Nokia C6 initial reactions and the microSD card write speed conundrum…

July 24, 2010 2 comments

This is just a quick response post to my friend @the_accidental regarding the file transfer speeds on the Nokia C6 vs Nokia N900. I thought it’s an interesting topic so I looked into whether the C6 will have greater transfer speeds with my Kingston microSD card (class 4) than with the supplied no name 2Gb card. And here are the curios results:

Write speed from PC to phone:

Nokia C6: Kingston Class 4 microSD card  ~ 2.6 Mb/s vs ~2.9 Mb/s Noname microSD card;

Nokia N900:  Kingston Class 4 microSD card ~ 6.6 Mb/s vs ~ 6 Mb/s Noname microSD card.

After looking at the above figures I think it’s rather obvious that there’re almost no significant difference in USB transfer speeds between the two memory cards that were used. While I can’t guarantee that my results are 100% correct, the overall picture is quite telling, I’m sure of it. The outcome shouldn’t comes as a surprise, since the Nokia C6 I’m currently reviewing is a budget smartphone foremost and it would make perfect sense the manufacturer tried to cut expenses wherever possible. Surprisingly dull, however, is my find that the C6 doesn’t support charging via microUSB port, probably another indication of older parts being used.

But that’s perfectly alright. It’s not the Nseries chart stormer for ultra-tech geeks (like me). For about 200 euros you get a device with a 3.2 inch resistive touchscreen, a very convenient and easy to use 4-row qwerty keyboard that is perfect for social media and emails, a decent enough 5Mpix camera, and all the connectivity you can eat plus free GPS navigation with Nokia Ovi Maps. There’s just no other word for it, it’s a steal!

To conclude this quick mindstorm session, here’s my unboxing and quick tour video of the Nokia C6:

Categories: Previews

HTC Desire vs N900 photo test: Fight!

July 15, 2010 7 comments

Since it’s summer time I’ve taken quite a few photos with my test phones, and here’re a few personal favorites. In this particular test we will see the good old Nokia N900 show it’s Carl Zeiss muscles against a well know fighter from the Android land, the HTC Desire. Both are 5Mpix snapshooters but can’t be called photo-centric in any way, so I believe we can call it an even fight, at least under natural lighting. So let’s see how well they fare against each other…

Nokia N900

HTC  Desire

Lot’s of nice little detail shown by both 5Mpix cameras, but Nokia N900 in particular impresses with warm and life like colors. Judging solely on the end results, I’d pick the N900 as a clear winner here, even though the produced pics look much better on the HTC Desire AMOLED screen.

You can easily find the extended, full-res version of  Nokia N900 and HTC Desire camera sample gallery on my flickr page!

Categories: Test

HTC Desire has arrived…

June 24, 2010 3 comments

This is just a short welcoming speech of the latest trial unit I’ve acquired, along with some 5Mpix camera samples I’ve uploaded to my flickr account and the now obligatory unboxing video of the retail package.  I will touch upon this high-end smartphone at a more personal level  in the next few days. As always, stay tunned…

Update 1: One week has passed with HTC Desire, and I can confidently say this smartphone has grown really close to my heart. I’ve reviewed a couple of Android devices before (the most recent being Android 1.6 running XPeria X10), yet I’ve never seen anything as special as HTC’s Sense UI. It’s not just an overlay UI on top of the stock Android OS 2.1, but it’s a set of widgets, applications and other little customizations and tweaks that bring the already fluid and intuitive Android experience to a new level. I  can already see how this, coupled with the ever expanding Google online services, can easily hook more customers in who are looking for a solid smartphone experience.

Of course there’re a few noteworthy problems here and there. While the built materials are top quality, design wise HTC played a very safe game, there’re little eye catching features aside from 3.7 inch touchscreen that offers a really vibrant  and sharp image. Another no-go  is the very  mediocre camera. While I really enjoy the built in features like touch-to-focus and face detection, the weak LED flash and lack of 720p video recording  makes the Desire a poor man’s show. And finally, the ridiculously low space  available for installing applications -120 Mb-  a limitation that I had run into disturbingly fast. It’s not clear why the manufacturer didn’t equip it’s leading Android flagship with a bigger internal memory since extending functionality with heaps of various apps from Android Market place is such an integral part of the smartphone experience. Romors has it now, that Android 2.2 will allow installing apps on the microSD card and put the powerful 1Ghz processor to a good use with HD video recording and Divx/Xvid codecs support.

