For the Workforce

I can safely say I am one of the most disorganised people I know. I exist in a state of organised chaos and it used to be really bad. Every year I got a wall planner, a diary, a notebook for tasks, and endeavoured to get on top things. This usually lasted until about mid February. That was until I start using my mobile phone to manage my agenda. The logic here is that the phone is always in my pocket, and is filled with a rich personal information management (PIM) suite that can handle agendas, tasks, is linked to the phone alarm system, as well as an email client. And these days syncing with cloud based management tools is a breeze. While I wouldn’t go patting myself on my shoulder just yet, the smartphone has brought me to a place where I can at least manage to get though the day and remember to get through 90% of my tasks and meetings without getting overwhelmed and cluttered.

My set up at the moment is as follows. Contacts and calendar entries are handled primarily using Google, Gmail and Calendar. This has allowed some flexibility for me, meaning that I can remain phone brand agnostic, with the only prerequisite being a smartphone. I have explored other means of storing my data, but I find Google’s cloud support to be the most reliable for my needs.

This has been for me the sketchiest part of the N8.

Syncing to the device is handled by Mail for Exchange. Syncing of calendar and contacts was smooth and reliable, and I’ve continued to modify the data on device and online and I have had no problem. Syncing my Gmail account via Mail for Exchange has not been a happy experience thus. The first sync was fine, but thereafter was sporadic and sometimes just did not happen, and I was getting no error messages to highlight this fact. Trying to send an email is impossible. I get an ‘unable to perform operation’ error (screenshot below). So I deleted the exchange account, and synced with my work exchange account. Perfect. No weird error messages, and push email works a treat. Change back to Google and the same gremlins flair up. Luckily Nokia Messaging can automatically set up mailboxes for the main commercial services, Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, and Nokia’s own Ovi Mail. Literally enter the email address and your password, and Nokia’s servers handle everything else. While these services are not strictly ‘push’ and require manual checking, Nokia Messaging can be set to poll the accounts, simulating a ‘push’ email experience. I do find this a little frustrating though, as I now have a two step solution to deliver email and PIM data from Google. It’s not difficult, but it’s an unnecessary step that needs to be taken. I also wonder about Google’s support for Active Sync though, as syncing  my WITS exchange account, as well as a UNISA account was flawless. Hopefully both parties, Nokia and Google can sort it out.

Okay, so now Google via two steps is syncing, and my Ovi Mail is also set up. Nokia Messaging only supports one exchange account, which means that I had to pick between Google and work, so Google won. On the foot soldier, I have been using Road Sync (R40 from Ovi Store) for the extra Exchange account, but I see there is no support for the N8 or any other Symbian^3 phones. At this stage I am unwilling to pay for the extra account anyway.

So how has email actually performed? If I had written this at the midway point I would have say great with one or two caveats. Email sync had at that stage obeyed the retrieval frequency I had selected. I complained about the text input method and the criticisms stand but one gets used to it, and it has become second nature. The email client as I said feels a bit bloated. I have found it to be the weakest performer in the N8s application suite. Mail retrieval is also slow, and then once it is retrieved, it is still rendered on device and then finally the email is displayed. Large graphically rich HTML emails can take an age sometimes, even over super fast HSDPA connections. Email sync does have an adverse effect on other running applications, but for the most part syncing will happen with the phone in your pocket so you will never notice. The email view supports pinch zooming and the screen responds very well like with the rest of the N8s UI. I have had no problem viewing and sending attachments.

On Day 8 of my time with the N8 however things went slightly awry. I receive a daily agenda digest from Google Calendar every morning (part of trying to stay on top of the game), and with my sync schedule it arrives without fail at 6 AM. On this particular morning nothing came through the Nokia Messaging servers. There were a few emails in my Ovi mailbox, and tried to access these mail retrieval never completed. I managed to access the emails through Opera Mobile (Ovi Mail will not work through the default browser on the N8, something about the device not being supported, which is very odd all things considered). Later in the day I finally got my agenda (a little late I would say), and both Gmail and Ovi accounts were syncing, however Ovi registered seven new emails and this number grew throughout the day, hitting a peak of 20 then retreating to two. These were ancient email, from as far as six months back, and some were even duplicates of emails in my Deleted mail folder. Scratch your head stuff this. So email performance had veered from the superlative to downright comical, just like that. These gremlins were affecting mostly Ovi, Gmail was only a couple of hours behind (it’s set to sync every hour). Deleted emails online or on the server reappeared magically, and even Mail for Exchange lost the plot briefly duplicating some contact information before fixing itself. On Day 9 things have calmed down, Gmail is syncing perfectly, and Ovi is still showing an old email from the 13th September as unread. Sigh (edit: email sync is thankfully back to normal).

On the other hand, N8s refreshed calendar layout is an absolute pleasure to use. It supports four views, day, week, month, and a to-do view. You can of course choose which default view you want (I like the month view). Entering a new event or task is very simple, and the layout is logical, you choose the entry type, title, time, date, location and alarms. There is support for recurring events. Locations can be added directly from Ovi Maps, or you can type the address in and when the meeting is due, search for it from the calendar entry in Ovi Maps and from there navigate to the location. You can add notes or attachments. Syncing my calendar entries, whether created on device or in Google calendar, has been flawless.

There is no support for syncing of tasks between the phone and google which is okay as I tend to use these on the day I need to complete stuff rather than recording them well in advance. Support for categories or contexts (ie home, work etc) for tasks and even calendar entries would be great but it doesn’t diminish from the usability of the whole setup. There is now support for multiple calendars but only when syncing with Ovi Calendar, but I use the one calendar anyway so for me it’s fine.

QuickOffice and Adobe Reader are bundled in. Adobe Reader is competent. Scrolling through pages is a little on the slow side, and when zoomed in the text does not reflow, which would be fine if scrolling was not slow. QuickOffice is also just a document viewer, supporting Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. Word and Excel display documents well but with some PowerPoint presentations, I found things that some elements did not display properly. Having used the full version of QuickOffice on the E72, a paid upgrade is definitely worth the money.

Overall I am satisfied with the PIM setup on the N8. The email situation has been good and I won’t dismiss it based on one bad day, and I’m more than happy with the calendar features. So here’s to continue to stay organised…phew!

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  1. Google Sync and Nokia: A broken affair? « The Tech Bishop

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