14 January 2010

Nokia 5800 XpressMusic V40 firmware update


What better way to kick off the New Year's blogs than with the announcement of a great firmware update from Nokia?

This article could be subtitled "Give Credit Where Credit Is Due" because V40.0.005 does seem to be the result of a productive effort from Nokia's software development team. They have evidently been listening to customers' concerns because the timer-related bugs that were introduced in V30 and V31 are gone and new features that many people were demanding have been introduced. In short, it took them long enough but they got this one right in my opinion.

Nokia considers changelogs to be confidential information, so you'll never find one except when it's leaked on unofficial sites, but bear in mind that they more than likely contain inaccuracies deliberately introduced by Nokia in order to identify the mole leaking them. The information here is therefore based solely on personal observation. There may be features I've overlooked because I never use them, and some things I did notice may be totaly subjective.

BUGFIXES

There were three (most likely related) bugs introduced in V30 and carried over to V31 that almost ruined the experience of using the 5800XM for me:

1) Scheduled backups would not happen
2) The alarm would go off late
3) Timed profiles would expire late

These bugs would appear to have been eradicated in V40. The scheduled backup did happen last night, my alarm went off at 07:45 precisely instead of some indeterminate time between 07:45 and 07:55, and the timed profile expired at 08:00 dead on. That is a major relief, it's been random since I installed V30 in October last year.

NEW THINGS I LIKE

More responsive

The phone definitely seems more responsive since the update, and this isn't the result of a reset because I didn't do that. There's no need to if the phone has UDP (User Data Preservation). The user interface is definitely snappier, menus open quasi-instantaneously, applications open quicker, on-screen controls react faster.

More RAM

Running x-plore immediately after the phone boots reveals that there's 51 MB (plus whatever x-plore itself is using) of RAM free on D: for applications to play with. That's more than with V31, where 48 MB were available. This will help if you have several applications running concurrently. You will be less likely to run out of RAM, which means less likelihood that the system will forcefully shut down an application that's being a bit of a memory hog.

More battery life

Preliminary investigations using Nokia's "Energy Profiler" suggest that the operating system has been optimized to use less battery power and thus increase battery life when in standby, which is the status in which the phone finds itself most of the time.

Swipe action

When this was first introduced on the N97 it confused the hell out of people. Despite the animated graphics, people were just trying to press on the green, animated, right-pointing arrow to take a call and, of course, not succeeding. They didn't realize that the animation was suggesting that they should swipe the screen to the right in order to take the call, or to the left in order to reject the call. Reading the manual might have helped here, but who does that? That's another matter altogether... Anyway, the "swipe to answer" gesture is now part of the 5800XM's firmware and I must say that I like it, although its implementation is a little confusing here. A swipe to the right does answer the call, whereas a swipe to the left unlocks the keypad and silences the ringtone but doesn't reject the call. You have to tap a button on the screen after you've unlocked the keypad in order to do that. The green and red keys still, however, function as normal (answer and reject).

The swipe action has also been carried over to the alarm clock. Swipe to the right to kill the alarm, or to the left to engage the "snooze" function. Ditto for calendar entries with a reminder (ToDo notes, Memos, Anniversaries and Meetings), albeit with a slightly different behaviour. With calendar entries, a left swipe will silence the alarm and then give you the opportunity to kill it or engage the "snooze" function.

Visual feedback

If you tap on a selected item in a list in order to open it, you now get visual feedback that you've done just that. It's a small detail but it helps in that you are given an acknowledgement of the command you just issued. This is particularly useful if you've deactivated haptic feedback (vibrations in response to actions on the touch screen) in order to conserve battery power.

NEW THINGS I HAVE MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT

Auto QWERTY keypad

Many people were asking for this, and I can see the logic in it. If you're holding the phone in portrait mode, you get a conventional alphanumeric keypad for text input. If you now rotate the phone to landscape mode, the alphanumeric keypad is replaced with a full-screen QWERTY keypad automatically. This is all very well, but the option to have an alphanumeric keypad while holding the phone in landscape mode has now disappeared. I used to use that frequently because, say what you will, text input on a small keypad such as that of a phone is far easier on an alphanumeric keypad because the keys themselves are much larger than they are on a full-screen QWERTY keypad, and with T9 predictive input you don't lose any speed to speak of. Combine that with the ease of holding the phone horizontally and you're on to a winner. Unfortunately, you no longer have this option. It would have been nice to have included something in the phone's settings to enable either this new behaviour or the traditional behaviour.

