N97 Review Thrilling Review Conclusion - only recommended for S60 geeks
If I had money which I don't due to transitions in employment and the need to pay $8000 for a new roof, I would buy an N97 NAM with my own money. But, unfortunately (it pains me to slag Nokia since I desperately want Apple to have viable competition longterm and slagging Nokia is like slagging my first love since I loved my first cameraphone, the 1 megapixel Nokia 7610 I bought in 2004!) I can not recommend the Nokia N97 for other people i.e. people who are not already S60 geeks.
Buy an iPhone 3GS instead. Sure the camera on the 3GS s*cks compared to the N82, N95, N97, N86, etc but the software is a joy to use and the touch focus is something that Nokia should have done first. and there is a viable useful app ecosystem for the iPhone unlike Nokia (sure it may develop but there is no sign of it).
The N97 works for me because of these apps (in no order):
- ShoZu - Sorry Pixelpipe your service is unusable until Nokia fixes Share Online, sharing only 30 items at a time is a non starter for me. The unreliable Share Online which has no cues about whether a photo has been uploaded already is a major annoyance.)
- Gravity - Gravity rocks, it's one of the best Twitter clients on any platform and is continually being improved! Gravity makes the N97 QWERTY keyboard useful instead of a frill. Without gravity, I'd be content with the superior camera of the N86 8MP and pecking away in g*d aweful T9)
- Nokia Sports Tracker is a must have for tracking your bicycle rides, walks,etc. It is full of annoyances like not remembering any of your preferences (I always want to share my Maps with everybody, please don't ask OVER AND OVER again) but works well and is very useful and works in the background unlike the iPhone trackers all of which are useless because the iPhone doesn't allow 3rd party apps to multi-task
- QIK, video streaming need I say more. It just works and keeps getting improved!
If you love the above apps or any of the other few (there are about 50 good apps on S60, on iPhone there are several hundred good apps!) good apps on S60, then that probably means you are an S60 geek and then the only choice in 2009 is either the N86 8MP or N97. However once a 5 megaxel iPhone with decent video comes out in 2010, then I fear Nokia at its current rate of stagnation won't even be able to keep S60 geeks like myself happy.
Why normal people should NOT buy the N97:
- the UI is impossible to use for non S60 geeks, hand the N97 and iPhone 3GS to a newbie and may G*d have mercy on your soul :-) ! Can't stand S60 constantly nattering at you asking whether you want to connect or not, of course I do ! touch inconsistently works from screen to screen, app to app and a host of other UX issues
- the whole thing feels like a work in progress e.g. widgets are a great proof of concept but in reality aren't really that useful, e.g. the twitter and facebook widgets don't display enough useful info and autoscroll, they just display the last 10 or so status updates, these widgets feel like "hello world" rather than actually useful
- instability - e.g. I reset the phone via *#7370#, set the camera to sequence multiple shot mode and take 16 pictures and the camera app freezes; if Nokia can't get their camera app to work in 2009 no wonder ShoZu also has stability issues
- there's not enough RAM - even if you install all the apps on the built in 32GB mass memory you still run out of RAM
We choose to go the moon - I still want to go to space but w/o being rich, being in the military or going to grad school
On the 40th anniversary of walking on the moon, some reflections: I've always wanted to be an astronaut but I've never wanted to go to grad school or be in the military. I just figured that by 2009, anybody could go with sufficient training and interest without requiring millions of dollars. Boy was I wrong! It's going to happen, I guess it's just a classic case of expecting it too soon. I choose to go to space ! As well as the moon!
The N97 has to go back to Womworld in England on Tuesday so here are my penultimate observations:
- There's a bug in the camera app which causes it to forget the GPS setting occasionally. This is annoying because this means I have to re-enable GPS every time I start the camera app (or at least double check that it is still on). Easily fixed I bet in a post V11 firmware update
- The speakers are tinny but loud, great to listen to while riding my bicycle! Far better than iPhone mono sound!
- The keyguard lock issue came back today so it's not ShoZu or Sports Tracker causing it!
