps and games on your mass memory and not on your SD card. The internal storage is way faster than your SD card, and as a consequence, you apps will start faster from your mass memory.

The display is a capacitive 3.5 inch LCD screen protected by a layer of scratch resistant glass. The first week I kept the protective plastic foil on the phone, until it actually peeled itself off and then I had to remove it. To my surprise, after a week of normal usage, there was no scratch whatsoever on the 603 display. I even checked the 603 specs sheet again to make sure it doesn't have Gorilla Glass.

Below the display you will find the three single body keys: Call, Menu and End call/Power off, while above the display you'll find the ear piece.

On top of the phone you can find the power/lock button, the Micro-USB port and the 3.5mm audio jack port.

Of the right side, you will find the volume rockers and the camera key. I have to say that the camera key is a bit hard to press, but keeping in mind that there is no auto focus on the 5MP snapper, you don't have to worry about pressing the key half way.

You can see NFC sensor and connector on the inside of the back cover, and I have to say that it works perfectly. I only used NFC to pair the phone with the Luna, since I had no other NFC enable devices around.


I don't know which design Nokia came up with first, the Lumia 710 or the 603, but the point is, it's great. I'm not saying amazing, I'm saying great. It's no polycarbonate, it's not anodized aluminium but you'll quickly fall in love with it. It just sits neatly and comfortable in the hand. I actually could not believe that I picked up the 603 lots of times just to feel it in the hand again.

Build quality

The build quality is very good. There is no metal or Gorilla glass present, but the plastic used in the 603 is good quality plastic. The back cover that practically covers the entire back, has a soft rubbery touch that helps with the grip too. The scratch display makes a big difference compared to the Nokia 500 plastic one, that could get easily scratched if left unprotected.


The 603 comes with Nokia Belle preinstalled(you can read my full review here), but about a week ago Nokia Belle Feature Pack 1 was made available for the 603. FP1 brings lots of new features and improvements, and a lot of widgets too. I will have a review of FP1 once I get my hands on a device running it.

The 603 however got left behind in the CPU bump department, where the 700 and 701 got a 300MHz bump, now running at 1.3GHz on FP1, but honestly I don't think the 603 is gonna suffer because of this. It's as smooth as they get, and FP1 will only speed it up.


Close ups are a no go on EDoF cameras, but landscapes are a pleasure. The 603 is very snappy when taking pictures, part of this speed comes from the lack of focusing time. Outdoors pictures look very well, but indoors, as any LED flash, it suffers. It's no match to the N8 and it's Xenon flash.

Here are some samples in broad daylight.

Video recording is as good as it gets with 720p@30fps recording. However, if you wish to record lots of HD videos, you'll have to get an SD card.

As a video sample, here is the 603 unboxing shot by the 603 itself:


That being said, the 603 is not exactly your typical budget phone. It's on the cheap side, but you get a lot of value for money with it. It's target, first time smartphone buyers.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Rant: How to turn paying customers into defectors

As any decent mobile apps user, I pay for apps I'm using. That's because I want to support developers. Being a developer myself, I know they put a lot of work into these products. But sometimes, just sometimes, I tend to forget all that, and here is why.

After you pay for an app or game or whatever, sometimes you run into trouble. If the developer behind an app quickly addresses your issues, you feel like you haven't paid whatever you paid for that app for nothing. In my opinion paying for an app doesn't just give you access to that app, it implies some amount of support. But when the support people stick it to you, that's when you defect. That's when you start using their apps without paying for them.

A while back, I was browsing Nokia Store just like I do everyday, to find new things I may like and download or buy them if they're paid. And so I stumbled upon some Gameloft games that were on sale. I thought "WOW I should get these games while they're 60 Euro cents". And so I did. I bought 4 games: HAWX, Dungeon Hunter HD 2, Spiderman Total Mayhem and Assassin's Creed. I was a happy gamer for about a month. And then, things got ugly. After meddling with my phone's software for reasons not worth mentioning here, and ended up needing to reinstall the OS on my N8.

After reinstalling Belle I did the next logical thing, download my apps again. When I tried to download my paid games again, surprise! Dungeon Hunter 2 was nowhere to be found. I thought to myself "there's something wrong with the store client", so I searched from the store website. Still nothing. I didn't know what to think, but I figured "I'll solve this later" and moved on to downloading Assassin's Creed. To my surprise, instead of the usual Download button you get for apps you paid for, I was greeted by... wait for it... the BUY button! Strike two! The others installed fine, and I thought that these two will also be resolved after an email to Gameloft's support team.