New "Contacts Bar" homescreen theme

This, along with kinetic scrolling (see further down), brings the 5800XM in line with other S60v5 devices (except the N97/mini) from Nokia. You get up to 20 contacts in the scrollable contacts bar, a tap on one of which will bring up a screen showing a log of your communications with that contact and buttons to call or send a message to that contact. You also get the usual 4 shortcuts to applications like you do on the "Shortcuts bar" home screen theme, plus a small panel allowing you to control the music player or the FM radio, if one of them is running.

This would be great if it weren't for two things missing from it. Firstly, the "Content search" is not on the homescreen. Secondly, the calendar is missing. While the absence of the search facility is not a deal breaker, the lack of a calendar display most certainly is. Also, the contacts bar is extremely clunky with only 3 contacts displayed at any given time and with no option to rearrange contacts other than deleting them and then adding them again in the order in which you want them to be displayed.

Nice try but it needs more work.

Kinetic scrolling

This is the ability to scroll through a list by swiping the screen upwards or downwards and thus "flicking" the list in that direction, making it scroll until you stop it or until it decelerates and comes to a halt. Several applications have used this feature for a long time, Gravity and Nokia's own touch screen Photo Browser come straight to mind. Kinetic scrolling was added to the N97's firmware in V20, which was released late October 2009, and I believe other S60v5 phones had it right from the beginning. The 5800 was therefore, until now, the only S60v5 phone not to have it.

The trouble is, its implementation is inconsistent. Kinetic scrolling does not function in the phone's menus, nor can you use it to scroll through the text of a message or an e-mail.

Personally, I never had any problem sliding the scroll bar to the right of the screen and I find myself still using that rather than kinetic scrolling. At least it's implemented consistently, you can use it everywhere.

THINGS THAT LEFT ME PERPLEXED

The "Switch" application is used when you get a new phone and want to transfer your data to it from the old one (provided both are Nokia phones). In theory, you'll only use it once, if at all, so I suppose it doesn't really matter where it is in the menu heirarchy, but moving it from Connectivity > Data transfer, where it seemed perfectly at home, to Settings leaves me thinking "What was that in aid of?".

THINGS I DEFINITELY DISLIKED

Subscription to "My Nokia"

Whether you like it or not, the phone sends off an SMS to the "My Nokia" service, subscribing you to receive tips on phone usage by SMS. You are not asked if you want this, you are told "I'm going to subscribe you to My Nokia" with the only possible response from you being "OK". You then have to go into the "My Nokia" application in your phone's menu and send another SMS to unsubscribe from the service.

The problem with this is that the tips from "My Nokia" are of no interest to anyone who's been using a mobile phone for more than about 30 seconds. They are aimed at people for whom even the most basic operations (such as switching the phone on and off) are completely bewildering. For my part, I find it rather condescending, even insulting, that Nokia should feel the need to remind me that I can use the power button to switch my phone on... If it's switched off then I can't receive that pearl of wisdom. Duh!

FM radio

The FM Radio no longer works. It'll start, but then it becomes totally unresponsive. You can't change preset stations, retune manually or do anything other than exit the radio application.

I never use the thing so it doesn't really bother me, but I do appreciate the frustration of people who do use it in much the way that not many people were bothered about the bugs present in V30/V31 while I definitely was!

IN CONCLUSION

This is a breath of fresh air after the string of somewhat disastrous firmwares for S60v5 phones we've seen coming form Espoo. It fixes the main problems encountered in earlier versions of the 5800's firmware and adds new features that people have been demanding so that this phone falls in line with other devices of the same family. It's what V30 and V31 should have been with a few extras.

A few things still need ironing out in the new "Contacts bar" homescreen and there is still no native SIP client to place VoIP calls, but regardless of these issues, V40.0.005 is a huge step in the right direction towards making the 5800 XpressMusic a phone that's fun to use in that the features it offers actually do what it says on the tin.

This is a major update so it won't be available over-the-air. If you want it (and I certainly recommend that you do install it), you'll need to update the phone on your computer using Nokia Software Updater.

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