For Special Occasions

The 25th November was a special occasion, and not just because it was payday! My wife was graduating with a well deserved Master of Science from WITS University, and naturally we made an occasion of it. This event also gave me the opportunity to put the N8 through it’s paces. It was going to be a long day, there was some business to sort out at home, I still had to go to Pretoria to get some decent clothing to wear, a celebration lunch, and then the actual graduation ceremony.

I had the day off from work and was able to sleep in a bit. I started the morning by downloading a couple of podcasts using Symbian Podcatcher. I follow a number of blogs and sometimes it’s easier to just get a weekly digest of the content and podcasting make this easy. I download them to my phone and listen to them at my leisure as I’m working or relaxing at home. Podcatcher is still in beta so be warned it is a little buggy as I found on this morning.  I was busy using Opera Mobile over the wifi at my in-laws house, and had queued up two podcast from All About Symbian, only to discover that the first in the queue was abusing my 3G connection. My billing cycle with MTN is from the 27th of the month so by this stage my piddly 100MB data bundle was virtually exhausted. So I removed the second podcast, and tried it manually and it insisted on using 3G. Later on it used the wifi network with no issues.

My father in-law had been itching to get an upgrade to his old Nokia 6500s, so the men went on a mission to East Rand Mall to get a cheap device for him. On the way traffic was quite bad, so we took a detour through the suburbs of Benoni, and I fired up Ovi Maps. I managed to get GPS lock in under 20 seconds inside a moving vehicle which is impressive, faster than the Garmin manages. Over above assisted-GPS and normal GPS, Ovi Maps uses cellular position and wifi position, which means the application can home in on your approximate location quickly. I was able to search for the mall and route us there in no time at all. The beauty of a fully multitasking device is that I was able to switch to Opera Mobile, while Ovi Maps was happily guiding us, and was able to get onto the MTN service provider website and check the available updates for my father in-law, so that we were well prepared. The N8 handled this perfectly well.

“Hey Mr. DJ put a record on…”


Later on I had to make the solo trip to Pretoria.One thing I have envied about my wife’s Nokia N79 is the presence of the FM transmitter. When we went down to Durban on holiday earlier this year, we simply loaded the N79 with our choice of music, found an empty frequency and goodbye to changing CDs. The signal strength was a bit weak and the phone had to be placed as close to the radio as possible, but as long the frequency was indeed empty it was great.On a long trip like that, having a co-pilot is imperative, so that they can adjust the frequency if you suddenly find some station or other hijacking your chosen slot. The FM transmitter can really be a lifesaver on long trips, as we found when we went down to the coast.

Of course one should never advocate playing with a phone while driving, and to that end the N8 music player does allow for creating playlists on the device or you can sync with a desktop music player (I will be looking at the rest of N8’s multimedia capabilities in more detail). I do have an MP3 player in the car but even that means I need three of four CDs at least to get a reasonable variety of music in the car, and they get scratched with time, so being able to play music from the phone through the radio is a welcome feature.

I found what I thought was an empty slot, set up the FM transmitter on the and drove off. After 20 minutes I was ready to throw the radio (not the N8!) out the window. The sound was horribly distorted and I couldn’t find any spot to put the phone down in the car to get it to stabilise. By some stroke of fortune, I accidentaly changed the equaliser setting to flat and viola it was better. I also set the bass and treble to zero and the distortion dissipated. There was still another signal coming in but once I was at the flat in Pretoria I managed to find a clean frequency, and on the way back to Benoni it was heavenly, with just the occasional hint of static. A shade under an hour and 50 KM, and not once did the signal get out of control and even at high volumes the sound was clean.

As I always do whenever I listen to music, I scrobbled to last.fm using Mobbler, and this happily did it’s business in the background. The application was set to online mode, and when I arrived back in Benoni, all the songs were scrobbled, and I verified this online. During the trip a reminder for lunch and the graduation came through. The music is automatically paused and once the alarm is turned off, comes back on after a few seconds. Same goes for an SMS, and I presume it would be the same with phone calls.

Fight!


By this stage we were running very late and had to get to Craighall Park, and find a restaurant we had not been to in no time at all. The in-laws have a trusty Garmin that I’ve had the pleasure of using, and I would say offers the best navigation experience of any GPS unit I’ve ever used. Ovi Maps though has grown in stature since I first got the 6710 Navigator last year when it was still called Nokia Maps and was generally poor. Since Nokia freed the service from subscription fees the rate of development has been phenomenal, and as it is now, with the free downloadable maps, free navigation, and free value added services like the Lonely Planet guides, it is an almost complete mobile mapping solution. The one thing I would like to see eventually is live traffic updates, which are available in Europe. The routing algorithms usually left a little to be desired though when tested against the Garmin or on routes that I already knew.

