Nokia’s silliness

No, I’m not referring to Nokia’s involvement with Qt, nor I’m going to speak about the N900 (which still tempts me somewhat). I’m speaking about the good old classic Nokia phones and accessories.

Last week a friend of mine tells me about a special code to get a 20% discount on all Nokia hardware, and since I was looking for a pair of bluetooth headsets (one for the Nokia E75, and the other for the Siemens VoIP phone, for when I have to wait for an hour on the phone be it for personal situations or, most likely, business reasons) I decided I could go with either one or two depending on one particular factor: whether Nokia was ready to send me one with an UK power adapter.

My reason for wanting a bluetooth set with the UK adaptor is that since I’d like to go back to London (and actually I already booked tickets and room for going back at the start of November with a friend of mine), I would be needing either to use again the adapter or to get an UK Nokia power adapter… since I have about ten different Nokia adapters home, and they insist on giving me a new one with each purchase, another Italian adapter would have been superfluous, and at that point getting a UK one would have been a good choice, in my opinion.

So anyway, since I’m a registered freelancer with a valid European VAT ID, I wanted to have a proper invoice for the headset(s), so that I could then declare it a work expenses (it is). Strangely enough, while Italian eshops never had trouble with invoicing me, European shops often seem to have trouble; some have different websites (like Alternate and Apple’s); other have no way to send me a VAT-valid invoice, and in the case of Nokia’s, they ask me to call them. Well not a problem for me, calling to order stuff.

Not in general at least; the problem is that the operator who answered was definitely not Italian. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with foreigners, not even with those working on call-centers and the like; everybody got to work, and if they are hired to do that job, I’m fine with that. But at least they should ensure that the guy can understand what he’s being told. In this case, he really had no way to it seems.

First of all, he wasn’t even sure whether he could order me the BH-104 headset with the UK adapter… he seemed to ask, either to someone else or me, whether that could be possible, and then said “No, I don’t think so”. Sigh, well okay, I’ll just get one instead of two then (the other I’ll get once I am in London). I start giving him my data, starting from my name… he asks me to repeat it a couple of times… I finally spell it letter by letter, using the classic Italian method for spelling: city names. It seems like my friend here didn’t know them either… indeed, he wrote down “Iettno” as name, rather than the correct “Pettenò”… not a good start is it?

After 40 minutes on the phone for something that, online, would have taken about 5, I get to do something else waiting for the confirmation email (where I finally see the wrong surname); I open a request at Nokia right away to tell them that they got the wrong name, address (number 155 rather than 125) and even the name for the credit card (which is still my old name, not the new one). I also ask again please if they can replace the SKU# with the SKU# of the UK version, but I get no answer. I’m told a confirmation email would arrive when the order is shipped, so I don’t give too much credit to the fact I read nothing, I expect the order to be cancelled (since Visa should refuse the use of the CC with the wrong name, at least so I thought)…

I read or think nothing about it till today; this morning an ex-schoolmate of mine, whom I have seen a few months backs after probably around ten years, and who lives at 800m from my home, calls me up “I just received a package from the Netherlands directed to you… the courier was going to send it back because they couldn’t find the address… I’ll bring it to you this afternoon”. Now, a couple of words thanking Murphy that at least left one thing right, and to my friend who received the package. Obviously, this was the Nokia’s headset.

And here another bad surprise: not only the name is wrong, but the operator didn’t write down my VAT ID! Which makes the invoice unusable as work expense! Terrific!

Okay, okay, at least the headset looks good, I try to pair it with my E75… to no avail. Maybe I’m doing something wrong? I call up a friend of mine to help me out (since he was coming here anyway) and he tries with his E61 (my old one)… works fine; he tries the same with my E75… nothing. Okay, let’s see with the E71… it also works fine at the first try. Fun ensures.

A quick google around later, I found one interesting forum post with an “out there” trick: deleting the SMS Inbox (and outbox as well). Well, what had I to lose? 500+ messages in my inbox… they are there just because it’s too cumbersome to delete them each time, they have no value to me, so I just clear them out… I try with just the inbox first and… uh it works.

What the heck!

Now, Luca actually brought in a good point: my SMS inbox came ported from the E71; and it passed through a firmware update as well; it’s not too far fetched to expect that the database would be in need for some kind of vacuum or something; or maybe while the messaging application could deal with older data format, the bluetooth one couldn’t. Since bluetooth messages are sent like any other message, it’s possible that the two are linked and that might have caused the trouble. In any case, this definitely shows that there is something totally wrong with Symbian!

