The Connected Life

I think it’s fair to say that all cellphones, ‘dumb’ or ‘smart’ phone, need to have the ability to stay connected if they are to be taken seriously in this day and age. That usually means just being able to get onto Facebook and Twitter, and whatever other social network is all the rage. I might sound like a bit of a cynic but I too value this interconnectivity. Take away my mobile internet and I am a little bit lost.

For the social butterfly

You’ve got to have been living under a rock to not be aware of the rise and rise of the social network. I stick to Facebook for socialising, Twitter for media aggregation and I have been toying with Foursquare for a bit now. The N8 comes with a built in social network client simply called Social Networks. Social requires authentication with Ovi first, then authentication with Facebook or Twitter. I’m not sure why this is required, Gravity which also support multiple social networks doesn’t do this. I’m guessing it’s like Nokia Messaging on the older Nokias where you require one login, and if you change phones, it was able to pull all email inboxes associated with that login.

Social is okay and I think the level of satisfaction will depend on what you do on either of the two networks. The twitter side of things is not even as good as the Twitter mobile site, which is average at best. You can upload photos, sends direct messages, mentions, and review the feed. Unfortunately the feed is limited. I find that if I don’t check twitter for a good while I miss a lot of older feeds and need to go online to check. Perhaps it is designed for someone who is constantly signed on, but I tend to review my feed a couple of times a day. Also there’s no option to retweet, which for me is a bit of a downer, as I’m rather fond of sending tweets I like on. But for casual use it’s fine. If I want to check what is happening in the world and plan to ope na a couple of links it’s fine. I find doing a bit more, interacting with profiles I follow, a little tiresome.

Facebook is better for me as I don’t get as many new updates to my feed as on twitter. One thing I fail to understand is the hopeless manner that notifications are handled. Notifications in the app refers only to events and friend request, and then a separate section for inbox messages. If this your sole access to facebook then you’ll never know if someone writes on your wall, or replies to any comments. It’s just not a useful way of doing things. Photo upload is also a bone of contention. I like to upload photos directly from my phone as I take them, and to this end I’ve been toying with the furtiv upload plugins and the brilliant pixelpipe both available from Ovi Store. They integrate with the phone and are available from the camera and photo albums. The Social app allows for uploads direct from the app which is great as it saves me the effort of configuring external plugins…until you view the photos online. Photos are compressed on facebook of course, for our benefit, down to a resolution of 720X540 already a huge factor considering the N8 shoots at a maximum resolution of 4000X3000. The Social app seems to me like it compresses images even further, possibly 640X480, but that’s a just a wild guess, then Facebook blows these up to it’s default display resolution hence pictures look more pixelated. To confirm this I uploaded a photo using Social and then directly from Facebook online, then downloaded them back to my computer and checked the file sizes.The result was 61 kb for Facebook Upload versus 38.6 kb for the upload via Social. There is a definite difference in the quality of the two images. I find this ridiculous as the N8 has this fantastic camera and yet photos uploaded look like they were taken with one of those first generation 1.3 mpx cameras. Okay maybe not that bad but see for yourself below (Social upload first, then Facebook upload):

There is also a homescreen widget for the Social app, which allows to update your status to both feeds though not individually, and it gives you a combined feed for both networks. The was reportedly an update to the app that automatically scrolled through the feed, and allows for photo uploads direct from the camera and photo album,  but I have yet to see how this works.

Personally I prefer to use Facebook Mobile and Gravity for Twitter. I won’t go into too much detail on the app, except to say that Gravity is for my money one of the best apps I have ever used and seems a bargain to me at R80, though I’m not sure everyone is willing to pay that much money for a Twitter client. It does offer limited support for Foursquare and brilliant Google Reader support, again rivaling Google’s own set up. Speaking of Foursquare, there is an official app available from Ovi Store. The app was sluggish on the foot soldier, but is reasonably quick on the N8 and responsive.

The Digital Playground

Having access to a good browser on the go is of course a critical part of the modern day mobile experience. The N8 browser is not that bad actually after spending a week and a half with it. I am under no illusions that a 3.5″ screened touch slab, no matter how advanced, no matter how powerful the internals, and no matter the resolution and wuality of the screen, can replace my computer. I find 10.1″ inch netbooks on the uncomfortable side of small. No website looks as good or is as as comfortable to read on a smartphone as it is on any decent computer screen. But they have the capabilities and as be as used as such if one desires. I will stress that the quality of your browsing experience will depend on what you want to do with it.

My main philosophy when browsing on the phone is to get information as quickly and as plainly as possible, and cheaply too. This for me means I would be prefer the browser pointing me to a mobile friendly version of any website if available. I just feel fancy web layout and rich graphics are wasted on this screen size. With this in mind I am more than happy to use the Nokia browser. Based on the options available to me, the default browser, Opera Mobile and Mini, the default browser renders mobile pages more beautifullu and is as quick as the two replacements. I’ve illustrated this below using my Facebook profile landing page, but in truth this could have been any mobile site. In fact the sole reason why I started using Opera Mini and continue to do so, is the level of compression with a page like Facebook mobile as much as three times smaller on Mini than on Mobile or Nokia web.

Now if you are after desktop style browsing, then Nokia web is not so smart. Again Opera Mini will compress sites, if the images are set to low quality, many orders of magnitude and so is my preferred choice. Opera Mobile is simply faster than Nokia web, and being an impatient sort I find that I can start panning or zooming must sooner on Mobile than with Nokia Web. Nokia web does support flash (Flash 4 Lite on the N8) and if this is turned off the browser is noticeably faster. Another advantage that Opera Monile (and Mini) has is that it reflows text when you zoom in, meaning goodbye to side scrolling. It only has two zoom levels, but this is intelligently executed such that text on the screen is the correct size. You can set the font size in settings to one that is comfortable for you, and this doesn’t affect reflow. The UI of the two sets of browsers is also very different. The Opera browsers, as you can see from the screenshots above have the back, forward, and reload buttons, as well access to tabs and settings always available at the base of the screen. The URL entry and search boxes are fixed at the top. Once you’ve scrolled to the bottom of a page, simply tapping the top of the screen returns you automatically to the URL input box. These elements are hidden on the default browser, though I’m still rather fond of the browsers visual history when you want to go back and forth between pages. Handling of tabs in the N8 browser is inferior to Opera’s approach, as it takes the form of older browsers like dark days of Internet Explorer 6, with only support for multiple windows.

So in summary, if social networking is big part of your life, then the Social app might not be for you. It is very limited in functionality, and the implementation of some aspects, like notifications in Facebook, is a little bewildering. Luckily with Facebook, the mobile  site is fantastic, and with twitter the other options in the Store. Browsing at this stage is probably not something for the heavy use, unless you revert entirely to Opera. The N8 allows you to change the default browser to Opera Mobile and this works well with version 10.1, except when visiting links from the Social app. Ultimately it really is just about how you want to stay connected with the N8. For casual connections, the bundled tools are adequate, any more than that and you’ll need to do a little enhancement which thankfully is not overly complicated.

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