Thoughts on S60

reflections on the most popular mobile operating system worldwide

Transitioning from Symbian to Android, and Goodbye…for now.

with 9 comments

My apologies for those who have kept up with my site while I haven’t over the past year. A lot has changed for me since I last updated this site. I moved to Chicago following a job offer to work at US Cellular as a retail wireless consultant in late 2009, I sold my I8910 and bought a Nexus One from Google, and I’ve been keeping myself really busy with work and my new life in the city. Because of this, my interest in writing anything about Symbian declined to absolute zero. That said, I find it only fair to detail what the experience has been like transitioning from a hardcore Symbian fan to an avid Android user and to give this site a proper farewell. So without further ado, here is why I left Symbian, and why I will most likely never buy another Symbian device again.

I don’t remember when I sold my Samsung I8910, but I do remember that I was sad to see it go. To this day, it is still the most reliable and impressive Symbian device I ever laid my hands on. Though in a very large way, that is what made me decide to move on. Having the top of the line hardware in the I8910 allowed me to really get the most out of Symbian, and help me realize that it wasn’t a lack of hardware that was making me so dissatisfied with the platform; it was the software all along.

When this finally hit me, I started looking around. Due to past experiences, I knew I didn’t want an iPhone, but I was curious about Android’s progress with the Motorola Droid having been available for a few months on Verizon at the time. Only shortly after, rumors started coming in about an unlocked Android device direct from Google and built by HTC with double the RAM as my I8910, a 1Ghz CPU, 3.7″ WVGA OLED capacitive touchscreen, 802.11b/g/n, 7.2mpbs HSDPA, and an even newer version of Android than what the Droid was running. I followed Google’s announcement as it happened on January 5th, and when they announced the $529 price tag and opened the web store for business, that was all it took. I don’t know if I’ve ever typed in my credit card number faster, and I didn’t even care that it didn’t support 3G on my network.

When the device arrived, the unboxing alone was an experience. It had all the characteristics of unboxing an iPhone, with attention paid to every detail. The top of the box slowly slid open with air-tight compression, the accessories were neatly packed in soft, recycled material bags (not the typical plastic bags you usually see with electronics), positioned to make the best of the available space, and each side of the box was lined with a different color, matching the multicolored “X” of the Nexus One logo. And what’s this? The phone even came with a signature pouch with Andy on it too. What was the last phone you bought that came with a case at all, much less a useful one?

The phone itself is easily in my top list of superior hardware builds. It has excellent weight to it and feels very sturdy overall. The scratch resistant glass with oleophobic coating on the front and the teflon and metal combination on the back make for an extremely well built device.

I followed the directions and let it charge for several hours before I turned it on (and in several locations, since I was going out that night). The charging LED finally turned green while I was at my buddy’s house. As we turned it on and watched the colorful particles fly in to form that bright boot screen, nothing sums up what we felt better than what Dan said in that moment: “…it’s Goog-ing!”

After our initial session of playing around with the device, I was hooked. There was never a moment of hesitation, lock up, or any other unwanted surprises I had become so used to when dealing with Symbian devices built by Nokia. On top of that, it natively supported all of the UI features I had really been wanting from Symbian’s touch interface since the 5800 XpressMusic. Kinetic scrolling, multitouch (after the update that came out just weeks after its release), threaded SMS, a virtual keyboard with prediction and auto-completion that works (in both landscape and portrait), native speech-to-text for all text input fields, reliable OTA software updates for both firmware and applications, copying text and multiple tabs in the browser (finally!), a YouTube app that doesn’t suck, not having to refresh the music player to find added music, all of these features felt so polished and commonplace in the device that it almost felt ridiculous not to have them in any other device for so long. It was also just easy. Navigation through the phone, customizing the homescreen, and just getting things done like I want to on a smartphone became headache free. It really felt…enlightening.

The next step was synchronizing all of my data. My entire life was stored in Microsoft Outlook (and a broken version was stored somewhere on Nokia’s servers for Ovi Sync) and I had no idea how sync worked for Android in general. After reading around for a bit, I found that I could import my Outlook contacts and calendar into my Gmail account and sync from there. What I didn’t know was that’s all I had to do. Literally seconds after the import finished, when I picked up my phone, all of my contacts and calendar entries were there waiting for me. To make things even easier, adding my Facebook account to the device allowed me to synchronize my current contacts with the information provided from Facebook, nearly identical to how Blackberry handles Facebook sync. That means I no longer have to change photos or any other details for each person I would care to as it’s already done for me. Aside from errors I caused myself when messing around with flashing multiple ROM’s in a single sitting (and adding my account details to sync each time), I have not had a hiccup since. Changes made on either server or device are constantly being synchronized and since it’s all through Gmail, that meant I could do so from any device with web access. What’s even better is any Outlook event sent to me at work automatically shows up in my calendar just by forwarding the email to my Gmail account.

