Monday, December 15, 2008

Graphic Acceleration on Mobile Phone

Having heard many a user refer to 'upgrading' from (for example) a Nokia N95 8GB to an N85, I thought it worth examining an important way in which all is not necessarily positive when going from an older phone to a newer one.

Yes, the N85 has USB charging, the N79 has theme-switching backplates, the N96 has a DVB-H receiver built-in, and so on. But none of these, and, as far as I know, neither do the even newer 5800 XpressMusic and N97, have the same oomph under the bonnet as the 'classic' generation of S60 3rd Edition devices: the Nokia N93, N93i, N82, N95, N95 8GB and E90. All of these had dedicated graphics acceleration, thanks to the Texas Instruments OMAP 2420 chip used in their design.

Graphics acceleration is where a piece of software (e.g. a game) calls a standard OpenGL routine (to calculate and draw a particular 3D vector, for example) and, rather than the main phone processor having to do all the sums long-hand, the built-in graphics hardware, built from the ground up for this sort of job, leaps into action and does the work in a fraction of the time.

The end result, for the user, is that many games (e.g. Oval Racer, FIFA 07, Quake, Global race, Crash Bandicoot, Panda Manda, Knights of the Dark Age, to name a few) run smoother and faster, videos play back with no glitches (handling a wider range of resolutions and bitrates without stuttering) and graphics-heavy applications run without problems (e.g. Mobitubia, the YouTube client can play back videos smoothly at the same time as downloading them as fast as possible).

It might help to put the scale of the difference into some sort of numerical perspective. Running SPMark, a standard benchmarking tool, on the Nokia N82 (as representative of the 'classic' line, e.g. N95), the N78 (as representative of the latest non-accelerated S60 3rd Edition FP2 phones) and the N96 (different in its own way since it has a STMicroelectronics chip that's dedicated to audio and video playback), we discover the following scores:

The helicopter demo simulates a commercial game pretty well. Run Oval Racer, for example, on your chosen S60 handset, and you'll see very similar frame rates to the SPMark test. On the N82, N95, etc, the game's gloriously smooth, with textured graphics right, left and centre. On the N78, N79 and N96, etc, it's sluggish and much, much less fun.

Why has Nokia changed the chipset they're using for their top end smartphones in such a detrimental way? With games and multimedia being hotter than ever in the handheld and phone world, surely more graphics power and not less would have been the way to go? The N95 has almost TEN TIMES more graphics power than its successor, the N96.

So far, RealPlayer has been tweaked enough that many users many not notice that their phone is underpowered, and N-Gage games have been written specifically to not depend on the presence of hardware OpenGL acceleration, i.e. they have been written to the lowest common denominator. So few people have noticed that the Emperor's not wearing any clothes.

Nokia will of course say that the internals of their phones were changed because of cost issues, it's all about building to a price and a specific market segment. But I have a feeling that, in the face of competition from the graphics-accelerated Apple iPhone, this chipset downgrade decision will come home to bite Nokia where it hurts most.

Is it too late to stop the rot? I hope not. I really, really hope that Nokia are even now preparing a flagship or two with just as much power as the Nokia N93 of over two and a half years ago and the N95 of 20 months ago. Care to comment on all this, Nokia? Is it too late to solder in a graphics chip into your 2009 flagship, the N97?

Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, 15 Dec 2008

PS. Incidentally, the latest Samsung S60 phones, the i8510 and i7110 also have an OMAP chipset, the 2430 (I won't bore you with the differences between the 2420 and 2430). Let's try the i7110 at the SPMark test:

So, performance that's not quite as good as that in the 'classic' Nokia S60 phones, but within striking distance. For one thing, the OMAP 2430 isn't quite as capable as the 2420, and we also perhaps have to factor in that the i7110 and all Samsung's other S60 phones are on early firmware - there may yet be optimisations to come... But still a heck of a lot better than any of Nokia's hardware from 2008/2009.

Nokia: Running in molasses

Every time I think about Nokia and Symbian, I can't help picturing a man knee-deep in molasses, running as fast as he can. He's working up a sweat, thrashing and stumbling forward, and proudly points out that for someone knee-deep in molasses he's making really good time.

That thought came to me several times during a briefing day that Nokia and the new Symbian Foundation held recently in San Francisco. A recurring theme was a deeply earnest discussion of how big and complex their business is, and how proud they are that despite the complexity they can make forward progress. For example:

Charles Davies, CTO of the new foundation, pointed out to us that Symbian OS has about 450,000 source files. That's right, half a million files. They're organized into 85 "packages," all of which have been charted out in a diagram that will be posted soon on the foundation's website. Davies was proud that the diagram is in SVG format, so you can zoom in on it and see that "this is an architecture that's not just a plateful of spaghetti."