Again GPS lock even in a moving vehicle was incredibly quick. Searching has also been improved, with the user now in complete control over what search strings they want to use. Before, it involved entering the street number, the street, the suburb, the town/city, and get ANY of these wrong, no results would be returned. Ovi Maps 3.6 also has a handy ‘Did you mean’ feature, in case you spell something wrong. So with the in-laws using the Garmin I pitted Ovi Maps against this champion. I was pleasently surprised. The general route was almost identical. Go along the R21, onto the R24, negotiate Gilooly’s, N3 North then onto Mooderfontein Road. Impressively the new set up at Gillooly’s following extensive roadworks is featured in the updated mapping data! Once off the freeway though, the superior algorithms of the Garmin kicked in. Both were set to the fastest route, but the Garmin took into account little details like crossing a busy road at traffic lights or stop streets, and it seemed to sacrifice ‘time’ for a ‘safer’ route. Crossing Jan Smuts, the Garmin took us along Bomaps Road while Ovi Maps wanted to take us one block down along Kent Road, and at that time, Bomaps Road was definitely the better option. But along a 37 km, the two disagreed at two points only, which is quite an improvement for Ovi Maps. The frequency of instructions on Ovi is higher than with the Garmin, which could annoy some but I rate this as a plus for Ovi Maps.


Interestingly, my parents were also joining us for lucnh and the graduation, and they got to the restuarant using Ovi Maps 3.3, on my father’s E72, and he was rather happy with it’s perfomance as well. Speaking of my father, he phoned me a couple of times, as they had arrived at the restaurant before us, and I was able to take the call with no hassles, and when  I hung up, Ovi Maps had simply continued in the background as expected and the location was up to date. In between long stretches, say if there was a 5 KM gap or so to the next turn, I was fiddling with the phone, using the Social app, and checking out websites on Opera Mobile. No lags, no interruptions to the navigation, and app switching through the task manager was fluid,

Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?


This being a great occasion for my wife, photos were in order. Ami Restaurant provided a fitting backdrop for the occasion, and this time the N8 was pitted against a compact digital camera, the Sony Cybershot DSC-T100. The Sony is a three year old compact camera, and some would say is at a slight disadvantage with a  resolution of 8 megapixels, but it is still fitted with goodies like 5x optical zoom, smile and face detection, HDMI output, xenon flash and coincidentally also Carl Zeiss optics. I’m not an ace photographer but my theory is not too bad, and I know that megapixels aren’t everything and the only advantage gained is in the amount of detail available. Rubbish detail is still rubbish however, so the camera still needs good quality glass, image sensor, and intelligent image processing algorithms. The N8 has a larger image sensor than the Sony with a surface area approximately 54% greater than the compact camera, but has 50% more pixels, so both camera have near identical pixel densities of approximately 300 000 pixels/mm2, so to my mind this battle would be won in the optics and software department (I promise I’ll stop with the numbers now). Doing a quick Google search I found some rave reviews for the Sony so competition would be stiff.

All pictures were taken in auto mode, though with some I did turn the flash off, and I tried to treat both cameras the same. There is quite a bit of motion blur in the N8, which doesn’t have image stabilisation for stills, and I think the Sony by default has this on. This is how the camera has been used in this household, so I didn’t turn off. What I will say though is, knowing the Sony well, the N8 didn’t do too badly. In photos were there was a lot of bright light, especially on the fringes the N8 handled this better, but in darker areas, the Sony was the winner. The Sony enhances colour a bit more and as such the N8s colours are closer to reality. The Sony also seems to be able to pick more spots in the scene for focusing. What one prefers will of course be subjective too. That’s about all I’m qualified to say, but from the photos, I used a mixture of both camera when I uploaded to Facebook, indicating that both have different strengths. I never thought I would be in a situation where I would be picking a cell phone camera’s photos over a compact camera though and that says a lot. Here are some of the photos then, the  N8 first, then the Sony. One thing you’ll notice is that the photos on the Sony appear closer than on the N8. This due to the greater field of view of the N8, with a 28mm equivalent wide angle lens as opposed to the Sony’s standard 35mm equivalent lens. Click the thumbs to view full size images:

I also finally got to try the N8s video capture properly, and this is mighty impressive. On the way from Ami to the university, I shot a short clip out the car window with the window rolled up. The video of course looked crisp on the phone but on my laptop with a 16″ 720p HD monitor, it still retained the crispness and again colour fidelity is simply impressive. Hopefully I can view this on a full HDTV to see what it looks like. I’ve embedded the video below.

At the actual ceremony, I recorderd a video of my wife’s walk accross the stage. The WITS Great Hall is quite large and I was sat approximately halfway between the entrance and the stage. It was quite gloomy and this time the N8 suffered a little bit. Again my lack of steady hands contributed, but I couldn’t notice any skipped frames..

A word on the battery performance


The N8 was fully charged in the morning, and died at about 8:30pm, giving approximately 14 hours of use. I never once plugged the phone into the PC (it charges via USB) or used the car charger. All things considered, with over 90 minutes of navigation, 120 minutes with the FM transmitter, as well being available for photographs and video recording for 4 hours, with general use as well, online use, emailing, SMS and I took in a few short phone calls too, performance was not bad. I actually expected it to die before we got to WITS but it survived for my wife’s moment of glory and one last photo after the ceremony in full regalia.

So after the second ‘real world’ test, the N8 has come out strong. I had a few niggles with the connectivity in the morning, and the FM transmitter took a while to get right, but the N8 held it’s own before predictably coming out second best against the king of navigation, and managed to just about shade things against a decent compact camera. On top of that the battery held on okay.

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