- Needless to say multi-tasking with S60 (e.g. playing music with the music player, tracking your bicycle ride with Nokia Sports Tracker and taking photos) works great until you inevitably run out of RAM or the camera app crashes.It's ridiculous that you can run out of RAM with the N97 in 2009 as it is supposedly a "flagship" device. C'mon Nokia please put 256MB RAM or greater in the N97 successor
- The GPS lock is faster than the N82 and N95 but I don't have time to measure how much faster. It seems a bit flakey compared to a dedicated GPS unit like the LD-4W which is disappointing but to be expected
I want my "Newton Life" back. I want the ability to print and take notes and have it all tied automatically together on a device designed for casual on the go note taking. Much as I love laptops and agree with Danah Boyd's sentiments in I want my cyborg life, laptops are too disruptive in a way that taking notes with a pen or a Newton is not. Time is on my side. It's going to happen whether Apple does it or not. The hegemony of keyboards will fall and be replaced with an array of input methods including keyboards and printing and whatever makes sense in the context of where one is now. And the "tyranny" of the file system and 40 year old Unix technology (much as I love them too) will go the way of the dodo eventually as well.
Pixelpipe has been very responsive for tech support via twitter and comments on this blog (thanks! i have done technical support in the past and appreciate the speedy service!) but unfortunately I am still having problems
I. Routing Tags not working
Summary: routing tags are not working, if i tag something "@f" without the quotes in the title or tags field or the body, it incorrectly gets posted to flickr.com/photos/roland instead of flickr.com/photos/wongtanglao
Here are the answers to the questions asked by Pixelpipe support:
- pixelpipe support: "Try uploading to the 2nd account directly from Quick Post to verify it's been configured, if the upload goes to the 1st account log out of Flickr and add the 2nd account again."
- Roland's response: I deleted "wongtanglao" which is the second account in pixelpipe and re-added it and then did a quick post from the web app i.e. firefox on my mac to "wongtanglao" and it worked fine i.e. it went to the 2nd account which is wongtanglao!
- pixelpipe support: "Are you using Share Online 4.30 (beta)? The latest version supports resume, background uploads and even has an Outbox which includes a status of your uploads."
- Roland's response: I am using Share Online ver 4.3.09.19 S60 Version 5.0 (which I believe was installed when I updated my N97 to the V11 firmware which came out on July 1, 2009)
Herewith screenshots of my pixelpipe config:
II. Photos not uploaded to flickr from Share online and pixelpipe
I seem to have found a bug in the share online/pixelpipe combo
Thee following two photos were uploaded to pixelpipe but never made it to flickr, could pixelpipe support please look into this?
III. Suggestions for Share Online and Pixelpipe for improvement
- implement a global upload status indicator (i.e. an icon that shows up and has two states: upload pending, and upload complete) for photos in the gallery app (which seems to be called "Photos" on the N97) like Shozu, otherwise if you take more than 30 photos in a day (which I do daily) it becomes impossible to track which photos you have uploaded and which you have not. The outbox doesn't work well.
OK, I am voluntarily living without ShoZu to see if it is causing the "N97 keyguard switch not unlocking the phone" problem, so I have tried using Share Online and Pixelpipe (running V11 firmware, unlocked N97-1, Fido SIM) but I am not happy (pretty hard to be happy with another solution after using ShoZu to upload over 28000 photos, I guess!):
- Share online doesn't resume when you lose connectivity and re-gain connectivity (which Shozu does very well)
- Share online doesn't show you transfer status so you never know when/if your upload works unless you check the flickr or pixelpipe website (pretty sure this is a Share Online bug not a pixelpipe bug)
- Pixepipe routing tags don't work for two flickr accounts. I have set up my account (email@example.com) to route to my family account (wongtanglao on flickr) when the routing tag "@family" is added. But that doesn't work. The photo goes to my public account (roland on flickr). I have tried putting the @family in the title, body and the Nokia Share Online tags field for the photo but it doesn't work, the photo still goes to flickr.com/photos/roland instead of flickr.com/photos/wongtanglao. HELP, please! All assistance gratefully received and if I fix it of course I will blog a followup!
Twice now in the last 24 hours, my N97-1 running the V11 firmware has auto-locked and subsequently pressing the keyguard aka lock switch on the right side and trying some N97 unlock voodoo from the last time this happened didn't work. I'm am going to do a hard reset and not re-install Nokia Sports Tracker and ShoZu (both of which are unofficial 5800 versions) and if it comes back, I can then definitely blame the hardware and firmware. Stay tuned!
