05 July 2012

Nokia N9 PR1.3 update

The much awaited update landed on my own N9 yesterday.

At first sight there's nothing really new in it despite Nokia's surprisingly undetailed claims of over 1000 improvements in various areas (see here).

As far as I can see there are only 3 visual changes, but it goes a little deeper than that. Read on...

Firstly, there is now a small status icon that appears when the phone's "beep" profile is selected (see photo to the right, screenshot of the top-right corner of the display). Previously, there was only such an icon when the phone was in silent mode, a similar musical note with a bar through it.

Secondly, the UI seems to be a bit more fluid. Scrolling through photos in the gallery, entries in the music player or tweets in the twitter app seems less jerky than previously.

Finally, there has been some improvement to the camera. Focussing seems to be improved, as does the camera's ability to function in poor lighting conditions. The photo on the left provides an example of this. Click here to view the image in its full 8MP resolution.

All of this looks all well and good, but there was another, less visible change that was troubling me somewhat, and that was much increased power usage.

I use a small app called Battery Usage to monitor the charge state of my phone's battery and to see what particular apps are draining the power. It serves as a handy diagnostic tool in discovering anomalies such as I have discovered since updating to PR1.3.

Under PR1.2, with WiFi switched on and connected to the wireless router, bluetooth switched on but not connected to anything, network mode set to "dual" in a zone (at work) with good 3G coverage, the average idle power consumption would settle in the 10mA to 12mA range. Even less if I placed the phone face downwards, thus causing the screen to switch off. With the phone in flight mode and with power saving mode engaged overnight, it would drop as low as 6mA.

Shortly after updating, I noticed that the idle drain had jumped to over 30mA thanks to the Battery Usage app issuing a power drain warning. The only thing that had changed since the previous situation with readings at a third of that level was the update. Something in PR1.3 was causing the phone to eat more power than before.

Thanks to @ibrakalifapuspa on twitter, who gave me a tip on getting the power drain back down again (switch to flight mode with power saving mode engaged for an hour, then back to normal settings), I was able to narrow the problem down to the bluetooth stack.

If I switch bluetooth off, the power drain reverts to normal. If I switch bluetooth back on again, things stay normal, with no perciptible increased power usage from the bluetooth subsystem as it always used to be, until I connect a device such as my Nokia BH-109 bluetooth earpiece, at which point the power drain shoots up again. It remains abnormally high even when the earpiece is disconnected and stays that way until bluetooth is switched off again.

Given the unlikelihood of there ever being an update to the N9's firmware (Nokia's MeeGo dev team jumped ship shortly after the release of the update), this bug will probably never be fixed now, so while I used to dismiss the old "switch bluetooth off to save power" adage, it has now become true.

With bluetooth switched off, I can get the idle power drain down to about 15mA, which is still marginally above what it used to be, so there's something else eating a bit more power than before. I have no way of proving this but I think it's the RF receiver. The reason I think it's that is because I live in an area with extremely poor coverage. There's a dense row of trees between me and the base station that's located well over a mile away, so the only way I can get a signal at home is to go upstairs or to go outside, and even that doesn't always suffice. Right now, the signal strength indicator on my screen is showing 3 bars out of 5, which is more than I've ever had in this room, especially in Summer when the tree line is even denser than it is the rest of the year. Could it be that more power is being thrown at the receiver, thus boosting the gain and allowing the phone to acquire a better signal?

So, to recap, this is what I have noticed in PR1.3:

  • New icon to indicate the phone is in "beep" profile
  • Smoother UI
  • Improved camera
  • Bug in the bluetooth stack causing power drain even when disconnected
  • Improved gain in the RF receiver allowing better signal acquisition

19 March 2012

Flickr account on a Nokia N9

Since writing this, I have found a "solution" to the problem. "Solution" in quotes because it is merely a work-around and doesn't actually solve the underlying problem.

All I did was install firefox, set it as the default browser and start over with the procedure described below.

Here's one that has me stumped. Rest assured, if I do get an answer to this problem I'll publish it here so that other people coming up against the same problem can find help.

The nature of the problem is quite simple: it is seemingly impossible to set up my flickr account on this phone. Flickr apparently uses an oAuth system similar to that of twitter, whereby the client application (the built-in flickr client in the N9 in this case) contacts the flickr API saying "I want permission to access your services". The flickr API then prompts the user (me) to log in and grant the client this permission, in response to which, the API returns a token to the client. In order to access flickr's services thereafter, the client has to present that token as proof that the user gave it permission to access their account.

So, step 1 is to go into Accounts > Add accounts > Flickr on the N9. You're presented with this screen:
By tapping on the "continue" button, you are taken to the flickr login page:
Once you've given your Yahoo! ID and password and signed in, the authorization token should be handed over to the account setup process and you should be redirected back to the account setup. Instead of that, you wind up at the flickr mobile home page:
Meanwhile, the account setup process is still waiting for the auth token:
If anyone has some ideas, I'm all ears!

My phone is a Nokia N9 running PR1.2.

