Opera Mini is an excellent web browser for Symbian, mainly because of its tabbed browsing and its proxy server that compresses data to reduce data traffic and increase speed.
The bad news: Opera Mini was coded in Java. This made things easier for the developers, because they could make a "one size fits all" installer that works on every phone that supports mobile Java. But this made the program start and run as slow as quicksand, and spit out an endless stream of security warnings and repeated requests for permission to go online.
The good news: we no longer have to suffer the limitations of mobile Java when we use Opera Mini, because now there is a real Symbian version of the program.
The new Opera Mini for Symbian loads much faster than the old Java application. Gone are the security warnings (Do you really want your web browser to go online? Duh!). Also gone are the repeated requests to define an access point because Opera forgot your choice of five seconds ago. Too bad that it can only remember a single access point instead of an access point group, a.k.a. as "destination" in Symbianspeak. But even so, one stored access point is better than nothing.
Scrolling through websites is a lot faster than it used to be, your cursor runs way smoother than back in the Java days, and your phone's predictive text input now works in Opera Mini too.
More good stuff: the hidden settings page of the old Java version also works in the new Symbian version of Opera Mini.
But there's still plenty of room for improvement. For example, the menu could use an overhaul and tabbed browsing could be made a lot easier.
Just about every Symbian program launches a standard cascading menu layout when you hit the left softkey. But Opera Mini has a horizontal menu bar near the top of your screen. This menu bar comes with shortcuts to the home screen, back/forward/reload buttons, an exit key, and a dropdown menu to go to your bookmarks and settings etc. This may work on a computer screen with a mouse, but it gets annoying real quick when you have to use the four-way navigation button on the keypad of a non-touchscreen phone.
Opera Mini 5 comes with tabbed browsing, but changing tabs requires a trip to the menu, because in normal page view the cursor gets stuck just below the tab bar. The cursor should go all the way up to the tab bar. If UC Browser can do it, Opera Mini can do it too. And don't tell me that I can toggle tabs in Opera Mini with a keypad combo; memorizing keyboard shortcuts has been obsolete since the death of WP5.1 and MS-DOS.
If you want to delete your cookies, clear your browsing history, erase stored passwords, or clean up other privacy liabilities you'll have to take a trip to the bowels of the settings menu. Message to Opera: the privacy options of a web browser should be clearly visibly and easy to get into. There's simply no excuse for burying the privacy tools in a hard-to-reach location. Opera Mini runs on mobile phones, remember? Those little pocketable things that are lost and stolen and abused wholesale.
One final bit of nitpicking: when you close Opera Mini it offends you with an annoying "are you sure?" dialog box. There's no way to switch this "feature" off. The red hangup key is no help either, because this only sends Opera Mini to the background. Opera, do you really think my fingers are so fat that I keep hitting the exit button by accident? The exit confirmation screen belongs in a museum, not in the latest version of Opera Mini!
Tailoring Opera Mini for Symbian is a good start. Let's hope that the other issues will be fixed in the second Symbian version.
• Opera Mini
• Opera Mini hidden settings
UPDATE: The day after I wrote this, story Dennis Bournique at WapReview posted this great review of the new Symbian Opera Mini: wapreview.com/blog/?p=8127
Two blogs know more than one, and ten blogs are even better. For a one-stop method to get the best out of 10 Symbian blogs check out this all-in-one feed:
• Ten Symbian blogs collected by Symbian Underground
Thursday, 28 October 2010
Wednesday, 27 October 2010
Symbian music player TTPod plays mp3, ogg, aac, mp4, m4a, wma, mid, and amr files. It has a sleep timer and an alarm clock with custom snooze time. There's a mini player for your active standby screen, but you can't control TTPod from the active standby screen like you can control your phone's built-in music player. TTPod shows album art. It can display lyrics too, but only from separate lyrics files. It won't show lyrics embedded inside an mp3 file.
TTPod can sort your music by file name and by mp3 tags, and can edit tags too. It can also browse songs in folders, which many versions of the default player won't do unless you use a workaround.
TTPod is frequently updated and is probably the best free music player for Symbian, with more functions than commercial programs like PowerMP3.
