Two weeks with the Nokia E90

Posted in gadgets on September 2nd, 2008 by fabienne

I was offered the chance to test out a Nokia E90 (aka the newest Nokia Communicator) for two weeks. As I’m a gadget hound, I jumped at the opportunity and here are my thoughts. Be forewarned that I used the E90 in place of my usual E70. Many of the criticisms found in this post have to do with comparisons between my E70 and the E90. Right off the bat I noticed that the keys on the E90 felt less “clicky” than the keys on my E70. I personally love responsive keys on a tiny keyboard, otherwise I can’t really touch type. The hinges on the E90 are a bit strange, and they grew on my slightly by the end of the two weeks. However, I would have loved to have a 45 degree angled mode between completely open and 90 degrees.

The screen was nice and bright, but often too bright at night. I tried adjusting the brightness and having the screen brightness auto-adjust with the light sensor, all to no avail. Also impeding proper usage of the E90 in the dark is the very dimly backlit keyboard in the fully open qwerty mode. My E70 has keys that are much more brightly backlit than the E90 when open. As far as I could find there was no way to increase the keyboard backlight’s brightness; it supported either on or off. Another usability annoyance for me were the two select buttons (they look like blue parentheses up to the right of the screen in the photo above). The select buttons are difficult to reach while thumb typing on the qwerty keyboard. On the E70 those buttons are on the screen in the middle and are very easy to access without any reach or stretch.

One happy feature of the E90 is the strong vibrator. It makes my E70 seem positively wimpy, and I have missed calls on my E70 in silent mode since switching back a few days ago. The four-way joysticks on both the outside and inside of the E90 work significantly better than on my E70. Coverage of 3G (UMTS) seems to be very similar to the antenna strength on my E70.

Now let me discuss current mobile apps for the Nokia E90. On my E70 I use the built in email app. The E90’s email app is very similar, though it is more pleasant to use on the interior widescreen than the outer screen. Web browsing still requires usage of the built in Nokia browser, as Opera doesn’t support the E90 as of the time of this review. Shozu supposedly supports the E90, but I tried installing it three times without success. The crash error message on the E90 that I had with many apps — “KERN EXEC 3” — is at least different than the usual “Out of Memory” error on my E70. I couldn’t upgrade to a newer firmware on the E90 because I didn’t have access to any Windows machines during my two week trial, so perhaps some of the bugs have been ironed out. The music player on the E90 is much better software-wise than the aging one on the E70. Annoyingly enough the E90 uses a 2.5mm connector instead of the standard 3.5mm mini jack connector on most commercial headphones. Yes, I use my cell as my mp3 player, when 2 and 4 GB cellphone memory cards are so cheap why shouldn’t I?

What I did enjoy was trying out Nokia Maps 2.0 with the E90’s built in GPS. It took a little while to lock to satellite, as GPS does in many gadgets, but once synced worked wonderfully. I used the search feature while walking to a new destination, subway stops were well marked, and switching between street/satellite/mixed/3d views was seamless. Saving screenshots of maps to the photo gallery was a snap. Map data is cached every time you search, so you use less and less of your data connection as time goes on. The only part of the whole experience that I found a bit lacking was the difficulty in saving a location. Location tagging/saving/sharing is in the works for the next version of Nokia Maps. In conclusion I have to say that I wish all the apps on the E90 were as compelling as Nokia Maps. The E90 is just not the best phone for me. It is too large and unwieldy compared to my past phones. I will continue on my quest for a replacement for my E70, which I will have had for two years in October. Next up I hope to test the E70’s replacement, the non-flip over candy-bar style Nokia E71.

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e70 on the go

Posted in gadgets on July 7th, 2008 by fabienne

e70

since i upgraded the firmware on my nokia e70 last week, i’ve been testing free phone apps. my favorite right now is talkonaut. talkonaut is a sip and chat client which i’m using as a jabber client. it’s clean and yet feature rich (various beep and vibrate profiles for when new chats arrive). it works splendidly over my 3g/umts data connection, and hands over seamlessly to gsm when the 3g drops out. the ui doesn’t really understand the e70’s portrait mode as far as menu button placement, and a joystick press is sometimes required to navigate between chat tabs, but it really is quite clean compared to anything else i’ve tried.

