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Nokia Mobility Conference 2005

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Nov 3, 2005, 10:00 AM   by Rich Brome

Live report from NMC 2005 in Barcelona. Hands-on with the N80, N71, and N92, plus Nokia's new web browser.

Part 1

Intro 

Nokia's Mobility Conference is an annual event for Nokia's customers, developers, and press, to get an annual update on where the company is and where it's headed. It's kind of like an annual shareholder's meeting, but focused on products instead of all that financial mumbo jumbo.

It's typical for Nokia to announce new phones at NMC, and this year was no different. This year saw a major expansion of the new Nseries lineup of flagship phones. The lineup doubled, in fact, with three all-new phones.

Although Nokia tried to play up each phone as having a unique strength, in fact, each phone builds on the features of the next, going up the numbering scheme. So the new N80 has all the features of the new N71, and the N92, in turn, has nearly all of the features of the N80.

In addition to announcing three new phones, Nokia also provided a clearer picture of the current Nseries and S60 platform, even revealing new features of previously-announced phones that were not widely publicized before.

All of the new phones use the brand-new Third Edition of the S60 (formerly Series 60) smartphone platform. S60 Third Edition is based on Symbian OS version 9. Previous versions of Series 60 were based on Symbian 8, which is not binary-compatible. That means software applications written for previous versions of Series 60 probably won't work on phones with the new S60 Third Edition.

S60 Third Edition brings a wealth of new features to the platform. Most are behind-the-scenes, but the most obvious is support for a variety of new screen sizes and orientations. This brings it in line with the latest versions of Windows Mobile, although S60 adds the ability for soft-keys to be located down the side of the display instead of just along the bottom. This provides more flexibility in phone design, as seen in the recently-announced E70.

To support the large variety of screen sizes and shapes, new software written for S60 Third Edition uses scalable vector graphics (SVG), which lets developers create one flexible screen layout instead of separate layouts for each supported screen size and shape. This is another reason old Series 60 software won't work with new S60 Third Edition devices.

In addition to the three phones announced this week, several previously-announced phones will also be launched in Q1 2006 with S60 Third Edition. These include the N91, 3250, E60, E61, and E70.

N92 

With a number in the 90 range, the new N92 falls squarely at the top end of Nokia's line of phones that are all flagship models. The N92 is not necessarily better than the N90 or N91, though. The N90 is definitely a better imaging phone with its auto-focus lens. Similarly, the N91 is a better music phone with its hard drive.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The main draw of the N92 is its ability to receive live TV broadcasts via DVB-H. Displaying that content is a gorgeous 16.7-million-color QVGA display. It also has a keypad design with dedicated media keys and built-in stereo speakers.

DVB-H is slated to start rolling out in the US in 2006, on a new network being built by Crown Castle, a major independent owner of cellular towers.

The N92 comes with an electronic service guide to browse channels and upcoming programs, just like modern cable and satellite systems. Like all software made for S60 3rd Edition, it can handle portrait or landscape orientation automatically.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The N92 has some powerful features, including 3G, EDGE, Bluetooth, and FM radio. That's just the tip of the iceberg, though. The N92 also has a TiVo-like 30-second instant replay feature. Then things get really interesting when you start talking about the video recording feature, which can capture up to 30 minutes of full-quality TV and save it to the SD card.

Even better, it has 802.11g Wi-Fi with UPnP and streaming technology being standardized by the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), which will let you easily stream your stored video and music to your home TV and stereo system. Of course this will require compatible home entertainment gear, and there is little-to-none on the market yet, but Nokia execs assured me it is forthcoming from multiple vendors working with the DLNA (members include Sony, Pioneer, Kenwood, Sharp, and Samsung).

This kind of feature would be really great on a phone with a hard drive like Nokia N91, so you could keep all of your music and video in one place, and take it with you at all times. I asked about this (since the N91 does happen to have Wi-Fi and S60 Third Edition) and I was delighted to hear from a top Nokia executive that they are in fact working very hard to include this capability on the N91. It's not yet certain that it will make the final cut, but Nokia engineers are trying their best to make it happen. If they are successful, that will definitely increase the appeal of the N91.

As for other features, the N92 also has a 2-megapixel camera with video capture. Unfortunately, like all of the new Nseries phones announced by Nokia this week, the lens is fixed-focus, not auto-focus. That means the lens must be very small, which can limit quality significantly, especially in low light.

The N92 has other flaws, as well. In fact, it has enough odd quirks to give the impression of a concept product more than a final design.