The diagram looks a bit like a plateful of very colorful spaghetti (although in fairness to Charles, that's true of every OS architecture diagram I've ever seen). Anyway, the big takeaway was how huge the OS is.

Davies talked about the substantial challenges involved in open sourcing a code base that large. He said it will take up to another two years before all of the code is released under the Eclipse license. In the meantime, a majority of the code on launch day of the foundation will be in a more restrictive license that requires registration and a payment of $1,500 for access. There's also a small amount of third party copyrighted code within Symbian, and the foundation is trying to either get the rights to that code, or figure a way to make it available in binary format.

Those are all typical problems when a project is moving to open source, and the upshot of them is that Symbian won't be able to get the full benefits of its move to open source until quite a while after the foundation is launched. What slows the process down is the amount of code that Symbian and Nokia have to move. I believe that Symbian OS is probably the largest software project ever taken from closed to open source. If you've ever dealt with moving code to open source, you'll know how staggeringly complex the legal reviews are. What Nokia and Symbian are doing is heroic, scary, and incredibly tedious. It's like, well, running in molasses.

Lee Williams, Nokia's software platform SVP who is moving over to become head of the Symbian foundation, picked up on the theme of massiveness. He said the OS is on 200 million devices, with 200 device types shipped and another 100 in development. With support for five different baseband modems, seven different processor architectures, symmetric multiprocessing, and a broad set of displays, "your options are dramatic and huge."

This sort of infrastructure is needed, he said, because IT, telecom, and the Internet "have merged almost completely.... It's the perfect storm of convergence. There's almost nothing it can't eat or it won't use." He compared its importance to the creation of movable type, color palettes, and the Renaissance.

He noted that some people think the Symbian Foundation is a response to Android and other competitive moves, but said the company can't move that fast, and actually the change was in the works long before Google announced its software.

At dinner, I had a chance to chat with one of the Nokia managers. He was kind enough to let me play around with a pre-release N97 (more on that below), and the discussion gravitated to the iPhone. He told me how excited he is by the many new products Nokia has in the labs but can't talk about yet, and expressed some frustration that people don't understand why it takes time for Nokia to respond to changes in the market. He described Nokia as a giant ship. "It takes a long time to turn it, but when we do..." he said ominously, and then reminded me that Netscape once had a lead over Microsoft before it was crushed.

The problem with talking to the folks from Nokia is that you're never sure what they believe vs. what's the official story they're trying to put out in the market. They're disciplined enough that they can stay on message quite well, and in most conversations they focus on talking about what they're doing rather than asking for feedback or getting into a two-way conversation.

So I'll assume that Nokia was being serious. In that case, let's look at some financials from 1997 (Netscape vs. Microsoft) and 2007 (Apple vs. Nokia):

Don't worry too much about revenue and net income; those are usually tied up by the ongoing operations of each company. The line I want you to focus on is cash. That is your ammunition -- the extra resource available to fund a big marketing campaign, or a new product development program, or an acquisition of an innovative new technology. Microsoft had 46 times more cash than Netscape in 1997, and it wasn't seriously threatened in any of its other core businesses. It could, and did, spend Netscape into the ground.

Apple has about the same cash hoard as Nokia. Much more importantly, Apple can focus that cash on a narrower battlefront. Its situation relative to Windows is relatively safe. Although Microsoft can never be ignored, it is innovating so slowly that Apple can take some profit from its PC business to fund other things. The music player business is also stable; although it's not growing like it used to, no one has come close to matching the integration of the iPod and iTunes. So Apple is free to spend huge wads of cash to establish its new iPhone business. It can pick the countries and vertical usages it wants to dominate, and as long as it doesn't do too many things at once, it can outspend almost any competitor.

Nokia, on the other hand, has battlefields everywhere:
--In mobile phones it's fighting Samsung, LG, and SonyEricsson, and a badly wounded (therefore desperate) Motorola.
--In entertainment smartphones it's fighting Apple.
--In communicators it's fighting RIM.
--In OS it's fighting Google, Microsoft, etc.
--In online services it's fighting Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Get Connected with a Bluetooth Keyboard

The most central compromise involved in choosing a smartphone is whether to go for something with a qwerty keyboard or not. If you do want one, then you've got to accept some compromises in device size and screen to keys ratio. Or else be prepared for something that folds or hinges somehow. And even then, at the end of the day, you've got a solution with much smaller keys than you're used to - let's hope you've got small and nimble fingers...