Really, are we serious? Nokia you made me waste a non-null amount of money with your mistake. I’m definitely going to complain until I can get somebody to at least explain to me why that had to happen in the first place. I start understanding how it is that this trimester has been negative, if this kind of problems is getting common. I definitely didn’t remember this with Nokia.

Cellphones… sigh!

There is a lot of talk about the Linux-based cellphones out there, I guess lately mostly due to Nokia’s release of the N900; I sincerely am sticking still with the Nokia E75, after switching last year to the E71 (well, it’s not my fault if 3 is giving me chance to switch phone paying it 14 of what it’s worth on the market…), but I start to wonder if it was a good idea.

Don’t get me wrong, the phone is good, as mostly is the software on it; unfortunately there are quite a few problems related to it, although I really don’t know how better/worse other systems can be:

  • While most of the software in the phone let me choose the “Internet” aggregated connection as default connection (something very good Nokia added with this release of their S60 firmware), the mail client doesn’t… that means that it continues asking me which connection to use when it has to check the mailbox. Yes, I could tell it to use the direct connection, but then it would try to use it even when I were outside of the standard 3 network coverage, and that’s definitely bad. Plus I prefer to use WiFi if I have it available.
  • Again the mail client: it doesn’t tell me whether there are subfolders with unread messages, I have to check them all by myself, which is quite boring when you want simply to see if you got mail.
  • The browser is a bit puny sometimes; yes it works most of the times, but there are a few things that do bother me tremendously, one of which is the fact that, while it remembers passwords set in forms, it doesn’t remember HTTP digest auth passwords! Which is what I’m using, ça va sans dire.
  • The Contacts on Ovi application (an XMPP client) is definitely strange; even though I have the latest version, sometimes it goes crazy with the contacts, and there are people who I used to have as contacts in there that I cannot find any longer; the fact that they don’t allow to just use any XMPP account, but just Ovi accounts, doesn’t really help.
  • Non-latin characters cannot be displayed; not only Japanese text (for track names of Japanese music for instance), but also little things like the dashes (—), typographical quotes (“”) and arrows (→) cannot be displayed, neither in the webpages nor in the mail messages. This is pretty upsetting to me since I ♥ Unicode.
  • And most importantly, writing applications for Symbian is nigh impossible, at least without using Windows, since I don’t see anything changed since then. And since I’m a developer, sometimes I’d wish I’d be able to just write my own applications for the stuff I need.

Now I guess I’ll have to start considering some ideas on what I’ll go with next time. The choices are most likely iPhone, Android and Nokia’s N900; neither look really short-term to me because they all involve pretty expensive phones — I didn’t pay more than €120 for my current phone. But before I can even think about a decision, I need some further information and I’m not really keen on going on to find it right now because I can barely find the time to write this while I wait for two compiling processes to complete, since I’m fully swamped with work, so I’m writing them here and maybe some of you can help me with them…

Are they able to switch between 3G and WiFi connectivity as needed? Can they blacklist 3G while roaming, and then whitelist a specific network? (This is because when I’m under another 3 network, outside of Italy, the Nokia detects roaming, but the same local tariffs apply so it really should feel like home network for the phone as well).

I know that the iPhone does, but what about the other two? Do they support IMAP with IDLE command? Since GMail implements it I expect at least Android to…

Do the other browsers remember authentication information?

Do they have a IM client compatible with Jabber/GTalk? I guess Android does, I hope so at least. I would prefer for a native client, not something that connects to a middleware server like Fring does.

Can they display Unicode characters, which include Unicode punctuation and Japanese text? I’m told the iPhone does…

Can they sync with something, and I mean that with keeping as much information as possible about a person; I have a very complete Address Book on OSX right now; I haven’t imported it in Evolution in quite a while, I should find a way; neither Ovi Sync, Google Sync and Yahoo! Sync seem to work fine with the amount of details I keep around; Google is probably the worst on that account though. Being able to sync with Evolution directly is definitely a good thing.

How possible is it to write applications for them? I have read very bad things about the Palm Pre; I know that the iPhone has a complete SDK (which I should also have installed already but never used) but it only works on OSX; I do have that system but I would rather work from Linux, so I’m curious about the support for the other two. There’s an Android SDK for Linux but I have no clue how it works. Important detail here: I have no intention whatsoever to crack (“jailbreak”) the device; if I buy something I want that to work as good as possible without having to fiddle with it; if I have to fiddle, then I might as well go with something else, which is probably my main reason against getting an iPhone.