I can't tell which is better N97 video or N82 video! Caveats: I don't have a keen eye and I only did limited testing last night at Demo Camp Vancouver 07 before the N97 battery ran out.
Both of the following videos are from the Anahita Social Engine demo last night at DemoCamp Vanocouver
Check out the flash videos below but for the best test download and compare and contrast:
N82 Video in flash format:
N97 Video in flash format:
Today was a wee day of frustration (which could be attributed probably due to the early V11 firmware or less likely the the fact that I am running the 5800 i.e. unsupported version of ShoZu) in trial N97 review land:
- At one point, the N97 lock switch aka "keyguard" stopped working, i.e. it wouldn't unlock and the only way I could fix it was to do a *#7370# hard reset which meant I had to re-install all my apps (ShoZu, Nokia Sports Tracker, etc which was very annoying for me, imagine if a non S60 geek had to do this!)
- Hmmm, looks it might be fixed as follows (hat tip to The Definitive Nokia N97 Bug List):
"Unlocking the phone via lock switch will not activate the backlight most of the time. This happens on the first unlock after an idle period – subsequent unlocks will activate the backlight until the phone goes into idle mode again. Seems to be a pretty universal problem. Extremely annoying because I have to hit the unlock switch a minimum of three times, usually more. No fix yet. Workaround: Hit the Menu Key [thanks Jasz] or Camera Key [me] to turn the backlight on before hitting the unlock key."
- Hmmm, looks it might be fixed as follows (hat tip to The Definitive Nokia N97 Bug List):
- The camera app hung as shown in the photo above in the "Processing Image" state. Holding the menu key and trying to kill the camera app didn't fix it (instead the phone just showed a blank menu of apps). I had to turn the phone off and then on to make it work.
Experienced the usual "early Nokia firmware why-can't they-get-it-right-the-first-time" glitches today on the N97:
- The phone rebooted when I inserted the USB cable to recharge it
- USB charging via the USB cable didn't work until I rebooted the phone (charging via the USB to normal Nokia power charger coverter dongle worked flawlessly!)
As Dave Winer says, "We make sh*tty software". The frustrating part is that Nokia doesn't seem to improve its firmware for the initial release of its phones. My 7610 in 2004 and the trial N97 I have today in 2009 both have random reboot problems and other glitches; the fit and polish of the initial Nokia firmware releases (i am running the 2nd release i.e. V11 on the N97 but it doesn't seem very polished) hasn't improved in the last five years. C'mon Nokia, you can and should do better, please!
The N97 GPS lock seems to be much faster than the N82 or N95. In fact it seems to be almost as fast as the lock from the dedicated Nokia LD-4W GPS. I'll try to do some more formal measurements later but subjectively it has been impressively fast so far!
More stream of consciousness this time focused on photos (after taking about 50 from a bicycle today):
- Sure would be nice to be able to turn off the touch UI. Many times I accidentally touched the screen and switched to the secondary camera, accidentally engaged the digital zoom or changed some camera setting that I didn't want to change.
- Would be nice to have the 'touch the screen' focus that the iPhone 3GS has. Unbelievable that Nokia didn't come up with this first!
- The new camera chip and software is fast! The new 1/1000 shutter speed means it's very difficult to take blurry photos in sunlight which for me is a drag (but admitedly my obsession with taking blurry photos of passing trains, cars and buses is not normal :-) !) I want my blurry photos back, anybody know how to do this? I tried night mode and setting the ISO to the lowest setting to no avail.
- ShoZu crashed but this is not a surprise since I am using the 5800 version i.e. an unofficially unsupported version.
- Would be nice to have a mechanical latch to prevent the keyboard from sliding out while taking pictures during my bicycle ride!
- All in all I like the camera for taking stills (video is next thing to try) but I think that if you are focused on photos then a more traditional form factor phone without touch like the N86 8MP would be the way to go.
