US tech blogs have been having a field day panning the new Nokia N8, something I don't quite understand. I've had my N8 for a couple of weeks now and I'm loving it. It's replaced an Android phone as the handset I carry everywhere. I'm pleased as punch with it's responsiveness, reception, call quantity and vibrant screen with reflective coating that makes it usable in sunlight. The camera is in a world of it's own as it's by far the best ever on a phone. The sleek metal body feels and looks good in the hand. I think the N8's distinctive style looks better and different than the dozens of nearly identical touchscreen slab phones flooding the market.
Most of the criticism of the N8 centers around the user interface. That's a valid point. The N8's UI is very different than that of the Android and the iPhone. It's also less intuitive and has a steeper learning curve than either for new users. But learning how to use Symbian^3 is really something you only have to do once. Once you grasp the few unique paradigms, change some default settings and commit common operations to muscle memory, using the N8 becomes second nature and getting things done on it is as quick as with other smartphone platforms.
Symbian^3 also has it's strengths too. In some respects it equals or beats the best of its competitors. One of those is home screen widgets. Nokia introduced widgets to Symbian with the N97, but that phone didn't have enough RAM to be able to run more than a few before running low on memory. The N8 has over 100 MB of memory free at startup Even after I completely filled all three N8 home screens with widgets I still had 83 MB free!
The N8 home screens can be completely customized with widgets. To customize any screen:
- Do a long press anywhere on the screen to enter edit mode (indicated by a cross hatch pattern over the screen.
- Tap any of the the Plus sign placeholders (first image, above) to add a widget. The phone's Widget catalog appears (second image, above) showing the available widgets on the phone with a button to launch the Ovi store and download more widgets.
- Drag an existing widget to move it up or down on the same screen..
- Tap a widget to adjust its settings or remove it (third image, above).
Some my favorite widgets (images above) are:
- Mail - displays the latest email from one account, tap to open the full screen Mail app. Add multiple Mail widgets for multiple accounts.
- Calendar - see your upcoming events at a glance, tap to open the calendar app
- Favorite contacts - displays your most called contacts. Tap a contact to call. Four contacts display at once, scroll sideways to see more.
- Notifications - Displays unread messages, missed calls, voice mails and imminent calendar events. Tap a notification to open the associated app.
- WiFi wizard - a mini wardriving app that shows available WiFi networks and lets you connect or disconnect from one with a couple of taps.
- Shortcuts - this widget is how you add apps and browser bookmarks to a home screen. When first installed it shows four default apps. Tap it to edit each of the four positions to show any installed app or browser bookmark.
- Music Player - Displays the artist, title and album art from the currently playing song and lets you control the music player with pause/play and skip buttons.
- National Geographic - displays a photo and title from a random video from the magazin'es free Symbian app. Tap to open the app and watch the video.
- Social - shows recent Twitter tweets and Facebook statuses and lets you update you status or send a tweet.
- RSS Feeds - lets can add any feed as a widget. Here's how:
- Open the browser and visit a site whose feed you want to add.
- Tap the double headed arrow icon in the bottom, right of the browser screen (first image, above) to bring up the browser menu.
- Tap the menu icon on the left with the three bars on it (second image, above).
- Tap "Subsc. feeds", (third image above) and all of the site's feeds will be listed (first image, below). Tap a feed and you will see a list of all your subscribed feeds (second image, below).
- The new feed will have a generic title like "RSS 2.0 Feed". Tap it and you will be taken to a page where you can edit the feed title, URL and update frequency.
- Hit "Back", confirm you want to save changes and the feed will now be available in the Widget Catalog and can be added to a homescreen. I seem t get an error with feed URLs that redirect to a Feedburner feed like WapReview's. I can add them but get a "Format not supported" error when I try to open them. A work around is to manually add the feed's Feedburner URL like, http://feeds.feedburner.com/WapReview, for example.
All the above widgets come with the phone, so there's nothing to download, you just install them. You can download more widgets from the Ovi store. Two I'm trying that look promising are:
- Accuweather - displays the current conditions and temperature at your location, tap it to open Accuweather's full featured weather app with detailed hourly and nine day forecasts and radar maps.
- Bloomberg - displays a live stock ticker showing an alternating selection of stocks, apparently picked at random. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be any way to specify which stocks the widget displays. Tapping the the widget displays the Bloomberg app.
With widgets you can add a lot of add a glance information and functionality to the home screen. The N8's ample memory means you don't really have to worry about the amount of RAM they use. Battery life might be a concern, although I've been running 14 widgets for several days now, including four (Accuweather, Mail, WiFi Wizard and Social) that periodically check the network for updates and my battery still lasts through the day. If you get into a situation where your battery is getting low, you can hit the "Options" button in the bottom left corner of any home screen and choose "Widgets to offline mode" to shut off all widget network access.