One solution to this dilemma is to use a Bluetooth wireless keyboard, as shown above. Folded, the keyboard (the Nokia SU-8W is used here, perhaps the best and most compatible of any of the breed) is still relatively large, but you don't have to have it out all the time. It's best kept in the car glovebox or briefcase, etc, ready for when you really need it.

So you've bought the SU-8W (or similar) and have them on the desk in front of you. The first thing to note is the way the left side of the keyboard has an extending and unfolding stand, as shown below. I'd owned this keyboard for a good week or two before I even noticed this feature.... Blush.

Also note the battery hatch on the back. Go stick in two AAA batteries while you're there. They'll last for ages. In my experience, we're talking months on a single set of two, so don't worry too much over the cost. And if you don't use the keyboard much, a set of AAAs has been known to last two years.

The next thing you need is the Nokia Wireless Keyboard application/driver. It's built into almost every S60 phone of theirs, but in a few rare cases you may need to grab it from the Web. Install it in the usual way.

One you've got this loaded, turn the SU-8W on by holding the red power button in for a couple of seconds. The green and blue LEDs should flash intermittently. Now go to 'Find keyboard' on the utility's menu. This is going to lead you through pairing up the specific keyboard with your specific phone - I'm guessing you could do the Bluetooth pairing manually, as you would any other Bluetooth accessory, but when the Nokia utility does all the work for you...?

After scanning for, and finding (after a few seconds) your keyboard, you'll be prompted to enter a passcode. There's nothing magical about this, just make up any number. It's only a temporary thing to make sure that the right phone and right keyboard get paired.

After entering the same number on the SU-8W keyboard and pressing 'Enter' (on the keyboard itself - and watch the function key - it's needed for entering numbers), select the language model that you've bought and you're done.

You can check that it all works by going into (for example) Notes and starting to type. Like magic, isn't it?

From now on, connections should be automatic. You can check this by turning your keyboard off (press and hold the power button for a few seconds again) and waiting. After a short wait, the 'Disconnected' sign will appear on the phone screen. Now power the keyboard on again and wait. Again, after a few seconds, you'll be automatically 'Connected' again. This is because the Wireless Keyboard utility sets up home in RAM (it will auto-start when the phone is power on, by default) and is always watching and waiting for this particular Bluetooth connection.

TIP: If you do go for the SU-8W, note the extra keys that match up to those on your phone:

Left function key and right function key (near the bottom right of the keyboard) do exactly as you'd expect, and can be a time saver when the phone itself is perched on the foldout stand

Arrow keys - these function exactly as d-pad up/down/left/right

D-pad centre (the blue dot) - simulates pressing in the phone's d-pad

S60 menu key - brings up the main S60 applications menu, again as you'd expect

Messaging (the blue envelope) - switches you to Messaging

Thursday, December 11, 2008

PC Suite 7.1 available

So PC Suite's working OK on your PC at the moment? Better not rock the boat. But in case you fancy doing just that, or if things have got rocky and you think a fresh install might do the trick, note that there's a new non-beta version of Nokia's PC Suite now available, v7.1, with the previously beta Communication Center product built-in. If you do install, let us know how it looks!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Skyfire in the UK - now it's official

Yes, so many of us have been playing with the new proxy-based, video-friendly, S60-native browser Skyfire over the last few weeks. It has now gone official though, with links, press release extracts and an official Skyfire FAQ below.

"December 9, 2008 – Mountain View, CA – Today, Skyfire officially announced that their mobile browser is available in the UK, giving consumers there easy access to the only mobile browser that makes browsing on a mobile phone just like browsing on a PC. Skyfire lets users experience the “real web” to access and interact with any website built with any internet technology, including dynamic Flash, advanced Ajax, Silverlight, Java and more – at the same speeds they are accustomed to on their PC. With this free downloadable browser, for the first time, users can:

  • watch any videos from the real YouTube and BBC iPlayer as well as live broadcasts of sporting and current events,
  • stay connected with their friends on the full-feature PC versions of social networks like Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, and Twitter,
  • listen to any Web music service like, and,
  • shop on websites like eBay and Amazon,
  • use any popular website like the BBC, Google, Yahoo, etc. -- just like they do on their PC.

“We are fully committed to user experience and speed. In fact, so much so that we have opened a data center in the UK to ensure that consumers there have the best Skyfire performance and experience. We’ve also customized the Skyfire start pages of for the UK consumer to include their most popular websites like the BBC, Bebo,, and” said Bhandari. “Prior to launching in the UK, we ensured that Skyfire runs on the most popular Nokia E or N Series phones that are so prevalent in the UK. We’re excited to give these UK Nokia users an iPhone-like browsing experience, but even better with Flash supported and unmatched speeds.”