- The N97 touch UI is a wart on top of an S60 wart. The S60 touch UI works only if you are an S60 geek like me or sloanb. For the mass market aka "humans" as Marc Canter calls normal people :-), S60 and the S60 touch UI are unusable. Please Nokia (speaking as a friend who wants Nokia to thrive instead of merely surviving the iPhone juggernaut):
- fix the S60 UI as per Rui's suggestions
- start a separate stealth division or company to re-do the UI (as I previously advocated after Nokia Open Lab 2008 and as Alec Saunders advocated today or just buy Palm :-) (yes I know buying Palm is unrealistic, but in the long run it's just as valid as Maemo (which I like but is just for geeks at this point) or even worse trying to revamp S60 to make it usable)
- Having said that, I am strangely enjoying using the N97 (the Touch makes perfect sense if you have been living and breathing S60 since 2004 like I have!). I love the beautiful big screen (the N82 screen seems tiny and dark by comparison) and the camera seems faster shot to shot and the pictures are not bad in regular light (e.g. this photo of Dane from the N97 looks better than this photo of Dane with the N82 (need to view both at original size) wouldn't you agree?).
- Nokia not having full Mac support for the N97 at launch time in 2009 is inexcusable. The days of the Microsoft hegemony are over. Get over it Nokia, the 1990s are over :-) !
- Even if Ovi Maps supported the Mac, I doubt I'd like it. I bet I'd feel the same way as Stefan i.e. I'd still use Google Maps instead of Ovi.
- Over the air update of my trial N97 (which is European) firmware worked flawlessly. Unfortunately as per Ms Jen, the same can't be said of the N97 NAM, again inexcusable for a flagship device.
- Still not a fan of widgets:
- Rather have the weather widget use the official and best Canadian forecast which is Environment Canada's
- The facebook app doesn't show enough info and doesn't show Notes
- Surprisingly email works better than expected with my gmail account. Major bug is that tags don't show up as IMAP folders which they do in a proper email client like Thunderbird.
- Qik, ShoZu and Nokia Sports Tracker (Sports Tracker still has a bad website and inexplicably doesn't upload all the photos you have taken during a ride but that's not an N97 exclusive bug) all work just as well as they do on the N82 and E71 even though none of them except Qik support the N97 officially yet.
- Gravity rocks! it's one of the best mobile twitter clients on any platform! Beautiful and fun with the kinetic touch scrolling.
- The Web Browser still feels pokey and outmoded compared to the iPhone web browser. Please fix!
- As many others have pointed out, the keyboard is fine except that "long" key presses should result in numbers or the other symbols instead of auto-repeating the key.This works fine in the E71! Please fix in a future firmware update.
On the night before I receive my N97 from Nokia WOM World for a brief trial, just for fun I looked back at my N999 concept/vision from December 1, 2008. And what the heck here's the N999 concept updated for July 2009 (notable updates are in bold):
- screen with as many pixels as the 5800 Tube or iPhone (sorry but QVGA doesn't cut it in 2009!)
- S60 simplified and fixed as Rui describes
- 5 megapixel camera with cover and Xenon flash with 3x optical zoom and 640x480 30fps video (basically re-use the awesome N82 camera hardware and software and combine with the N93 optical zoom)
- Quad band GSM and 3G (i.e. works on Rogers and AT&T in North America AND European 3G out of the box just like the N85, no funky North American model)
- Built in ShoZu (with 10MB limit removed for 3G and WiFi, make the limit 50-200MB for 3G and WiFi) - killer app for photographers and videobloggers - Qik is built into the N97 why not ShoZu? (I can't stand Share Online's limit of 6 photos at a time since I take over 50 a day; hope it's removed on the N97)
- Bult-in Qik (killer app for videobloggers!) - Qik is built into the N97 can't wait to try it!
- Awesome web browser (Nokia's Web Kit browser was great in 2006, it is now far behind Apple's)
- Lots of available RAM (as much as the N95 8GB please!), 8GB storage on built-in card - Reviews are mixed on the N97, sounds like it has a lot of RAM (more than the N95 8GB) but with widgets it takes up a lot more. - I doubt I will use widgets!
- Built in Nokia viNes to take advantage of Nokia's great GPS hardware (killer GPS app!) - viNes apears to be dead. Nokia Sports Tracker appears to be alive, so I'd rather have that built-in
- Built in Twitter App i.e. built in Gravity
Now I know the above list is not possible given today's processors and batteries but in that case I can live without optical zoom! Everything else is doable as far as I can tell.
I still don't need:
- QWERTY keyboard - I'd rather have an awesome camera and flash than a touch or QWERTY keyboard. And for me touch keyboards are just as good as QWERTY.