Recently I’ve started regularly using Google Voice to handle all of my calls and text messages and this has added yet another dimension of convenience to my experience with Android. Since the phone is able to constantly synchronize with Google Voice, I have been able to almost stop using my text messages through my carrier altogether and just use the service exclusively. I keep the Google Voice tab open at home and at work when I don’t have my phone nearby to keep myself on top of incoming calls and messages. Though it’s still early, if I’m able to effectively migrate all of my text traffic through Google Voice and cancel my $30 unlimited text package each month, Google will earn a new level of respect I’ve never had for any other company.

Between the cloud sync and Google Voice, Google has properly achieved what Nokia has tried to build with the Ovi services over the past 3 years. I waited patiently for Nokia to properly converge their device portfolio and get their online services out of beta, but it just never happened. Those who used them were left with a half-baked experience that paled in comparison to the seamless image of online services Nokia had painted as their vision of what Ovi was supposed to become. Without even marketing it as such, Google did what Nokia couldn’t and built a reliable set of services that are now allowing me to use my device in a way Nokia could only tease.

Since getting the Nexus One, my friends became so impressed with what it could do that it inspired several of them to get one of their own. Within my closest circle of friends, eleven of them migrated to Android in one form or another, four of which bought the exact same device (my girlfriend included). What makes this so significant to me is that these were the same friends that I had always tried to switch to some kind of Symbian device in the past. Some took to it, most didn’t, and those who did typically didn’t stick with it very long like I did. Of the eleven that made the switch to Android, they’re all still using it and some are even on their second device. All these numbers aside, it speaks volumes about how impacting the Android experience has been on all of us, so much so that we want to tell our friends about it and actually keep these devices for more than 6 months. With the exception of maybe the N95 series, there isn’t another Symbian device I could say the same.

One of the things that kept me with Symbian for so long was the Ovi Maps navigation as I have never owned a standalone GPS unit and had used the service since it started as Smart2Go several years ago. Since Google Maps on a Symbian device was always the fallback for finding points of interest when Ovi Maps failed, having the same application provide the voice navigation was simply a logical solution. What’s better is that it synchronizes bookmarks automatically with my Gmail account just like the rest of my data, but the best part is the voice control. By simply holding the search button, you can use the Voice Search to say a command like “Navigate to Starbucks” or any other POI or address. That’s it. Unless more than one result comes back in your search requiring you to further specify where you’re looking to go, there’s no additional input necessary. The navigation automatically starts, downloads the map and traffic data on the fly, and starts taking you there, complete with TTS to announce the names of the roads as you approach them. No more slowly downloading maps on the fly or downloading various states in the country before a trip, no more waving the phone in a figure-8 like an idiot trying to calibrate the compass, and again, no more headaches. It’s another example of a very simple service that works exceptionally well without any additional maintenance or user input. Yes, the synthesized female voice Google uses is less than desirable, but she still gets the job done.

While applications were never really very important to me (aside from the set applications I used regularly), I reached a point with Symbian where I knew I wanted to do certain things and simply couldn’t because nothing had been developed to support it yet. Growth in the Ovi Store was at a crawl and with the N97 being the figurehead of development, things weren’t changing anytime soon. With the Android market exploding, I was easily able to find replacements for all of the applications I used on Symbian as well as applications for all the things I had wanted to do and previously couldn’t. It seems almost every week I’m adding another set of apps that find their way into my daily rotation and it keeps my phone feeling fresh all the time.

If that wasn’t enough, the development community for the Nexus One and Android in general is absolutely enormous. Rooting the device and installing customized apps, entire ROM’s, and modified kernels for additional features is a breeze and remarkably easier than any level of hacking I used to do with Symbian. In fact, most of the tinkering can be done on the phone without needing a computer whatsoever, and in much less time as well.

I wasn’t going to bring this up, but I know it will come up anyway if I don’t. Several people have regarded rooting and modifying an Android handset as a mark against the platform because they feel it’s required for these devices to perform properly. With the exception of some of the heavily carrier customized Android devices of late, this simply isn’t true. Without ever accessing the full file system, Android as a platform lets you customize almost every aspect of the phone, if not natively, then with an app easily installed from the Market. The ROM I’m running now is mostly stock with minor tweaks and my girlfriend’s isn’t rooted at all. The added customization in rooting makes what’s already great even better. The difference with rooting an Android device versus hacking a Symbian device is the fun factor; I root Android because I want to, I used to hack Symbian because I was desperately trying to get more functionality out of it.

Speaking of customization, the customizable home screen has also played an integral part in my decision to switch. For years, I longed for a decent weather application that would show me up-to-date weather information on the homescreen of any of my Symbian devices. It was only in 2009 when the N97 finally debuted with a single weather widget from Accuweather. Compared to Android, it’s actually easy to get lost when looking through all the weather widgets available, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg for homescreen customization. In fact, there’s so much available, I’d almost say there’s too many options that the average user would be too intimidated by them all and would rather not customize altogether.

