Homage to the Nokia n95

This next week will see a lot of hype surrounding the expected new iPhone and yesterday’s launch of the Palm Pre. Although I’m just as excited as you, I thought I should take a brief moment to pay respect to the phone that’s seen me through thus far in my smart-phone usage – the Nokia N95 (8GB).

With its Symbian OS, I’ve always recommended it with the warning that it’s a bit of a geeks phone. Downloading applications from the net, they don’t go through the same vetting that takes place with the Apple App Store. Some can be a little less stable than others and in some instances they conflict. Feature-wise it’s a solid phone if you’re prepared to perform the odd restart and fault find.

I’ve always thought it’s the utilitarian answer to the iPhone. Where Apple customers are until now unable to copy and paste, you can with an N95, but the button is somewhat hidden. Patches, fixes and apps exist for the Nokia where the system is not as locked down. What’s great about the N95 is that, where the need arises, someone’s usually solved a functionality problem in advance. The answer is hardly ever ‘we don’t support that’.

So before I get swept away in Apple and Palm hype, I thought I’d log my favourite apps. Here goes:

  • Fring. One of my favourite apps for functionality. It links with Skype and you can have what looks like a normal phone call through WiFi (free if you’re calling someone on their computer). I regularly talk to people in Australia on this and after a few hitches (generally with the net speed at the other end) it now works perfectly. It also works with other social networking sites.
  • Gmail. An amazingly fully featured app from Google. It keeps a local copy of your email but syncs with their server. You’ll never lose a message and it has better functionality than the iPhone app. I’m able to search, a feature iPhone users have only had through their web version up until now.
  • YouTube. Another Google usability triumph. Although it doesn’t always seem to be as up-to-date as the web version and clicking on browser web links don’t open the app automatically, it does have one killer feature: it’s the only app I have that (without hacking) streams video over the 3G network. Really useful.
  • Google Maps. Simply amazing. This app takes advantage of the inbuilt GPS receiver in the phone. With this I’m never lost, I can always find directions to a destination from my location to within a few metres. Coupled with Google Latitude, it’s a great tool for keeping up with people across London. I can also access Google Street View from my phone, I can’t count the number of times this has been really useful.
  • WirelessIRC. Despite the name red-herring, I actually use this to access Twitter. Unlike most other Twitter apps, it runs happily in the background. Whenever I want to update myself on other’s activities I can immediately view, rather than take the time to launch an app > connect to the network > download tweets etc etc. I can easily copy and paste text to re-tweet (RT) and using Nokia’s inbuilt functionality, I can copy and paste posted URLs to my web browser. (NOTE: On the N95, the copy and paste functions are found under the key that looks like a pencil on the bottom left below the screen).
  • BBC iPlayer (1.5). Although newer versions exist, they seem to have been blocked from working on the N95. Don’t despair, you can still download the app from sources across the web. BBC iPlayer is a fantastic boost to the multimedia capabilities of this phone. As long as you’re not worried about the jump between the listings app and the in-built RealPlayer to stream programmes, you’re never going to miss a programme again. Shame it only works on WiFi (unless hacked) and doesn’t support downloads.
  • Opera Mini. A web browsing experience comparable with a PC. I use this mainly to access Google Reader. The Mini browser comes with the ability to create ‘bookmarklets’, something that when mixed with a little Javascript, allows me to post interesting links to Delicious. All of this functionality is a life-saver on long train rides (or even the cramped commute to work).
  • Web development apps such as SIC! FTP and s60HTMLed. This combination means I can effectively edit web pages from anywhere. s60HTMLed is a great application but takes some setting up. You need to download Python for S60, the ‘appuifw2′ extension and in my case I had to Symbian Sign the web editor.
  • Shozu. A multipurpose photo up-loader that allows me to tag and describe pictures that I upload to Flickr.
  • Snaptweet. A service that scans my Flickr account and adds pictures with the ‘snaptweet’ tag to my Twitter stream.
  • GooSync. Synchronise your inbuilt calendar with Google Calendar. Simple and effective.
  • Last but not least, the other inbuilt features like the WebKit browser (yes, the iPhone isn’t the only one that comes with this); 5Mpixel camera; and accelerometer for quick transition between landscape and portrait display. (NOTE: to set the display, go to Menu > Tools > Setting > General > Personalisation > Display > Rotate screen ‘Automatic’).

My advice for N95 users is to every-so-often, backup everything and look for system updates. I think an amount of this functionality will not work, or would be more buggy with older software. Where lots of phone manufacturers forget about updates only months after release, Nokia have been consistent in their support so you may as well take advantage of this goodwill. The phone isn’t perfect and there’s lots of other software I haven’t mentioned, but I thought I should acknowledge this phone’s 15 months service to me before I upgrade.

Posted on Sunday 7 June 2009.

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