N97 24/7 Debrief: A Reality Check on International Roaming

Data Log

So it looks like a grand total of 765.75 MB of data was used by yours truly on his N97 24/7 tour across the USA. That’s probably an inconsequential number to my new American friends and their unlimited mobile data plans, but had I not been loaned an AT&T SIM Card for the trip I would have had to pay for all those ones and zeroes myself — and at 3¢ per kilobyte I’d be on the hook for almost $230 CAD from my carrier!

Happy 2009 from Hong Kong!

If you find this video a little lacking consider also that it cost me about four thousand bucks to shoot!

It’s my own fault, really… I should have secured myself a better viewing spot for the famous Hong Kong Harbour fireworks show  much earlier in the evening. As it happened, I walked out of my hotel at around 11:45pm and could only get about ten steps towards the water before a sea of other revellers stopped me dead in my tracks. Here’s as far as I got, courtesy of Nokia Maps:

Fireworks Vantage Point
Fireworks Vantage Point

Of course I’m not just here to ring in 2009 some thirteen hours before my friends back in Toronto… More posts are on the way — in the meantime, check in on my dedicated Flickr set for the story so far.

Nokia N95 Trial: 30 Seconds Over Tokyo with Nokia Maps 2.0

Today we take a look at Nokia Maps 2.0 for the N95 8GB. It’s availability hasn’t yet trickled down to my trusty E61i, but with only a month and a half before my trip to the Japan Wireless Expo I’m hoping for an update before I leave — here’s why…

Shibu-wha? on Flickr

In my review of Nokia Maps 1.0 I wrote that its killer feature over the ubiquitous Google Maps was the ability to store local map info on your handset. This is especially important for Canadian wireless customers who are being colossally ripped off for mobile data, and absolutely crucial for international travel with Fido, where such data costs 5 cents per kilobyte above and beyond the allowance of any data plan.

So far so good, but… Here’s all you see of my favourite Tokyo intersection with version 1 of Nokia Maps. I guess it’s partly because the naming conventions of the Japanese language don’t always translate what with the Prefectures and such, and also because there are actually many streets in the city without any names at all — whatever the case, there’s clearly no way I could use this software to find my way from Shibuya Station to my favourite hotel, even if it’s located directly across the street…

Shibuya by Satellite on Flickr

Fortunately Nokia Maps 2.0 comes with this handy satellite view! Click on the screen or here to see exactly where my hotel is.

These hi-res satellite images rival anything I’ve seen on Google Earth — on a small screen, anyway — and I can suck ’em all down to my compatible handset with Nokia’s Map Loader, or even more easily via my home WiFi connection.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the 5MB of satellite imagery I needed to figure out where Shibuya crossing was would have cost me a whopping $250 CAD at 5¢ per kb!!!

Oh, and that little icon bottom centre is to let you know that by pressing the centre key of your handset you’ll get a pop-up menu where you can, among other things, save what’s on your map as a favourite place.

Nokia Maps 2.0 is certainly one of my favourite S60 apps — or at least it would be if Nokia would only release it for the E61i…

Egypt According to Nokia Maps & GPS

Sadat Station on Nokia Maps

You’re looking at Sadat Subway station, the major landmark closest to the hotel where I stayed in Cairo. It’s a screen grab courtesy of Nokia Maps and my Bluetooth GPS unit, which I did indeed use to navigate my way through Egypt, despite the fact that the there’s no visible GPS signal showing in the bottom right corner of the screen — ahem…

It was the first time I’ve ever used GPS in my travels, and I have to admit that the jury is out as to whether I really needed it or not.

Crocodile Island on Nokia Maps

Here’s what Nokia makes of Luxor — note that Crocodile Island is a landmark I added myself (it’s where our hotel there was). As you can see, there’s not too much in the way of detail. I kept my GPS unit running on the overnight train all the way back to Cairo, and the maps from my E61i’s built-in database were similarly sparse right up until we got back into the city proper.

Le Meridien Pyramids on Nokia Maps

Part of the blame should be pointed at whomever collates the maps for Nokia. Here’s my hotel in Giza, and the Great Pyramids — probably occupying that empty space to the left — are nowhere to be found!

But perhaps I had unrealistic expectations for GPS. It’s certainly comforting to have a general sense of where you’re at, but I maintain that the best way to get acclimatized to foreign surroundings is to walk in progressively larger concentric circles around your hotel. It’s worked for me everywhere I’ve visited with the possible exception of Lima, Peru.

What’s on My Nokia: Nokia Maps

Nokia Maps Splash Screen

Today, as promised, I reveal Nokia Maps in all its splendour…

Google Maps Detail

This here be a grab from the de facto standard of mobile mapping apps from Google. This sample image from downtown Toronto shows a ton of detail, including directional info for one-way streets, which is good. But the program is written in Java, which means that it hogs a lot of your phone’s memory from the moment you fire it up, which is bad.

Nokia Maps Detail

The Nokia Maps version of the same spot seems at first glance to show less street info, but in fact the level of detail is what I’ll call zoom-appropriate, meaning that your point of centre and degree of magnification will determine the specific area info displayed on your map. Note that Nokia has correctly identified Osgoode Subway Station, and apparently a couple of blue crockpots in the middle of both Dundas Street West and University Avenue.

What this graphic can’t show you is that Nokia Maps is (obviously) a native Symbian application, so in addition to running faster has all kinds of handy shortcuts mapped to keys on the numberpad.

Nokia Maps Detail

Nokia Maps also features this way-cool 3D view, but it kinda messes up the user navigation — moving forward or backward in this view still works but try going side to side and you’ll end up spinning around instead. Still, this 3D display might prove useful when you’re sightseeing from a tall building, or co-piloting a hover-car…

Okay, so here it is, the big reason you’re going to want to switch to Nokia Maps — or switch to a Nokia then get Nokia Maps: The sad fact of Google’s version (and BlackBerry Maps, while we’re at it) is that the data is held in your phone only while the program is running; whatever maps you’ve downloaded are flushed from memory once you quit. This makes Google (or BB) Maps pretty much useless on anything but an unlimited data plan.

The genius of Nokia Maps is that your map data is incrementally saved to whatever storage you have available on your handset!

Windows users (curse them) can even use the handy Nokia Map Loader utility, able to transfer street-level maps of entire cities to your phone. But those without Windows can get similar results with just a few more steps. Here’s an example: While using my WiFi connection at home I “scrubbed around” downtown Hong Kong, sucking down all available data for the region. Later that night while out on the town I fired up Nokia Maps for a friend who’s from there. She was able to re-acquaint herself with the land of her birth to her heart’s content, and I wasn’t charged a single penny for wireless data.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go download Cairo