Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Nokia E75 vs E71 - Form Factor

One thing I have found myself thoroughly enjoying on the Nokia E71 over the past 5 or 6 months that I’ve been using it daily, is the form factor. Up until the E71, I had never liked the concept of qwertys and I was pretty much agnostic about form factors. But day after day, I started realizing that my views were changing about both statements: I was starting to be dependent on qwertys, and the candybar qwerty form factor was easily becoming my favorite. The E71 changed me, as it did with many of its owners I’m sure. I noticed that because I’ve had a lot of devices in my hand in the past months (N96, 6210 Navigator, N85, N82 to name a few), but my SIM card couldn’t remain in them even one day: it was instantly flowing back to the E71. The E71 is solid, sexy and most of all slim and very well built.

It is with these assumptions in mind, that I found myself opening the E75’s box and looking at the device wondering: how long will my SIM card last in it? Knowing the long list of similarities between the E75 and E71, on a hardware and software point of view, the main difference between them remained the form factor. So how did I find it?

First of all, I want to point one thing out: the E75 that I received is a french version and hence has an AZERTY keyboard, not qwerty. My E71 is also azerty, mind you. But, there are some differences between both, mainly affecting the punctuation, characters, and numbers placement. For example, some punctuation marks are appended to the Fn button and hence can be accessed by long-pressing the corresponding key, but the period and the question mark are appended to the Shift key, which means that I can only access them by clicking Shift then clicking the corresponding key. Whomever designed the Azerty on the E75 should be shot in the head. Seriously. I still find it counter-intuitive to type on the keyboard, and I still make mistakes all because of that.

For the past 6 days that I’ve had the E75, I had to relearn the placement of all the keys, all the numbers, all the letters. It’s stupidly annoying, and it reminded me why Qwertys suck. There is no default key placement, an issue that we never face on T9 keypads. The 12 keys are always there at the same place, and the appended alphabet is always the same no matter what device you have, no matter what manufacturer made it. We need that standardization for qwerty.

First impressions

At first, I kept sliding the full keyboard, even to type the smallest word. I guess I was too obsessed with the E71. But a few hours later, I found it increasingly easy to type those small words on the keypad, and to only slide the keyboard for full sentences or paragraphs.

For someone self-confessed as an E71 addict, the full keyboard on the E75 took me some getting used to. I was easily able to type fast on it, probably as fast as I do on the E71, with all the keys offering some awesome tactile feedback, but I wasn’t comfortable. The keyboard is double the width of the E71’s, the keys are also a lot bigger and very flat. This means that my fingers had to travel between each key and the next one, a problem I don’t face on the E71.

Six days later

To answer my first question on how fast will my SIM card fly back to the E71, I’ll say that for 6 days, it remained in the E75. That, by itself, is an achievement that the E75 should be proud of. Very proud of. Over the course of these 6 days, I got used to the weird key layout on the E75’s keyboard, as well as to its width and the width of it’s keys. Now, it’s second nature to type on it, and I no longer feel uncomfortable doing so.

The form factor of the E75 also draws some attention from passers by. Everyone assumes that it’s an ordinary phone, until I slide out that full keyboard, the sounding click of the slide resonating when it’s open, then I get some glances as if I did something very Sci-Fi’ish.

Another thing I have noticed over the 6 days, is that although I still prefer the landscape layout on the screen, I have missed the portrait layout which shows a bit more lines and hence a bit more information. The portrait mode is something the E71 doesn’t offer and I like that the E75 gives me the choice. One thing to add is that I haven’t disabled automatic screen rotation on the E75, something I always do on other devices. This is probably due to the fact that on the N96, N85, N82 amongst others, landscape orientation feels forced as the keypad is still in portrait. With the E75, I always have the option to slide open the full keyboard and start typing while still holding my phone horizontally.

On a negative note, one major annoyance I have with the form factor, is the lack of a d-pad, softkeys and menu button on the slideout qwerty. It’s really annoying to have to go over to the top slider each time you want to control the d-pad or select something. I got used to it but it’s still counter intuitive in my opinion.

Another negative thought is that you HAVE to hold the E75 with both hands in order to use the qwerty, and it is impossible to type with one hand. I tried doing it but I failed. On the E71, it’s very very easy to type with one hand.

Which is better?

Many people have asked me if I like the E75 better than the E71, or not. To those I answer, that by the importance of the form factor alone, they’re just different. I like them both, in a different way, and I can see myself using them both. The E71 feels more at home in my commute-filled life in Paris. The E75 would be awesome if I am leading my always-behind-the-wheel life in Lebanon: I text a lot while I drive, and T9 is way safer than qwerty as I’ve memorized the layout. Watch out for tomorrow when I shell out the ins and outs of hardware differences between the E71 and E75.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Nokia 5800 already supports multitouch

The Nokia 5800 is criticised by some for being a single-touch device that can only register one finger press at a time. But is this actually true? Not quite. With a bit of clever interface design the existing 5800 hardware is already capable of registering two simultaneous screenpresses at once, and you can see how this works in the full story below (you can even try it for yourself, and there's a video of a 5800 game using it). The reason this is worth mentioning is that Nokia is already using a more limited version of this method in their just-released Maemo 5 SDK, which is the latest version of the platform they use on their internet tablets. If Nokia's already using it there, it seems very likely they could use it on their S60 devices too.
How multitouch on the 5800 can work

This example might seem pointless because it doesn't do anything useful, but that's because the QWERTY keyboard hasn't been designed with multitouch in mind. Apps designed for multitouch would use it properly and do stuff that is useful.