TTPod is made in China. The official website is in chinese, and so is the program itself. Fortunately there are many unofficial english translations available.
• TTPod (official site, chinese)
• TTPod v3.80 Beta (english version) at Mobile Castle
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
UC Browser (the former UCWEB) is a Symbian web browser on par with Opera Mini. UC Browser offers tabbed browsing, a choice between a direct web connection and a proxy to reduce data traffic (which may help reduce data roaming charges), download manager, content folding against horizontal scrolling, page segmentation for faster access to big web pages, and many more useful options.
UC Browser is updated often. The test versions are released in chinese, but unofficial english translations always appear rapidly. Check the links below for the latest test version of UC Browser 7.4.
• UC Browser
• UC Browser 7.4 build 10101818 (unofficial english translation) at Mobile Castle
Monday, 25 October 2010
Many years ago, chat networks like MSN tried to stop multi-network instant messenger Trillian from including their network into its "one app to bind them all" program. But not anymore, because they learned that people are connected to multiple networks and they don't want to run a separate program for each of them. You wouldn't want to run separate web browsers for .com and .net domains either, would you?
What goes for computers also goes for mobile phones. Multi-network clients fring and Nimbuzz combine a bunch of instant messaging networks, VoIP using the widely used SIP standard, and Skype as well.
But not anymore. Skyped turned back the clock and blocked fring (or fring ditched Skype, check the mudslinging on the fring forum), and Nimbuzz announced that they'll have to dump Skype at the end of this month. Not because they want to, but because Skype told them to.
Nimbuzz connects to VoIP using SIP, GoogleTalk, Jabber, MSN (Windows Live), Yahoo, AIM, ICQ, Twitter, Gadu-Gadu, Facebook, MySpace, orkut, and Hyves. It does Twitter too.
Fring has VoIP (SIP), GoogleTalk, MSN (Windows Live), ICQ, Yahoo, AIM, Twitter, and social networking sites like Facebook and orkut. Fring is also a GMail notifier, last.fm radio player, Facebook tool, Twitter application, and it includes Wi-Fi hotspot finder WeFi.
Skype's own Symbian application pales in comparison. It does Skype and nothing else. So if you want to be connected to all your chat and VoIP networks you'll have to run two programs, which takes an extra bite out of your battery life. Yes, that sucks.
My advice: boycott Skype until they accept that multi-network programs are the way to go and being anal retentive is just plain stupid. Don't pay Skype a single penny until they grow up.
• Skype for Symbian
Friday, 22 October 2010
Youlu Address Book is a phone book, SMS program, call recorder, and "vibrate on answer" application. It can also backup your contacts, messages, and calender to its server, which may help synchronising them with other phones.
Youlu's contacts manager lets you edit your address book, make calls, and send SMSs. It also displays the call and message history of your contacts, which the built-in contacts application does not. Selecting the message history takes you to a threaded conversation view similar to programs like Smser and Free-iSMS.
Youlu won't let you set or change the picture associated with a contact, but it lets you edit its ringtone. It only sees the ringtones in your phones' default sound folders, which is a good thing if the all-seeing built-in contacts application chokes on the thousand mp3 files that you stored in a folder full of music on your memory card.
The SMS tab shows threaded conversations, but it only sees the messages in your in- and out folders. Anything in your custom folders stays hidden for Youlu. On the bright side, this speeds up the program if you keep the number of messages in the in- and outfolders reasonably low.
Youlu can backup and sync your contacts, messages, and calendar with its own web server if you trust them with your private data like your phone number, contacts list, messages, etc. Even if you don't, Youlu is useful without connecting to their servers.
Unfortunately Youlu is far from finished. Its call recorder didn't work on my phones. Neither did the "vibrate when outgoing call is connected" option, which is supposed to work like FreeCallSprite. Maybe it will work in the next version of the program?
One annoying feature of Youlu is that the red hangup button doesn't close the program. It only hides it, even for the task manager that pops up if you long-press the menu key. You can shut Youlu down from the menu, but only in the settings tab, and then you still have to click yes on a confirmation screen which serves no useful purpose at all.
