MobiTV for my 6620


Rock! MobiTV is available for the Nokia 6620 on AT&T Wireless! I've been waiting for this since I first saw it months ago on Sprint PCS. I just signed up for the $7.99 monthly plan, downloaded the Java app and hey it works! But honestly? It needs another rev at least. Not to slam the Idetic guys too much, but the app for the 6620 needs to be cooked a little more.

I will say that the streams look and sounds great for about 2 minutes. Seriously. But then you notice the sounds skipping or the stream stops playing after a while and doesn't start again without clicking the pause/restart keys or exiting and coming back into the app. Hmmmm. Not that I was honestly expecting much better from J2ME, but it would've been nice. I don't remember the Sprint app being so flaky, but then again I only used it briefly.

Let me start at the beginning, because not only does the app need help, but the whole process really. mMode generally sucks for buying apps via your mobile - especially on Series 60 phones - and this time was no different for me. I logged into the mMode portal using the phone's minibrowser, found the new MobiTV section, then clicked the requisite 4 or 5 times to give permission to buy the service with my eWallet. Then I was shunted over to a very basic screen on QPass' servers (most people wouldn't notice the URL change), where I clicked OK once more and got a prompt to download the app. Now, I figured it was going to be Java considering the Sprint version, but I also thought that it might work like a streaming version of the Real TV service (i.e. with the internal player). There was no explanation of this beforehand, so though I was disappointed, I'm sure others would be confused. After I installed the app (with the customary 4 consumer-bewildering prompts from the Series 60 UI), I was presented with a completely blank screen. Anyone who didn't know where to go look for the MobiTV app would've been completely lost.

After trying to go back, and then worrying about being charged twice by QPass, I decided to just exit out of the browser and find the installed player app. When I first ran it, it worked fine for a little while, until it stopped and didn't start again. I restarted it, but it got into a weird loop where it continually prompted me for permission to access the network and wouldn't stop. I ended up having to hammer the app, then I went into the Manager -> Settings and modified the permissions to only prompt me once for a network connection. I'm not sure why this app isn't signed so it did this all for me. Finally after it not connecting for a second time, I connected "manually" using the minibrowser, then tried the player again and it worked, though only intermittently.

There's a lot you can blame on the wireless network, but the app itself needs help as well. Choosing the channels is pretty crufty - you get a text list of the 20 or so channel streams available which you can page through, then you type in the number of the channel you want to play. It took me a second to realize that's what the blinking underline (like a c:\ prompt) was for. Then you get a black "Tuning to MSNBC" message on top of a graphic logo that says "receiving signal" and at the bottom is a thin, thin, blue/green line that shows the buffer progress. I would've liked that bar to be a lot thicker. You can also change the channels while the video is playing by clicking the joystick up or down. But because the streams don't start up immediately (by any stretch) this is more of an accidental thing that happens rather than a deliberate action by the user. I mean, my TiVo moves too slowly for me to use the channel up/channel down keys - I'm not going to use this on a mobile streaming video player.

The overall selection of channels is pretty great - ABC News, Discovery Channel, MSNBC, CNet and more. I can imagine many places where I'll be able to pull this out and watch TV while waiting and for showing people cool mobile apps, there's nothing like live video to impress. When it's working well, the video is quite passable, however the images can start to pause and skip like crazy - which would be okay if the the audio didn't come in and out all the time, sometimes doing that weird digital double play thing. The worst part is when the stream pauses without any sign that it's buffering. Since I'm sure that the 6620's Java VM is powerful enough for decoding and playing, I can only assume that the EDGE network just isn't fast enough for this type of stream just yet. Even so, the app should give more idea of what's happening to the user. Yes, we all hate Real's "buffering... buffering... buffering... 3k of 500k" messages, but still, it's nice to know what's going on. When the MobiTV player stops, there's really no notice as to why, and many times there's no recovering. Even changing channels doesn't help. Right this second, I've got the G in the corner of my phone with the square around it showing that I have a data connection, but nothing seems to be happening. I'd try to monitor the KB usage with the Series 60 Connection Manager app, but multi-tasking *kills the player.* Joy.

There's other nits as well: I can't say I mind the prompt every 5 minutes or so to click a button, but it'd be nice to be able to turn that off so you can just drone out and watch TV when you want. Also, adjusting the volume takes more than a few seconds to take effect for whatever reason, and though the loudspeaker on the phone is passable (if tinny as hell), using an ear-piece makes the sound quite low. If I was in a crowded place, I may not be able to hear the stream. Lastly, the app always defaults to MSNBC when its started. This was good when I first tried the app - I clicked a button and I was watching video, but it should remember my last channel after that or just default to the channels screen. This must be some sort of marketing thing with MSNBC, because it's just so in your face.

So in general MobiTV is good if you're a waaay early adopter like I am. But if you're expecting a smooth user experience, this isn't it yet. Hopefully I'll get some sort of alert in the next month or so telling me of an upgrade, but we'll see. I'm sure they've spent some time with this app already and this could be the best it'll be for a while.

One last thing - this app is also available for the Motorola v600 as well, but not either of the 3G phones. That's very strange as this would be a perfect app for my UMTS phone, no? Maybe the Java on those phones just don't have the right APIs needed (MMA) to do this. That's too bad.


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