The keypad is home to the most glaring flaws. Most obviously, it is made from a solid sheet of rubber, with many of the keys being completely flat and marked only by a printed label. This makes it difficult to feel out those keys without looking directly at them.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The other, more egregious design flaws are the soft-keys. In landscape (TV viewing) mode, the two soft-keys are located so far under the edge of the display that those with large thumbs might not even be able to press them. The right soft-key is wedged so far in the corner that you have to really cram your thumb in the crevice to press it, which is uncomfortable no matter how small your fingers are.

The other problem with the soft-keys is in camera mode, where the soft-keys are located nowhere near the display, making it rather unintuitive to associate the label on the display with the appropriate key. It's also quite unergonomic to have to turn the phone and use two hands to press the soft-keys.

Other oddities include stereo speakers that are located on the back of the display, an unusually small color external display, and an SD memory card slot that is limited to cards no larger than 2GB, even though larger cards are already available in that format. The text on the outer display is also upside-down compared to the Nokia logo, for no apparent reason.

Nokia did say they are tweaking the design to address some of these issues, but historically it's quite rare for them to adjust a design in any significant way after its first public appearance.

The N92 should hit shelves in Europe and Asia around mid-2006. With WCDMA 2100 and GSM 900/1800/1900, it's not intended for North America, although as usual you could always import it and use it with T-Mobile USA's GSM 1900 network.

N80 

Of the three new phones, the N80 is the most interesting for two reasons. First, because it seems to hit a sweet spot in terms of features and size. It packs an amazing array of features into a reasonably small package. Second, because it is the only new Nseries phone that will actually see wide distribution in the U.S.

With quad-band GSM, EDGE, and WCDMA 1900, the N80 certainly seems well-suited to the U.S. The obvious carrier for it would be Cingular, the only U.S. carrier currently readying a WCDMA network for launch. The odd part is that it doesn't support WCDMA 850, which will make up part of Cingular's new network, and also it does not support HSDPA, something we had heard Cingular was demanding on all of its new 3G phones. Unfortunately, no one at Nokia could comment on these issues, since carrier info is always something they leave to the carrier to announce.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The N80 is a capable imaging phone, even though that is not supposed to be its main focus. The 3-megapixel camera is a first for the U.S., although unfortunately it is not auto-focus, and some test shots we took were not overly impressive (but of course it was not final hardware.) At least the lens does have a macro mode switch for closeups.

Also related to imaging, the N80 sports the same amazing 352 x 416 pixel display as the N90 and E70. It's simply a gorgeous display that puts QVGA displays to shame.

Except for DVB-H, the N80 also has most of the features of the N92. That includes 802.11g Wi-Fi with UPnP for streaming video and music to other devices. With a miniSD slot supporting cards up to 2GB, the N80 can store a decent amount of video and music to be carried around or streamed. Plus, support for the ultra-efficient MPEG-4 AVC format helps you store even more high-quality video in that 2GB than you could otherwise.

Although both the N80 and N92 include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, oddly neither supports the new UMA standard for roaming seamlessly between mobile and local networks for voice and data.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The N80 is slightly larger than the 6280, but it packs in enough extra features to justify it. It's still quite a small phone for all it does. Plus the high-quality metal materials and stylish design give it a better overall feel in the hand.

There are two gripes I have with the design, however. First is the 5-way d-pad, which bucks Nokia's recent trend of having a physically separate center select key. Having it all joined makes it slightly awkward to press to select, although in trying it, I never pressed the wrong way by mistake. My second gripe is with the slide mechanism, which lacks any kind of spring assistance. There's just something satisfying about a slider phone that "snaps" open and closed like the Nokia 8800/8801.

As for other features, the N80 naturally includes Bluetooth, FM radio, infrared, USB 2.0 with mass storage profile, dual cameras, and 40 MB of built-in memory.

Look for the N80 to launch worldwide (including the U.S.) in the first quarter of 2006.

Part 2

N71 

The N71 is the least feature-laden of the new trio. There is no Wi-Fi or DVB-H, for example. But it's certainly no slouch. This is still an Nseries phone, which means you can expect a true flagship phone with S60, 3G, and all the standard trimmings like Bluetooth, EDGE, and a 2 megapixel main camera. It also sports a miniSD memory card slot and a high-resolution QVGA display.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Like the other two phones announced this week, the N71 has a hot-swappable memory card slot that is easily accessible via a small door on the side.