Seems like many of my mentioned problems can be easily fixed with future firmware updates. The only question remains, whether customer will be wiling to wait or simply look for an absolute winner elsewhere. Samsung Galaxy S is more than a capable alternative since HTC is no longer the only top player in Android smartphone field, even though the most experienced.

The full contents of the European retail package of HTC Desire (minus the mini disk with documentation)

Camera gallery

(Just click on the thumbnails to open the camera sample collection)

Unboxing of the Desire, a powerful high-end smartphone from HTC, running Android 2.1 and sporting 3.7′ capacitive AMOLED touchscreen with multi-touch support. HTC utilizes it’s own customization on top of the stock Android OS v2.1 (Eclair) called Sense UI that ensures a seamless and beautiful experience across all smartphones released by the manufacturer.

The internals are equally impressive with Qualcomm Snapdragon 1 GHz processor and 576 MB of RAM, and a ‘touch to focus’ 5Mpix camera with sharing features to social networks like Facebook, Twitter or Flickr.

HTC Desire is equipped with a Li-Ion 1400 mAh battery that should last around a day for most users, but it strongly varies depending on the number of online services running in the background.

Categories: Previews

Release your inner monk with Zen Bound on Nokia N900

June 17, 2010 1 comment

Good games on Maemo 5 is a rare occurrence, sadly. In fact, we started to expect as much, ever since the graphically impressive Bounce Evolution never went past being just a  fancy tech demo. But looking past that, it did manage to show what the N900 hardware is rightly capable of with a drop of commitment from game developers.  But it’s easy to spot the ultimate reasons for the lack of quality tittles for N900: the user base is very niche, and the still evolving Ovi Store only recently started to distribute paid content for N900 owners.

But then there are a few exceptions. Angry Birds, for example, became a welcome smash hit the moment it appeared in the Ovi Store. The free version offers a healthy amount of physics infused puzzle levels to dive into, and there’s also additional level pack available at a price for those unable to resist the addictive formula. SPB Brain Evolution, while a different sort of game altogether, also excelled with it’s suite of 12 different mini challenges designed to train user’s memory and puzzle solving skills.

But ever since the long awaited PR1.2 update for the N900 was released, Nokia was strangely silent on the other half of promise, mainly a new wave of content that ought to come to N900. Does anyone still recalls the few 3D games – Jurassic 3D Rollercoaster or Kroll – that were demoed quite a while ago? To close the circle of this story, among those games was Zen Bound, and it’s finally here  in Nokia’s Ovi Store!

Rope and Wood

Zen Bound. The tittle alone surfaces a string of warm memories that I treasured ever since I played this strange puzzle type game on my iTouch. There’s just so many unique things about it, and the more it makes me happy to see such game find it’s way to the N900.

Zen Bound is a very slow, relaxing type of gaming experience. It’s best enjoyed together with headphones thanks to it’s excellent ambient track that silently hums just underneath a mixture of bell and rope-like sounds that accompany the gameplay. There’s a good reason why the music is such an essential part for this game. It creates a cushion that surrounds the player with it’s own pace, own rules, and brings the player to an almost zen-like state where time is the least important factor. And in that moment, all what matters is just the rotating wooded figure in front of you, and the string that is attached to it. Instinctively, you slowly start painting the familiarly shaped figure by wrapping the string around it. And it works wonders. Soon you’re lost somewhere between your thoughts and the world of Zen Bound.

