Nokia Bloglets

In lieu of several small posts:

  • I’m now well into month two of using the Nokia N82 and I still have a generally positive impression of the device. Some design quirks have started to stand out, however, such as the redundancy of having a multimedia carousel button and dedicated gallery button. Also, the phone’s shiny faceplate is easier to get dirty than most Nseries phones, despite the fact that I almost always keep the phone in a pouch. I’ve had a couple of OS crashes that necessitated removing the battery to restart the phone, but for the most part the N82 remains a stable handset. (Note that I’ve decided to forgo installing the new firmware because it didn’t seem like a significant update.) Battery life is the most pleasant surprise of this initial period, since the battery seems to last longer day after day, which adds to the puzzle of why the first generation N95 had such a poor battery. Lastly, in other N82-specific news, the new black model N82 seems a healthy corrective to the shiny/glittery finish of the original model N82 I own, but I’m not going to trade my phone in just get a new color. To get the new color and Wi-Fi, though … that’d be worth it.
  • One minor drawback to the N82 as a package is that it ships with the Nokia Nseries PC Suite software, which is buggy, bloated, and strangely underpowered compared to the vanilla PC Suite. The idea of an Nseries PC Suite has been puzzling to me, since the old PC Suite, while kind of ugly, worked just fine. The Nseries PC Suite, by comparison, is missing several features from the original PC Suite, such as the ability to compose text messages on the computer, which would have aided me when I sent out 100 90 or so text messages for Chinese New Year, as well as the ability to browse your phone through Windows Explorer. (The latter feature is “there” but never works.) For some people, though, Nokia Photos, while slick, will be a dubious addition, since it performs the same functions as, and seems destined to be a replacement for, Lifeblog. Thankfully, most of these hassles can be avoided by not installing the Nseries PC Suite and going with the regular PC Suite instead.
  • As noted on my blog before, most of the N95’s software also runs nicely on the N82, which means I usually Google around for N95 software recommendations and install them on the N82. (Why don’t I Google for N82 software recommendations, you might ask? Because the N82 just doesn’t have the following of the N95.) Among recent installs, I find myself using Twibble the most. It’s not the prettiest Twitter front end around, but it works fairly well, it’s stable, and its data use is minimal. Furthermore, it feels more interactive (and less annoying) than relying on text messages to use Twitter. If someone could make a Symbian Facebook app that functioned in a similar way, I’d have all my presence needs covered.
  • I also downloaded and installed the new Nokia Share Online 3.0 beta software, and I regret doing so. I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m in China, or because I’m using an N82, but I can’t download any online services (e.g. Flickr), effectively crippling the software but leaving two annoying status graphics on the phone’s active standby desktop. What’s more — and Nokia, to their credit, warns us about this — once Share Online 3.0 is installed, you can only uninstall it with a hard reset of your phone (in computer erms, a reformat). No thanks. I can only hope the final version fixes the services bug.
  • A better product from Nokia’s beta labs is their Activity Monitor. It’s not fancy, it’s not big — it’s more an applet than full-fledged software — but it does what it sets out to do reasonably well: use the N95/N82 accelerometer (a sensor that senses movement) to record your footsteps and calculate your calorie usage. It’s not always accurate in recording movement, and it looks too much like the Sports Tracker app (so much so that the two apps ought to be paired together in one package), but it’s still fun to use.
  • The next item isn’t a software issue, exactly, but one unpleasant discovery I had recently is that Google Calendar Mobile still doesn’t work right on newer Symbian devices. I first noticed this when using the N73 last spring and you would think by now that Google would change their website to accommodate the phones, but no. This is odd because the excellent Gmail Mobile has been continually updated for new phone models and works great on the N82. One wonders why Google couldn’t have the Gmail Mobile folks turn out a Google Calendar app…
  • Finally, a bit of Google-related weirdness: whenever I surf Google in China on the phone, I get up to three different versions of the Google mobile search page. One is the old page, another is a bare-bones front end, and still another is a spiffy version that automatically reformats most websites into mobile-friendly versions (and has the side benefit of bypassing the Great Firewall). The strange thing about this is that these three variants appear randomly and all when loading on the phone.

Foreigners Using QQ

Ben Ross has a great post explaining the relevance of the chat program Tencent QQ to the Chinese Internet user base, its advantages as a Chinese learning tool, and the headaches it sometimes gives foreigners who try to install the program on their computers.

I wholeheartedly agree with Ben’s endorsement of QQ as a language-learning and networking tool, but I’d like to say a few more words about the difficulties foreigners may face using the program.

For starters, though QQ has offered an English client for around five years now, the registration process is totally Chinese, so a beginner student of Chinese would do well to get help from a Chinese friend or their Chinese teacher to start using QQ. Moreover, the new security process added to combat the wave of password-stealing trojans — note that most computer viruses in China seem to exist for one purpose, to steal QQ passwords — are complicated and difficult for someone whose Chinese is low-to-intermediate. I consider my Chinese level upper-intermediate but even I had trouble with the Chinese CAPTCHAs used by Tencent.

As for the computer clients, the English client development usually lags behind the Chinese client, so if you want to use QQ to the fullest, consider downloading the Chinese version. In fact, the English version is only English in its basic interface, and navigating many parts of the program still requires Chinese. What’s more, as Ben notes, you will need to change your (presumably Windows-driven) computer’s character set to Chinese for non-Unicode programs to get QQ working properly. You can do this by going to Start –> Control Panel –> Regional and Language Options (icon) –> Advanced (tab), and selecting Chinese (PRC) from the drop-down box labeled “Language for non-Unicode programs.” A word to the wise, however: this will mess up some of the programs and text files on your computer.

The mobile clients, which I’ve used more extensively since Mobile QQ became free*, are totally Chinese. Phone users have a choice between older, simpler clients or the bloated new Java-driven client offered by Tencent, which is sluggish even on high-end smartphones like the N95. For Symbian users, a better choice is lightweight QQ client that can be downloaded from the Nokia websites or comes preinstalled on your phone if you bought it in China.

Anyone serious about learning Chinese or networking with Chinese people should give QQ a try, but be prepared for the challenges involved.

* Note that you still pay for data costs. It’s the client that’s free now.