Nokia Belle Impressions on my N8

Thanks to the generosity of my g/f, I was able to get my hands on a Windows laptop in order to do the recently-made-available update of my Nokia N8’s operating system to the Belle version (the previous version was named Anna). What follows are my impressions and thoughts as I am taking some time to live with this pretty signifiant change to my primary mobile.

Day 1: Backup, Update, First Impressions
So, I’ve got license to use her laptop, and am following the instructions to the ‘t’ for this update. I’ve just used the File Manager application to backup my calendar, contacts, and bookmarks (nothing else) to my memory card. The plan is simply to make that backup, then remove the memory card.

To her compter I add the Nokia Suite software, and let that take its time going thru the processes of recognizing my device and installing the appropriate drivers when it does.

I noticed immediately that there was the Belle update for my device, and so I go about the steps there to update. For some reason, there’s a problem with the initial time that it tries to do a backup (onto the PC): the backup fails, but then restarts the mobile and goes fine. After about 30 minutes, I’ve got an updated N8 ready to go.

First thing I notice (of course) is the new homescreen. It looks like my g/f’s Android device (which isn’t necessarly something that pleases me). I noticed that there are several examples of the widgets now made available on four homescreens. I deleted two of these screens, I don’t need that much.

After getting past that point, I start looking to setup two screens of widgets (main screen is primary information, second screen is contacts and a "can’t this be made smaller" music widget. I’m already impressed at the sense of cohesion that the device has. Speed is improved all around, and navigation is consistent. This is definitely a must-update for those folks who have Nokia’s Symbian devices (E7, C7/Astound, E6, etc. – whoops, the Astound, a variant of the C7 made for T-Mobile USA, won’t be getting Belle; carrier decision most likely, shame for those folks even though its a soid device as is).

I don’t like all of the simplicity though. I’m missing a few apps and so I wandered to the Nokia Store to redownload and once again had to download an updated version of the Store app (weird). At least I didn’t have to sign-in again as I did with the Anna version update.

The digital clock (widget) is too large and the standy-by screen’s analog clock is too small. Wish there were some options on changing widget sizes here. Not being able to see more than one calendar event in that widget seems like a missed opportunity as well for some smarter UI options.

I popped back in my memory card and it seems like it was completely recognized very fast. Going to the file manager, it seems that my memory card also gained some space (about half a GB). Looks like Belle is already living up to being much more efficient. I really like how fast the pictures and music were read by their respective apps. Very, very fast.

I’m not sure if its me, or just that I’ve had it on a USB connection most of the morning, but it does seem like my N8 has gotten a bit hot. I’ll have to look at this over the course of days.

So far, so good. I’m missing Situations and Bots. I really was hoping that these two made it into Belle as default aspects to Symbian at this point. Both of them really would have meshed well with the marketing message of keeping one’s head up. I’ve got to live with this a few days though before I’m totally pleased. We’ll see what happens.

Weird; plugged into car charger and rotated screen only to have it freeze. Then tried turning it off and it looked like it froze while shutting down. Did power button + menu button to no immediate response. On restart seems like its back rolling along.

Doesn’t seem like social services are plugged into contacts/caledar (still); wonders if LinkedIn and similar widgets/apps can do a better job here?

Day 2: Music, Appointments, Ringtones, and Eyes-Off
I’ve been just trying to get along without too many apps so far. I did redownload Skype, Different Tack, and a few others. But for the most part, I’ve been more or less trying to stay productive, which has meant that the N8 w/Belle needs to kind of stay aside of any main action.

I did download Nokia Car Mode yesterday and that’s been pretty sweet. I was already a frequent user of the Play by Radio (FM Transmitter) feature of my N8 and this feature is slick in that it doesn’t just integrate that, but also pairing to my in-car Bluetooth headset with easy access to contacts and mapping needs. This app is going to finally make me get a mount for my N8 for the car – the only question is where to put it.

I noticed it with the welcome screen’s sounds, and then it got clearer as appointment and message tones started going off, things are softer. Not necessarly worse, just softer. the tonal quality of the default beeps and music is just a bit different. Not sure if I care, but its noticable since I’d changed the default sounds before to beeps, clicks, and a very high frequency dog whistle. Not sure if I’ll keep things here, but I am just waiting.

I kind of hoped that most of my time would be eyes-off, but I don’t get that impression with the new sliding notifications bar. Belle still has that annoying popup, but it is at least only on the homescreen. The icons for notifications on the standby screen are just too small to be of good use, and the font used is a bit on the small side as well. I like small and clear, the new font (Nokia Pure) works. But, I don’t know if these were designed on the right side of font height for most folks.

Day 3: Stability, Instability, and Attention
Been rolling along on this third day since the update and for the most part, Belle seems like a much more stable situation for my N8 than previously. Its not perfect, but its plenty speedy and much more cohesive.

That said, I’ve noticed that , at least when running Car Mode, or using the FM Transmitter with the Music Player, that there’s a bit of instability. It seems that it happens most when I plugin my car charger. The device just locks up and only a few times has it gotten out of it wihtout a restart. Now, I did see similar, and understand that I’m pushing this hardware pretty hard with Bluetooth, cellular, and the FM Transmitter on, with 2200+ songs indexed and playing randomly. Its a lot. But, I’m going to run with it – at least until I get better hardware doing the same thing (or more refined).

I am back to paying a lot of attention to my mobile. I’ve not yet put Bots or Situations back on my device. Its causing me to pay too much attention to my mobile. I’m also not having as much fun with the notifications. Its still annoying (especially the center-aligned popup notification), and doesn’t really seem to have an option to keep things in the notification tray. I’m sure its possible to refine this, but I’ll need some more time to use Belle to see what would work best.

Overall (for now)
I could keep this going, but like I’ve kind of alluded to. There are wrinkles, warts, and wonders with Nokia Belle that are worth exploring. I do think that this update is meant for some of the more powerful Nokia Symbian devices which have come out since the N8 was introduced. I do wonder if the rumored 801/803 devices would improve the stability and experinces I’m seeing right now.

In terms of wishes, there could be plenty. But, mainly, just wanted to see the AI stuff (Bots, Situations), widgets (weather, resizable calendar and music player widgets), improved notifications (sizing, notification bar), and the Swype UI that’s on the N9. Things like that would kind of made the N8 an all new device with a touch of "yea, I’m going to replace this with a Nokia device in the near future" kind of feeling. That’s not to say I wouldn’t, but the marketing push by making Belle more "complete" would have been a better sell for sure.

Like I’ve said before though, we aren’t entitled to have updates. I consider getting Belle a major favor from Nokia. It makes my N8 new enough that I’m not considering much else to replace it as a primary device for me. And that’s good, there’s something to be said for this device getting better with time. Perhaps, that’s the kinds of Jetsons’ life I’ve been waiting for.