But this is only version 1.0.0. If they can fix the broken parts Youlu may become a very useful program. Youlu Addres Book is much more than an address book, so maybe Youlu Contacts would be a better name for the program?
• Youlu (official site)
• Youlu 1.0.0 (english translation) at mobile9
• Youlu 1.0.0 (english version) at MobiCreed
UPDATE: Call recording appears to be fixed in Youlu 1.0.1. Warning: installing the new Youlu on top of the old version changes all the settings back to default, so you'll need to configure them again after updating the program.
• Youlu 1.0.1 (english version) at GizmoGates
If your phone complains about certificate errors, you'll need to sign Youlu at Open Signed Online or with your own certificate, or you can hack your phone and install Youlu without signing.
Saturday, 2 October 2010
Ovi Maps is a great navigation program if you don't want to rack up expensive data roaming bills, because Nokia's voice navigation app lets you store all maps on your phone, unlike competing programs like Google Maps which require a live data connection all the time.
The stripped version of Ovi Maps (without guides and voice navigation) is free. Voice navigation and guides are free on all new Nokia phones, and on a few older Nokias (free on Nokia 5800 XM, 6710, 6730, C5, C6, E5, E52, E55, E66, E71, E72, N8, N86, N97 (mini), and X6 as of October 3, 2010). Older Nokias don't get voice navigation for free because Nokia wants you to ditch your old phone and buy a new Nokia. But at 10 euros a year for older phones a license for Ovi Maps is not that expensive. According to Nokia, the 10 euro fee is for covering the costs of giving you a license (read: you pay 10 euros so Nokia can process your €10 payment). You can save Nokia and yourself the €10 processing cost by using one of the unofficial free versions of the program instead.
Map coverage is not as good as for Google Maps, but Ovi Maps works well in Europe, the USA, and Japan, and it's usable in the major cities of India unless you're looking for the Taj Mahal. There are many spots of terra incognito in the rest of the world. The city and country travel guides in Ovi Maps are so incomplete that they border on being useless, even though they come from companies like Michelin and Lonely Planet. On the bright side, you can use your own voice for voice navigation if you're willing to spend time on recording the instructions, and recently Nokia added cell tower triangulation for faster positioning.
Unfortunately Nokia made downloading maps impossible for Linux and Mac users and anyone else who can't install Ovi Suite or Maps Updater on a PC with Windows, .NET, and a set of rather heavy system requirements (try it on a netbook if you're of the masochistic type). That's where the Nokia Map Loader Alternative proves its usefulness. It points to the map files on Nokia's own server. With the Nokia Map Loader Alternative you can download Nokia's maps with any web browser on any operating system. You can even use a browser on your phone, so you can preload maps without having to touch a computer at all.
The Nokia Map Loader Alternative is updated with maps for the latest version of Ovi Maps 3.x. The most recent map version is 00_02_41_123 (this is the version of the map data, not of the program itself). Of course you can also download maps for older versions of Ovi Maps and Nokia Maps, including Nokia Maps 2.0 if your phone won't run Ovi Maps 3.
Load maps on your phone without Nokia Maps Updater:
• Nokia Map Loader and Nokia Maps Updater Alternative
The following links may be useful for you:
Ovi Maps 3 doesn't work on older Symbian phones. Check the Ovi Maps site to see if your phone will run Ovi Maps 3. If it doesn't, try Nokia Maps 2.0 instead.
• Ovi Maps and Nokia Maps Updater from nokia.com
• archived copy of Nokia Maps 2.0 (with free voice navigation) on Mobile Castle
If you want to download Ovi Maps without Ovi Suite:
• Ovi Maps v3.03.246 at GizmoGates
• Ovi Maps 3.04 10wk17 b07 at Ziddu (modified to install on your memory card, useful if you're short on internal phone memory)
• Nokia Ovi Maps v.3.04.278 at Ziddu (signed, so you don't have to hunt for certificates or hack your phone)
• Ovi Maps Beta v3.06(78) at GizmoGates (beta test version, only for very new Nokias)