- Email (Email is dead to me (ok email isn't dead but my resolution is to take any email thread that I need to keep that has more than 2 replies to a wiki or blog); I continue to use it for work and to communicate with "normal" folks!) - If the browser is as good as the iPhone's, then webmail clients work just fine.
- Touch (would be nice, but not convinced Nokia has the software chops for this; I am not interested in S60 transmogrified with touch, I would prefer touch to be part of a totally revamped user interface that's NOT S60.) - Unfortunately it appears that Nokia's current touch interface s*cks. I hope I am proven wrong by my N97 trial.
- Micro SD card slot
- Calendar (would be nice but that's what my laptop is for :-) !) - Again with a good enough browser a web client would be good enough)
- IM (Twitter is IM enough for me and I am fine with using it in the browser)
- VOIP is dead to me except for Skype
- MMS - I am not convinced I need it, I can always use ShoZu email photos :-) but I was wrong about SMS (so maybe I am wrong about MMS) - I am pretty sure I am wrong about MMS and I am pretty sure (unfortunately) I will be MMSing my relatives with pictures since they all finally seem to have MMS plans and devices and none of my luddite :-) relatives still use flickr or any of the other public or private photosharing sites!
My new job is at a Vancouver-based startup, CrowdTrust, a company that is aiming to get people to "network what you know" something that I have informally called "more than twitter and delicious, easier than blogging and public and private and everything in-between".
My job title is "Chief Products Officer" which is a grandiose title for person in charge of all things product related (except of course the developers).
CrowdTrust is a Ruby on Rails based web application with a Firefox only toolbar and there is a "pre-Roland" public PROTOTYPE that you can check out.
It doesn't show you the true power and promise of what CrowdTrust can do so I won't be pushing the prototype hard, but it's a fine starting point.
I am (obviously) responsible for all product releases going forward and therefore would love your feedback, ideas, and constructive criticism to make the future releases of CrowdTrust the best they can be. In the words of Dave Winer, "Let's have fun!".
Oh and one more thing :-) ! We are hiring Rails developers (email firstname.lastname@example.org if interested)!
May 15, 2009 was my last day of work for Raincity Studios and with it of course my involvement with Bryght ended as well. It's been a great ride! Thanks to all the Bryght Gals, Guys, customers, investors, friends and of course the folks at Raincity Studios. I am certain that the "Bryght Children" will in their own way (in a small "Fairchild children" way, haha!) continue to make their mark (e.g. Rilli, Bootup Labs, and I predict many many more). My next post will be about my new job but for now a few random thoughts and reflections (apologies to the great people I have omitted!):
- I'll never forget moving day into the first Bryght offices at 525 Seymour with the folks at EQO (also gone).
- Bryght Light developed by Adrian and the rest of the Bryght team was and is a Drupal milestone. I can't to see what the fine folks at Lullabot and Acquia and WorkHabit and the other fine folks doing Drupal hosting come up with. Not to mention what happens with Development Seed, Adrian and the other folks developing Aegir. Aegir definitely ups the proverbial Drupal hosting 'ante'.
- Speaking of WorkHabit, I will always be impressed by their VPS hosting partnership with Bryght. As far as I know Bryght VPS was the only Drupal-centric VPS hosting from a Canadian company, one of the few in the world and probably the first. Nobody did it better. Thanks to Richard, Gary of WorkHabit, incredible system engineers and sysadmins: Narayan Newton and Ben Holt. Learned some great lessons:i.e. always iterate, automate and listen to the market!
Herewith some random Bryght photos to end it off in a visual style! Ciao Tschüß!
Gravity, the fantastic S60 Twitter client proves that German S60 developers continue to rule the moribund S60 apps ecosystem (unfortunately the S60 app industry is a cottage industry compared to the iPhone app industry). First, profimail ruled the world (back in 2004 when I bought my first S60 phone and thought the mobile email was relevant, just say no to mobile email, just say yes to short form customized mobile two way communication like Twitter) and now gravity rules. And if you don't believe me that the iPhone app industry is clearly dominant over the S60 app industry than that's your prerogative and I'd have to wish you the best of luck making money with your S60 apps!
Here's my very rough draft Nokia Sports Tracker Tutorial for the recently released version 2.06. It still is too complicated and harder to use than Nokia viNe but appears to be regularly updated unlike viNe. And it still doesn't remember my Live Sharing Pref which I think is a bug and is annoying because I want my maps to be always shared ]!