I missed the year anniversary by a few days but I've been sick and up to my ears in work so I didn't get around to it, but on the 20th of November last year is when I first read about and gushingly previewed the upcoming Nokia 3650, which I predicted would be the Palm Pilot of its generation. Even though the focus of this weblog had been building for months, that one review set off a chain of events that lead me to concentrating on mobile technologies, helping found Mobitopia, travelling to London to attend the Symbian Exposium, and eventually back here to the U.S. where I am doing some really cool stuff in mobile technologies. From the time I wrote that review I became *really* obsessed about the S60 platform, and within a month had my hands on a 7650, and a few months later the 3650 itself which was as awesome as I had hoped it would be.
Okay, I will admit I was a bit off on my original prediction (or maybe way early?). I'm still seeing increasing momentum in the Series 60 platform and specifically the 3650 as that phone drops in price and more and more techies get their hands on one and start playing. But alas the fatal flaws of the 3650 - it's keypad and size - I think have really taken its toll on the popularity of that phone and now I honestly think if most "normal" people have the option for a cool camera phone, they choose the smaller, more cleaner design of the SonyEricsson T610 or one of many flips out there. For those of us who have the 3650 and are enamored with its capabilities like great apps (Wireless IRC), great camera quality, ability to take videos and play 3D games we can't understand why you would want to go with a platform which has so much less power. But for most people they're looking for a great little phone, not a great "platform" so honestly, it doesn't take much to understand. I've felt that pang of desire for the T610 myself...
But not anymore. I have now in my grubby little hands Nokia's latest and greatest, the 6600 and it is everything that the 3650 tried to be, but couldn't quite get to and a little more. I saw a 6600 review recently which talked about just "incremental changes" which is like saying (for you geeks out there) that Windows 3.1 was only an incremental upgrade to 3.0 or that OSX 10.3 is just a bit better than 10.2. No, this phone addresses complaints and adds refinements on a variety of levels which don't just add up to making this phone better, it adds up to making this phone *greater* in every way.
How great? Well that's the tricky part isn't it? I've learned quite a lot in the past year, one of the most imporant ones is the emphemeral nature of mobile phones as a platform. Unlike PC platforms or even PDAs, which may have a similar model on sale for years and years (Palm V anyone?), a new mobile phone's shelf life is counted in months using your fingers, and not all of them. I'd say 6 to 9 months after a mobile is introduced, it's already old news, the next model has been announced and every manufacturer has a comptetitor. It's hard to say this model or that model is the one that will have staying power. The 6600 is a great phone, but Nokia has already announced the 7700 - which though not in the same category - trumps this phone in functionality and general lustworthiness hands down. Is the 6600 greater than the P900 or the Treo 600? Depends on who you ask and what your requirements are. What if I focus on just the S60 phones, is the 6600 be better than the Sendo X (when it's launched)? Again, hard to tell since that phone has some cool features as well. And with 31 more Symbian based phones in the pipeline even if it is the greatest all-around-mobile available right now, it won't be that way for long.
So let me get to some of the good stuff I've noticed so far. I should've been taking notes from the beginning, but I got too into it. Bear with me. :-) I won't make the mistake of bitching about missing features like I did with the N-Gage, only to be corrected a million times in my comments. I'll just point out some of the neat things I've noticed, and wait to pick out any flaws at some other point.
Let me say right off that I've gone from the 7650 to the 3650 and then recently to the N-Gage and was completely at home on all of those phones because the OS and the UI for all of them were only somewhat different. The 6600 doesn't change a lot of things, but Nokia has definitely tweaked the UI enough for old hands like me to get a bit lost. But it's all for the good, believe me - many of the oddities which had to do with file locations and programs have been cleaned up and made clearer, though the bewildering (even for me) tabbed menu of the Settings App remains, many other parts are easier to find and use.
Also, let me say that I'm hardly on the cutting edge with this phone, even though I'm one of the first Americans to get it. As always, All About Symbian has the full scoop - with a forum thread of over 2500 posts already dedicated to the 6600. Because of the upgrade to Symbian 7.0s from 6.1 there's definitely some apps that don't work, and that's the best place to find out what does and doesn't work. Some of the apps which are essential to me seem to have problems (though I haven't confirmed yet) like Agile Messenger and Wireless IRC. So that's the place you want to go to get all the information. Below are my thoughts about specific changes that struck me:
More RAM and Storage: I knew that the 6600 was going to have 6MB of storage space, but but because Nokia insists on calling everything "memory" I assumed that was all that the 6600 was going to have of RAM as well. To my delight, AppMan shows I have 9.2MB of RAM left, while using about 800k right after reboot. What a wonderful thing! It's not as much RAM as the N-Gage (which shows me consistently over 12MB free) but it's a *hell* of a lot better than my 3650 which never gets above 2.2MB free (much less than Opera needs to run). My phone - which I bought off of eBay and originating in Hong Kong - came with a 32MB MMC storage card. Unhappily it did not have Opera pre-installed like it was supposed to, so I'll have to see what I can do to fix that.
