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Saturday, January 28, 2012

The story of a Nokia N8 - Amazing hobbies #NokiaChallenge

Well, a while ago I decided to do a stop motion video featuring the Nokia N8 I won in the Mapstronaut competition. When I saw that the folks from Nokia Connects were holding a #NokiaChallenge, I decided to hold on for a while, and the video fits this week's theme perfectly. Since I am a gadget freak and my favorite phone in the whole wide world is the Nokia N8, here is a video of the N8 presenting itself. Hope you enjoy it!


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

SymbianPaidApp #1 - Gravity

Today I am starting another series of posts that will focus on Symbian paid apps. First app I'm gonna present you is Gravity.

Gravity was born as a Twitter only client, but over time it has evolved into a multiple social networks client. It now features Facebook, Foursquare, Youtube, Google Reader and many more. Gravity is one of the most straight forward and fluid applications I have ever seen. I think it's safe to say that it is one of the best social apps not only among Symbian apps, but among every social app for mobiles.

Gravity can seem to be a little expensive costing 5 times more than Tweeties for example or Facial, but it does have lots of advantages and here are only a few of them:

1. Very fluid user interface
2. Very fast
3. Custom portrait keyboard
4. Pull down to refresh (in next version 2.5)
5. Multiple social networks integration
6. Homescreen widget

That being said, watch the video review below for a more detailed analysis.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Gravity vs fMobi vs Facial - user interface technical comparison

My job is Java programming, and my main expertise is user interface. I've been working in programing for 8 years, so I can say I've been there. Today I will start a series of posts where I will try to "shrink" mobile applications. I will try to objectively analyze those apps' user experience and the user interface design and concepts behind that user experience. So, I'm gonna kick this off with a comparison between paid Facebook clients.

Before we go on to the comparison and video demonstrations I have to define some terms so you can better understand what I mean in the video demos.

Applications are usually composed of a number of threads or subprocesses. Each of those threads do something. One loads data from Facebook, another builds the user interface components that are about to be displayed, while a third one checks your paid license. This is just an example. These threads run in parallel. Well, not really, because Symbian phones have only one CPU, instead the CPU runs each of those threads by giving them priorities, and assigning different priorities for each thread during time, so the user perceives it as if those threads run in parallel.

The priority of a thread decides how much CPU power that thread can access when running. The highest priority means that while that thread with the highest priority runs, no other thread or process will access CPU power.

I chose those three apps because each of them has a different approach when it comes to handling data and user interface, and they lead to totally different user experiences.

Let's start with fMobi. When starting up, fMobi loads you stream from Facebook, and that then shows you the feed. The images contained in the feed are loaded while the user interface is displayed and that generates some choppy scrolling until all those images are loaded.

Next is Facial. Much in the same way as fMobi, Facial loads the feed at startup, but it also loads the images from the feeds, before actually showing the feed. The result is a longer waiting time before showing the feed, and a much faster and smoother scrolling. That is because the app can focus on scrolling alone, having nothing else to load.

The last one, Gravity takes another approach. It loads the feed, but not the images. As long as something happens to the feed(scrolling up and down, expanding items) the images are not loaded. When the user stops and the application is idle, only then are the images loaded and shown. Furthermore, Gravity only loads images for the items that are visible, hence optimizing images load time and RAM consumption as well.

Check the video below for more user interface comparison details:

Next I want to show you how each of those apps handle data and Internet connectivity. Facial and fMobi both load the Facebook feed each time they are opened, hence the pretty long wait each time those apps start. However, Gravity takes a different approach, called caching. Gravity creates a cache of previously retrieved feeds, and shows them to the user, and only gets the new ones when the user issues a refresh command(Update now). How different are these approaches? Well, pretty different. First approach uses your Internet connection each time, and most times it may retrieve the same data again, hence draining your data plan without getting anything new. Second approach, gets only new items, and only once, hence keeping your data consumptions to as low as possible. Another issue is the battery life, the more times the Internet is accessed, the faster you battery drains.