Skyfire Technology

Skyfire’s patent-pending technology is the foundation of Skyfire’s unique ability to support all web technologies, both current and future, at speeds comparable to the PC. With Skyfire’s proprietary technology, supporting any new web standard becomes a seamless user experience without the need to upgrade to new releases. This technology allows Skyfire to support real web browsing while saving precious bandwidth and reducing processing power and memory needed on the phone.

Skyfire Beta

Skyfire launched their beta in the US in February 2008, and now the beta is active in the US, Canada and the UK. The award-winning mobile browser runs on Windows Mobile (both touch and non-touchscreens as well as VGA resolution) and Symbian Series 60 (3rd edition) phones. To read which phones Skyfire runs on, see Users can download the free mobile browser at from either their PC or mobile browser."

Python for S60 1.4.5 is now released.

Python for S60 1.4.5 is now released. This is an officially signed release.

You can download the release from the usual place in SourceForge:

This release runs on S60 2nd edition (and all FPs) and 3rd edition.

The release includes:
- source code
- device binaries for 2.0, 2.6, 2.8 and 3.0
- emulator binaries for 2.0, 2.6, 2.8, 3.0 and 3.1
- emulator binaries for armv5 (RVCT)
- documentation PDF.

The release is officially Nokia signed. The capabilities for the PythonForS60 component are "ALL -TCB -DRM -AllFiles", so the DLLs are usable with almost all applications as is and thus there is no longer a need for a separate unsigned-freedevcert version of this package.

The script shell package is signed with the user-grantable capability set (ReadUserData WriteUserData NetworkServices LocalServices UserEnvironment). If you need more capabilities, you need to obtain a devcert and sign the unsigned_testrange script shell package with it. The UID for unsigned_testrange script shell package is updated with untrusted range (0xE0000000...0xEFFFFFFF)

Changes in 1.4.5 from 1.4.4:

Feature additions:

* Added the possibility to run Python code in threads that weren't started by Python itself, by adding the functions
InitializeForeignThread() and FinalizeForeignThread() to the
CSPyInterpreter class. For details see the section "Python/C API
Extensions" of the API Reference.
* Added timeout support to globalui module.
* The positioning module has been made safe to use from several threads.
* Support for the "description" field has been added to the calendar module.

Note: The UIDs for officially signed 3rd edition packages (1.4.x) are different from the prereleases (1.3.x). The 1.4.x releases have UIDs assigned from the protected range, while the 1.3.x releases had UIDs from the unprotected range. If your software depends on the UIDs it may need changes. Especially note that it may not be possible to directly upgrade an application package that embeds a 1.3.x runtime package into a new version that embeds a 1.4.x runtime package without removing the old runtime package first.

The UID changes relevant to application programmers are as follows:

- PythonForS60 package: old 0xF0201510 new 0x2000B1A0
- PythonScriptShell package: old 0xF0201515 new 0x2000B1A5

All users are recommended to upgrade.

This release is the same as 1.3.11 in that ***you need to install both the PythonforS60 _and_ the PythonScriptShell package to get the same functionality as before on 2nd edition. ***

Bug reports, patches and feature requests are welcomed in the usual places:

Feature requests:

Yes, really - if you find a clear bug file it in SourceForge. That's what we track regularly, not every thread in the discussion board. If you post a bug report only in the DiBo, we might miss it.

When filing bugs, include the device you used, its firmware version (you can see this by entering *#0000# in the idle screen), the PyS60 version and a minimal test case (if applicable).

Happy hacking!

20 Reasons Why Nokia 5800 is better than Apple Iphone

We get lots of requests to compare in detail Nokia 5800 with Apple Iphone 3G. Here are some reasons we believe Nokia 5800 is way ahead than Iphone.

1) Size
The iphone is bigger in size and uneasy for one hand grip. Nokia 5800 is designed to fit well into your hands. Being smaller in width, its easy to operate single handedly.

Iphone size: 115.5 X 62.1 X 12.3 mm
Nokia 5800 size: 111 X 51.7 X 15.5 mm

2) Weight
Iphone is much bulkier than Nokia 5800. Nokia 5800 is 25g lighter than Iphone in weight.

Iphone: 133g
Nokia 5800: 109g

3) Screen Resolution
The Iphone has 3.5” screen while Nokia 5800 has 3.2” but the resolution of 5800 is far more superior to Iphone.