Simple yet compelling

In a nutshell, the goal of the game is very straightforward. You must try to paint as much surface as possible by cleverly navigating the string around the rotating figure. The game requires zero effort to grasp the basics behind the gameplay, but it gradually gets more challenging as you progress through the levels. The wooden figures become more complex, and the limited length of string requires careful planing from the player. The word ‘patience’ comes into play, because Zen Bound knows no boundaries in time. You can easily unravel the string if necessary, and once you’re happy with your work, you complete the level by scraping the string against a nail. Further into the game, this brings along some really intensive moments when you’re playing a cat and mouse game by trying to avoid touching the pesky nail as long as possible.

Depending how well you painted the figure, you are rewarded with flowers that will literally blossom on a tree that serves as a level selection screen. You only need to paint above 70 % percent of the figure to win a flower and clear the level, but getting near 100% is a tricky business for those who enjoy a challenge. Once you have acquired the necessary number of flowers (maximum up to 3 are rewarded per level), you will light up a hanging Japanese lantern that clears the looming darkness and thus unlocks the next set of wooden tags e.g. levels. It’s a long journey up the tree branches, but ultimately it’s all about the experience along the way rather than bluntly getting the biggest score. And thankfully, the game never takes the player away from the immersion for too long with boring menus.

Works well without multi-touch

Some words should be mentioned about the controls. The game runs exclusively in portrait mode and utilizes both the touchscreen and the accelerometer. Here’s a useful tip: tilt the phone to angle the rope more accurately and gain access to those hard to get places. In that respect, Zen Bound feels nearly identical to the iTouch or iPhone version, yet there’re still some noticeable differences. To start with, the  N900 version doesn’t have multi-touch support which makes the game slightly more challenging (mainly because you can’t spun the figure on it’s axis with the two finger gesture). The game still elegantly responds to player’s finger inputs even on N900’s resistive screen and promptly leaves any second thoughts far behind.

The other noteworthy difference over the iPhone version is the larger screen resolution that results in sharper visuals for a game that was already visually stunning. Each figure looks realistically carved out of different kind of wood, and watching it sink in paint wherever the string touches it is a surprisingly rewarding experience. The stretched string, for the most part, also acts the way you’d expect from it, and only occasionally it gets stuck on edges in a weird fashion.

Nokia N900 vs iTouch 2nd gen.

You could think these screenshots below are taken on the same device, only downscaled. Indeed, both versions of the game look almost identical, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

To my disappointment, I couldn’t find the free download link in the menu to the outstanding soundtrack by ‘Ghost Monkey‘ like it’s in the iPhone version of Zen Bound. These sort of little niggles slightly lowers the overall value of the game, especially given the fact the game already costs more in Ovi Store.

A one-of-a-kind journey

Secret Exit, the developer of Zen Bound, has managed to create a truly innovative and long lasting experience that shouldn’t be missed out by anyone who wants to try out something simple yet deeply involving. With the limited selection of quality games that N900 owners are exposed, the choice should come up extremely easy.

Zen Bound II is already available in Apple’s App store with new gameplay features and improved graphics, and I sincerely hope that the sequel will eventually reach us as well to deliver on those unforgettable and quiet moments.


Zen Bound has earned it’s place in my N900 apps list, well done!

Categories: Reviews

Doing things differently: ‘Easy Debian’ on Nokia N900

June 15, 2010 3 comments

Easy Debian is a comprehensive script package that basically downloads and installs a desktop Linux OS on your N900. And why not? The N900 is already considered a mobile computer more than a smartphone, so why to go one step further and have a full blown OS in your pocket?

The install package of Easy Debian can be found in Extras repository via N900’s App manager. Altogether it can take up to 1.5 hours and will use 2.5 GB of free space either on the mass memory or microSD card storage, so to avoid any possible interruptions during the process (which is quite straightforward at least),  I recommend hooking the N900 to a power outlet and leave hanging there until it’s finished.

Once installed, there’s no need for complicated dual boot procedures since Easy Debian can be launched from the main menu like any other app. Once started, the main drawbacks become apparent: the N900 is not quite up the task with it’s hardware resources, and the 3.5 inch screen requires some precision work even with a stylus. But the way it opens new horizons and possibilities shouldn’t be understated, it’s a quality that secures a spot in my growing N900 apps catalog.