Another added bonus to the Nexus One experience was the accessories that were made available for it. I purchased both the desk and car docks and could not be happier with both. Similar to the Touchstone for the Palm Pre, the Nexus One connects to and charges in these docks not with the microUSB port, but with three gold connectors on the bottom of the phone just by making contact with the dock. If the platform itself wasn’t easy enough, it’s as if these accessories were designed specifically to enhance the ease of use that much further.

If there’s one thing I do miss from Symbian, it is definitely the high-end cameras Nokia delivered. The camera on the Nexus One (and all Android devices for that matter) are certainly passable, but none of them really hold a candle to the Carl Zeiss optics and settings available on the Nseries cameras. With that in mind, I’m okay without having an outstanding camera on my phone. One of the things I learned from trying to use the N97 as a completely converged device from our trip last year is that you can’t, if for no other reason than there is no battery that can possibly withstand the abuse. While having a single device connected all day and replacing all of your devices is certainly still a dream I hope to see achieved one day, in the current state of battery technology, it just simply isn’t possible without some form of power source throughout any given day. Because of this, I decided to buy myself a standalone Panasonic camera to use when I know I’ll need to take excellent shots. It’s not as convenient as having everything in one device, but the added features and end result pictures are significantly better than any smartphone camera could possibly achieve, both now and probably for several years to come.

On the topic of batteries, that would have to be my other complaint about the Nexus One and Android in general. Be it because I now use my phone more, the battery meter being much more accurate than any other phone I’ve ever used, or Android just sucking more power than anything else, one of my constant concerns is trying to keep my phone charged. I shouldn’t, because really, it’s never been a problem for the phone to last a full day of heavy usage, but it doesn’t sit well knowing that if I miss a charge I will most likely end up without my phone for the better part of the day.

Since I bought that first Nexus One, I’ve probably gone through a total of five or six between me and my girlfriend. I eventually sold our original T-Mobile versions in favor of the AT&T variants to take advantage of their 3G. I also sent a couple of mine in for replacement due to very minor hardware inconsistencies. I did this mostly because I knew I would be keeping this phone for a very long time and wanted to make sure I had one without any defects, no matter how minor they may be, and it looks like I was right. This is easily the longest I’ve ever had a smartphone before and it still feels brand new to me every time I pick it up.

For me, Android is providing the simplified experience that made the iPhone so popular while simultaneously providing me with the customization options I had desperately been trying to use with Symbian for so many years. My Nexus One is truly my own and allows me to do what I need to consistently and reliably on a daily basis.

What now?

Given the changes over the past several months, it almost goes without saying that I will no longer be updating this site. I still plan to keep it open for reference sake as some of the tutorials still work for even Nokia’s newest devices. I still haven’t decided whether or not I will be opening another site. All of my contact information will stay the same going forward and I will keep it posted here and any of the other spaces I occupy, so please, feel free to hit me up and keep in touch.

I now feel I better understand how Nokia operates and the decisions they make, but for me, that means I will no longer be a part of their ecosystem. I appreciate all of the memories and experiences I’ve gained over the years as a consumer, a member of the S60 community, and writing for my site, but it’s time to move on. Perhaps in a couple years if Nokia decides to take another stab at the US market, I might be interested, but I know and understand that they can’t focus on the US when they’re trying to cater to hundreds of other markets all over the world that are so conditioned to using S60 already.

Lastly, I want to say thank you to everyone that has read my site over the past three years. My site never achieved astronomical amounts of page hits, but it still allowed me to meet plenty of new people, get my thoughts down, and give back at least in part to some of the best people on the internet. So to everyone, thank you, and I hope we cross paths again in the future. 🙂

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Written by Jonathan

October 17, 2010 at 8:00 am

9 Responses

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  1. Excellent review of the Nexus One!

    Mark Guim

    October 17, 2010 at 2:26 pm

  2. As farewell posts go this one kicks ass.

    P.S. First!!1!

    Andrew

    October 17, 2010 at 2:28 pm

  3. Great explanation of your transition to Android. Sad to see you wont be writing anymore about Symbian, but looking forward to whatever you decide to do in the future if you take up writing again.

    Brandon

    October 17, 2010 at 2:37 pm

  4. Very nice piece! Very good, detailed and well written review/comparison of the Nexus One vs. Nokia devices. Makes me that much more interested to try and get my hands on an Android device.

    martin_j001

    October 18, 2010 at 8:05 pm

  5. […] Other Android converts will already know what I’m talking about. For everyone else, here’s what you’re missing: […]

  6. […] of gaining new users — less than zero if you consider some former Symbian evangelists of note who have jumped ship for Android, myself […]

  7. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this site.
    I am hoping to see the same high-grade content by you
    later on as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has
    motivated me to get my own, personal blog now 😉

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    August 17, 2013 at 8:38 am


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