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Of Nokia and Man - Tech Geriatrix

Of Nokia and Man

Posted on October 1st, 2011 in Opinions, Rants

And thus we begin our saga into the legend of Nokia. Ancient stories about the new era.

The story begins with a precious, old artefact. An exponent of the jurassic era of phones. Thirteen million years ago (OK, maybe not “million”…), a mighty mobilisaurus emerged from the silicon depths… The Nokia 6110! Of course, I had it used, not new, about 3 years later, as my second phone, the first one being a Bosch 509. My 6110 was pretty beaten up, and the battery was starting to give in, so I changed after about 2 years with a brand new Nokia 3510i! Basic brick, it calls people and stuff. After another 2 years or so, I got bored of it and changed it with a 6020. Which was super! I liked it, really. It was compact and the user interface was simple and snappy.

The next big hero was the Nokia 6300. This one looked like you could hammer nails with it. And use it as a self-defense weapon. The software was good, too. I was really getting used to Nokia’s trouble-free phones. I had a friend making mobile games for some company and he always told be about the high-end Nokias, such as the N95, which had two processors, and big screen, and graphics accelerator. Now THAT was something! I was into PC games at the time, so I really was after video cards, and spending that much on a phone with a graphics accelerator meant spending serious money, which I could use for trading a high-end computer graphics card. The mobile dev friend of mine proudly showed me some 3D games on the N95, and he said they were cool, but in fact, they were completely pointless. The input method was dismal, the screen was too small for playing 3D games, and the graphics were better suited at sanding wood. The purpose of 3D gaming on mobile phones was really to acknowledge the fact that they can do it. I really had no fun with that.

After owning the 6300 for 3 years, I found myself with some toy money. Oh joy, was I ever impacient! I started looking for a smartphone, since I never had one. I did not make that step because all smartphones were big boring bricks made of shiny plastic, or bad plastic, or plastic surgery. The software was complicated and slow, the battery was short lived, and in short, they brought more problems than they actually solved. So I must say that I was seduced by the shape and consistency of the Nokia N86. Solid slider, non-shiny plastic back (WOW!), and a front-facing scratch resistant glass (I know, you expected the most useless light sensor in the world, the front-facing camera!).

As you may have expected, I bought the N86. And in 3 days, I intended to sell it. And in two weeks, it was for sale. But nobody would buy it. Of course, I could sell it fast by cutting 40% of the price, but that did not feel very well! So I said, OK, maybe I should wait for some software updates.

The software was full of bugs. For example, the keyboard often refused to unlock, and the only option was a device coma. Yes, battery removal, although I did want to see the head management at Nokia go into a coma after I smack them in the interface while holding the N86. The N86 is sturdy, and heavy, and oh man, would they have needed medical attention! Then there was a very special application that everybody needed, “Internet Radio”. The application crashed after exactly 13 seconds of running, I still think it was a prank from Nokia. Some underpaid programmer must have had a lot of fun developing that application. Of course, the crash was fixed with later software updates, but still, that was really funny! I paid a lot for that fun, and for some reason, I was not laughing…

There were some other issues like battery going suddenly flat after having 5 bars of charge seconds earlier. Or device restarting, or video recording hang, or camera sensor still consuming one watt of power after closing the camera application. It was such a special feeling to wake up in the morning, see the Sun shining and find the phone dead. Then you think about sending it for repairs, but an Angel tells you to charge it, maybe the battery is flat. After having almost full charge in the evening before, that is…

After 8 months or so, Nokia rolled the final software update for a device that could have been an original Nokia hit. No, it was not the outdated user interface that killed the N86. It was the poor implementation of basic things. Look, I don’t care about smooth scrolling and visual effects. I want basic stuff to work. I want software to work, I want programs to work, I want phone calls to work, I want camera to work, even if it takes ages to start. I am a pacient man, I can wait.