The purpose of this example is just to de monstrate how the 5800 detects keypresses, so you can see how multitouch could work.

The beauty of this example is that you can try it out yourself on your own 5800. Just start an application that uses text entry and select the full screen QWERTY keyboard. Now, do the following...

Hold down Q, and the Q button lights up:

Hold down P, and the P button lights up:

Now, hold down P and Q simultaneously, and the button directly between your touches lights up (either R or T, depending on exactly how you're pressing Q and P):

All you need to do to have a simple multitouch interface on existing 5800 hardware is interpret touches exactly between two controls as simultaneous presses of both controls.

You might be thinking that this is silly because people could activate multitouch by accident if they do a single touch between two controls. However, there are ways to avoid this problem.

You could then tell the device to only record multitouch when another button is already active. This means that if someone touches the screen between two controls it won't activate multitouch by accident, because no other button was active at the time the touch happened. In theory this would prevent multitouch working with two truly simultaneous touches, but you would very very rarely put both fingers onto two parts of a screen at exactly the same time, it's far more likely that you would touch one part first and then another part. Also, application interfaces could be designed to discourage truly simultaneous touches.

You could also design apps in such a way that there's no point in touching the area between them, for example a racing game could have all the controls at the sides of the screen with the middle used for displaying the race itself.

The benefit of this technique is that it requires no extra hardware, and it could work with even the cheapest touchscreen devices, though it may require more careful planning of where on-screen controls go. This is old news really, many developers are already using this method, but most people don't seem to realise that this is possible.

This isn't as flexible as "true" multitouch, as it wouldn't be directly recording the true position of the two touches, but that probably doesn't matter much because the user wouldn't have to ever know how it works. Clever and careful design of app interfaces can make this method function in a way that is virtually indistinguishable from traditional multitouch.

The extra care needed for interface design may make life more difficult for app developers, but the much wider range of devices they could reach would provide them with far greater sales potential. Very few devices do support true multitouch, so any technique which allows multitouch on all touchscreen devices is potentially very valuable indeed. It would also make simultaneous development for multiple touch-based platforms much easier.

Nokia are already using this method in the recently-released Maemo 5 SDK using the name "two-touch", where you hold down your finger on one part of the screen while touching elsewhere in order to activate a status menu: the interface would be registering two simultaneous touches, which is multitouch (of a kind, at least). Nokia could just as easily implement this technique on future S60 touch interfaces, and app developers can already use this technique for 5800 games and applications right now if they want to.

There's more though. As I indicated a few months ago, the timing of the keypresses and their 'release' could also be used. Extending the thoughts above, I can see how the user might:

1. press and hold the screen at 'q'
2. 0.2 secs later, press and hold the screen at 'w'
3. 0.2 secs later again, release the screen at 'q'
4. finally, release the screen at 'w'

There's more than enough information here for the touchscreen driver to pass on coordinates as appropriate, effectively giving multi-touch (more like 'dual touch', since handling three spots at once might get too hairy!) on a non-multi-touch, resistive virtual keyboard. In this case processing the text input "qw", even though both letters were held down at the same time for a while.

Is there a technical reason why this technique wouldn't work?

How to Remove scratches from your Phone's Camera Glass

You'll remember from last year that, through over-zealous attempts to wipe off dust, the camera 'glass' (actually plastic) on my Nokia N95 8GB had actually gotten more damaged than if I'd left the dust on (I suspect). Despite normally being kept immaculate in a case, after three months of use, this is how the camera cover looked:

Although I proved that this had little effect on most photos, it was still galling to have damaged this most important part of my phone.

However, the scratches concerned were tiny and I had the gut feel that they could be polished out easily enough. 'Polishing' here is taken to mean very lightly abrading the surface to bring the level of the top surface of the transparent plastic down to so that the scratches (i.e. the tiny, shallow grooves where dust particles have gouged in) become part of the surface, restoring a nice, clean and smooth cover that doesn't mess with the light coming into the main (glass) optics of the camera below.

But what to polish with? Screen cleaner? No, that would just add a layer of polymers over the top of the scratches. Toothpaste? That's been said to do the trick, but there are so many varieties - do I use 'Whitening' paste? Following a recommendation on Twitter, I bought some 'Displex' on eBay. Costing £3, including postage, this claims to both polish out small scratches and (if necessary) fill in any deeper ones in a useable way.

Displex comes as a small tube of creamy liquid (enough for about 1000 applications!) and a lint-free cloth:

Now to work:

1. I followed the Displex advice to mask off the surrounding plastic with tape, just in case.

2. Adding a couple of drops to the camera 'glass', I firmly rubbed the Displex in with the cloth, using a circular motion, for about 30 seconds.

3. Almost all the scratches were, somewhat magically, gone. I repeated the treatment with another couple of drops and another 30 secs polishing.

Here's the result:

Rather impressive, I think you'll agree. The virgin phone did, apparently, have an extra, anti-glare coating applied to the 'glass', and the polishing action has removed most of this, but I've noticed no difference in terms of photo quality.

As ever with this sort of tutorial/feature, I'm eager to gather data points. Have you tried something similar with one of your camera phones, and if so, what were your experiences?

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