Bonus points if I can write open source applications for the device, since that’s what I’d very much like to do; I’d rather write an open source (free software) application and eventually “sell” it for a token amount on the store for the easiness of installation than write a closed source application and keeping it gratis.

Among other features I’d be needing there are support for Voice over IP (standard SIP protocol) over-the-air (that is, over 3G network as well) and the ability to deal with QR Codes. More bonus points if there is a way to access QR Codes decoding from custom applications (since that would allow me to refine my system tagging to a quite interestingly sophisticated point.

More: having a software able to reject calls from a blacklist of numbers (including calls without a caller ID) would also be appreciated, since I haven’t stopped it since that call (and I keep updating it with numbers of nuisances as needed). Even more bonus points if there is also an SMS antispam that can kill the promotional messages that 3 sends me (they get old pretty soon, especially considering I’m using a “business” account).

Now, all the functions might as well be handled by external apps not part of the firmware, that’s actually even better since there’s a better chance that they’d be updated rather than the firmware. But obviously if I have to spend another €150 just to get the software I need I might simply decide for another family.

At any rate, if you can help me with the future choice, I’d be definitely glad. Thanks!

I guess my next phone is not going to be a Nokia

I wrote a few times before about my experience with my Nokia E61 phone. WIth the iPhone 3G coming to Italy, and the E71 being announced, I started to think whether to change my phone, and which one to get.

The first issue would be, do I want to keep going with Nokia or not? Nokia is being felt as “great’ in the Free Software world, although there has been some trouble with Ari Jaaksi’s words lately but I’m very much disliking their policies related to phones.

The first problem is something I wrote before about, and it’s their SDK policies. Not only the S60v3 SDK is not usable under Linux, but also the most complete SDKs are just overpriced.

Yes, I know Apple’s SDK isn’t much better, but this is just one issue I have with Nokia.

The other big issue with Nokia is that even the most basic annoyances you might have with the phone’s software will never get fixed in your phone’s software release. For instance, E61 has a pretty useless home screen, it shows you the next appointments in the calendar and a single TODO item. With the huge screen real estate in the phone, it’s kinda pointless to have just these things in there.

The problem has being partly solved in the E61i version, which has the same exact screen size, but has a more interesting home screen, which includes the number of new unread email messages, and the presence of Wireless LAN connections. I don’t think that to implement the new home screen you need any new hardware the E61i has and the E61 doesn’t. But Nokia is not going to update the firmware of E61 with that, as it’s a service release of the OS.

The problem is that there are tons of little annoyances in Nokia’s Symbian, but to get those fixed your only choice is for you to buy a new phone. Which would be just a waste of money. They really should start updating the OS for old models too, not just for the last version they released of every model.

Now, as I was saying the other day talking with DanielW on the Amarok developers’ channel, unfortunately the most open platform currently in use and with a decent price tag is Windows Mobile. Actually, Windows Mobile phones do look nice, but I need to sync with OSX at the moment (Address Book beats Kontact a million times, for now, once KDE gets a decent address book application, then I’ll have KDE as main sync I suppose), and I heard so many bad things about Windows Mobile (and one I seen with my eyes, my brother-in-law was receiving a photo of my nephew with his Windows Mobile PDA via bluetooth, it ended up stuck, he tried shutting it off, it didn’t work, he removed the battery and put it back, and it reset itself entirely…).

Sadly, there isn’t so much choice here. I want a smartphone, as I grew used to have email support while I’m on the go, for job and other things; also, being able to browse some e-shops when I’m at an actual shop, to check for prices did save me quite a bit of money before. There are only three choices for smartphones out there: Symbian OS, Windows Mobile and iPhone. The first, as I said, is a huge pain in the ass as it is almost never updated; the second is just not something I’d be glad to be using, so at the moment my best choice is the third.

Now of course before I can actually get an iPhone there are a few things I need to clear. First TIM has to announce it. I’ll never become a Vodafone customer in my life, they are just thieves. And TIM has to announce a decent dataplan as I need it. As an alternative they can just not simlock it, I’ll be glad to pay for a decent voice plan to give my mother and keep the iPhone with my current carrier (H3G) which has a very nice dataplan.

But for sure, the only way for my next phone to be Nokia would be for me to work for Nokia and having the tools to actually update its firmware to fix the bloody annoyances it gives me, like not being able to search for contacts by nickname when looking up the destination of an SMS, or showing the birthdays in the calendar view (and the homescreen) for those contacts having one set.