Well, after searching like a lunatic for half hour, I found there was no support email, so I did what everyone else would have done in my situation: I left a message for them in their Facebook wall, explaining my problem. I got a private message a few hours later asking for my email address in order to forward it to support. It's been two weeks now and I still haven't heard from them. I even poked the Gameloft Twitter account, but to no avail. And you know what the funny thing is? They have a full development unit in Romanian! Yes, my countrymen! Plus, their Facebook page is in Romanian. They are 250km away from me. If they would have sent me a written letter response it would have reached me faster.

So what do I do now? Well, I found myself the games I paid for available as downloads on the web and I'm happy to say I play them every day. So yes, dear friends, I paid Gameloft for two games that I had to download from a cracks site. Nice right?

The next company that are doing it wrong is Dropian. With their latest release, they thought "let's promote it on Twitter". And here is how they did it:

What can one understand from this? Well, I understood something along the lines of "you better pay for it or else!". And then, just to reassure me I got it right, they hit it again:

Not only that, but they prove once again their "smart" marketing skills.

Don't I look like a pirate now?

That being said, rant over. If you've ever been ripped off by software companies, leave a comment below.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Nokia Belle Feature Pack 1 update released

There have been some rumors on Twitter about the upcoming Belle Feature Pack 1 update for the latest generation of Symbian smartphones. Some said it should have been released at the end of March 2012. Obviously that didn't happen. But, today users of Nokia 603 and Nokia 701 reported they got the much awaited update over the air.

It looks like the Nokia 603 too got a bump in CPU speed, from 1GHz to 1.3GHz even though officially Nokia announced that only the Nokia 700 and Nokia 701 will. The update can be seen on NaviFirm as well, so those of you who didn't get the update from your phones, can flash it whenever you want. It seems that all variants for all countries are present in Navifirm. Operator versions may take a while to appear, but they surely will.

The update dubbed 112.010.1404 brings new widgets, an improved notification system that is quote "completely non intrusive", a new task manager preview, updated contextual menu layout and many more stability fixes.

Some trusted sources have mentioned that the Nokia N8, Nokia C6-01 and the Nokia C7 will also get the update in the coming months. I don't know what to make of this, as Nokia officially announced they will not get the FP1 update. The source however successfully predicted the exact date of the Belle update, and many other updates and device releases in the past. We'll just have to wait and see how it plays out.



Monday, April 9, 2012

How to extend your battery life on your Nokia N8

Nowadays smartphones have a really big issue. In the 90's and early 2000's manufacturers tried their best to squeeze as much battery life as possible from phones. Back then if your phone got through a week of usage it wasn't a big deal. Today, we're lucky in our smartphones get us through the day. The Nokia N8 fortunately is a champion at battery life, being able to carry on for two full days, if used properly. So here is what you need to do to get longer battery life out of your Nokia N8.

Disable the connectivity features you don't need

People need different connectivity features in different circumstances. For example, I rarely use Bluetooth, so I keep it turned off all the time. Bluetooth is a big battery hog because the phone scans for other close by Bluetooth devices periodically and that drains your battery faster. Turn Bluetooth off until you need it.

If you're an active person that drives around a lot and is rarely within WiFi range, turn off your WiFi until you get home. If your WiFi is turned on the phone will scan for WiFi networks all the time and drain your battery.

If you're in the opposite situation, sitting at your desk most of the day then you do need WiFi. But if you have WiFi you won't need 3G anymore right? Switch to 2G whenever you are in WiFi range for a few hours. You can also completely disable your mobile data connection which would be even more helpful in the situation.

You can access all you connectivity options from Menu->Settings->Connectivity.

Lower brightness

The AMOLED display of the Nokia N8 is very bright and legible in sunlight and the maximum brightness is set to half the possible brightness. What that means is that when the light sensor of the N8 detects bright light hitting the screen it turns the brightness up to the selected maximum. So the phone itself protects the battery by turning down the brightness when not needed, but still even two steps down from the middle brightness setting is pretty bright for indoors and decent for the outdoors. Take you maximum brightness even one step down and you'll notice a considerable longer battery life.