Java Apps Promoted: The "Applications" icon has disappeared, which threw me for a bit because there's now a "Manager" icon which looks the exact same, but worked like the old Manager app. What has happened is that now when you install Java Midlets - they appear as icons on your main menu grid as equal partners with other native apps and are installed and uninstalled the same way as well. HOOORAY! This is how it should've been done all along! Though the Java apps do take their time to start up (whereas before, some of that I think was shunted off to the Applications launcher app) it's very nice to see Java apps as first class icons. It never made sense to have them off in another menu where only a geek like me knew where to find them and why they were there. There seems to be some basic compatibility problems with Java jars that work without problems on the other S60 phones, however. I copied over Splinter Cell, Siberian Strike, FIFA 2003, and Tiger Woods Golf that I bought on my 7650 last year over to the 6600 to try and only Siberian Strike worked. This is disconcerting, though not the final word. Maybe if I did an install using the .jad OTA they would've worked fine. Personally, from a programmer's point of view, I can't wait to start playing with MIDP 2.0 stuff and the Bluetooth (JSR-82) implementation. I'll write more on that when I've played with it.
Themes!: Wow! The 6600 supports themes! Just when you finally remembered that wacky place Nokia had put the background image option, they pulled it out and put it, plus color, style and graphics options wrapped up in an app item called Themes which you can choose from. I didn't know this existed until just now. Very cool! I've got the blue-tinged theme 3 (no names on the defaults) and it looks *good*. It definitely jazzes up what was becoming a sort of bland user interface. It's too bad the N-Gage didn't ship with this! It would've improved that device 100%! I can't wait to play with this a bit more - though a quick browse on AAS makes me think that I need to modify 360 images and then pack them up into a .SIS file? Is that right? I can't seem to find any info on the Nokia Developer Forum for creating themes - it's like a weird stealth feature. :-)
Media options: This has been cleaned up quite a bit. There's now a "gallery" application which will allow you to view both your pictures and videos. When you play your video, you use the integrated Real Player, as opposed to a custom client. And with both the photos and video, you can do a 2x digital zoom, which sounds silly, but really helps focus the normally very widescreen camera focus. I haven't seen the results yet of the pictures, but they seem to be a bit more digitized than the 3650's which are generally clear and sharp (for VGA). It's too bad that you still can only take only about 14 seconds of video, however, but I guess they want to make sure you can send the video via MMS which has a 100k limit, so that's why. Also, it's a shame but the 6600 audio remains *mono* only, which I really don't understand, especially when it's competing (some day) with the Siemens SX1 and Sendo X, both which have integrated FM stereos.
Questions for those who have their own 6600: My firmware (type *#0000#) is "V 3.42.1 16-10-03 NHL-10" is that what you have? I'm still working my way around the phone, but the first thing that I ran into while setting up an Access Point is that the "Gateway IP Address" option is gone! Do you know where it went? I think AT&T Wireless needs it. Also, does the UI seem a bit sluggish to you? It seems there's an extra beat or two while choosing menu items that neither the 3650 or N-Gage has. Going back to those phones makes me feel like they are faster. Maybe Symbian 7.0s is a bit more "heavy"? in terms of processing needs? What's with the renamed "Favorites" app which is now the "Go To" app (same thing) which *still* is incredibly useless as 1) I really don't know how to add anything to it and 2) don't really have enough apps (and I have what could be considered a lot of apps) to warrant a dedicated app for this on my phone. It's weird.
This phone could really take off as the ultimate "smart phone" (for the next few months at least), but I wonder if Nokia is going to push this phone as heavily as it did the 3650. Remember within a month of launching the 3650, Amazon.com had it for *free* with signup for both T-Mobile and AT&T Wireless. Will the 6600 be pushed as aggressively? Will the 3650 get even *cheaper* for consumers? When will we see the 3660 make its appearance? I haven't heard much about it since it was announced a month or so ago.
One thing that I'm more than a bit annoyed about is pretty much all the apps that I've bought that tie the registration to the phone's IMEI number. So unlike Palm apps where I could buy a new device and transfer the apps I've purchased over from the old device, on phones you can't do that (except with the odd Java app if you know where to look for the .jar). The first time I ran into this going from the 7650 to the 3650, it wasn't that big of a deal. But now 7 months later, I'm a bit annoyed at having to shell out another $200 for the apps that are on my phone. Wireless IRC: $9.95, Opera: $29, NetFront: $19, YFTP? MGS Karting? EyeCon Camcorder? ActiveMail? These all cost cash, and since I know my wife (who is inheriting my 3650) probably won't use any of these apps, there should be no reason in the world why I can't move them over to my new phone without having to email and beg each company (which probably won't work anyway). Anyways, I digress...
So in summary, the 6600 definitely improves on the 3650 in quite a variety of ways. The device itself is lighter and more compact, the black on grey styling is definitely much more professional and the keypad won't get as many groans - though I've already seen people moaning about how compact it is. I must say that I prefer the 3650's joypad over the 6600's joystick, which is a bit slick, but it's nothing too major. The phone still lacks stereo sound and SD card support, and like the 3650 and N-Gage you have to remove the battery to swap your MMC storage, which sucks, but on the whole it's a nice looking, well made mobile phone. The upgrades to the OS - Symbian 7.0s/Series 60 v2 - are very nice and improve on many of the complaints I had months ago. The promotion of Java apps is definitely high on my list and the addition of themes is also pretty cool (I had T610 envy when I first saw their themes). There's still a lot of places the Series 60 UI could improve - sorting Contacts for example, or cleaning up and centralizing many of the settings. And I just can't get over the feeling that the menus are a bit sluggish... did someone forget to turn off the debug switch while compiling the distrib? But overall the upgrade is definitely a major improvement and makes this phone easily the best "pure" smart phone on the market, not counting the PDA-phones like the Treo 600 and the SE P900.
Whew! Very cool. Russ likes his new toy.