14 March 2012

Choosing a new mobile network

The time has come for me to choose a new mobile network! I'm currently using Tesco Mobile as the coverage was excellent where I used to live. I was also led to believe that the coverage of most competing networks was poor in the location where I now live, so Tesco or O2 (the former uses the latter's network anyway) seemed the logical choice and I took out a 12-month SIM-only contract.
The big 5 available here in the UK are Orange UK, O2, Vodafone, Hutchison 3G and T-Mobile. MVNOs piggybacking on some of these networks are, among others, Virgin Mobile (on T-Mobile), Tesco Mobile (on O2) and Asda Mobile (on Vodafone). They all provide different levels of coverage in the various locations that I frequent and different levels of service.

The primary concern when choosing a network has to be coverage and service levels, with the deals being offered by the networks only your second consideration. There's no point in getting boatloads of inclusive minutes, more texts than you can use and gigabytes of mobile data at a bargain price if you don't actually have any coverage in the places where you spend most of your life and therefore can't use those minutes etc.

At my workplace I get full 3.5G coverage on all of the major networks so that part isn't even a consideration. At home, things are a little different.

Unfortunately I have to rule out Vodafone (and therefore Asda) because I have absolutely zero coverage at home. Neither 2G nor 3G. Nada. Zip. If I had a contract phone on Vodafone I'd be very unhappy as it would be absolutely useless as anything other than a paperweight.

O2 (and Tesco) provides limited coverage here. I get a weak 2G signal on about half of the ground floor. On the first floor I get a stronger 2G signal in most rooms and a reasonable 3.5G signal in a couple of spots. There are still a few spots where I get no reception at all, which is why I'm looking at alternatives now.

Hutchison 3G would be a good solution if it weren't for two severe drawbacks. Firstly, Three UK is a 3G only network. While they used to have agreements with Orange UK to use their 2G network in areas where there is no 3G coverage from Three, this is no longer always the case. If you're in a zone that's not covered by Three's 3G network, you therefore have no coverage at all. Secondly, and this is something that I remember experiencing with a friend who was on 3 at the time (and with his sister who has just switched away from 3 for this specific reason), text message delivery to handsets on 3's network is sometimes rather random. They just don't always get through. While nobody in their right mind should rely on text messaging for important information, it's still extremely annoying not to receive messages and simply not know about it.

Three UK is therefore out of the equation.

That leaves me with T-Mobile (or Virgin) and Orange. Essentially, they're the same network after their merger in late 2010, which resulted in the creation of "Everything, Everywhere". Not only do they share their 2G networks, but they both can use Three's 3G network in the absence of 3G coverage under the umbrella of Mobile Broadband Network Ltd., a 50/50 joint venture between Three UK and Everything, Everywhere.

These networks give me reasonable 3G or 3.5G coverage almost everywhere on the ground floor. In the few areas where I don't get 3G or better, I do get a usable 2G signal. On the first floor I get 3G or better everywhere. If I force the phone to GSM mode then I still get good 2G or EDGE coverage.

As I understand it, Virgin Mobile does not manage the network switching in the same manner as T-Mobile despite being a MVNO piggybacking on the same physical network.

That leaves T-Mobile and Orange, and I'm leaning towards the former because the SIM-only deals that they're offering do seem to match my requirements better than those from Orange.

My 12-month contract with Tesco is up in June. I'm going to keep an eye on the operators' offerings between now and then in order to choose the one that suits my needs best of all.

Update 26/03/2012: I had a closer look at the plans from Orange and found one that suits me fine, so the deciding factor was the fact that, unlike T-Mobile, Orange supports twitter's SMS gateway. I'm getting 300 minutes, unlimited texts and 500MB of data (tethering allowed!) for £10.50 a month. To that I added a further 500MB for an extra £5/month.

07 March 2012

Nokia N9 and CalDAV on Google

Wow! It's some 18 months since I last published anything here! Time to add a quick article that puts in one place the results of something I was looking at last night.

The idea here is to synchronise your Google calendar(s) with your N9 (and presumably N950 since they both run MeeGo Harmattan), which isn't that hard in itself. What caught me out and had me searching was how to sync all my Google calendars with the phone.

Single calendar

In its most basic form, this system allows you to sync just your main Google calendar with a mobile device.

On your phone, go into "Accounts" and start setting up a new CalDAV account:
Fill in your Google e-mail address (eg. your.name@googlemail.com) and your Google account password, and in the "Server/URL" field enter:
Tap on the "Sign in" button and you will be presented with a page allowing you to set up the scheduling (just like with any synchronised account) and showing you the calendar that's going to be synced and added to your phone's calendar:
What frustrated me was the fact that I actually have 2 calendars on my Google account and only one was showing up. I wanted both. Clearly, Google wasn't exporting both calendars.

Multiple calendars

Point your browser (mobile or desktop, it doesn't matter) at this URL:
You will see a list of the calendars you have and you will be able to select which ones are to be made accessible to CalDAV clients. Select those that you want to export and click on the "Save" button. Now go back to the CalDAV account on your phone, tap the "Sync" button, and all the accounts should appear and be added to the phone's calendar:
Furthermore, any changes made to events in those calendars and any new events added to them should make it to the online version on Google once everything has been synced again.