A basic software which works is called “solid simplicity”. That’s what I like. A basic software that crashes is called “crippled” and I hate it (obviously…). The N86 could have been a great device, but no, they had to roll out a poorly made, poorly tested and overpriced device. And probably the Finnish managers and head of Whatevery division got their big payment checks checked, as they checked all the features on the list. They were checked, but not the way they should have been.

The N86, like all Nokia smartphones which followed, were a checklist of features made up by a company which made no sense. They brought absolutely no innovation, no reliability, they were just another iPhone chasing device army, made in China.

I will go into the iPhone case in another article, I’m not praising Apple here. I’m very, very far from being an Apple fan. But Apple hit it with the iPhone by inventing that touchscreen interface, which sold in millions. The rest of the mobile world was absolutely incapable of bringing anything new. Nothing, zero. They still chase the iPhone. And this is a pity, because the current line-up of Nokias featuring buttons is pretty neat. The C5 has the same OS as the N86, but at least it’s fairly priced, and works properly. The E72 was also good, the E6 features a QWERTY keyboard plus a touchscreen. I don’t know how useful a 2.46″ touchscreen is, but at least it doesn’t cost a fortune.

Everybody now has capacitive touchscreen and iPhone-like interface, iPhone-like gestures, and iPhone-like looks. It’s so sad to see Nokia crawl into making a touchscreen interface, in a very pathetic way. If the N86 was fairly usable with buttons, the touchscreen Nokias are a pain to use. Starting with the 5800XM (yeah, great phone my ass…) and finishing with the N8. I go into the N9 a bit later…

The touchscreen Nokias are lauched with bugs, like every Nokia smartphone to date. Including N95 and N7x and other former Nokia heroes. With annoying usability bugs, not just “minor” bugs. I tried to do some browsing on a Nokia C7, which is very similar to the N8 in terms of specs, it only differs by camera and aluminum body, and maybe other minor things. The browser is useless, that touch interface is such a bad iPhone chaser. These phones have nothing new, no identity, just a Nokia badge in the upper part which doubles their price. Oh, and did I mention that the processor and RAM are two years behind? What? What did you say? Power efficency? Oh, Nokia puts outdated processors into their high end devices because they consume less power. Right. And the battery dies within two days, like any other smartphone…

In 2007, when the iPhone was launched, Nokia had the N95. And they kept the button interface for a year and a half, when they rolled the 5800XM. It was not Nokia’s first touchscreen smartphone, it was Nokia’s first iPhone chasing device. But they had a pride in their smartphone sliders. And now, with the N9, they roll out the first buttonless device, all touch and tap! And you know what? It features “swipe”? Swhat? Swipe! You just have to remember which way you “swipe” for the various things that you want to do…

Ummm… I think the “swipe” was invented in 2007, when iPhone was launched… But anyway, I do not want to emphasize what great device the iPhone was, because it wasn’t. The touchscreen interface was, the rest of the iPhone was useless, buggy and restrictive.

How can you come up-front, as a big company, in 2011, with a high-end, top of the line smartphone, featuring “swipe”? Is that how behind you are in the iPhone chase? Because behind you are with almost everything in that N9 phone: processor is last year’s iPhone 4 chipset, the screen is an outdated AMOLED, since Samsung had Super-AMOLED like a year ago, the camera is nothing new (I really hope the sensor has a super-high, alien tech quality!). So, what does the N9 bring? Is it the closest to iPhone-like intention Nokia? Maybe… Is it the first decently usable Nokia touchscreen smartphone? I sure hope so! They want to be iPhone so badly that they even made the battery non-user-removable and they stuck a micro-SIM slot into the N9! That’s how much of an iPhone chaser Nokia is!

I personally say goodbye to a company that lost its touch, inventiveness and identity in building high end smartphones. Brands are built with hard work, not badges. I’m sorry to say it, but 2 years ago, when I looked at the Nokia badge, I saw dedicated guys that made devices which WORKED and did not care about eye-candy garments. I appreciate a solid, snappy device, which does not look very special, but gets a things done. The same goes for software. But I do not appreciate companies which sell their names with overprice tags so that I assume they’re top brands.

Published by stimpson and tagged with: ,

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