As an appetizer, here’s screenshot from my Nokia N900 showcasing a number of pre-installed applications running directly in Easy Debian.  Right out of the box you get useful apps like GIMP ( a free alternative to Photoshop), document editor, Iceweasel (aka Firefox for Debian) or Leafpad.

A good friend of mine, Aston (@lifenexus) has recently started teasing with even more impressive pics from his own custom Debian image he is currently working on. He has promised it should run better on the N900, and it should come loaded with a number of useful 3rd party applications. Excited? I’ll write down more of my impressions once I get to try Aston’s work on my N900.

For now, however, I’ll let these screenshots speak volumes for what the N900 can do differently.

Aston’s Easy Debian setup

Rhythmbox music player

UFraw – for editing RAW image files

Transmission – a torrent client

A set of video players

Audio editing using Audacity

Qwit a twitter app

Exaile media player

Gpodder podcast manager

So far it looks extremely promising, even if  certain things are prone to change before the release. But on it’s own, Easy Debian is another solid proof that N900 is a versatile little machine where user can explore as far as his curiosity allows.

Categories: Editorial

Apps, apps and some more apps for your Nokia N900 [Maemo 5]

April 11, 2010 21 comments

What is the most important piece of the puzzle that completes a modern smartphone? Is it the powerful hardware? Is it the accessibility and ergonomics? Or is it perhaps the software – applications and integrated services – that come with the device?

It’s probably a mixture of all these components. They create a stable foundation for any successful and long living product. Let’s take Nokia N900 for instance. While the exterior is plain and uneventful, the whole device flares into life as soon as the user gets curios enough to explore the software possibilities of the device.

UPDATE: Added ‘Flashlight’, ‘LED Pattern Editor’.

UPDATE II: Little fixes due to some changes in App. Manager with the latest PR 1.2 firmware.

Read more…

Categories: Feature

Sony Ericsson X10 – Does X mark the Spot?

April 10, 2010 7 comments

It’s been quite some time since I’ve had a smartphone on my hands running on Android OS. Since my last visit, the little green robot’s operating system has been rapidly gaining ground and is now picked up by almost all top players in the mobile industry. Moreover, for some (read: Motorola) it has even been the saving grace from being steamrolled by Apple’s cult phone. A quick  glance over the latest review headlines and it’s crystal clear the market becomes increasingly saturated with Android devices varying quality and covering different price segments. No doubt, it’s a definitive step forward since the release of G1 a mere two years ago. Now we see this open source platform steadily feeding off Windows Mobile market share and ready to take the leap for Symbian OS that still remains the leading software platform for smartphones.

Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10 unboxing

Now we’re moving closer to the reason of this very story. There’s no denying that Sony Erricsson has been struggling with shrinking sales and , with a troubling launch of  their first Symbian smartphone SE Satio behind their back, the situation doesn’t seem to be radically improving for the Swedish- Japanese joint company. It’s crystal clear they are in desperate need of a high seller in the lucrative smartphone segment, something that could potentially succeed where Symbian running Satio or Windows Mobile running Xperia X2 has failed. A natural choice was made to jump for the Android bandwagon, and the  inevitable announcement of their first Android smartphone, X10 aka Rachel, followed . Back in November last year, that is.

The device finally hits the store shelves in March or about four months later since it was announced,but there’s no scent of the hype that previously surrounded the new flagship from Sony Ericsson, and a with good reason. Coming out this late, the device quite unceremoniously entered the dogfight with similarly spec’ed smartphones from the well entrenched Android movers Google and HTC. The X10, theoretically, should be able to hold it’s own ground with an enormous 4” screen (only beaten by HTC’s HD2) , 8 Mpix camera, attractive design  and a market leading Snapdragon 1 GHz processor under the hood. Google’s Nexus One and HTC Desire, both to be considered the fiercest rivals of the Sony Ericsson’s  new baby, sport a newer version of Android. Even more so, the HTC had plenty of time to perfect their Sense UI that brings their smartphones far beyond the stock Android user experience that is found on Xperia X10. Perhaps there’s some reasoning behind the company’s decision to set the sailes on their latest flagship with the oldish Android 1.6 version at the helm, but it’s sure as hell doesn’t make any sense from the consumers standpoint. As it can be guessed, the ensuing problems are deep and run throughout the X10 that to me initially appeared as a very promising new entry in the smartphone market for Sony Ericsson. Yet the product stumbles and it stumbles hard against the very obstacles set by the manufacturer.