shozu is a bit of a mixed bag. it works well for cameraphone photo uploads, even with my photo site smugmug. at first i had a sort of kludge with emailing photos to smugmug, but it turns out that if you go to the shozu webpage (not on the phone) you can add a lot more available apps and services than just the default phone installation choices. tagging doesn’t stick with the shozu-smugmug system, but titles and uploads are fairly seamless in the nokia ui. the twitter part of shozu sucks, but it’s better than the dedicated twitter phone app twibble. i also tried out the symbian s60 jaiku app, but it’s not all that different or more feature rich than a basic twitter client.

since i still don’t have a way of sharing my 3g connection with my netbsd4 subcompact lappy from my e70, i want to try joikuspot lite. this app allows one to share a mobile connection over wifi. the newest version even includes wep if you want to be stingy (not that wep isn’t easily cracked, but whatever). where is the ubiquitous net? it’s not low-cost 3g data, but it’s the closest we have.

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upgrading nokia e70

Posted in gadgets on July 3rd, 2008 by fabienne

not only is the nokia firmware upgrade for my e70 annoyingly windows-only, it didn’t exactly work on the first try. on nokia’s page it says “Windows 2000 (SP4 or later), Windows XP (SP1 or SP2), or Windows Vista”. well guess what, it didn’t really work:

fail

then i tried downloading and running on xp, also a fail. the only thing that worked was using the nokia updater that someone already had installed on an xp machine and having it manually search for the e70’s firmware. luckily it managed to flash an english version on the phone (because i have a chinese branded qwerty e70).

since reflashing, i had some (non-nokia-related) issues with my 2gb minisd and ended up reformatting and losing all my contacts. other than that, things are looking great, the refresh rate on the flip screen is MUCH faster. hopefully i’ll get some happy web2.0 software installed now and email pushed to my phone again.

update: email works MUCH better now, but i think the phone didn’t really get updated to the newest firmware (3.0633.09.04) — right now it has 2.0618.07.10 for firmware. a friend mentioned that they had a properly working nokia pc suite to help me get it to upgrade. i’ll update as the situation gets fixed.

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updating my nokia e70 and — eek — joining twitter

Posted in blawging, gadgets on July 1st, 2008 by fabienne

phone on head

i held off joining twitter for a long time mostly because i felt a bit of social network fatigue after leaving the web2.0 world a year ago. now i need your recommendations for the best twittering tools: one for desktop use, one for my nokia e70. what i’m looking for:

– a desktop tool that pulls twitter messages in some sort of coherent fashion so i can see the difference between messages that are aimed @ me, in reply to me, private to me, and just general tweets. i hate that all those are just blobbed together into one big feed. yuck. the formatting should be different for these different types of messages so that i can easily reply to the ones i want to reply to. right now it feels like some sort of evil stream of consciousness. so what’s your favorite app for sorting out your tweets? it should be open source and *nix compatible and not a webapp. it can be a plugin for pidgin or a jabber client add on. i sifted through the twitter fan wiki list and couldn’t find a darn thing that fits what i’m looking for. suggestions? drop me an email or a tweet.

– a twitter client for my nokia e70 that rocks. i have an unlimited data plan. if i can find a winblows machine around somewhere i may even upgrade the firmware on my phone this week.

which brings me to my next project, integrating my e70’s voip over my cellular data plan with an asterisk system at home and my sip byod service with broadvoice. i have some friends that are already running similar scenarios and i am late to the party on this as well. more details on that when it’s up and running.

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phones on a table

Posted in gadgets, photography on June 10th, 2008 by fabienne

e70 fans turn up all over the world

i’ve had a little photo project going regarding people and their cellphones which i call phones on a table. somehow i manage to hang out with a lot of nokia fangirls and fanboys. i know a lot of nokia e70 users (of which i’m a fangirl). the nokia n95, the new communicator (aka the e90) and the n810 internet tablet are creeping into the photos as of late.

phones on a table the leet edition

i thought i would be more excited about a 3g capable iphone announcement. am i just not as much of a gadget hound as i used to be or is it that i just haven’t tasted the iphone kool-aid? i have tried the keyboard typing interface on the iphone on more than one occasion and frankly i struggled to get the letters i wanted out of it. i just hope that nokia changes their mind about discontinuing the e70 flip-over full keyboard line of phones.

