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Monday, February 07, 2011

Nokia, farewell, until we meet again.

Nokia, I tried.  I used to love you.   But now we've grown apart.

From my first time I held a 8890 Tri-band GSM on Voicestream in my hands I knew I loved you.  As you got older I was with you through your awkward phase as a 3650 with that crazy round dial pad, through your slim times as a 6670, and your thicker days as an E70.   You became a 3G world traveller as a 6680, the form in which I brought you with me to Japan all six times.

But I was lured away.  First by the half-Swedish, half-Japanese bird Sony Ericsson.  She photographed beautifully and played beautiful music.  And later by a pair of California Girls both Brian Wilson and David Lee Roth could be proud of - Apple and Android.

But I never forgot you.  I saw you reinvent yourself as the N8, and I had to see if we could make a go one more time.    But it was not to be.  When we got together this time after all these years,  I immediately knew something had changed.  Or maybe I changed and you didn't.  It's not you, it's me.   It wasn't to be.  I hope we can still be friends, and I will always miss you.

Yep, last week, I was going to write a post that I was going to try to use a Nokia N8 for a week as phone and report back on what I found.  But the truth was, I couldn't stand it.  I lasted about 3-4 hours and and I popped the SIM out and put it right back into my Nexus S.

What specifically was the problem?   It's hard to put my finger on it, but the whole user experience with Symbian^3 was just horrible.  I'll try though.

  • User input.   When you have the N8 in "landscape" mode,  and you click on an input field, you get a keyboard like you might expect.  However, when the phone is in "portrait" mode, which is generally how I operate a phone, you get a 1-9 dialpad and are expected to enter text using T9 or the tap-tap-tap method.  In a text field.  Sometimes it lets you rotate the phone once you've realized this mistake and other times it doesn't.  Hm.
  • Accepting user input.  And then when you are done typing in any case, the green check box which signals "ok, done, or go" is in the bottom left corner.  For those of us who read left to right, you don't know how awkward this is until you try it.
  • Intrusive Alerts. Things like software updates aren't messaged to you in the background or totally passive like iOS, you get modal dialogs.   This somewhat reminds me of the Adobe update alerts you get in Windows machines and it's bad, bad, bad.
  • Fonts.   The Facebook and Twitter apps look pretty much like their Android counterparts, except the Fonts look like those of out a stock SUN Solaris install cerca 2004.  Really difficult to read.
  • It's slow.   For a top of the line flagship phone, the N8 feels really slow and non-responsive.   It seems like this is more the OS than the phone itself, because things like videos play at pretty normal speeds.
  • Couldn't successfully setup email.  I consider myself to be reasonably technical.  It just would not connect to Gmail no matter how I tried.
  • The app store.  There are actually some decent apps in the Ovi store.  But there were lots of unexplained installation errors that have no explanation.  After a few tries you just give up.

I really took for granted how the Apple user experience has shaped our expectations on mobile phones.   Android isn't quite there yet, but the pace will get them there soon.   The N8 feels like any other Nokia phone did five years ago.  Maybe they spent too much time figuring out how to be a Camera Phone, instead of a Phone that happens to have a Camera.

I feel like this phone would work for the die hard Nokia fan that never experienced an iPhone. Someone who would rightly thing it's a better Nokia phone than the previous Nokia phones.  Someone that one day will see what the best had to offer, and will feel duped.

To be clear, I'm being critical here, but it makes me a bit sad.  There's some great hardware here, and in fact the camera on this phone rocks.  

From what the press is reporting, this post is news to no one, including Nokia.  I'm sure there's been more than a few internal meetings in the board rooms of Espoo on whether or not they should just make hardware and install Android or Windows 7.  I look forward to seeing what happens with Nokia.

Until then, farewell. I hope we meet again someday when we're old and gray.

Next Up:  Windows Mobile 7
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