Check the video below for more details on how each app handles data loading:

So the overall winner of this battle, which took both chapters of UX and Data handling is Gravity. That does not mean the other two are not worthy apps. fMobi is the most mature of them and has the most features, while Facial is the one who's the most RAM friendly. Keep all aspects in mind when you make your choice.


Nokia Maps - 360 Cities review

It's time for another post about Nokia Maps. Besides free offline turn-by-turn navigation, Nokia Maps suite offers a great deal of other useful applications, one of which is Guides.

A new addition for the Guides application is the 360 Cities section. 360 Cities offers you something that really no other mapping or trip application does, and that is panoramic views of places near you, or any other location you can think of.

First of all we have the Near you section where you can see places near your location with panoramic pictures and all. The places are sorted by the distance from your current location. When you look at a certain location, you first see a portrait picture of the place itself, but if you flip you phone, then you can see the panoramic image I was talking about earlier. You can also move around the photos, but not the way you would think. You have to tap the image and three sets of controls will appear: one for moving around, one for zoom in/out and one for a shortcut to the maps. I know there's no pinch to zoom, or swipe to scroll, but remember the app is in it's early stages, and improvements are bound to happen.

Next you have the Editor's picks, which will show you the favorite locations of the Maps guys. Next is the Most popular where you can see the locations sorted by people's choice.

The Cities section shows you exactly what you think it means. You can see the cities and general panoramic pictures with the main points of interest in those cities.

The Businesses section shows you restaurants, hotels and other businesses. Here too, locations can have more images for you to enjoy.

360 Cities is a welcomed addition to the Nokia Maps family, and I hope it will grow fast. I will be using this feature along with the entire Nokia Maps suite, when I go to Rome in March.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

SymbianFreeApp #1 - facinate

Today I'm gonna kick off a new series of posts on this blog about Symbian free apps. I'm not going to post every possible free app, but only those I find worthy and use myself.

I'm gonna open the series with a much awaited and surprisingly free, app for Facebook named facinate. Facinate is written in Qt and it behaves more like a WP7 or MeeGo app than a Symbian app. Most things within the app are done by vertical scrolling or side swiping. For example, when you look as someone's profile, swiping left or right takes you to that person's wall or photos.

Facinate is pretty quick, but sometimes the scroll feels choppy(and my best educated guess here is that it is caused by the loading of the images in the feeds), but you have to remember that this app just appeared on the market and it came pretty full featured.

There are some things that I miss with Facinate, like pinch to zoom in the photo viewer, or downloading photos to your phone.

It's only at version 1.0 and the team behind it promise they will have an update soon which will bring the photo downloading feature and many more speed improvements.

The app has basically two views. One is for feeds(and here I include, info pages, wall pages, album pages, friends list, etc) and a second menu view, that takes care of the navigation between the first type of views.

The user interface is in line with the Nokia Belle UX guidelines and it even has a notifications reminder on the bottom right menu button. One thing I did not like about the notifications system, and I hope it will be fixed in the next release is the fact that in order for the notifications to go away, you actually have to click and view each of them.

Facinate also features a homescreen widget which works pretty well, but sometimes stalls and doesn't show anything else for a while. However, I have to say that this is a viable alternative for Nokia Social when it comes to Facebook. Don't get this the wrong way, Social isn't going away, you still need it for SN integration and easy sharing and stuff like that, but for your usual facebook-ing Facinate fills in very well.

Here is a quick UI tour of Facinate

You can download Facinate from Nokia Store.