nokia kids unite

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lack of 3g (umts) net from nokia e70 on freebsd

Posted in code, gadgets on May 1st, 2007 by fabienne

WAJD UP!

often i wish i didn’t have to answer “i don’t know” and the last time this irked me was with regards to whether or not my nokia e70 could work tethered (via usb) with 3g, aka umts, with my freebsd laptop. the answer is: “not yet”. here is a bit of the train-of-thought way i got to this answer tonight:

1. rummage around for a data/usb cable for the e70, plug it into the phone and into the freebsd lappy, choose “IP passthrough” mode on the e70, run dmesg in a console.

2. note that the console spits out:

ugen1: Nokia Nokia E70 (RNDIS), rev 2.00/1.00, addr 2

3. search google for that string, nada with or without quotes. search google with:
Nokia E70 (RNDIS) rev 2.00 1.00

ahhhh, two results! one is in russian, the other is a linux kernel patch.

4. skim through the linux kernel patch and realize the important part is RNDIS. search the interwebs for “rndis freebsd” and note that there isn’t a driver written, time to go look what has been written in linux land.

5. go to kernel.org and navigate around until the newest linux kernel is found, not in patch form but in its entirety. download. wait for the download and the subsequent decompression once downloaded. while that is simmering, grab the text file for the patch grabbed earlier and skim a bit more in vim.

6. once the kernel is downloaded and uncompressed, muck around looking for RNDIS in various directories, find a likely subject:

linux-2.6.21.1/drivers/usb/net/rndis_host.c

vim that puppy and begin to read the entertaining comments at the intro to the file:

/*
* RNDIS is NDIS remoted over USB. It’s a MSFT variant of…

um….by MSFT they don’t mean microsoft do they? oh crud. continue reading:

* CONTROL uses CDC “encapsulated commands” with funky notifications…

funky? *chuckle* reading again:

/* RNDIS defines an (absurdly huge) 10 second control timeout

*laugh*, who knew the linux kernel contained such humorous prose?

7. realize the answer is, no virginia there is no santa claus of the e70’s 3g to freebsd variety since there is no port of RNDIS on freebsd. freebsd (or other bsd) developers, feel free to fight over who gets to port this lovely archaic, largely incorrectly documented, m$ protocol.

[pictured above is my modded nokia 6590 which was so garish it shone through my pants pockets with super bright blue strobing leds in true japanese schoolgirl turn-of-the-21st-century style; it was my first nokia and here it is shown being contacted by aliens. it was replaced with my nokia 6230 which has now been superseded by my e70]

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newness: nokia e70

Posted in gadgets on November 29th, 2006 by fabienne

open side by side

this is a nokia e70 above and a nokia 6230 below. those of you who may have seen my previous work hacking popport cables for nokias may have noticed that i tend to overlook semi-badly built stuff because i rebuild it. however, i decided that a full flip over keyboard is sexy, and the addition of unlocked 3g and triband and wifi and voip compatibility puts this phone over the top. apparently i’m not alone in this sentiment, because even though this phone isn’t the newest of devices, a ton of people around me thought the same thing at the same time. hopefully i will have some time to enumerate the bugs/hardware deficiencies and share some fixes as well as do some mini-reviews and how-tos for software for the phone. i bought it through dynamism, but i think i got the last one they had.

the first order of business on functionality, i found that the sim card holder was a bit loose. my phone kept losing contact with the sim card (error message: no sim found). it turns out there was a bit too much space between it and the battery, so i folded up a little torn off piece of paper and placed it between the battery and the sim holder. now i don’t lose sim connectivity.

the second semi-annoyance was that when i set up the navigation joystick right push to go directly to my email inbox, i couldn’t get back to the main menu. workaround: none for the moment, just activate incremental email checking and when “you have a new email” pops up on the desktop, then you can easily navigate to your inbox. maybe a firmware upgrade is in order for this one.

i will enumerate how i got my email working with a private email server in the next post. for the time being, this phone is so feature-full that i will need some time to put it through its paces. i do love the feel of the keys on the keyboard and the screen is of excellent quality so you can view larger chunks of webpages zoomed out and still read text. pictured below are the nokia e70 and 6230 in the dark.
open in the dark comparison

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