The problems of the X10 pain even more so with the realization that SE really had done their homework pretty much elsewhere. The proprietary port has been phased out in favor of everyone’s favorite microUSB connection standard ( that is utilized both for charging and data transfer) while the 3.5 mm port makes a welcome comeback for the music loving crowd’s. The madness, that comes in the form of a 4 inch capacitive touchscreen, is encompassed in a slim and stylish body.  The front panel is completely flat and protected by the fingerprint loving,  glossy plastic that at first sight promises to be durable enough not the get scratched easily, while the back cover is made of  soft matt plastic that ensures the sizable handset won’t accidentally slip out of hands. There’s also an elegantly shaped line of chromed plastic that wraps around the device, making the phone feel solid and more expensive. The X10 sits surprisingly well in hand despite the overwhelming dimensions of the screen, and SE engineers deserve all the kudos for achieving that. My only complaints go as far as the rather sharp edges of the front cover that could get damaged if the user gets a bit careless with his expensive purchase.

(Simply click on the thumbnails to get to the gallery!)

It’s not rare that a refreshing looks demand certain sacrifices in ergonomics and unfortunately, the  X10 is no exception. First and foremost, the trio of  hardware keys below the display are placed at the very edge of the front cover, which makes single-handed operations with the phone unnecessarily challenging. Oddly enough, the backlight shines through the gaps rather than actually illuminating these keys. My second gripe regarding the usability of the handset is the excessively small camera shutter key, probably to keep it in line with the design. A reassuring moment is that the camera app does support the ‘touch to focus’ feature inherited from other Sony CyberShot camphones.

While the 8.1  megapixel camera module does present some really enjoyable still image results in clear weather conditions outdoors, it also performs predictably bad anywhere else thanks to the inadequately sized LED flash. And with this much power under the hood, you’d think HD video recording would be for granted, and SE would go one step further to exploit the 8.1 Mpix camera and gain a little bit more ground above the competition. But like we learned from the earlier mentioned mishaps that stalk this product,  there’re certain things that just doesn’t make much sense from the consumer viewpoint. The X10 is capable of recording videos up to 480×800 or WVGA resolution, a far cry from the 720p videos a lesser spec’ed Sony Ericsson Vivaz can do. I would understand the decision to keep the leading HD recording competency separately in the mid-tier price range, but for a flagship solution this limitation is purely nonsensical.  So as much as the taken 8.1 Mpix snapshots impress at times, the one edged camera solution rounds up another feature of X10 that isn’t carried out to it’s fullest potential.

The mono loudspeaker is located on the left side and is decent enough not to miss incoming calls, but you’d have to be really hard pressed to use for leisure like listening to podcasts or music. Speaking about voice calls, I’ve got some people complaining about the poor sound quality, which might be tied to the awkward mic position on the left side of the device. Another trial X10 user and a good friend of mine, @MichaelxHell also confirmed my concerns and I hope this is just another firmware issue waiting to be fixed instead of faulty or ill designed hardware.

While the built materials are certainly up to the pricing level of the phone, the sinister feeling never leaves me that SE desperately tried to cut expenses on the hardware components while making this flagship model. A down to the point example would be the capacitive TFT  touchscreen. While it offers a crisp and bright picture with 854 x 480 pixels resolution, and the generous size means little trouble fingering even the smallest UI elements,  the screen also comes with it’s own share of drawbacks. The biggest deal breaker for many users is probably the lack of multi-touch support, which is final as the company has already come forward with a ‘hardware limitations’  statement. I was also quite surprised how unresponsive the screen felt at times, it just isn’t as sensitive as you’d come to expect from a capacitive touchscreen that caliber. And finally, the screen operates in 65K colors only, but that in turn is a mere limitation of Android 1.6 rather than hardware. The view angles of the screen are satisfactory, yet in direct sunlight the  legibility of the screen is in the same league with AMOLED touchscreen displays and thus leaves a lot to be desired (no pun intended to HTC Desire :P).