You can change the display brightness from Menu->Settings->Phone->Display.

Use dark themes

The display on the Nokia N8 is an AMOLED display. The good thing about AMOLED displays is deep blacks and the fact that these deep blacks consume less power than any other color. A white pixel consumes way more power than a black pixel on AMOLED screens. That makes using dark themes friendly to the AMOLED display and it's power consumption. Also, if you are using applications that have custom user intefaces, try to use darker themes on those too. I'm talking Gravity, fMobi, Facinate. They all have dark themes as well as white themes.

You can change the theme from Menu->Settings->Themes->General.

Use battery saving mode at night

Battery saving more is a very useful feature when you're running low on battery. But why not use it as a battery save during the night? You don't need 3G or short WiFi scanning interval during the night do you?

You can turn on and off Battery saving mode by pressing the Power button with the phone unlocked.

If you're wondering "how can I remember all theses tips and use them?" worry no more. You can have Nokia Situations take care of these settings for you. A while back I wrote a post about Nokia Situations and how it can help you automate your life.

Increase automatic retrieval intervals

Applications such as Mail, Gravity, fMobi, Facial and many others, use automatic retrieval at programmable time intervals to retrieve emails, feeds or tweets. This interval is usually 15 minutes, or even instant in the case of a GMail account. Increasing that interval will instruct the apps to make lesser internet requests in the same time interval. For example, the Mail app has the default interval set to "Soonest" on email retrieval for a GMail account. What that means is the app stays connected to the mail server at all times, waiting for a push notification from the server. If you set it to 15 minutes, it will check if there is any new mail every 15 minutes and notify you if it does find something, but it won't stay connected to the mail server at all times. That will save you battery life. I've set my interval to 1 hour because I don't get hundreds of emails per hour, so in my case this works. I've also set the interval to 1 hour to both Gravity and fMobil, my social clients. Less internet requests, less power consumption.

Disable or lower haptic vibration

Haptic feedback on Nokia phones is great and it does help you a lot while typing or browsing. But in case you can live without it, you should consider that with each vibration your battery takes a hit. If you must have haptic feedback, set it to Level 1. At Level 1, you have a good balance between battery life and haptic response.

You can change your haptic settings from Menu->Settings->Profiles->[Profile]->Personalise->Touch screen vibration.

Disable the screensaver

The screensaver is another thingie that comes pre-enabled on the Nokia N8 and eats up some battery life. The screensaver practically keeps the display turned on at all times, even though it doesn't look like it at a first glance. If you try to look at your screen in the dark, at night you'll notice the display being lit up a little. The idea behind the screensaver was to to show you some info so that you won't have to power up your display to see it. It eats less power than a full-on display, but more than a turned off one. If you are a busy person and check your clock or missed alerts often it may be better to keep your screensaver on.

You can disable or enable the screensaver from Menu->Settings->Themes->Screen saver.

You won't be able to use all these tips at one, that I know. But even if you use a few of them you'll soon realize that your phone's battery will last longer while doing the same volume of work.

If you have any other tips that can improve battery life, let us know in the comments.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

How to take the best photos with your Nokia N8

Taking photos is not always a matter a point and snap, on cameras such as the 12MP snapper on the Nokia N8, it's about a lot more. So, here are my findings after using a Nokia N8 for 4 months. I have to say that I snapped a pretty considerable amount of pictures because I have a 2 year old kid at home that gives me lots of reasons to snap photos every day. Plus, I'm a huge fan of landscapes and I try to snap them whenever I can.

Steady hands

First thing you absolutely have to do when you snap a photo is to hold you phone as steady as you can. A moving camera cannot take a crisp clear shot. In good light conditions, more light hits the camera sensor and you have a better chance to take a clear picture. But still, I recommend you find yourself a nice steady position if you want to shoot a landscape or a static object. One thing I noticed a lot of people do is press the snapper button and immediately move the phone or camera. DON'T DO THAT! More often than not, the phone or camera you shoot pictures with is not done taking the photo, because not all cameras of phones have an accurate synchronization between the snapper sound and the actual time shutter opens. That causes a lot a motion blur in images, especially in low light. You have to take extra care in the case of the Nokia N8 because, whenever you press the snapper button the camera first finds focus and then takes the picture. Once you see the "Processing" message on the display you're safe to move your camera. Here's a comparison between two consecutive shots, one steady and one moving.