Nokia Challenge - Amazing family and friends

This is my entry for the Amazing family and friends Nokia Challenge. All photos were taken with my Nokia N8, the first two are taken with the front facing camera. Hope you like them :)

Here's me and my kid Rafi, trying our the front facing camera

This is Rafi's first lego airplane that we built together

Rafi is trying out his grandma's fur hat

Boy were we sleepy. Just woke up for the camera :)

Rafi meets his first Christmas tree

Rafi's first encounter with Santa

Rafi and his friend Matei checking out the washing machine

Washing machine still interesting. Mommy kissing the sleepyhead

Company's Christmas party plus a jolly surprise at work

So, this is my AMAZING EVERY DAY! My family, my friends, and my Nokia N8, which is right there as always, to capture the show.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Nokia Lumia 900 - Stephen Elop on Nokia's strategy for North America

Well, it's been a while since Nokia stood up in the North American market, but today the games changes. Today, Nokia announced a device designed with the North American market in mind, the Nokia Lumia 900.

The Lumia 900 boasts a 4.3 inch ClearBlack AMOLED display, which is not pentile this time(it's RGB), so all that criticized the N9 and Lumia 800 can set their minds at peace. It also features a 1.3MP front facing video call camera, besides the (now usual) 8MP Carl Zeiss optics camera on the back.

Besides the Lumia 900, Nokia also launched the Lumia 710 and Lumia 800 on the North American market. On top of that, Stephen Elop's homeland, Canada, also got some Nokia love, with the Lumia 800 and Lumia 710 being available for Canadian carriers.

Here's a interview from Nokia Conversations with Stephen Elop on Nokia's North American market strategy.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Nokia Situations - Automating your Nokia profiles

This post is going to be about how your Nokia smartphone can help you in your daily activities by remembering to do routine things for you.

Nokia Situations practically a more advanced profile manager. It allows you to setup much more advanced settings for each of your existing an newly created profiles. We're all used to having ringtone, vibration, and many more things like that customizable on each profile. But Nokia Situations brings more to the table. It allows you to set the following options for each profile:

1. Theme - Yes, it can change the theme when you switch profiles
2. Enable power saving
3. Open a bookmark
4. Open an application(we'll get back to this one later)
5. Turn Bluetooth on and off

All these features by themselves are pretty cool, but wait to see how they fall in when used together.

The Nokia Situations app has another tab when you edit a profile, the Conditions tab. Once you have a condition set, you profile turns into a Situation. So, to show you what I mean, here are a few real life examples, some of which I use daily.

One profile that I've created it's the Night profile. I turn off the vibration, set the ringer volume to a minimum, turn off all other tones, enable power saving and I'm off to bed. But wait! Don't I have to switch to that profile? I used to, but not anymore. Nokia Situations takes care of that.

In the conditions tab, I've enabled the first condition, Time, and set it from 23:00 to 7:30. This means that Nokia Situations will switch my phone to Night profile at exactly 23:00 every day and set it back to General at 7:30 in the morning. How cool is that?

So, you get up and want to go to work. So you get to your car and jump in, put your phone in the car holder and you drive to work. Nokia Situations can now detect your car's Bluetooth system and switch to a Car profile that can actually launch an application, like Nokia Drive, or (for Belle users only) Nokia Car Mode. All you need to do is enter the car, and you're ready.

Another useful situation is when you get to work. Your usual ring-as-loud-as-you-can profile is golden in busy crowd, on the street or any other noisy situation, but at the job, you have to keep the volume down a notch. Nokia Situations to the rescue again. I, for one, have a predefined situation that detects my workplace Wi-Fi network and changes the profile to a low volume ringtone profile and no vibration, because I keep my phone on my desk at all times.

Same happens when I get home. The phone detects my home Wi-Fi network and turns off the vibration but turns the ringer to max volume because I have to hear the phone from everywhere around the house. You can even set it up to activate when you arrive at some GPS location.

With the amount of features present in this app, the possibilities are endless. This app can help you forget about profiles. You set your automatic profiles on, and Nokia Situation takes care of everything.

This is one must have app for your Nokia device. Besides working on Anna and Belle, it's also compatible with earlier S60v5 and S60v3 Nokia smartphones. Download it from Nokia Store.