Nokia N82 Trial, Days 4, 5 & 6 – UI UI

Applications Menu on Flickr

Oh, no… It’s gotta go.

I need to be up front here and state right off the top that I’m an unabashed user interface snob, having studied such things in nerd school and being spoiled for many years by the Macintosh OS. One of the big reasons why I gave up on the cutting edge HTC TyTN last year was because of the general fugliness of Windows Mobile. Sure it was only version five-point-something, but WinMo 6 ain’t much of an improvement!

I should also point out that I recently got a new iPod Nano, and the small-screen UI of that device also sets the bar pretty darn high.

So onto the N82… What we’re looking at here is the default grid layout of the S60 Applications Folder. Pretty standard stuff, this, with a highlight around the selected icon, and a little blue dot in the top right corner to let us know that that particular app is currently running.

Pretty intuitive, right? I’d certainly say so. But the problems start when we press the N82’s Multimedia key…

Carousel on Flickr

It’s not that said key is a bad idea — on the contrary, having quick access to games, music, video and the like is almost a necessity on such a high-powered multimedia device. It’s how this stuff is visually presented that I’ve an issue with.

Say you’re suddenly presented with the screen at left, and are instructed to navigate to your contacts shortcut. And let’s say just for the sake of argument that time is of the essence — an emergency call, perhaps? You would probably deduce fairly easily that access to your contacts lies under the tab at the back-right, yes? But how do you get there? Do you navigate up or right? Sure it only takes an extra key press or two to figure it out, but Nokia has made this interface unnecessarily complicated by trying to represent three dimensions in a two-dimensional space, and for no good reason.

Gallery on FlickrAnd it gets worse. This UI abomination is what your eyes are assaulted with when you launch the N82’s Gallery app. Sorry Nokia, but you really blew it here — this interface is an absolute disaster.

What you can’t see from this static screen grab is that navigating left or right takes you through your captured photos and videos in a clockwise or counterclockwise fashion, akin to a slide carousel, not that it matters — the Gallery app on my stuffy E61i is more usable… And easier on the eyes, too!

An example: In this, the N82’s Gallery app you hit the centre button to get a closer view of the selected pic or vid. But to zoom in on the file or to rotate it so it fills the screen — which you’d almost certainly want to do to show it off to your friends — you have to go into the menu system and futz through it from there.

Meanwhile in the Gallery app on my E61i you navigate through your media in the same left-right manner, except in a more appropriate two-dimensional space. If you click on an image you get the same dedicated view, but… You can simply press the asterisk key to make the image or video full-screen. When you’re done, hit the number key and you can perform additional functions or quit the app. These two shortcuts are, by the way, identical to the zoom in and out shortcuts you’d use in Nokia’s mapping software — now that’s good, consistent UI!

Hopefully these interface gaffes are merely a passing fad, and can be forever banished to history with a software update. I am a bit surprised that they ever made it into a production handset in the first place, though — particularly after reading Nokia’s own treatise on mobile usability. I mean, how could the geniuses who gave us the Navi-Key also be responsible for this?

Nokia N82 Trial, Day 3: The Games

Snakes 3D on Flickr

Pretty much everyone who’s ever had a Nokia is familiar with the classic Snake game; Here’s a screen grab of Snakes 3D, the beefed-up version for Nseries multimedia devices.

It looks great but is almost entirely unplayable — I’m stuck somewhere around the fifth level and I’ve no idea why my snake keeps arbitrarily blowing up!

I had a similar experience with Nokia’s (lack of) game design when I covered E3 back in 2004. I was demoing some WWII sim on the original N-Gage handset at Nokia’s booth, and couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to do. It didn’t help that some Finnish dude was hovering behind me barking curt and very complicated instructions..

Fortunately N-Gage is no longer the subject of ridicule, but instead a built-in application on Nseries phones. The idea shows a lot of promise, but definitely requires a WiFi connection or unlimited data plan on your handset.

N-Gage Interface on Flickr

(The N-Gage user interface…)

Like anything else these days N-Gage has a social networking layer to it. Meh. What’s far more interesting to me is that every single game in their catalogue has a free trial that ranges in scope from extremely generous (anything by Nokia) to ridiculously short (cough cough — Gameloft — cough).

I played the Mile High Pinball demo (no relation to the mile-high club — sorry) for a good ten minutes with no signs of being locked out. And with a good pedigree of game developers aboard, N-Gage could be a big hit for casual gamers everywhere.

The only problem is the actual games themselves. Have a look at the grab below, from Nokia’s own title Space Impact Kappa Base. Do you have any idea what’s going on here? Because I sure as hell don’t!

Space Impact Kappa Base on Flickr

And here’s where I put on my old codger’s hat… I maintain that my stuffy E61i is every bit as suitable for gaming as the N82, for two big reasons:

First, any decent emulator will open your handset up to virtually the entire history of console video gaming. Second, console games were programmed for landscape 4×3 ratio TV sets, and fit perfectly on the E61i’s landscape 4×3 screen.