Looking for a Python coder with a Nokia phone

This is a request for all my readers, especially those who might want to start on Free Software development but they can’t find something to cut their teeth with.

As you might or might not know, I’m an half-happy user of a Nokia E61 phone (for the americans, it’s the original full version of the E62). It’s a Series 60v3 phone, running Symbian OS. Finding opensource software for it is kinda difficult, but not impossible. Writing good apps from Linux is near to impossible though, because the SDK is only available for Windows.

Now, I’ve seen the other day about PyS60, a Python interpreter for S60. It’s interesting as it seems to provide access to all the important informations, allowing to write software for S60 without the hassle of needing a full Windows system.

Even more interesting is that there is a python implementation of Jabber protocol. I was unable to find a decent S60 native Jabber client, the Java ones I found are obnoxious, and don’t even connect to GTalk here. Otherwise the other option is to use a 3rd party service to “bridge” the connection.

I currently have MSN support through the official Windows Live client, but I’m more interested in having Jabber/GTalk support on the phone, as I do use it for more professional reasons.

I don’t have time, not at the moment, to write one client myself, especially since doing that would be taking up time which I’d rather spend on stuff that matters to more people, like the ruby-elf work.

So, if there are any python coders with enough free time on their hands, and a Nokia phone for the obvious testing, I’d be quite glad to be a betatester for a PyS60 free software jabber client :)

Argh! My E61!

So, I’ve been using my E61 quite a lot lately, because of the temperature here, I’m using it to read mail, chat and IM from my room, without having to have PCs on, as they make the room even more hot than it is by itself.

Unfortunately, I’ve also started experiencing connection problems with wifi in my room, probably due to the increase in client I have connected (two laptops, an Airport Express with the printer, the OpenWRT router that connects my main network segment – where the workstations are – to the Internet gateway, the E61 and the Nintendo DS). The bad thing is that lately it also started rebooting itself when the wifi connection was lost.

This wouldn’t be that bad, annoying yes, but not bad, I would just have to restart the applications and connect them back, and then it should be okay.. too bad that tonight things got worse: after the reboot, almost every application couldn’t start from the SD card anymore..

And it’s not even the first time this happens, it’s probably the third or fourth, and starts to get annoying. I bought a 1GB mini-SD card for that phone so to avoid using the internal memory, but if I have to re-install everything every other day, I start to wonder if I wasted my money on that phone.

It’s a nice device, and I got clients for IRC, MSN, ICQ (thanks Caster!), I just miss a jabber client, but the reboots and the memory corruption is not something I want to deal with.

I suppose tomorrow I’ll have to call Nokia support and ask them what the heck is going on with my phone.

Can somebody tell me why can’t I buy devices that “Just Work™” out of the box? Not stuff I have to fiddle with? Being obscure configuration, firmware flashing (the OpenWRT router I’m using is because the only device able to understand that the WAN is reached through WLAN that costs less than €300 that I could find was a Linksys with a flashed firmware) or worse, I can’t seem to find a device that “just work”.

Even the software of my LCD TV turned me off when I found that the picture slideshow is NOT able to cope with images that have a size proportion different from 16:9, as they are always stretched and you can’t get it to fill the screen with black bars (I would have liked to read downloaded comics on it, but as it is it’s not feasible).

The only thing that was truly working out of the box after configuring two parameters was the Airport Express, so as much as you people hate Apple, I have to say that they are at least able to provide devices that do work out of the box.

Now of course I could also see the positive side, as devices never work fine out of the box, technicians will always be needed, and I’m a technician most of the time, still, I’d gladly find a different job road if devices started working fine. Who did think that the situations in Star Trek where engineers always had to deal with broken transporters or messed up holodecks were too far fetched?

A suggestion for mobile internet users

As I said, yesterday I had a planned downtime; during which I decided to check my mail quite a couple of times with the Gmail application on the phone. This was nice because for little traffic (seems like less than 100KB does it) I don’t pay the connection via UMTS.

The only thing I paid (€4 actually not bad anyway) was looking at the homepage of Repubblica (yes you can now guess my political side :P) to look at the news. Unfortunately the homepage is quite full of images, so it ended up loading 800KB of data.

Now, reading today the E-Series blog I’ve found another nice, free (as in beer) application that allows to get content on demand, without the images that makes the sites «beautiful» (and heavy to download) and with on-request download of the text too, so that I can for instance browse wikipedia without downloading all the text, if I only need to find the first definition of a term.

Pretty nice thing, that for what I can see I would suggest to other smartphones users.