Also like the N92 and N80, it includes USB 2.0 with mass storage mode. This means you can connect the phone to your PC via USB, and the phone's memory will simply show up on your desktop like a drive, similar to the way a USB "key" flash drive works. This makes it extremely easy to copy files to and from your phone's memory, since no special software is required.

The N71 also includes a "media key", a new dedicated button that you'll also find on the N80 and N92, as well as the N70 and N91. On the N71, it's located at the top of the main keypad.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

When you press the media key, you get a customizable shortcut menu like the one shown above.

The N71 also includes another special key that may soon become a Nokia staple, at least on clamshell-style phones like the N71. Specifically, the N71 has a prominent key located right under the outer display called a "cover key". The purpose of this key changes depending on the situation. When the phone is ringing, pressing the cover key once will silence the ringer. Pressing it again will reject the incoming call. If you have music playing, the cover key acts as a pause/play button. And finally, when idle, pressing and holding the cover key will display the time and date full-screen in bold black-and-white on the outer display (handy for those who use their phone like a watch.)

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The N71 is not the smallest clamshell smartphone out there, but at least it's not nearly as large as the bulky N90. It's a bit larger than Motorola's MPx220, but then again it also includes a larger displays, 3G, dual camera, and a 2 megapixel main camera. Considering the extra features, the size seems reasonably competitive.

Browser 

S60 Third Edition comes with Nokia's new web browser software for viewing full web pages on phones. The browser was first announced in June, when it was revealed that it would be based on Apple's WebCore and JavaScriptCore rendering engines, which are part of the KHTML open-source project. It's the same software that powers Apple's Safari web browser, and it can render nearly any standards-compliant full web page perfectly, including relatively exotic dynamic HTML such as pop-up menus.

Although the new browser will eventually include WAP support and replace Nokia's existing browser completely, that won't happen until the next version of S60, dubbed "S60 Third Edition Feature Pack 1". For now, the new browser is strictly for viewing full web pages, not WAP sites, so the old browser is still included for viewing that type of content.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Unlike many newer mobile browsers that try to re-format web pages vertically to avoid horizontal scrolling, Nokia's new browser takes the opposite approach and preserves the original layout of the page as much as possible, fully embracing 4-way scrolling. To do this, the browser has a traditional mouse cursor, just like a desktop PC. When you scroll to the edge of the screen, a unique semi-transparent overlay appears called "minimap" that shows an overview of the page and a red box highlighting where you are.

The one place where the browser does modify the layout is with columns of text. It re-flows text so that no one block of text is wider than the screen. So once you scroll to a piece of text you want to read, you can simply scroll down to read all of it. Without this feature, you might have to scroll left and right to read each and every line of text, which would obviously be unacceptable. (You can see this in action in the fourth and last screen shots above.) Other than that, the browser tries to preserve the page layout as faithfully as possible.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The new browser also has a page overview function, shown above, which shows an overview of the page so you can quickly jump to the part you want. Pressing the "Back" soft-key brings up the slick history navigator, which lets you visually scroll back to any previous page. There are also controls for image and text size, to adapt to your eyesight or preferences, or compensate for pages with unusually large or small elements. An RSS tool is also provided, although I didn't have time to test it out.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

To make it even easier to navigate large pages, there is a "Find" function that lets you jump instantly to any part of the page by simply typing the first few letters of a word. As you type, it jumps to matching text, and simply pressing the down key scrolls instantly to the next match.

The new browser will be included on all S60 Third Edition devices, including the N91, 3250, Eseries, and the new Nseries phones just announced. (The screenshots above were captured using an E61.)

This new browser is a very interesting alternative to the "smart rendering" technology everyone else in the industry seems to be pushing. For most quick mobile Internet usage, a web or WAP site optimized for mobile phones is generally the best option whenever it is available. But when really need to use a full web site on the run, Nokia's new browser may very well be the best way to do that.

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Comments

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Subject Author Date
Are u sure the n91 also has the new browser? dhiraj Dec 25, 2005, 9:56 AM
i still bet they tweek the N80 pauldg Nov 3, 2005, 1:07 PM
About N80.... RaZgRiZ Nov 18, 2005, 11:03 AM
One thing i dont like about the N80 YnKredyble Nov 14, 2005, 5:50 PM
n71 custom Nov 6, 2005, 6:41 PM
  • Re: n71 by Rich Brome   Nov 7, 2005, 1:32 PM
*Browser-mania! muchdrama Nov 3, 2005, 10:58 PM
 
 
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