Iphone: 480 by 320
Nokia 5800: 640 by 360

4) Storage
Iphone comes with two options- 8GB & 16GB internal memory. Nokia has a more flexible option to offer 8GB with micro SD card which is expandable upto 16GB. Nokia owners can expand memory size according to needs which the Iphone guys can’t do.

5) Input Methods
Iphone: Finger only.
Nokia 5800: Finger, stylus, plectrum, handwriting recognition.

6) Features
Apple Iphone has lots of missing features like cut and paste function, saving email attachments, no support for third party headphones, ringtones, applications, many software bugs and other technical glitches. Nokia 5800 Tube has no such issues plus many more amazing features included.

7) Colors
Iphone: Black for 8 & 16 GB, White for 16 GB only.
Nokia 5800: Red, Blue and Black.

8 ) Battery
Nokia 5800 provides upto 35 hrs of music playing time against Apple Iphone which claims just 24 hrs. Overall battery power (talktime/standby) is also about 30% more in Nokia 5800. What more, 5800 has a removable battery which Iphone lacks.

Iphone: 5 hrs talk-time, 300 hrs standby, not removable.
Nokia 5800: 8.8 hrs talk-time, 406 hrs standby, removable battery.

9) Camera
Iphone: 2 MP, no flash, no zoom, no additional camera.
Nokia 5800: 3.2 MP, Flash, 3x digital zoom with Carl Zeiss lens. A second camera in front is available for video calling/conferencing.

10) Video Calling
Iphone: No Video calling possible in Iphone.
Nokia 5800: Video calling is possible.

11) Video Recording
IPhone: No option for video recording.
Nokia 5800: Video recording is included.

12) Music Service
Iphone: Paid service with Apple Itunes Store. You pay and download music to your Iphone.
Nokia 5800: “Comes with music” service is bundled with Nokia 5800 Xpressmusic phone by which you can download as much music as you want for 1 year- FREE!!

13) Voice Dialing
Iphone: Not Available
Nokia 5800: Available

14) Voice Recording
IPhone: Not Available
Nokia 5800: Available

15) Web Browser
Iphone: Webkit based Safari browser, no flash available.
Nokia 5800: Webkit based browser, supports flash lite.

16) FM Radio
Iphone: Not Available
Nokia 5800: Available

17) Bluetooth
Iphone: Bluetooth is available for just handsfree, no file sharing possible.
Nokia 5800: Bluetooth available for handsfree and file sharing is possible. Better audio quality on bluetooth in 5800 with A2DP technology which Iphone lacks.

18) Messaging
Iphone: It does not support message forwarding, multiple SMS deletion, sending SMS to multiple recipients and multimedia messages (MMS).
Nokia 5800: All the above is possible plus it has MMS ver 1.3, message size upto 600kb, and automatic resizing of Images for MMS.

19) Price
Nokia 5800 is hopefully unlocked (without any contract) and will sell much cheaper for just £219 in UK which is equal to 279 Euros or $385.

Apple iPhone 3G, on the other hand, with contract in US comes for $199 & $299 for 8 & 16 GB models and the plans with AT&T are way too expensive. Unlocked Apple Iphones sells for around $800 on Ebay.

In other parts of the world, the 8GB unsubsidized Iphone model costs 499 euros ($700) in Italy, 350 pounds ($620) in UK, $700 in India. Nokia 5800 Xpressmusic is expected to sell around the world for about $400 or below.

20) Experience
Nokia: Ages of experience, hundreds of success stories and dozens of smart handsets in current portfolio. Nokia has about 40% market share with the No.1 spot with no close competitors. Certainly the king when it comes to brand value, service and experience.

Apple: First phone ever launched by Apple is Iphone, no prior experience in the telecom market. It’s a novice in the market with a very less market share despite having millions of Iphone sold.

Almost all the major brands around the world like Samsung, HTC, LG, etc launched their touchscreen smartphones with a hope to beat Apple’s Iphone. No-one came close to Iphone when it comes to looks, style, feel and features.

This is the first time a tech giant like Nokia has hit it hard with its first true touchscreen smartphone. Nokia 5800 is a real Iphone killer with way ahead features, perfect looks and great price. Bravo Nokia, Well Done!!


Thursday, December 4, 2008

The N95 classic hits v31 - a final hurrah?

Yes, the Nokia N95 Classic has had a firmware update, to v31 (from v30), two years after the phone was first available. Impressive. Screen proof and any observations below - a whopping 140MB update. More later (if I can spot any changes!) and the usual cautions over backing up to memory card (blah) and this not applying to network-branded devices (blah) apply....

Initial indications are that this just contains bug fixes and the closing of hack vulnerabilities. Anyone spot anything else?

More here later...

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