These console classics may not have 3D rendering or surround sound, but if that’s so important for you then you’re probably hauling around a DS or PSP in your Gundam-branded backpack anyway — i.e., you’re not a casual gamer, so STFU!

This all may change with the release of Reset Generation, which some are touting as the killer game for Nokia’s nascent N-Gage platform. Too bad it isn’t out now for me to play…

Nokia N82 Trial, Day 2: It’s All About The Camera

Best Flash Evar?!1! (on Flickr)

When I show off my N82 to anyone who will listen, the first question I get asked is what’s so special about it. It is after all a bit of of a stealth smartphone, having none of the visual cues of — say, the N95 — to set it apart from all the other small and stylish candybar phones on the market.

So the first thing I do is show them this photo, a rather unremarkable snap of the inside of my closet, until you realize that it was taken in pitch-black darkness!

You can see even more camera tests on my dedicated N82 Flickr set.

Share onlineSpeaking of Flickr, the N82 has the ability to upload directly to it built-in, via a handy app called called Share online.

There’s also the uption to post directly to Movable Type’s Vox service. Vox has set themselves apart from other free blogging services with a very polished native S60 app; I myself don’t use it much because my Vox.com blog is riddled with ads.

Somewhat surprising is what’s not available in this Share online app, namely Nokia’s own Share on Ovi social media networking thingy.

But no matter, I’m already a member and found it to be the perfect place to host my first N82 video. It was shot just outside the Rogers Wireless store in Toronto’s Eaton Centre, where I ran into fellow Second City alumnus David Shore, host of the popular live talk show Monkey Toast.

As luck would have it, he’s in the market for a new handset. Have a look and witness this cosmic coincidence for yourself:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Nokia N82 Trial, Day 1: First Impressions

N82 First iSync

As you can see here, my brand-spanking new N82 on loan from Nokia is working perfectly with my MacBook. Alls it took was a quick Bluetooth pairing then a couple of clicks over to Nokia.com to download the appropriate iSync plug-in. Even better, my carrier’s data settings have somehow magically made it over to the N82 from my E61i. Could it be that they’re stored on my SIM card somewheres?

Nokia N82 Active Standby ScreenAs for the handset itself, I’m still getting used to it. I do have to admit that I’m already missing the bigger landscape-oriented screen of my trusty Eseries sidearm. For starters you can fit a lot more application shortcuts across the top of the Active Standby screen. And although the pixel count is identical — 240 x 320 vs. 320 x 240 — everything seems a bit more crowded, at least in portrait mode.

To be fair, Nokia has thoughtfully given users the option to change font sizes to fit more or less info, and those fonts are the same anti-aliased beauties that are nowhere to be found on BlackBerry or WinMo handsets.

Some additional things of note:

The auto-rotate feature of the screen (portrait to landscape and back) seems to be having trouble committing to a decision sometimes — it may be the way I’m holding the handset. But when it does work, the transition has none of the elegance you’ll see in the little animations on the iPhone or iPod touch, or even Opera Mini for that matter.

Also, getting the screen grab above proved to be a bit of a challenge. Antony Pranata’s Screenshot is set up to use the camera button for captures by default. Makes sense, but what I didn’t realize was that I had to flick open the lens cover to activate said button, making the whole process a bit more cumbersome than it needs to be.

To protect Nokia’s N82 I got one of those cheap crystal cases from eBay, like the one seen in this video. But for the life of me I couldn’t get the damn thing on, so I’m hanging a wrist strap from the phones lanyard loop instead. This loop is the one thing I wish my E61i had — come on Nokia, we high-functioning business types want to pretend we’re Japanese schoolgirls too!

Oh, and in case you’re wondering The Senator is an upscale faux diner in downtown Toronto. Come on by at noon if you’re in the neighbourhood, and you can see the N82 in person…

Nokia N82 Trial, Day 0

DHL Delivers... Finally! (on Flickr)

After a bit of a mix-up with a promised N810 Internet Tablet Nokia’s WOM World is lending me a product every bit as good or better: The rare and highly sought-after N82 smartphone in black. Here’s the package I got from DHL, after two failed delivery attempts — boo!

I’ve been given the green light to install whatever I want on it, so after it completes its initial 24-hour charge (it’s a brand-new unit, apparently) I’m going to pop my Fido SIM card right in and give my E61i a well-deserved week or two off.

Better in Black on FlickrRight off the bat I can say that the N82 looks way better in black than the Soviet army-grade tin finish seen in its original release. The black is so deep and rich that it’s actually a challenge to get a properly-focused photo!

I’ll have more to report once this handset is up and running. Rather than present a single long review I’ll be posting about my N82 immersion as I go. Until then…