With fixed focus or full focus cameras like the EDoF one on the Nokia C7, focus is not an issue. A steady hand and a press on the snapper takes an instant photo. Because of the auto-focus mechanism of the Nokia N8, the camera first focuses and then snaps the picture. You have to be sure the focus is on the object you intend to photograph and not somewhere else. The camera button on the Nokia N8 has two stages. First stage is the focus, achieved by a light press on the button. If the camera is not focused on the object you were trying to snap, or if the preview on the display is not clear you should release the button and try again. The second stage is the actual shot, which takes the picture and processes it. Remember that at the second stage, the N8's camera is already focused and pressing the button further will snap whatever you see on your display, so if your photo is out of focus, that's not good. Sounds like a big deal right? Well, you can always use the on screen shutter button and the camera will go in auto mode, focus and take the photo. Choosing your focusing mode is very important too. You'll notice that if you try to take a photo of an object at very close range, the camera will try to focus on objects behind that one, leaving your target blurred. When shooting objects at close range (10cm-60cm) you should use the Close Up camera mode, also known as Macro mode. When set to this mode, the N8 knows it's going to take a photo at very close range and will try to focus on the closest object in range.

Auto mode on close range focuses behind the object even if the object is "in the face" of the camera
Close up mode focuses on the closest object

Light conditions and Camera mode

The light conditions are the most important thing when you try to take a clear shot. If it's too dark, the photos will look noisy. If there is too much light, photos will suffer from the solar glare. So let's see what we can do to fix that.

In bright sunny days, and when you shoot pictures with the sun behind you, you will have no trouble shooting amazing photos with the N8. But if you try to shoot one against the sun, the photo will suffer from the solar glare and it will look like you shot it trough fog. That's because sunlight goes directly to the sensor and the light that reflects from the object you're trying to snap is not as powerful as the direct sunlight. If you can, you should place yourself with the sun behind you and snap the photo, but if you can't do that, you can try to shield the lens of your phone with your hand. Place your hand above the camera module and try to not let the entire sunlight get trough. You have to carefully watch your display so that your hand doesn't get in the picture accidentally. Here's a comparison of two pictures taken from the about same position, the first without shielding the lens, and the second with the lens shielded.

Without shielding, with glare
With shielding, without glare

So, in too much light, you can shield it away, but what do you do in low light conditions? Well, fortunately you have the N8's Xenon flash to help you there. In most situations with low light, you can just point and snap and you'll get a decent picture, but when the light is way too low, or even in darkness you hit a pretty big problem: Focusing. Since the N8 has little to no light the camera does not know on what object to focus on, so the pictures may get blurry. The Xenon flash will help when the picture is taken, but in order to help the N8 focus, you should get closer to the object you're trying to snap. The N8 has a little red LED light that is used as an assist light for focusing. Getting closer to the object will light it with the assist light enough so the camera can focus on it. The rest is taken care of by the Xenon flash.

The next question is how do we shoot landscapes in low light? How do we shoot a sunset or the city lights? That's a whole different ballgame. If shooting close by objects in low light is helped by the Xenon flash, on landscapes the flash has no effect, or even worse, ruin the picture. That happens on all cameras, not just the N8, because any flashlight has a maximum range that it can properly light, and when shooting a landscape, that range not enough. You can see in the picture below that the flash actually destroys a landscape picture at night, while the no flash picture has much more visible details and punch than the flash one.

With flash, auto mode
Without flash, auto mode

As you can see both photos are noisy, because I've used the auto mode for both.

In order to get a decent landscape shot at night you have to work with the ISO mode. The lower the ISO mode is set, the more time the camera shutter remains open and allows light to go in. So first of all you need to switch the camera mode to night mode. Then you have to disable the flash. Next go to the settings and select the lowest ISO mode available. Find yourself a steady position and shoot. A lower ISO mode will remove most noise from your photo and make it look like a magazine cover photo. You still have to be careful not to move the camera when you shooting your landscape. For low ISO it is crucial to keep the camera absolutely still while taking the photo, otherwise, all you'll get is motion blur. Here is a landscape shot of my city lights I took one night. Click on the picture to see the full resolution(hint: check out the details).

Hope these tips help you take the photos you've always dreamed of.