As expected, the speedy processor and the spacious screen does take it’s strain on the battery life. The manufacturer was able to fit the X10 with a Li-Po 1500 mAh battery, which under moderate usage means about 1-1,5 days on a single charge. Naturally, having the phone to automatically connect to the web to snatch updates off social networking sites and mailboxes will degrade the battery life even further.

I’ve deliberately left the software review in the very last section of my X10 article. Unfortunately, it’s most likely the biggest tripping point for this device. There’re various scenarios that could develop from here but only one that would ensure SE won’t lose more brand consumers.  The device must receive firmware updates asap to address all of the mentioned issues (like the touchscreen sensitivity and call quality), and, better yet, upgrade the OS to Android 2.1 while the device is still breathing. The smartphone market has become increasingly competitive and even the high-end devices running Android now can get overlooked.

And it would be a hard lie to say I’m ready to give up all my hopes with Xperia X10. The unique and eye catching design of X10 is still a very rare attribute to be found in other Android running smartphones. Also it’s worth mentioning that among the very basic set of  Android 1.6 apps there’re two noteworthy ones that were developed by Sony Ericsson: MediaScape and TimeScape. The first one has the user’s generated content (like tweets, facebook status updates or captured photos) stacked chronologically in a semi transparent set of cards that you can vertically flick through. Not only that, the list is also populated with updates from other people so it’s an elegant and seamless way to stay up to date with friend’s activities on social networking sites. MediaScape comes with a similarly pleasing interface and sleek animations, but has a more direct role in organizing and providing  comfortable access to all media files like music, videos or photos that are stored on the device. It also has integration with PlayNow, which is Sony Ericcson’s own download service offering a wide variety of  media content.

Outside those very few trademark moments there’s little else done to distinguish the X10 user experience from the crowd. Perhaps it’s true that with smartphones (backed by an open source application market) the user is free to choose what functionality he truly wants, but the bare bone software package that comes with the X10 might be a reason alone for potential buyers to set their sights elsewhere.

Update: As promised, here’s a camera shootout between 8 Mpix giants Samsung I8910HD and Sony Ericsson Xperia X10. I’ve also included Nokia N900 to the mix (3.5 and 5 Mpix) just to see how it holds up against the competition. All pics are clickable to their original sizes, enjoy!

Objects at medium distance, all settings on auto.

Samsung I8910HD

Sony Ericsson Xperia X10

Nokia N900

Macro mode shoot.

Landscape shoot.

After taking a closer look at the results, it seems like Xperia X10 is a winner here, followed closely by I8910HD, with Nokia N900 bringing up the rear. SE flagship comes forward with deeper, more natural looking colors, although I8910HD deliver rather promising results as well, especially in the macro mode pictures. While the Nokia N900 offered some nice detail on it’s own (taking into account the lowish 3.5 Mpix widescreen resolution), all pics have a rather noticeable green tint to it. Also, it seems like Xperia X10 pics have a much sharper detail on distant objects, just compare the landscape pics!

So in the end, no big surprises here.  As I mentioned before, SE Xperia X10 8,1 Mpix camera produces quite stunning shots outdoors, but is rather disappointing anywhere else, thanks to the inadequate LED ‘flash’ performance. Still, X10 has probably the best equipped camera among other Android phones.

One thing I forgot to mention is the absence of camera cover on Xperia X10.  The camera lens almost  at the same level as the back cover,  making it dangerously exposed to scratches and dirt. The situation is even worse than on my Samsung I8910HD , that has the unprotected lens in a slightly deeper aperture (still needs occasional cleaning from the dust before use).

Simply can’t get enough of the Xperia X10 camera brilliance? Here’s an extended album of camera samples for your viewing pleasure!

Categories: Previews